Friday, January 31, 2014

Last Day of our Journey

This is it. By this time tomorrow we will be flying home. There were no special plans today other than to fly back to Bangkok and have a farewell banquet tonight. But we had a mid day flight. Why waste a perfectly good morning? We went onto the old, walled city of Chiang Mai. First a humdinger of a food market, then some of the best shopping of our trip, then all of a sudden a parade arrived to celebrate Chinese New Year! It was a blinding sea of red and gold for the most part. Bands played, giant dragons paraded into each shop to bring good fortune for the year ahead. Everything wildly colorful and joyful, a great way to leave Asia with a bang!


Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Chiang Mai to.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

But Wait, There's More!

Ha ha, and you thought our day was over. Not so fast! I have to tell you that dinner tonight was "on our own ", meaning not covered on the tour. Lada asked around and we walked out from our hotel, which seems to be in East Chiang Mai, an East End working class neighborhood. Daniella and I checked it out this morning on our walk. Tonight we went to "a new barbecue place"about a 10 minute walk away. Here was a huge, crowded open air buffet style place.

Each table had a hole in the middle where a bucket of hot coals was inserted. On top of that was a domed brazier with a moat around it, basically.

In the center of the room was a long buffet line, and everything was raw. First raw veggies , then raw meats and seafood and things we have no idea about , organ meats, chicken feet, tripe, some very bloody meat, and huge lumps of pork fat to grease the grill.

How it worked was that all meals cost 159 baht (about $5). You walk around and pick out plates full of raw food and then come cook it at the table, meat on the raised grill and veggies and noodles in broth in the moat. It was definitely "the Real Deal", not another tourist in sight. And it was delicious, a little scary, and worth the risk!

So now to sleep, tomorrow afternoon we fly back to Bangkok, and then our journey will end. Sad!!
But still time for a few more adventures!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Soi Ku Tao 1,Chiang Mai,Thailand

Almost the End: Elephants

Well our trip is nearly finished. Hard to take that in now that we have gotten used to the rhythms of travel, hardened our tummies to the local bugs and the constant chiles, and learned a few words of Thai language so we can converse a bit.

I'm having a little withdrawal today. Not Another Temple. My one or two temple a day habit has slammed me, cold turkey, even a little shaky. Hope I can shake the habit! It's rough.

But we did have elephants today to console us. Hours of elephants, acres of elephants, up close and personal for sure. For a few precious hours I forgot all about temples and just delighted in every bit of this perfect day! These behemoths greeted us warmly by lifting us up in the air with their trunks ! Wow, what a sensation !

Next they all waded down into the river where they cavorted around and the mahouts scrubbed them down.

The elephant show featured about 15 of them doing all sorts of tricks for us, them wading right into the crowds to get rewards of bananas, sugar cane, and money which they gave to the mahouts (although a famous elephant used to take the money and run to the banana sales table!)

Several of them made paintings which people could then buy!

Finally we got our elephant ride, an utterly thrilling hour long walk across the river and up into the jungle, with frequent stops for bananas and sugar cane. Wow, wow, wow! It was fantastic!

After a delicious lunch at the camp we learned how they make paper from elephant dung (nothing wasted). We had a long visit with a young female and her mahout where we got to pet her, ask questions, and have some time when she explored us, nosing us everywhere with her curious trunk.

Finally we floated downstream on river rafts for about 45 minutes, pretty blissful.

And wait, there's more! A stop at the Queen Sikirit Botanical Gardens just to top off the day. Phew! Who needs temples??!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Condoms, Cabbages, & Oh Another Temple

Our morning coffee stop was at this hilarious roadside attraction, dedicated to good food, safe sex, and obviously having fun with both.

And then, Oh Another Temple, this one high atop a mountain overlooking the ancient walled city of Chiang Mai, where we are now staying. This temple, besides it's stunning views, offers amazing art, life of Buddha in wall murals, and a charismatic monk who kept urging us "come closer". He sprinkled us liberally with holy water from a palm frond, and said a prayer, then chatted about where we were from. Sweet guy!

Then we wandered down hill through a lively street bazaar, tasting little things as we strolled along. We visited a jade factory and watched craftsmen carving exquisite pieces using dental drills.

Later to our great hotel, fab dinner, and an hour cruising the sprawling night market of Chiang Mai. Did I mention that the food in the last week has been getting better and better? Not that it has been bad, but now we are in Lada' s turf and she is taking us to some extra great places!!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Soi Ku Tao 1,Chiang Mai,Thailand

Enchanted Kingdom, Thai Style

Our Temple du Jour was so wildly over the top we could hardly believe our eyes. This is Wat Rang Khun, the White Temple. This extravaganza is the artistic vision of one man, Ajern Chalermchai Kostipipat, and over 60 artisans working full time for 16 years. He estimates it will take 90 years to complete.

It is all white, with mirror mosaics all over the surface, so that it glitters like a crystal palace. The iconography represents the Buddhist versions of heaven and hell. The temple grounds are filled with rococo buildings and devotional stations, including probably the worlds most gorgeous "happy room", all gilded inside and out. They even require you to remove your shoes and put on a pair of rubber sandals before using the facilities!

Inside the temple painters are hard at work creating huge murals on all the walls. At the front sits a giant golden Buddha surrounded by paintings of people in winged vessels on their way to Nirvana. The back wall which Buddha gazes at is the face of a giant demon, covered in familiar symbols of our modern world. Here are the Twin Towers in flames, wrapped in gasoline pump hoses dripping petroleum into the greedy mouths of humans. We saw George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden riding together on a weaponized missile. Superman, Batman, Spider Man, Tomb Raiders, Star Wars, Kung Fu Pandas, Michael Jackson, Angry Birds, mountains of automatic assault weapons, and so much more all designed as part of the face if the demon. It is brilliant, powerful and bold and it makes a potent political statement.

One of the loveliest things was outside where for about $1 you can buy an aluminum bodhi leaf decorated with beads and a Thai prayer. They provide a writing area where you can add your own prayer or wish. Then the leaf is added to what must be a million others as part of a long silver canopy, or part of a silvery tree. So beautiful!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Chiang Rai, Thailand

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Packed Day , Part 3

Packed Day Part 3

After all that we settled into the van for an hour long drive back to the resort. Suddenly there was a fuss in the front seat, the van screeched to a halt, and we all leaped out to this scene of a big work crew planting rice. In the 10 minutes we watched the team came rapidly across the field, giving us some perfect photo ops.

Sent from my iPad

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Soi 5,,Thailand

APacked Day, Part 2

Another day stuffed from end to end with non-stop amazements and delights. After we left the hill tribe villages we drove up to the famous Golden Triangle, a spot where the Mekong River comes flowing down from Tibet, about 150 miles away. From the lookout point, we see Burma on the left of the river, Laos on the right bank, and we are standing at the apex in Thailand.

This lively area was once the epicenter of the opium trade in SE Asia, and so we stopped at an Opium Museum which was full of interesting artifacts and information. One display case had a wax figure of a man sleeping in an opium den surrounded by his paraphernalia. Astoundingly, on a bench right next to this display slept an older gentleman, as if demonstrating in real life. He was deeply asleep as curious people streamed around him and took his picture too!

We next boarded a farmers rice truck, used locally to carry workers out to the rice paddies. It literally had to be started with a hand crank, and once it chugged along it sounded like a sputtering lawn mower. We drove way out into the countryside on ever-narrowing dirt roads, through sleepy villages and miles of green rice paddies. Our destination was lunch at a country home owned by a French woman artist, totally charming and everything painted by her in a primitive style. They barbecued for us, fish, pork or chicken that had marinated overnight in a savory sauce. It was fabulous, and we also met the woman who us Lada's boss here, the head of OAT in Thailand. She is a sweetheart, and we told her that Lada walks on water and thay she was perfection as a guide. (she is!).

Finally we returned to the town where we left our van, which is also known for its teas. Lada took us to a small outdoor tea shop where a very handsome and sexy young man brewed about six pots of his best teas for us and we sampled them in tiny cups, while nibbling on mixed dried fermented fruits: plums, cherries, tiny tomatoes, berries, and more.

It seems like we nibble all day long. This morning Lada opened a bag of "pork chips", crispy deep fried pork slices, the consistency of potato chips, but they taste just like slightly sweet bacon. Oi choi oi! (Our favorite new expression, meaning "oh my Buddha!" Just like when we say " oh my God". Spelling is wrong, but phoenetics are good.

Sent from my iPad

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Soi 5,,Thailand