Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Taste of Thailand

We left Bangkok and flew to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.  There, we were met by Mr. Yo, our tour guide for the next 5 days.  Mr. Yo was a great guy and exhibited the sense of humour that Thais are known for.  He caught us off guard a couple of times:

Mr. Yo:  The Chiang Mai zoo is very good; it has Pandas that have been here for 6 years.
Me:  How long will they be staying?
Mr. Yo:  They were supposed to stay for 10 years, but they are very tired so may be returned sooner.  They have dark rings around their eyes.


It got to the point he would be given us some information and we kept waiting for the punch line, but then realized he was being serious.

On our first night in Chiang Mai, we went to a traditional dinner.  Roger called it "Stage East" where we were entertained while we ate.  Dancers performed several different traditional dances, including one number where visitors were invited up to the stage to dance.  Brad and Anette gamely took up the challenge and were great sports.

We stopped by the night market which is always fun and full of lots of crafts and souvenirs.  The majority of tourists were actually Thais, with very few "eh" or "y'all" being heard.
Night market in Chiang Mai
Massage station at the night market!
We visited the beautiful Buddhist temple, Wat Doi Suthep, high in the hills outside of Chiang Mai.  There were 321 stairs heading up to the temple -- providing me lots of opportunities to take photos on the way up!

The 4.5 Kinleys posing in front of one of the temples

These statues represent each day of the week; it is important for Buddhists to know the day they were born.

Food stall at the foot of the mountain selling fried quail eggs with coconut
Two young monks
We went to one of the many elephant camps in the area and came away with very mixed feelings.  It's kind of like when you go to a zoo...a circus...the Calgary Stampede....SeaWorld....or any other place where animals are used and you hope they aren't being hurt for the benefit of tourists.
Traffic jam on the river
Elephants were widely used for work in Asia, but with equipment replacing what elephants used to do, the unemployment rate for elephants is high.  To make matters more dire, they eat a lot, as well as live long lives.  So, elephant camps were created as a major tourist attraction and as a means to make money to keep these giants fed (and no doubt the camp owners wealthy). It was disturbing to see the mahoots (the elephant owners/riders) use a hammer/hook kind of device to get the elephant to respond at times and some were hobbled.  The camp itself was clean and I can't imagine the mahoots abusing an animal that cost them thousands of dollars and is their livelihood -- but it still left us feeling uneasy as we enjoyed the ride through the forest. It's complicated.
Worker in the rice fields 
Elephants getting a bath
We then left and traveled north towards Chiang Rai.  Along the way we went on a 45 minute boat ride on the Mae Kok River which was wonderful.

Mr. Yo then took us to visit a hillside tribe so we could see how rural people live.  Initially we were swarmed by a bunch of four foot tall Akkha hill tribe grannies selling souvenirs.  They couldn't speak English, but could get Academy Awards for their theatrics.  You could count the number of teeth they had with one hand, and we ended up buying things we probably didn't need or want.

We then trooped down a steep hill and saw inside a very spartan 2 room house on stilts where the men sleep by the entrance to protect the family.
Old woman carrying straw up a hill. Notice the wooden yoke she is wearing around her neck. 
Some of the houses were much nicer than others.  Mr. Yo explained the sad reality is that young women in many of these villages leave in order to work as prostitutes so they can make money to support the family and enable their parents to build nicer homes.  While the child sex trade has been cracked down upon - prostitution is seen as a way of life.
This is a roadside stand that sells spirit houses seen outside most businesses and homes.  They are used to provide bad spirits with a place to live so they don't bother the home or business owner.
 We continued to Chiang Rai where we stayed at a beautiful resort set in spectacular gardens.

Our first stop the following days was to see the monkey caves and temple.  The macaques live in the mountains and caves surrounding the temple.  We climbed up to the caves with Mr. Yo (it was 200 meters straight up over uneven stairs that reminded us of El Penol in Colombia) only to be advised not go near the caves!  Nice view, but it was a helluva climb!
However tempting --- no boob jokes, o.k.?

They watched as we climbed the stairs to their caves - probably laughing at the tourists huffing and puffing.

A special ceremony was held for this monk
A little further along the road, we came to the border of Myanmar where we visited a jade factory, walked through a neat market and had a photo op with the family.
This is the famour Golden Triangle that encompasses the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.  Casinos are popping up in Myanmar and Laos to enable Thais to gamble since casinos are banned in Thailand.

 Mr. Yo wanted to take us to another hillside tribe, but we said we'd prefer to visit the Opium Museum, which he was pleased to take us to.  Poppy production for opium has decreased significantly due to an eradication program by the government (although there are reports it is on the rise again due to demand for heroin), and this museum provides a rich history of its past.

Pictures throughout the museum capture several Thai cultural groups.  The "long neck" tribes were stopping the practice of putting rings on the females in certain tribes until they realized they could make money by tourists willing to pay to see them.  Initially, the rings were used to protect the village's women from tiger attacks to their necks while the men were away from the village.  The single coil is replaced every 3-4 years and once a female begins this practice, they must wear them until they die since their neck can not hold itself without the support.

 Beautiful water pipes used for marijuana and tobacco.

Brad and Anette bought a beautiful opium pillow which is really a curved wooden box.

Mr. Yo and us by the hot springs
Love this sign that advertises the Fish Massage where hundreds of tiny fish swim around your feet in small tubs of water.  Check out the second point from the top...

People come from all over to soak their feet in the hot springs

Eggs are sold at the hot springs and buyers place them in the hot springs for about 10 minutes to cook them
Chat (our driver) and Mr. Yo

When we were in Koh Samui we saw people release these fire propelled kites and wondered what it was about. In Chiang Mai there were many set off by the river. Mr. Yo explained it was for good luck and popular at this time of year.  We saw several get stuck in power lines, in trees, and come down prematurely on roof tops.  Something tells me the fire department is not keen about this tradition.
Our last day was spent at the Baan Thai Cooking School.  There we spent several hours shopping for ingredients at the market, preparing and eating delicious Thai food.  Definitely well worth it, and we all left very full.
One of the instructors shopping for ingredients
The fruits and vegetables are really colorful and fragrant

We all got to choose 1 dish from 6 categories such as: appetizer, curry, stir fry, curry paste, soup, dessert.  Then for each course, we worked with an instructor, and any students who also chose the same dish. This gave us a chance to meet different people throughout the day, and enjoy the 3 instructors.

It was very hands on, although the measuring out was done before we broke into teams.  We just had the fun part of chopping and cooking.
Ingredients all ready for us to chop, then cook

We look like we are ready for Iron Chef!  It was interesting meeting people in between courses.
I got hooked on Green Papaya Salad on this trip, so used the opportunity to learn how to make it!
It was excellent!

Roger and Anette cooked Hot and Sour Prawn Soup

The instructor (in the middle) is showing Roger and another student how to make fried bananas for dessert....they were fantastic!

Making green curry paste takes a lot of muscle power -- but it was oh, so good!

Great - something new to make me gain weight!  This was sticky rice and mango -- something I never was interested in ordering in a restaurant, but I swear I heard angels sing when we ate this!  Delicious!
 It was a fabulous day, and a wonderful way for us to spend our last day together.  We headed back to Zambia on New Years Eve, and Brad and Anette headed south to Phuket to begin a 4 day catamaran cruise.  Roger and I are grateful that the four of us get a long and enjoy doing so many of the same things.  The next time we see Brad and Anette, they will be parents --what a joy that will be!
We were at the Bangkok airport on New Years eve.
We had a terrific orientation to Thailand: from the beach resorts of Koh Samui, to bustling Bangkok and then the fascinating northern region.  We loved the culture that is so steeped in everything, the welcoming Thai people, the beautiful temples and countryside - and the food.  Oh yeah --- the food.

"They say Thailand is a country that smiles.  They are wrong. It is the Thai people that smile."
                                                                                Thai waiter near the Golden Triangle

1 comment:

Linda said...

Heather.....I just spent (monkey boobs) the last hour and a half (monkey boobs) thoroughly soaking up your pictures and posts (monkey boobs) from your trip with the kids!!!

All I can say is (monkey boobs) AYE MAY ZING!!!

I have no idea how you edited something so fabulicious down to the photos you used!! I wanna see them all!!!

So great you guys can travel together...and even more exciting was seeing (monkey boobs) the teeny pooch growing on Anette!!!! Such great family vibes!!

Loved it! Thanks for sharing!!