A Travellerspoint blog

2 Incredible Women: Naenna Eco-Textiles, Thai Freedom House

sunny 31 °C

We met two more amazing women today in Chiang Mai who have made tremendous contributions to the people and society of Northern Thailand!

Patricia Cheesman's life's work has been to research and maintain indigenous Lao and Thai weaving techniques, so we learned a great deal when we visited her Naenna Studio in Chiang Mai [www.studio-naenna.com] for a tie-dyeing workshop (really fun!) and demonstration of traditional loom weaving by one of her Karen women weavers (really humbling!). Patricia's shop provides an outlet for local weavers to market their works at fair trade prices (still low by North American standards). Naturally our group made many purchases (!!) in the textile and clothing boutique they run to support their ongoing work. Patricia was born, raised and has spent her life in SE Asia, and also teaches at Chiang Mai University.

Lisa Nesser is the founder of Thai Freedom House [thaifreedomhouse.org] in Chiang Mai, a non-profit that helps Burmese refugees gain skills that will help them make their way in Thailand. Lisa is from Missouri USA and came to Thailand to recover from cholera after working for 3 years in a Tibetan refugee camp in India. She was on her way home to the US, but decided to stay in Chiang Mai (she has been here now for 10 years!) when she saw the plight of the Burmese fleeing across the Thai border from the repressive regime in their own country. She and a local Burmese/Thai assistant, with the help of many volunteers, now run a huge array of language, arts and crafts, and other educational programs for about 50 Burmese people, ages 8 to 50, to help them have a better life in Northern Thailand. Her salary is only 10,000 baht/month (about $400 CAD) and Thai Freedom House is very basic, but extremely well-used, so this is a project with very little overhead. They are funded by the proceeds from a thrift shop and restaurant on the 1st floor (Free Bird Cafe, where we had lunch), and of course by donations.

Catriona and I later enjoyed a 1-hour full-body Thai massage at Naruncha Beauty & Massage, with the practitioners we had taken the course with yesterday - it was wonderful! After dinner a walk through the night market capped off another great day in Chiang Mai!

Tomorrow we head for Mae Kampong (50km east of Chiang Mai at 1300m) and a homestay with the hill tribe in that area, so our next post will probably be on Feb 1 when we return to Chiang Mai and are back in WiFi range again.

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Posted by alangcampbell 07:24 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thai Massage is Amazing!

sunny 31 °C

Today we took a 5-hour course in Thai Massage with 4 instructors and learned to massage the head, neck and shoulders for ourselves or others. The instructors from Naruncha Beauty were all terrific, particularly "Mr. O" and "Goi" who demonstrated and coached us later also in leg and back massage techniques - careful but powerful stretching of the large lower body joints - that had immediate benefits for those who lacked flexibility. Rx is to do this twice weekly for a month or two! Catriona was able to bend with greater ease and comfort right after a short session, and it turned out that Alan was already flexible enough to impress even the Thai massage practitioners! When the Naruncha staff learned that one of our group was celebrating his birthday today, a cake was presented as a lovely surprise and happily consumed by us all!
After the class ended, we walked through the late afternoon heat and traffic to Mengrai Kilns, a large pottery factory and garden showroom complex on the outer edge of the old city, where Catriona had a marvellous time selecting beautiful pottery creations - they even packed them in bubble wrap for us, so all we have to do now is fit them into our suitcases!

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Posted by alangcampbell 07:24 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

NE to Hot Springs, Chiang Rai, White Temple, Black Village

sunny 30 °C

Today we drove ~200 km north and east of Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, stopping at a hot spring on the way, to see the White Temple, a modern artistic, devotional and touristic development, and the Black Village, a reconstruction of ancient buildings and relics in a community setting.
The sulphurous hot springs have been channelled into pools for people to soak their feet and others used to boil chicken and quail eggs for sale.
Wat Rong Khun is a white temple and complex envisioned and funded by the famous Thai artist, Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat. His art is in the traditional Buddhist style, but his paintings inside the temple include modern political figures (George Bush, Osama bin Laden) to caution them to promote a peaceful world, and fantasy heroes (Superman, Captain Jack Sparrow and Harry Potter) to engage kids but make the point that we are all responsible for maintaining good morality in the world.
We enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch at the Rimkok Resort Hotel on the Maekok River in Chiang Rai before continuing on to the nearby Black Village.
The Black Village was created by another Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee, who reconstructed numerous buildings in ancient Thai architecture styles, and displayed artefacts collected from the several eras of Thai culture. The garden-like setting of the village includes many sculptures and beautiful flowers and other native plants.
It had been a long, hot day with 5-6 hours on the minibuses by the time we arrived back in Chiang Mai, with just enough time to recharge for our day of learning traditional Thai massage tomorrow!

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Posted by alangcampbell 05:46 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School, Wat Chedi Luang Monk Chat

sunny 32 °C

Today we had our second Thai cooking school experience - this one in urban Chiang Mai, a short walk from our hotel, at Asia Scenic with "A", a diminutive, but authoritative and funny young male Thai chef. He equated "spicy" with "sexy" on Thai food culture which made for lots of (intended) double entendres throughout our cooking school day! So..."how sexy you want?" meant "how many chili peppers in your curry paste?". Good cuisine learning and lots of fun as well as a delicious succession of Thai dishes! Our cultural exposure day found balance later with a visit to another of Chiang Mai's many Buddhist temples, Wat Chedi Luang, where we had an hour Q&A with "Ja", a young Buddhist monk, as part of the temple's "Monk Chat" program. He is almost 20, has been a novice monk for 5 years, and plans to remain a monk for a further 3 years before becoming a teacher and rejoining normal Thai society. It was great to have the chance to ask all those things about which we had been wondering as we observed Thai religious life in Chiang Mai (94% of Thais are Buddhist). eg. Q: why do bad things happen to good people? A: karma; they did bad things in a previous life. Okay...an answer, yes, but perhaps no more satisfying than "shit happens"! They also have some philosophical sayings on little signs on the trees near the Monk Chat area - food for thought...

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Posted by alangcampbell 04:36 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thai Foot Massage, Hmong Village and Doi Suthep Temple

sunny 32 °C

Another full day started early with Thai foot massage at the Chiang Mai Women's Prison Massage Centre. Women inmates are trained in Thai massage in prison and then work at the Centre (near our hotel in the old city) so they have job skills and experience prior to their release. The massage was fantastic! According to the prison supervisor who spoke with us, 80% of the women are in prison on drug charges, and of those who train in massage very few re-offend - a successful program! Then we toured two nearby Buddhist temples in the old city - there are ~100 there in total!
After lunch we went by minibus to a Hmong (hill-tribe) village NW of Chiang Mai with two local guides. Living at 1500m, instead of their former opium crop they now grow coffee, vegetables and maintain a beautiful floral show-garden in return for Thai citizenship and services for their community.
On the way back to Chiang Mai we visited the extensive Doi Suthep temple complex, 360 stairs up from the road, a working Buddhist reliquary and temple since 1343, kept in immaculate condition with many ornate stupa, chapels, bells, Buddha figures and and other monuments with incredible views to Chiang Mai on the plains below.
Dinner at an old city restaurant near the Ta Phae gate capped off another great day in Northern Thailand!

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Posted by alangcampbell 06:22 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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