A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand

Chiang Mai to Bangkok

sunny 32 °C

Our last morning in Chiang Mai! We had just enough time to return to a couple of favourite local temples and savour the pace of street life in the old city, Then we piled into two of the little red transport trucks ("rapchangs") with all our suitcases strapped to the tops, and made our way to the airport for the 1hr+ flight to Bangkok.

Thailand's capital city is immense and we managed to be in the traffic to our downtown hotel during the afternoon rush hour. There are an amazing number of scooters and motorbikes here! Every intersection looks like a motorbike convention as they all seem to sneak up between the cars at the lights and take over the front of the queue.

The Rikka Inn is on the street of the night market, so our minibus driver let us off at one end and we threaded our way through the growing shopping/strolling crowd to find it. Rooms here are smaller and less funky than the Parasol Inn in Chiang Mai, but they have everything you need in about 200 sq ft.

Dinner in a quiet outdoor restaurant down a private alley was delightful, but Bangkok's 33C humid heat doesn't dissipate until overnight, and then only down to 23C! A stroll down the night market street madness and back to our hotel room - thank goodness for air conditioning!

Tomorrow we are up early and off to visit the ancient abandoned Siamese capital of Ayutthaya north of Bangkok!

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Posted by alangcampbell 07:10 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Washing the Elephants...or not!

sunny 30 °C

Alan spent pretty much all last night practising his "Thai two-step" moves and "praying" repeatedly at the holy toilet, so opted to stay at the hotel and get some sleep today. Catriona, clearly made of much sterner stuff, left around 8 with the rest of the group for the Elephant sanctuary so at least we were represented! It seems I may have had a bad shrimp in my otherwise excellent Thai dinner at highly-recommended Huen Phen restaurant last evening.

At this sanctuary, the elephant herd (43 in all!) can roam a huge area and interact with people for their feeding and washing in the river. Catriona was able to get up close and personal with several of the gentle giants, who elsewhere in Thailand are still used to work in the jungle for clearing and hauling. It was a fabulous experience seeing the elephants in their family groups and learning more about their situation in Thailand. It was heartbreaking to see some of the abuses that the elephants had suffered in the logging, circus and begging industry and were still living with the effects of broken hips, blindness and broken bones. Lek has been rescuing since the late 1990s and was giving this large property to continue her work rescuing abused elephants. a number of baby elephants have been born here and the mothers choose a nanny and family group to help her look after them. We spent the day wandering around feeding, bathing them sitting in the sun watching them frolic in the river. What a wonderful day for Catriona and the group. Alan's better so we off to the Riverside restaurant tonight.

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Posted by alangcampbell 02:22 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Mae Kampong Homestay

sunny 30 °C

Our trip to Mae Kampong took less than an hour by minibus, but the change from Chiang Mai's busy urban scene to the tranquillity of the hill tribe people was truly remarkable! By cultivating shade-grown coffee and tea under the large trees on nearby slopes, and by hosting people like us in their homes, the villagers are able to subsist and maintain their traditional rural family lifestyle. After being billeted in various homes, we went for an energetic hike up and down beside a mountain stream with 7 waterfalls! We were all more than ready for a break to enjoy their local coffee and tea in a cafe perched on the edge of the ravine.

But the really great thing about this trip was the opportunity we had to get to know some local people and how they live. We had 4 Thai-speaking guides with us to help translate, since the villagers know little English, and one village elder to lead us on the hike through their lands. Dinner was a terrific array of spicy and not-so-spicy vegetable/meat dishes taken with lots of rice, and more hot sauces if you were so inclined! They refer to the tiny local everything shop as the "7-11" since that chain is very well known here. So it was that in the morning, before breakfast we all convened at the "7-11" to help present their temple monk on his daily begging bowl rounds with gifts of food from our hosts. The diminutive, smiling monk received all the donations and chanted a blessing for us all before continuing on his way. The little children on their plastic tricycles seemed to already have the right attitude to charge around the narrow roads on scooters as most Thai seem to do! Eric, one of our group, delighted them by taking their photo with his iPhone and showing them the result!

On the way back to our hotel in Chiang Mai we stopped in Bosang at large demonstration workshops for making parasols, Thai silk and silver jewellery, and of course, equally large shops attached to sell their wares! We enjoyed another great Thai massage in Chiang Mai, but a few of our group decided to try the "fish massage" in which you put your feet in a tank with lots of little fish who nibble off your dead skin! The Sunday Walking Market, partly on our street, is in full swing as this is posted, complete with entertainers and vendors of everything you can imagine and then some!

Tomorrow, the group heads out of town again, this time to a nearby elephant sanctuary, as our time in Chiang Mai draws to a close in a couple of days.

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Posted by alangcampbell 06:44 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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)

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