Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thailand Trip: Chiang Mai

We then stopped at another village. We had to walk along a hot dusty road to get there as the coach couldn't drive along the narrow track. There was a different tribe here at this village. These people were very colourful. They were selling lots of brightly coloured dolls and cushion covers they had made. There are about 20 different tribes that live in the north of Thailand

We stopped for lunch at a nice cool restaurant, the restaurant was on a river with buffaloes grazing by the side of the water. We ate sticky rice, lots of dishes, all tasting great.

After lunch we drove to the border between Burma and Thailand. Our guide Otto told us that if you go to the loo behind a bush here, if you're a man you are said to be "shooting the rabbit." At least that's what it sounded like, though by common consent we are sure he meant "shooting the rapids." A lady is said to be "picking the flowers."

Thai pronunciation does sometimes need a bit of interpretation. One that really puzzled us for some time was when Otto told us that they use Tamarind pods for "cleaning the sewer." Why on earth would they want to do that we wondered. It was only some time later that we figured he meant "cleaning the silver."

He told us that all 18 year old boys are liable for army service, but that the army doesn't want all the boys. So... when they are of age, they go down to their local police station where there is a jar full of black and white beans. They plunge their hand in and pull out a bean; if it's black they serve in the army; if it's white, they don't. The number of black beans in the jar is the number of young men that they need in the army from that area. Otto got a white bean. Seems like a good fair way to do it to me.

When we got back to the hotel I phoned for a massage. "How many masseurs did madam require?" "Only one, thank you"; the mind boggles!! When she came she used her feet and elbows and my back and neck didn't feel any better. Definitely not as good as Onee in Bangkok.

Every night when we go to bed a weather forecast for the following day is left on our pillow. I thought it was only the British that were that interested in the weather!

The following morning we left to drive to Chiang Mai. We ground our way up and down the hills with the scenery getting pretty monotonous. We stopped after a couple of hours at some hot springs. The hot springs consisted of a shallow well gently bubbling. We were told that we could boil eggs if we wanted, none of us wanted to boil and egg, and we all felt that as hot springs go this one was a bit tepid.

Along the road at different intervals are shrines to the various gods. When our coach driver passes a special shrine, special to him that is, he sounded his horn three times as a sign of respect.

We arrived at Chiang Mai at lunch time. Chiang Mai is the largest northern town and the second largest town in Thailand. Chiang Mai is about 435 miles north of Bangkok. The present city surrounded by the moat and wall, dates from 1296. Chiang means town and Mai means new. It's not so new now, but at least it's newer than Chiang Rai, which was the original northern capital.

We are staying at the Empress Hotel for the next two nights. After settling in we went and had a swim which was very refreshing.

We ate out tonight sitting on cushions. It was pretty uncomfortable. We ate with our fingers, and the food was very tasty. Pork scratchings, chicken, banana all deep fried. While we ate we watched a display of Thai dancing. It wasn't easy trying to eat, sitting on the floor while trying to watch the stage show, and take photographs! Thai dancing isn't very exciting to watch, but it is quite colourful. The candle dance was very good and looked most effective.

We had to take off our shoes when we went in to eat so after dinner we found our shoes, put them back on and went into another building to watch another culture show. This time the dancers came from the hill tribes. We enjoyed two of the dances, one was a man dressed in the feathers of a peacock, and the other was the rice dance.

On our pillow tonight is an orchid with a note which says 'Goodnight, have a pleasant sleep'.

The next morning we visited the oldest temple in Thailand called Doi Suthep. We wound up and up a very steep mountain deeply wooded on one side and a high cliff on the other side. When we got to the top we had a choice of walking up 306 steps, or going up by funicular railway; needless to say we chose the latter. There is a panoramic view of Chiang Mai from here.

Doi Suthep, is the oldest temple and is very beautiful and peaceful. We were glad we had come here. I bought a lotus flower, a candle, a joss stick and some gold leaf. I put everything by a statue, except the gold leaf which I shall take home.

Once a year, in May, all the people in the town of Chiang Mai walk up the mountain to the temple. It takes about six hours to walk up the steep road. Otto told us it is like a great big carnival with singing and dancing and everyone is in a happy party mood.

Many stories surround the monastery. One relates how a white elephant carrying a Buddha relic was allowed to wander about Chiang Mai. Where it stopped, at the foot of Doi Suthep, a temple was built. A pagoda covered in gold tiles houses the relic. The monastery was completed in 1383.

Before we went to lunch we visited the first of many of the craft factories that Chiang Mai is famous for. This one was for umbrella making. They make both umbrellas and fans here both in silk and cotton.

As we went in a pretty lady took my small camera and in only a couple of minutes she had painted a butterfly on it. I think the paint is probably enamel. It looks beautiful and I was really pleased. Lots of the group had different things painted on their camera bags, cameras, handbags and purses. We were shown how they make the umbrellas and fans. It was a super place to visit, very colourful.

After lunch we did the round of more craft centres. At the silk factory we were all given a little pink silk rose to pin on our shirts. This factory was particularly interesting as we saw the silk worms munching their mulberry leaves and we were shown how they extract the silk from the chrysalises.

There were lots of girls working on the looms making silk material out of brightly coloured silks. We were also shown into the showroom. This is the silk factory where Princess Diana came and got some silk. We looked at the silk shirts and ties but they were pretty expensive. Things are a lot cheaper in the markets but we were told that in the markets the silk is often mixed with cotton or rayon and it is impossible to tell this by looking at it.

We next visited a leather factory, then a wood carving factory. The wood carving was disappointing; it was the one place where we were most looking forward to seeing as we were thinking of buying a carving. But the carvings were either ugly, or they were very expensive. The carved wall pictures which were the only thing we really liked were over $1000!

Last visit of the day was to the silver makers. We found a gold charm here that Ralph bought me. We try and get a gold charm from every country we visit to go on my gold bracelet. The one we bought was a Thai Buddha. The silver items were very reasonable.

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