Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thailand Trip: Chiang Rai

The next day we left the hotel at 7am and drove out of Bangkok. Our first stop was a salt farm, a huge flat area of evaporation pans where they are reclaiming salt from seawater. We drove at least five miles through this area; some of the salt had dried and was gathered into neat white pyramids, but a lot of the fields were flooded with the saline solution.

We then stopped to see how the Thai people make sugar for themselves. This sugar is made out of coconut and the Thais use this sugar for cooking. We saw the liquid nectar being collected by an old man climbing up a tree. It is then put in vats and we saw it bubbling away on the smoky fires.

We then boarded the long tailed boats for an interesting boat ride through the Klongs to the Floating Market.

The Floating market was a remarkable place. The Thai people bring in their produce from far and wide and all trade is done from their boats. The boats carried a variety of goods from fruit and vegetables, rice, sugar, pots and pans and hats for the tourists to buy.

It was so hot and humid here that we would have enjoyed it a lot more if the temperature and humidity had been lower.

As we had travelled earlier along the Klongs to the floating market we had had our photograph taken and this, over the next couple of hours, was developed and stuck on a plate. When we left the Floating Market and got back to the coach, the enterprising photographer had a stall set up, with all the plates on sale for 150 Baht each. Our plate was quite a good picture of us, and of course we bought it...

We then went on what we felt a wasted trip to "the largest pagoda in the world". I thought it was a very ugly yellow building, a bit like an upturned ice cream cornet with scaffolding around it. There were some monks sitting cross legged on a table blessing people by flicking water over their heads. I didn't want to be blessed but I would not have minded having the water treatment, it might have cooled me down.

We then visited a wood carving factory, this was much more interesting. The carving was superb, it reminded us of the wood carvers in Nepal. There was a showroom which was air conditioned and we spent most of the time in there, although it was interesting to see the craftsmen actually carving out the furniture.

We had lunch at the Rose Garden and after lunch we went to the amphitheater for a culture show. We bought some bananas, and we just managed to feed them to the elephants, who were giving rides to the tourists.

The show was very good. Thai dancing is slow, and the dancers make full use of their hands, arms and feet. We saw an exhibition of Thai boxing - where they do pretty much the same! There was a cane dance, which I had seen on the Generation Game at home on T.V. "It hurts if you get it wrong"! We saw several more traditional dances. When we came out of the amphitheatre we watched the elephants pushing logs in and out of the water and entertaining us.

We would like to have spend longer here at the Rose Garden; there were obviously a lot of beautiful grounds to explore and we never had the time.

When the room boy turns down the bed for the night he leaves an orchid on the pillow every night.

Chiang Rai White Temple
Today we are flying to Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is about 500 miles north of Bangkok and the flight took about 45 minutes. Chiang Rai is the capital of Thailand's furthest northern province.

After landing in Chiang Rai we drove to our hotel, stopping to look at a pagoda on the way. The pagoda looked very old and was covered in mud and grass. We then went on a river trip. We got into long tailed boats and went racing up the Maekhong River. The river is very fast flowing. We watched some people on the far bank who were in the country of Laos, and were panning for gold at the edge of the river. There were naked laughing children leaping in and out of the water.

There were quite a few buffalo behaving like hippos, not much more than their nostrils out of the water. We cruised right up to the Golden Triangle. On the left bank was Burma, on the right band was Laos and behind us Thailand. All three countries so close with no customs posts anywhere. It was strange to be able to look at three different countries all within swimming distance.

As we came ashore we had our photograph taken against the sign say Golden Triangle.

We visited the Opium museum which was very small but no less interesting for all that. We were told that smuggling still goes on here As well as opium, cross-border smuggling through the Golden Triangle involves manufactured items such as razor blades, toothpaste and biros going into Burma and Laos, and stolen religious artifacts coming out.

We were staying at Le Meridien Baan Boran. I feel much more in Thailand now, the countryside is just how I imagined it would be. There is a good pool at the hotel which we sampled after lunch.

The safety system at this hotel for locking up your valuables is to collect a padlock from reception and use it to lock a small cupboard in our bedroom. We duly collect our padlock and 'secure' our valuables!!

The following day we went to visit a Thai mountian village. The village lay in a deep hollow in the forest. It was quite a steep climb down and I was a bit worried about getting back up as it was very slippery on the dry clay soil.

The young men were away working in the fields. Some very pretty colourful girls and young children were in the village. I bought a bracelet from one pretty Mum with a baby slung on her back. The child was a chubby smiling little thing. There was one little boy who took a shine to Ralph and took hold of his hand and was quite determined to pull him back up the hill - which he duly did. He got a tip from Ralph for his trouble which was the object of the exercise, but he was worth it - a little charmer with a lovely smile.

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