Friday, February 20, 2015

Chiang Mai

We reluctantly said goodbye to the awesome beaches of Railay (now that I've been reminded by son Jeremy, Railey is actually a peninsula, connected to the mainland, though it feels so much like an island since you can only access it by boat), took a long tail boat back to Krabi for a night, and then flew to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand.

Before going any further with the blog of all that we did in Thailand, I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment just to thank Jeremy for all the energy and effort he put into planning our trip.  He was so sweet to give us tons of alternatives of things to do, places to visit and experiences to enjoy, doing all he could to make sure we got to see as much of the beauty, pageantry, history and culinary delights as Thailand has to offer.  Even though we were there for three weeks, there's way too much to see for this time period.  But for weeks in advance of our trip, he kept sending us info on all the places he had been, as well as the recommendations from his friends and work colleagues so we would have a wide assortment from which to choose.  All of his efforts certainly paid off for us to have a truly remarkable experience in a part of the world we likely never would have visited were it not for his being there.  So props and kudos to you, Jeremy, for planning an amazingly awesome trip for us!!

Now back to the narrative--even though we only had one afternoon and evening in Krabi, it was fun.  Our hotel was a very small place, the small lobby was right on the street, but it was really beautiful.  There was a beautiful wooden spiral staircase leading up to the rooms--ours of course was on the top floor--with a small area at the base of the staircase where you left your shoes.  We had a small balcony overlooking the street and giving us distant views of the river.  Lots of street life to view from our balcony, from some sort of small parade to vendors hawking their wares--and of course gazillions of motor bikes snaking in and out of traffic, like everywhere in Thailand.  This takes some adjustment, combined with the fact that they drive on the left side of the road--always need to be on your toes to keep from getting run over!  Anyway, we strolled along the river as the sun was setting, saw the huge crab statue, and visited the big night market, where there were tons of food vendors.  We took our time going from one to the other, deciding on what we wanted, and then watched them cook it in huge woks--lots of families out for dinner here, since it's ridiculously cheap.  We saw motor scooters with mom, dad and a toddler or two all on the same vehicle!  After some wonderful green curry with tofu, we stopped at a juice stand for some fresh pineapple/mango smoothies--delicious!

The next morning we took a flight to Chiang Mai.  Several reasons drew us to Chiang Mai--one of Jeremy's high school classmates and soccer teammates, Dean Bordeaux, lives and teaches there, plus it is a good jumping off point for trekking through the mountains of the north.  Dean has been in Thailand since he graduated from college.  He married a beautiful Thai woman, Mot, and now has two precious children, his 5 year old son Namkang, and younger daughter, Maprang.  Dean speaks fluent Thai, which is no small feat, as Thai is a tonal language and the same word can have significantly different meanings, depending on the tone used.  At dinner at their house one evening, Mot was asking me what Thai foods I particularly enjoyed--not being shy, I thought I would try out my newly acquired few Thai words.  So I attempted to say I liked green curry with tofu--she looked at me blankly with no comprehension, so I said it in English and she repeated it in Thai, and I swear I thought it was exactly what I was saying!!  So much for my Thai ability!!  But Jeremy says this is often his experience as well, so I guess I wasn't unique in that respect.   But their family is just lovely--it's so interesting to watch Nam Kang develop as a bilingual child, too.  Mot typically speaks Thai to him and he responds to her in Thai; Dean speaks English to him and he responds in English, but he toggles back and forth so easily, it's quite something to observe!

Dean had given Jeremy the recommendation of a wonderful hotel, that's really more like a bed and breakfast, done in traditional style, consisting of several buildings, all of which were originally part of a family compound.  The same family now operates the hotel and it was just gorgeous.  In some ways it was sort of rustic, but elegantly so.  It sits behind a wall on a busy street, but once you enter the compound, you're instantly and magically transported into a tropical paradise that makes it hard to believe you're still in the middle of a big city.  We entered the reception building and were greeted by the owner with the traditional Thai greeting, including a gesture called a "wai," where you put your hands together in front of you, prayer like, and make a slight bow.  It is customary for this to be initiated by the person wishing to show respect for the other, e.g., the hotelier to his guests, a younger person to an older person (both of which applied here, at least as far as Trisha and I were concerned, not so much Jeremy on the second count-LOL!), a subordinate to a superior, etc.  Then the other person returns the gesture, to complete the showing of mutual respect.  (One of the funniest instance of this is that in front of many McDonald's stores there is a Ronald McDonald statue, and he is making a "wai"!)  It is also tradition to take off your shoes before entering a household, and many shops also have signs asking you to remove your shoes--I like this tradition!  So, after registering, he escorted us through a gorgeous garden, past the pool to another building, sort of a quadraplex, where we had a two room suite on the upper floor, with a balcony overlooking the garden.  Fresh flowers adorned the room, with rose petals strewn across each bed, quite the beautiful place.  Each morning we were there we sat on the deck by the pool for breakfast, just an incredibly beautiful scene to start each day!

When we first got to Chiang Mai, Jeremy took us downtown to the markets--lots of these throughout the city.  The biggest one is on the weekends, around the remains of the ancient city walls, where they sell anything you can imagine.  We found some wonderful souvenirs, saw some interesting and intricate crafts--especially loved the teak carvings--and enjoyed lots of wonderful street foods.  Jeremy had visited Dean previously for their traditional New Year's celebration, called Sonkran, which Jeremy describes as just one ginormous water fight.  There is of course the beginning of the parades, with the religious themes, and then everyone just gets wild and crazy.  Jeremy said Dean loaded up a huge drum with water in the bed of his pickup and they drove downtown where everyone is soaking everyone else with water.  He said it was one of the most fun things he's done--glad he and everyone else had fun, but not sorry we missed it--sounds like the sort of thing we might have enjoyed more at his age!!

Anyway, we visited several beautiful Buddhist temples, and at one there was a wonderful feature called "monk chat," where several young monks were sitting on benches under a big shade tree, answering questions.  There are tons and tons of different temples, with some sort of hierarchy, though never really understood exactly how that works.  I guess similar to churches in this country, some are wealthier than others, basically supported by benefactors hoping to "make merit."  Though the monk chat was at this big temple, one of the monks we talked to actually lives at another, smaller temple.  Each morning, the streets are filled with monks carrying their big "begging bowls," into which lay people put donations of money and food, following the Buddhist tradition where the monks are the ones responsible for the daily practice and the lay people are responsible for supporting the monks.  So, after their morning rounds, the monks take whatever food is donated back to the temple and that's what the monks share to eat for the rest of the day, so I guess they never know quite what they'll be eating from one day to the next.

Right next door to our hotel was a lovely store that had incredible handmade goods from several of the hill tribe people in the northern part of the country; some of the most beautiful scarves, leather goods and fabrics we saw the whole time we were in Thailand.  Everything was very reasonably priced, and we were glad to support this store, who emphasized that the largest percentage of sales proceeds goes to the indigenous people.

Lobby of our hotel in Krabi--you can see how it's right on the street.

The decor theme seemed to be antiques, like this telephone and the trumpet phonograph in the second pic below

Interesting paper shade over one of the lobby lights

You can see the bank of drawers where you deposited your shoes before heading up the spiral staircase

Looking out at the river from the balcony of our room.

A broom vendor on his bicycle in the street below

One of many "spirit houses," which are ubiquitous throughout the country.  Often in the shape of a Buddhist temple, when you look inside you often see animal figures, a holdover of the ancient tradition of animist religious practices that still pervade much of modern day religion.  Many people have them outside their houses, and often just beside shops.

Looking down on a spirit house outside a small store across the street

The next two pics are of what appeared to be something of a small parade, with drum and cymbal
In this picture you can see a couple of the small shops across the street, typical of so many "shop houses,"  where the shopkeeper lives in part of the building, either behind the street front shop, or in some cases on a second floor.  One interesting feature is that often the shopkeepers drive their cars right into the front of the shop for the night!
Couldn't resist taking this pic of a santa themed fish statue!
Always lovely flowers everywhere!

In the night market

In the following picture, these are intricately configured hand made fresh flower garlands--locals buy these to hang from the rear view mirrors in their cars--we were in a taxi one day and the driver stopped a vendor to buy a fresh one to replace the wilting flowers on the one he had--and it's viewed as a blessing to Buddha to display these.  The taxi driver paid the vendor, hung it on the rear view, brought his hands together with a small bow to Buddha--pretty cool!
Apples and dragon fruit
Lots of different varieties of bananas
Hard to make out some of these things, but some looked like huge worms!

Krabi's huge crab statue by the riverfront!

Sunset in Krabi!
The huge street food vendor area
This cute little lady cooked me up some fine green curry with tofu!
This is where we got our yummy fresh fruit smoothies!

Outside one of the reception buildings at our hotel in Chiang Mai--this is right beside the pool and the deck where we enjoyed breakfast each morning.

 Lovely salt water pool

 Walkway to our building

 Our suite was on the top floor on the left

 Sundial garden
 Some of the beautiful flowers in the garden between the pool and our suite
 Fresh flowers in our room!
 Jeremy's bed in the living room
 Our bed
 Flower petals on our bed!
 Loved the beautiful wood ceilings
 Wall hanging in our room
 Loved this spiral fabric print on the wall!

 Balcony outside our suite
 Looking down over the garden and pool from our suite
 Spirit house in the entry garden of the hotel

 These next several pics are from one of the huge markets in Chiang Mai, with everything from lovely fresh flowers, to pigs feet to some creepy crawlers, which we decided to pass!

 Apologies for some of these being out of order, but having a bit of trouble today getting the computer to cooperate when uploading pictures.  This is just one of many beautiful temples we visited

 Narrow canals running through parts of the city
 Big moat that surrounded the ancient city walls.  You can see part of the remains of the wall in the right background across the moat

 Another piece of the wall ruins

 Thought this bicycle leaning up agains the old wall was a hoot with the skull and horns!

 Passed by this restaurant with these lovely hanging seats

 Just thought the colors and decorations in the restaurant were quite beautiful

 Lovely flowers on the sidewalk by the restaurant

 This is a traditional old style Thai house, now an architectural museum

 While in some respects, we saw so many temples, some of it tends to run together in my mind, but in fact, each one is different

 Heavy emphasis on ornate and intricate decorations, lots of hand painting and inlay, with gold and jewels

 Trisha receiving a blessing from one of the monks in one temple; he would intone the words of blessing and then tie a small woven string bracelet on her arm

 Since my first real experience with Buddhism was at the Zen monastery, I was quite intrigued with the differences between the very colorful trappings in the temples here--very similar in this respect to Tibetan Buddhism--and the stark, black and white images of Zen Buddhism

 A lot of temples have these steep stairs leading up to more chapel-like rooms

 And there are usually many smaller chapel like rooms or buildings throughout the grounds of larger temple complexes

 A golden Buddha outside . . .

 And a much larger one inside

 Trisha always loves doorways, not just for the physical beauty associated with their construction, but more so for the openings into new thoughts and ideas they symbolize
 Statue of a particularly revered monk.

 You can bet your bottom dollar Trisha was not a happy camper when she saw this sign!!  Not every temple, but some, had certain areas that are still off limits to women.

 My father, the master of all punsters, would have really loved this restaurant sign!!