Subject: Thailand Trip Part II (long)
Hello to all, Continuing with traveling in Thailand, here is Part II..... only one more part .

Ruth Marie Colorado

November 25: Moving day and Jim is fighting a sore throat. Several days later we deduced that he was having an allergic reaction to the air pollution as well as the transition back and forth from hot humid outside air to air-conditioned bus and hotels. This is the day that we fly to Chiang Mai in the northern part of the country. So we had a leisurely breakfast and got everything packed up to depart. Had lunch on the way to the airport and needless to say, another outstanding meal. Chiang Mai is the capital of the north and has a very nice airport. Preecha, our bus driver, and Bier, his helper, had left the evening before and driven AThe Bordello@ through the night to be there to meet us! We arrived at The Park Hotel by 4:00 p.m. ( While enjoying a welcome drink we were briefed by Note on what would happen during the time we were in this area. We were also offered the opportunity to try a traditional Thai massage at an extremely reasonable price. Amazingly I was the only one to take advantage of this. It was very interesting, done in our hotel room, and quite different to the therapeutic Swedish massage that I have once a month in the US.

Dinner was in the hotel and - need I say it? - another very nice buffet. After doing a bit of laundry we made an early evening of it because we were to be on the bus at 6:15 a.m. for alms giving.

November 26: True to form, everyone was ready early and we were on the bus by 6:10 a.m. The monks come each morning into the cities and towns all over Thailand to collect alms for the day. This consists of offerings of food (mostly) from the people who live in the area. Yesterday Note had asked who wanted to participate and everyone decided to take part in this very moving ceremony. Since the monks do not work for pay, the only way to obtain daily food is from the generosity of others. Each monk carries an alms bowl, made of metal or wood, which has a lid. In Chiang Mai they live in a temple complex at the top of a mountain. (More to come about that temple). They walk down the mountain into the city and as they do, people stand along the route with individual packets of food. The local citizens have prepared this food themselves; however, since that was not possible for us, Note had arranged to purchase the usual items from a family who does this as a business. We each had a plastic tray with small plastic bags containing different foods in single serving sizes. On my tray was curry, rice, green beans and a piece of fruit as well as a container of juice. Note took us to an area where we could see the monks as they came down the pathway. Then he demonstrated for us the process for giving alms and receiving a blessing. As a monk approached, he stepped forward and knelt on one knee. The monk opened his alms bowl. Note rose and carefully placed the items from his tray in the bowl. Then he knelt again and the monk said a blessing just for him. As more monks approached, each of us took our turn. Once his bowl is full, the monk walks back up the mountain. They only eat twice a day. After midday they are not allowed to chew anything so they come very early in the morning to collect the alms. Food is not supposed to be an important part of their existance; it is only to sustain life. Every male in a traditional Buddhist family is expected to spend a period of his life as a monk. For those who are not going to make monkhood their life's work, the time period is usually three months. They can do this as early as age nine. Note said that doing this service brings great honor to the entire family and that many young Thai women still today will not marry a man who has not spent some time as a monk. He did mention that he does have friends who have not yet served and he wonders if they ever will. The trays were returned to the family who had provided the food, and we drove back to the hotel for breakfast.

Our next order of business this day was a visit to Wat Chedi Luang temple to have a discussion with two monks. The Mahamakut Buddhist University, where the temple is located, has undergone renovations with help from a donation from the Grand Circle Foundation, a charitable organization which OAT supports. This was very interesting. Both monks spoke English very well. The senior one had traveled in the United States as well as many other places in the world. He did the explanations and the younger monk handled the question and answer period. The abbot of the temple was having his 84th birthday celebration that day and many people were there to take part.

Afterwards we headed up the aforementioned mountain to the most magnificent temple that we visited in the northern part of the country - Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. We rode up the mountain negotiating hairpin turns until we came to a flight of 300 stairs flanked by naga serpents whose tails coil up the mountain to the temple. We had a choice of climbing the stairs or riding a funicular up to the temple which was on the top of the mountain. Jim and I decided to ride up and take the stairs down - a very good decision. The temple complex was outstandingly beautiful!

After lunch we visited a local handicraft area where umbrellas and fans are made. We were able to walk through the workshop and watch each stage of construction, including the making of paper from the mulberry tree. Beautifully decorative hand-made items were the end result. Fascinating to watch. It may be well to note that the area around Chiang Mai is known as the handicraft center of the country. We were to visit several places where we could actually watch the work being done and then have the opportunity to purchase the items being made.

Dinner this evening was taken at a local home. Greeting us were Uncle Thom, his single 27 year old niece Oar (father was a fisherman) and their next door neighbor Po who had come to help cook and serve the meal. From our discussion with Oar, who spoke the most English, she helps Po with dinner parties so Po was reciprocating. We were greeted with warm lemon grass tea which was very sweet. An interesting variation on fried wonton, regular and sticky rice, a beef and vegetable dish, roasted chicken, stewed eggplant, and a bok choy type cabbage salad rounded out the meal with dessert being made of bananas which had been mashed with seasonings and then wrapped in strips of banana leaves to resemble small cones.

Oar showed us their home. The kitchen was separated from the main house in a 3 sided roofed structure. The home was on stilts with the lower level being 2 screened rooms and the upper level being 3 rooms. The room in which we ate was like a large screened porch which was essentially the living and dining area. The other two rooms were bedrooms for Oar and Uncle Thom. Their pallets were on the floor and hung above them were mosquito nets. There was a chest for clothes and pegs on the wall for hanging things. On a very high shelf in Oar's room was a small ginger jar. She explained that the ashes of the mother of the family always resided with the oldest daughter and this container held her Mother's ashes.

After dinner we took some of the group back to the hotel and the remainder of us went with Note on the bus to the Night Bazaar - truly a cacophony of sights and sounds! Shops were open on one long street and the sidewalks were lined with vendors. They begin around 6 each evening and close down at midnight! There is everything you can think of for sale! Genuine copies of all sorts of European designer goods (which did not interest me at all), every kind of sunglasses and watches imaginable, trinkets from everywhere, local handicrafts (which did interest me), huge insects and butterflies displayed in picture frames, jewelry, luggage, handbags - you name it! Of course every vendor had just what you wanted, according to the vendor! If you showed the least interest, you were quoted a price and expected to bargain. Everything seemed to go for about one third less than the beginning price. I only purchased a few local handicrafts as gifts, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

November 27: Up early this morning as we depart at 7:45 a.m. for a full day of fun. This is the day we visit the elephant camp. Elephants were traditionally used in the logging business which was begun by Louis Leonowens who was the son of Anna, the teacher of King Rama V. During the late 20th century when attempts were being made to save the forests, many elephants and their trainer/owners, known as mahouts, were put out of business. Places like we visited today have sprung up to give the elephants and mahouts a way to earn a living. When we arrived at the camp, the elephants were having a morning bath in the river. What fun to watch! Once they came from the river we went to an area where a small arena held rough hewn benches for us to sit. The elephants put on a little show to give an idea of their strength and their intelligence. This ended by having a few of the smaller ones actually come into the area where we were sitting. We held out 20 baht notes which they would take in their trunks and pass to their mahout. If you held out a banana (small bunches of them were for sale), the elephant would eat it immediately. The mahouts did not get the bananas! Note had advised us about this so we were ready with a pocket full of 20 baht notes (20 baht is equal to about 50 cents).

An elephant ride was next on the agenda. What a delight! There was a mounting platform which made it easy to climb into the seat strapped to the elephant's back. The mahout sat on his elephant's head and guided him or her. Our mahout did not speak any English aside from AHey@ and AThank you@ nor did he speak very much Thai. All of them are tribal people who have their own language. Our first stop along the way was at the fueling station where for 20 baht we bought the elephant an entire bunch of bananas which he ate in one mouthful!!! About 10 minutes into the ride, the mahout turned around, took the video camera out of Jim's hand and the next thing we knew he was getting off and motioning Jim to take his place on the elephant's head, leaving me in the seat alone. I gingerly slid over to the middle so that the load on the elephant would be a bit more balanced. Of course, Jim had no idea about what to do and the elephant wasn't going anywhere without direction. Another mahout and his passengers came up and with his vocabulary of AHey@ and some motioning he showed Jim that the elephant must be kicked behind the ears to make him move forward. One also had to lean forward and press your hands on the two bumps atop the elephant's head. Being the kind, gentle soul he is, Jim found it difficult to kick the elephant but soon realized that if we were going anywhere that day, he would have to do it. To turn right or left you had to kick more vigorously behind the appropriate ear! Soon he got the hang of it and we were lumbering off through the forest. The mahout was on the ground with the video camera and we did not know if he knew how to operate it or not. (Jim's camera is a bit different from the most common ones. Viewing the film when we returned home, we found that there is some footage of Jim Adriving@ the elephant. There is also a lot of footage of the surrounding foliage as well as the ground but that can be edited out of the final video.) At one point when Jim was driving, we passed a banana plantation. The elephant took over and headed toward the plantation. Nothing Jim did could get him back on the path. The mahout, walking along side, did not have much control over the elephant either! Managing to get a couple of stalks of greenery the elephant munched happily before allowing Jim to finally Akick@ him back onto the path. Needless to say, we laughed a lot on this journey. Eventually Jim came back to sit beside me, the mahout remounted and we headed to another fueling station to buy the elephant another bunch of bananas. What a thrill that was, especially for Jim to drive the elephant! We tipped the mahout twice what had been suggested because we never expected to have this personal experience of driving an elephant and this is when we learned that he knew the words AThank you.@ No one else in our group took the opportunity to do it, but Jim is like me, and we feel that when given the opportunity to do something unusual, we should go for it.

Our next activity was taking a bamboo raft to get down the river to the place where the bus was waiting. It was pretty much a pleasant float with 4 passengers and 2 rafters with poles. We went through a couple of little riffles caused by rocks in the river, passed a lovely waterfall, saw several kingfishers and generally just enjoyed the scenery.

After another delicious lunch, we visited a silk facility. We saw everything from the worms devouring mulberry leaves to unwinding the cocoons, to harvesting the silk threads to spinning the threads to weaving. It was fascinating! I had seen pictures of the process in books but had never actually witnessed it. This facility also did batik work on cotton. They had several handicapped workers who painted the batik patterns. We spent time watching a young man who worked by holding the brush in his mouth because he was unable to use his hands. He was very artistic but it was painstakingly slow for him. At least he was gainfully employed and that is not the case for many handicapped people in this part of the world. Many of them are reduced to having to beg to stay alive. The other craft places we visited in this area were lacquerware, woodcarving, where they were making teak furniture, and hammered silverware which was very interesting to watch.

Dinner was taken at an open-air riverside restaurant with live music. Tonight was jazz night. It was soft background jazz - perfect for dining. We learned from Note that the King is an accomplished jazz saxophonist who has written music. (More to come on the King.) One of the dishes at dinner was outstanding: chicken crusted in sesame seed then baked and served with a lemon sauce. Dessert was fruit and along with the familiar watermelon, pineapple and papaya we had two new ones - green guava and rose apple.

Those who wanted to go to the Night Bazaar again were dropped off by the bus, but tonight we had to find our own way home. Mary Swan, our single traveler, stayed with Jim and me. I wanted to do a bit more purchasing and Jim wanted to get some video footage so while Mary and I bargained for merchandise, he filmed. When we'd had enough shopping, we bargained with a tuk-tuk driver to take us back to the hotel for 40 baht (about a dollar). It wasn't very far but we had a wild ride! The tuk-tuks in Thailand are a bit different to the ones in Cambodia in that they are true three-wheeled vehicles. In Cambodia, they are rickshaws tied to the rear of motor bikes. The Thai tuk-tuks are made to carry 2 people comfortably but can carry 3 or 4 uncomfortably. Also, they are more modern and go much faster! It was quite a sight to see the 3 of us along with our purchases crammed into the little tuk-tuk literally flying along the street where there were other tuk-tuks also flying along with regular vehicles. Jim had the video camera running all the while and I really wasn't sure we were going to arrive in one piece. Sort of reminded me of AMr. Toad's Wild Ride@ from Wind in the Willows!

November 28: Moving day as we head out at 8:00 a.m. going further north to the town of Chiang Rai and then on to Chiang Saen. After a few hours we had a rest stop at a most interesting open air coffee shop/restaurant which is called Cabbages and Condoms - yes, you read that correctly! Mr. Mechai Viravaidya, who has held four cabinet positions and who was at one time Thailand's Minister of Health, is an ardent proponent of birth control. He began a huge campaign encouraging people to use condoms both for birth control and health reasons. In fact, condoms in Thailand are now known as mechais, named for this well-known politician. He owns and operates this restaurant chain. There are numerous branches with the main restaurant in Bangkok. You can buy condoms as easily as cappuccino. This gentleman has also become active in the fight against the spread of AIDS. He is Thailand's leading philanthropist and his nonprofit organization, the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) backs birth control, environmental conservation, rural development and AIDS. His champion cause continues to be birth control and thanks in part to his effort, Thailand's birth rate has dropped below 1.5% per year.

The road was curvy as we climbed and climbed. Note had told us earlier that American style pie was the speciality of the house at the place where we were having lunch - The Charin Garden Resort Food and Bakery. He was not wrong! The Thai lady who owned the lovely outdoor restaurant traveled extensively when she was younger and had lived in Florida for a number of years. There she learned to make pie. There was a huge assortment in the cold case way out here in the forest! Apple, pecan, pineapple, banana cream, chocolate cream, lemon cream, key lime, as well as several kinds of cheesecakes! You never know what you will find around the next bend in the road when you travel! That's what makes it so much fun!!

Reaching Chiang Rai about 2:00 p.m. we had a bathroom stop at a gas station. It was here that we began to find eastern (squat-type) toilets rather than our familiar western (sit-down) style. There is no comfortable way for a female in slacks to deal with these but having no other alternative we learned to use them.

Chiang Rai is the gateway to the area known as the AGolden Triangle,@ where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand come together. Thanks to the sheltering hills, navigable rivers, and fiercely independent tribal cultures, the region was once infamous as a center for renegades and drug smuggling. There are many legends and stories about the opium warlords who once held sway here.

At one time local people did indeed turn to the cultivation of opium for survival - including several bands of Chinese nationalist followers of Chiang Kai Shek, who have been living in the area since the Revolution. But times have changed. The government has established many programs to introduce more viable crops, and most of the people are law-abiding farmers. Tourism has become a more profitable and safe alternative than drug smuggling. The local people are more concerned about preserving their old traditions. And life in the Golden Triangle is much more peaceful than in the old days.

We transferred to the back of small pickup trucks to head up into the hills to visit two ethnic tribes. These little pickups were covered but have open-air sides. An uncomfortable wooden or metal bench which held four people ran along each side. We had seen these vehicles crammed with up to 20 people. It was very spacious for the eight of us who climbed in; however, once we hit the dirt tracks that led into the mountains where the tribes lived, it was extremely dusty! I tied my bandana across my face, wild west style, in order to cut down on the dust that was getting into my mouth and lungs. Even though we were picking up tremendous amounts of dust, it was great fun to bump along in this vehicle for a bit.

More than 20 distinct, semi-nomadic tribes inhabit northern Thailand and the borderlands of Burma and Laos. Some have obscure origins, most have their own language, and all have unique customs.

The first tribe we visited, the Ekaw, appeared very poor. Most of the adults were away from the village helping with the rice harvest in order to bring some hard cash to the tribal coffers. The school teacher and the children were there along with a few elders and all the animals. The teacher cradled a cat in her arms as she had the children recite for us in their language. The school was an open air hut with dirt floor. There were wall charts and some books. After school let out, it became apparent that each child had a pet of some kind: a cat or dog or bird or little piglet to hang onto.

The second tribe, the Yao people, seemed better off. They were nearer the main road and very much into commerce. They had little stalls for selling items in front of their homes in the village. One lady was weaving silk shawls and scarves while her daughter handled sales. Several ladies were selling the type of hats they wore. In fact, I ended up with a shawl and two different hats from tribal ladies.

The Chiang Saen River Hill Hotel ( was small and less elaborate than the others we stayed in; however, it was quite adequate. The village was full of roosters who began their wake-up calls about 3:30 a.m. long before the sun began to come up!

November 29: Departing our hotel around 8:30 a.m. we headed to the town of Mae Sai which is on the Sai River. Just across the river at that point, is the Burmese village of Tachilek in the Shan state. Our base in Mae Sai was the Wong Thong Hotel lobby and restaurant. The town was crammed with shops. Note gave us 45 minutes to stroll around and ward off vendors while he took all our passports and went to deal with the paperwork to get us across the border. We walked single file with him in the lead through the Thai and Burma checkpoints, crossing the border by bridge. Once we were on the Burma side each of us was assigned to a bicycle rickshaw driver. With Note and his driver (pedaler?) in the lead we threaded our way through the village, stopping to visit several sites, including a Shan temple. One settlement we visited was very primitive. The women were drawing water from a well, washing their clothes and their hair. Their looms were set up in the open air homes and some were roasting peanuts in the shell. The smell was delectable. We also visited a very simple Buddhist temple, not at all ornate like the others we have seen. It was very interesting in that it had the 10 steps of Buddha's life, from birth to death, painted on the walls..... it reminded me of the stations of the cross in Catholic churches. Our last stop in the village was the shopping area. There were stalls and then there were vendors who carried their wares and approached you in the street. They were the most persistent that we encountered during the entire trip. They were mostly selling cigarettes and gadgets of all sorts and they would not stay out of your face. Even more annoying were a number of small children who had been taught to bother the tourists. They got so bothersome that Note took them to task verbally and some of them backed off, but not all. This was the first adverse experience we'd had with vendors or children, but I suppose that their way of life is a bit more desperate than that of the Thai people.

We came back across the border (river) to the aforementioned hotel for a buffet lunch and then 30 more minutes of shopping before boarding the bus to head to the Mekong River on the Thai side. Before we left Bangkok, Note told us he would try to find time and a boat that would take us across the river to Laos, if some of us wanted to go. Of course, we all did. Who would turn down another chance to ride in a boat or a chance to say we had also been to Laos. This was not included in the itinerary so he worked out a price with the boat owner; we each paid our share and we were off. It was a super boat ride. We could see Thailand, Burma and Laos from a vantage point along the river. When we got to the shore that was Laos, there was a little settlement. The people are enterprising so there were the vendors stalls but these were extremely laid back sales people compared to what we had experienced in Burma that morning! It was just nice to settle down with a cold can of Coke and watch the ebb and flow of life in the settlement.

As we came back to the village on the Thai side we stopped to watch a boat from China unloading boxes of Fugi apples. There were numerous workers who loaded themselves with three boxes of apples down on the boat. Then they had to climb a very long flight of stairs to reach the truck where the boxes were stacked for transport. As we watched we noticed that each worker carried a special bamboo stick on each trip. When they reached the top of the stairs, they dropped the stick in a box. Note told us that each worker's sticks were distinctive unto that worker. After the boat was completely unloaded, the sticks were taken from the box and in this manner it was determined how many trips each worker had made and this is how they were paid.

Jim and I had a chance to walk around the village late that afternoon. There is an ancient city wall that surrounded and protected the area at one time. The local people were building their fires for the night as they cooked and heated with wood.

Interestingly enough dinner tonight was billed as continental and we had to declare our choice of chicken, pork or fish a few hours before the meal was to be served. We chose chicken and it was good. Before mealtime there was a demonstration of making bean-curd marzipan fruits and vegetables. After we watched the local ladies, one of the men who spoke a bit of English, guided us through the process. It was quite interesting and fun.

November 30: Time to move on and we stopped to see the ruins of an ancient temple as we were leaving Chiang Saen this morning. It is being restored but the work only progresses when they accumulate a bit of money so it will take a long time. Nearby on the street a family was preparing a delicacy to be sold to passerbys. It is known as kaolam and consists of sticky rice, black beans and coconut milk. But it is the preparation of this dish that is most interesting. Lengths of bamboo are filled with the rice and bean mixture, then coconut milk is poured in to fill the tube. A bit of coconut husk is stuffed into the top of the bamboo to close the tube. A wood fire had been build on a piece of sheet metal sitting on legs with a framework of bent tubing over the fire. The lengths of bamboo were rested against the frame and cooked until the outside turned black. The blackened outside was scraped off leaving the beige-colored bamboo holding the cooked rice and beans. Note negotiated for several cooked lengths of bamboo and we boarded the bus. After we got underway he showed us how to peel back the remaining bamboo and use our fingers to take out a bit of the warm rice and beans. The coconut milk had done its work and the treat was delicious!

Later that morning we came upon a Buddhist temple under construction. Quite different to any of the others we had seen, this temple is totally white in color and decorated with small pieces of mirrored glass. With all its mythical characters and curlicues it looked like a giant wedding cake. It is known as Wat Rong Khun.

As it neared lunch time, Note told us that we would be stopping in Phayo for lunch and that he would prepare the appetizer which is called dancing shrimp. When we arrived he led us to a corner open-air shop that was very modern and clean. A lady was there with all the ingredients that he needed: cut limes, chopped cilantro, chopped green onion, red chilis, rice flour, salt and a plastic tub of very-much-alive tiny brine shrimp. Note measured the ingredients into a large bowl asking us how spicy we wanted our appetizer. Then a very fine net was used to catch the live shrimp. Water was squeezed out and the shrimp were dumped into the bowl. Note quickly stirred them into the mixture as they were jumping around. The lime juice served to Acook@ some of them the way it does in serviche, but some of the shrimp were still hopping off the spoons when we got ready to taste them! It was great fun, but a bit salty and it felt rather strange with the shrimp dancing in your mouth! Along that street there were a number of food vendors grilling fish, chicken and squid. Some had dried fish and squid for sale as well. This town was build around a reservoir and our restaurant looked out on the water. Very pleasant.

After lunch we set out toward Phrae where we would spend the night. Our drive took us through hilly areas as well as flat areas where rice was being harvested. In this region tobacco is grown as a second crop after the rice is harvested. We also saw corn, beans, squash and other vegetables being grown as second crops. Mid-afternoon found us stopping for fuel, bathroom and ice-cream. Every place we stopped for fuel had a mini-mart and sometimes local food vendors as well.

Our special visit today was to a family that ran a cottage industry involving indigo. The plant is grown in this area of the country. This industry begins with the making of the dye and the making of the items to be dyed. Natural colored cotton was made into shirts, pants and jackets on treadle sewing machines. The indigo plant was crushed and mixed with ashes to produce the dye which was stored in large earthenware jars. The garments were dipped by hand into the liquid which interestingly enough was green in color rather than blue. Then the garment was laid out to dry. The reaction of air hitting the dye turned the garment blue. Repeated dipping made the fabric darker. The intense blue-black color was achieved by dipping seven times; however, I favored the items that were dipped only once. After the final dip the articles were allowed to dry for several days and then washed in cold salt water to set the dye. All of this took place on the bottom level of the home which was floored with packed dirt. We were invited upstairs where the sewing machines were located in what was also the family's living quarters. We were offered bananas which were delicious. Someone in our group asked if they had indigo garments for sale. Surprise! In the adjoining room was a piece of teak furniture filled with niches. Each niche held different style garments. They were very reasonably priced and many of us purchased items. Note told us later that since it was Friday we should wear our new garments to dinner (or something blue, if we had not purchased anything new) because in this area on Fridays everyone wears blue in support of this cottage industry. The restaurant was a sea of blue that evening!

Before reaching the Nakorn Phrae Hotel(, we stopped at a temple built in the Burmese style. A body was lying in state and the relatives were insistent that we come and look at the decorations. The casket was closed, decorated with twinkling lights and mounds of paper flowers as well as real ones. Offerings of food and other items were all around the casket and there was a picture of the deceased on an easel nearby. The mourners were not mourning in the way we expected. They were laughing and talking loudly which was a bit jarring to us but Note said that if this person had been a good Buddhist he would be reborn to a better life and that the mourners were celebrating the better life to come. After a certain number of days, the body will be cremated and the majority of his ashes will be scattered on a nearby river. Some of the ashes may be kept in an urn in the home for several years. He said that the Chinese Buddhists bury their dead but that the Thai Buddhists practice cremation.

Decked out in our blue finery we had another super meal ending with ice-cream with salty corn sauce. Corn is often found in desserts! There was a musical combo playing during dinner which was very pleasant. As dessert was brought out, we noticed that Note was no longer at the table but it didn't disturb us because he often went to the kitchen to get something much hotter and spicier to eat. All of a sudden, someone was singing AI Can't Help Falling in Love with You@ and that someone was none other than our guide, Note! After our wild applause, he continued with APlease Release Me@ and then AIt's Now or Never.@ He has a very good, mid-range tenor voice, just right for these songs. He returned to the table to great praise and acclaim which probably embarrassed him a bit because he is very modest and self effacing. As it turns out, Elvis is very popular in Thailand and many people sing his songs.