Monday, April 23, 2012

Chiang Mai

We arrived in the city at mid-afternoon. Founded in the thirteenth century, Chiang Mai is a center of culture and commerce. The metropolitan area holds almost a million people. Located on the Ping River near the Burmese border, Chiang Mai reflects those influences, as well as the more traditional Thai art and architecture. On the way in, we stopped at one of its most famous temples, Wat Chedi Luang.  The huge chedi or "royal pagoda" was heafily damaged in the seventeenth century.  However, it has now been partially reconstructed so one can see how it might have looked. 

Inside one of the buildings in the temple complex is a magnificant standing Buddha statue, and outside is a gilt reclining Buddha.

Everywhere we looked were carved, gilt, painted, bejewled creatures.  Animal, human or fantasy, they never ceased to amaze us.  Embellishments were everywhere, and not even the smallest detail was overlooked.
After a busy day, we were glad to settle into our lovely room at Yaang Come Village Resort. 

All of our hotels here in Thailand have been lovely, and this one was no exception. The room, as you can see, was spacious, and our private balcony overlooked the beautiful hotel grounds. 

Next door to the hotel was an excellent restaurant called "The Whole Earth." 

Their menu included Thai as well as Ayurvedic Indian cuisine, and we sampled both

A few blocks away was Chiang Mai's famous night market.  After dinner we browsed among the many vendors and shopped for souvenirs.

Our next adventure was a bicycle tour of some of the outlying areas of Chiang Mai. We met our guide, "Bird," and set off for a 1 1/2 hour tour. The bikes were first-class, and Bird did a great job of guiding us through what would have been scary streets and intersections. Our ride took us along the Ping River and most of the rods were quiet and narrow.  We saw small villages, rice paddies and local orchards.  We made several stops. One was at a particularly old temple, and another at the seldom-visited ruins of Viang Khum Kaam, which some consider the ancient city on which Chiang Mai was built.

Lunch was a special treat. Duke took us to one of his favorite local restaurants for a sampling of northern Thai cuisine. We enjoyed an egg noodle soup with chicken, fantastic fried pork ribs, fried chicken northern Thai style, sausage and green papaya salad and pork curry. All were served with sticky rice in the Lanna tradition.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing.  Then, after another great meal at The Whole Earth, we enjoyed a quiet evening and prepared for our return to Phnom Penh.

The next day, we said a reluctant goodbye to Dob (left) and Duke, and boarded our flight back to Cambodia.  We carry with us fond memories of the people we met in Thailand, expecially Mr. Ving and Duke, and of all the wonderful things we saw and experienced.  Our ten-day stay passed much more quickly than we expected.

Our special thanks to Sally Watkins of Century Travel in Austin, TX, and to Asia Transpacific Journeys and Khiri Travel for their coordination of our Thailand adventure.  We hope to travel with you again. 


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pai and Beyond

After lunch in a lovely outdoor restaurant in Soppong, we continued on to Pai. Upon arriving, we stopped at Coffee in Love, a delightful coffee shop overlooking the valley. The coffee was great, as was the view.

We learned that Pai is a popular destination for Northern Thailand residents who want a romantic get-away. Honeymooning couples were strolling hand-in-hand, and several other hotels and restaurants had a "love" theme.

We drove around the village, marveling at the teak forests that covered the hillsides. Most of the old-growth trees have been logged, but new teak forests have been replanted in many places. We spent the evening in a private cottage at the Belle Villa Resort. Here are a couple of views of and from our room.

Upon arriving and unpacking, we experienced our first real Uh-Oh! of the trip. The nice bottle of Scotch we had brought with us had leaked in John's suitcase, and everthing in it was permeated with the smell! When John checked with hotel staff to see about having his clothes laundered, he was told that it would cost much too much to have the hotel wash his clothes....However, they did have the name of someone just a block away who would launder them in her home. 

John was very relieved when we picked up his clothes the next morning. They were all washed, ironed, folded and ready to go. And the best part was that it only cost $6.00 for a suitcase full of clothes!
On Saturday morning, after picking up the laundry, we left Pai and drove down the mountain...and down the mountain...and down the mountain along a very scenic road that wound past rice fields and through Huay Nam Dang National Park. 

As you can see from this photo, the roads were not only scenic and winding, but very narrow!

On the way, we stopped to visit Pong Deuad Hot Springs. The spring is actually a geyser that bubbles up and then drains away to form shallow pools. We were told that the temperature of the water exiting the geyser is between 90 and 99 degrees Celsius, while the water temperature underground is 170-203 Celsius. Much too hot for a dip!  We enjoyed the short walk and the lovely teak forest alongside the stream.

Our next stop was at Mork Fa Waterfall. The walk to the falls was shaded by these magnificent trees. Some were teak, but there were a number of different species, along with lush vines and other vegetation.

The waterfall itself was lovely, as was the small pool below. I had to pick my shots carefully, though, as there were several couples there at the same time as we were. One thing I have learned about the Thai and Cambodian people.... If there is a landmark or scenic view of any kind, its greatest attraction is as a backdrop for a portrait. There is no telling how many people have pictures of someone with the Mork Fa Waterfall appearing to cascade down onto their heads!

John, having had his fill of long drives and scenic wonders, took a quick look at the waterfall then stretched out on a nearby bench to "rest his eyes."

After yet another sumptious lunch under our belts, we headed down the road to our final Thailand destination, Chiang Mai.