Phitsanulok, Long Boats and Buddha Factory


We were at the train station by 7:30 in the morning, only to find that the train would be two hours late arriving in Chiang Mai. As I mentioned earlier, this is a common occurrence in Thailand.

We eventually arrived in Phitsanulok at 6:30 pm and checked into a quaint guest house. It was a little more expensive than our previous ones, but it included breakfast, a towel, a western-style toilet and something on the bed that could be a sarong or a cover, I wasn’t sure which. I used it for a cover as there was no other. There was no hot water either, but the days were so hot it didn’t really matter.

The next morning, after enjoying a relaxing breakfast at the outdoor lunch bar, while listening to sweet classical music playing in the background, we headed off to find the long boat races. They were held on the Nan River that flowed just outside the temple gates, and the event was a festival of vendors selling food, clothing and hand-made toys within the gates.

The long boats are similar to the “dragon boats” that we see racing at events across Canada to raise money for the Breast Cancer Society, but the paddlers are much more colourfully dressed and the speed of the boats is not comparable.

Long Boat Racers pushing hard

Long Boat Racers pushing hard

Waiting for the gun

Waiting for the gun

Long Boat Races

Pushing Hard

Long boat races

A colourful crew

Orange-clad monks enjoy the show

Orange-clad monks enjoy the show

Boats lining up before the crowd

Boats lining up before the crowd

A number of tin buildings, many using advertising signs, lined the far side of the river.  The larger one was a restaurant where we got a good lunch and had a front-row seat

Tin Buildings line the other side of the river

Tin Buildings line the other side of the river

Some of them looked like they could be homes to large families

Tin Buildings line the other side of the river

Tin Buildings line the other side of the river

We spent one more day in Phitsanulok before heading back to Bangkok. A tour of a Buddha factory was interesting.

Buddha Factory -  Phitsanulok

This Buddha looks ready for bronzing

Buddha Factory

This one is still an unfinished plaster cast

A Closer Look at Chiang Mai


We spent one more day in Mae Hong Son, doing a bit of shopping, catching up on emails and reflecting on our glorious days there. I recalled my first night in my little cabin at Sang Tong when I crawled under the mosquito netting that protected my bed, and a pale green frog looked down at me. The next night a very large snail nearly caught the weight of my foot as it slithered on the floor just inside my door. Colourful butterflies often greeted me when I emerged from my cabin. These things I found fascinating, but I was a little concerned by the swarms of ants that seemed to be everywhere. One morning I opened my eyes to see a whole colony scurrying around on the netting. I eased out very carefully and when I returned they’d disappeared.

By 8:30 the next morning we were bumping along a very narrow and twisty road in a battered up old school bus, towards Chiang Mai. At times I held my breath as the road seemed to disappear over the side of a cliff, before we made a very sharp turn to the left and down a steep slope. The scenery was breath-taking and a diverse passenger list changed at each stop along the way. It was 4:30 in the afternoon before we arrived in Chiang Mai, tired, hot and hungry.

Riding the Bus

Riding the Bus

Kendrick had been there before and took us directly to the “luxury” Guest House where he’d stayed. It actually was luxury compared to some other accommodations. My room was on the second floor and looked out into a courtyard.

Chiang Mai Guest House

Chiang Mai Guest House

Chiang Mai Room

Chiang Mai Room

The furnishings were sparse – a single bed with one thin cover and a pillow, and a night stand – but there were curtains on the window, there was running HOT water in the shower and there was even a mirror. I hadn’t seen myself since we’d left the Chiang Mai airport a week earlier.  Everything was very clean and the price was the equivalent of about $6.00 Canadian per night. We were there for another week. I sometimes shared my space with a friendly gecko and was lulled to sleep by the chirp of cicada perched in the overhead trees at night. The only downside to this Guest House was there was no source of food. I was an early riser and always awoke hungry. Sarah and Kendrick, on the other hand, preferred to do their yoga and journaling before even speaking. I soon learned to keep a cache of fruit and nuts handy.

Our first night there, we went to an Italian Restaurant for dinner, just for a break from Thai fare. We enrolled in a Thai Massage Course that filled our mornings for the next four days, at a cost of 2000 baht or $70.00, more than it was costing us for accommodations. After the first day Kendrick had some reservations about going back when he discovered that his “female” instructor really wasn’t, but once he made it clear where he stood the class went well. I learned that this is quite common in Thailand and it is often very difficult to recognize the boys from the girls. Sarah and I shared another instructor – a definite female. At the end of the four days we had a pretty good understanding of the massage techniques and we received a certificate.  I’m not sure that it would have gotten us a job outside of Thailand, but it was fun.

We spent the afternoons touring around the city. It was a pretty city, divided into two banks by the Pim River. There was a huge all-day market where we could buy all sorts of food – fruit, vegetables, grilled meats (including frogs and grubs) fruit juices sold in plastic bags with plastic straws for drinking, and freshly stir-fried Thai meals. The scent of fish oil and spices permeated the air. At 7:00 pm the daytime vendors packed up and went home; the evening vendors set up and stayed until midnight. In another part of town, we visited the Night Bazaar where the items for sale included clothing, jewelry, carvings, and other types of crafts. There were always people about, especially tourists, who would buy their wares.

Traffic was crazy and walking was like maneuvering through an obstacle course. Sidewalks were often broken or occupied by parked cars and motorcycles. Traffic lights didn’t allow for pedestrians, and crosswalks were ignored by oblivious drivers. Fortunately, there was a pedestrian bridge over the main thoroughfare.

Pedestrian Bridge

Pedestrian Bridge

One evening Sarah and I went to the Khantoke Dinner and Hill Tribe Show at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre. We sat on the floor, our backs resting against red vinyl cushions, and were served a variety of Thai dishes on a low, round table. The food was rather disappointing, but the entertainment was spectacular – colourful costumes and interesting dances, including a sword dance (nothing at all like the Gaelic version) sword dance

sword dance, using twelve swords

and the Fingernail Dance performed by “girls” dressed up in colourful saris,  and sporting very long finger nails. I use girls in quotes because even among these dancers there were a number of beautiful non-females. When we caught a sanlor (a truck with a cap and seats in the back, serving as a taxi) we shared it with three very jovial Thai ladies. Sarah learned that they were from Isaan and that they thought Sarah and I were sisters. Ahh, the best part of the trip!

Fingernail dance

Fingernail dance

Fingernail dance

Fingernail dance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last day in Chiang Mai was spent exploring two more ornate temples, experiencing a two-hour massage at the Chiang Mai Old Medicine Hospital, and doing a little more shopping. We were fortunate that the rainy season seemed to have ended in Chiang Mai.  We read in the papers that many parts of the country had been flooded, including Mae Hong son after we left.

Next stop: Phitsanulok and the long boat races.

Trekking in the Shan Hills, Day 2


The sound of a crowing rooster and a crying baby pulled me out of my deep sleep. For a minute I thought I was living in a previous life when the baby was mine and the rooster was part of our farm. Once I’d rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and emerged from the hut, the bleakness of the night before soon faded. The gorgeous vistas and the chatter of our host families helped me to appreciate their simple way of life.

Lisu Village3

Kendrick tries to answer the curious questions from the Lisu children as Sarah looks on

Beautiful Lisu children

Beautiful Lisu children. Credit goes to Kendrick, I think, for this shot

Lisu Dog and Child

Lisu Dog and Child. There are dogs everywhere in Thailand. Notice our clothes and shoes set out to dry.

The one electrical piece of machinery that I saw was a rice cleaner, which was powered by water. Each Lisu family had their own.

After a breakfast of fruit and rice, we started out on our downhill trek. For a while my heart was pumping too rapidly, a little panic attack. It was probably caused by the lack of enough sleep, and the memory of my potentially life-threatening fall the day before. But we did not take the same route back as we’d taken up, and the going was much easier. I soon relaxed and began to enjoy the scenery.  I wore my sandals this time, because they had better treads and my runners were still soaked. The path was wider and switch backed making the descent much more gradual. The warm sun on our shoulders brightened the day and lifted the spirits.

Once again a delicious lunch of noodles packaged in banana leaves, followed by some passion fruit and banana bread, was provided by Chakaphan. The two young fellows employed by him to carry supplies, used their pocket knives to whittle  out some bamboo chop sticks for us, and we savoured the food, the scents and sounds while resting upon some downed logs near a stream.

Whittling chop sticks

Our supply carriers whittled us some chop sticks

We spent the afternoon crisscrossing the shallow river, the cool water soothing our hot feet.

Ready to Cross the river

Come on guys, we’re on the other side!

As we crossed through a farmer’s field, where women were out raking and burning old straw, the sky opened and the rain muddied up the trail again, but this time it felt warm and it lasted only about half an hour. Before we knew it, we were back at the road and the van was waiting to pick us up. “The Elder” had made it, and was very glad to have had the experience!

During the trek I did see some interesting things, despite having to spend so much time watching my feet! We saw many tree vines, which are amazing! They are vines the thickness of young trees but grow and climb around the larger trees, and stretch between them for great distances. Chakaphan told us that they grow up to 350 metres long.

jungle vines

Chakaphan tells us about the jungle vines

There were also different types of ginger growing everywhere, displaying beautiful flowers of varying shades of red.  And orchids grow in abundance too, but the most common type seems to be the ones that grow on the branches and trunks of trees. I wish I’d capture a picture or two of them. The various types of trees we saw included teak, bamboo, banana, and young rattan that were being planted by the government. There were also two varieties of pine trees.

Very large, beautiful spiders scurried from our path, and we saw many termite colonies working away, building high mounds that looked like rocks.  In fact, there were a couple of them in the common area at Sang Tong Huts. Obviously they were eating away at the wooden structure, but no one worried about it.  Everything appeared to be pretty solid. All creatures seemed to be respected and left alone.

I was in bed and asleep by 8:30 that night, after treating the three blisters that I found on my feet.

Trekking into the Shan Hills, Day 1


Because it had continued to rain all night, Chakaphan knew that there would be too much water in the river to take the three-day trek that he’d plan, so a shorter two-day trek in another area was agreed upon.

We didn’t get started until nearly noon and a hazy mist still hung above the trees.  A minivan picked us up to take us to our beginning – a rough road uphill toward a Karen Village. It was a fairly easy walk, although some of the long hills upped my heart rate a bit. I was the “elder” on this trip and I probably should have done a little more cardio workout in preparation. Before we’d gone too far we stopped in a glade of lush vegetation, near a stream to enjoy the delicious lunch of chicken and rice that Chakaphan had packed for us. Dessert was sticky rice with fresh bananas and passion fruit.

No wading through the streams here

No wading through the streams here

Once more nourished, we resumed our uphill trek. Several motorcycles sped past us up the muddy trail. The scenery was breathtaking.

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Rice paddies far below us

Rice paddies far below us

We reached the Karen Village at about three in the afternoon. Chakaphan and his entourage were welcomed into the store for a rest. It seemed to be a fairly prosperous village with many newer wooden houses, and a power generator.

We left that village and walked on up the road for a while longer before the real challenge began. Chakaphan led us up a very narrow path through thick foliage. It was muddy and slippery and it seemed we’d never reach the top. When we finally did, I took a few moments to appreciate the beautiful jungle plants while we all took a rest.

Bamboo

Bamboo

ginger plant

Ginger plant

Then we had to head down the other side of the hill. Again the path was narrow and hung precariously close to the edge, with a drop off of hundreds of feet. It had rained off and on most of the day and by now the treads of my running shoes were filled with the thick, red mud and my backpack tended to sometimes throw me a little off balance. One particular little downward slope nearly got the best of me. My feet started to slide and I could find nothing to grab onto. The weight of the bag pulled me backwards over the edge as Sarah and Kendrick behind me gasped and poor Chakaphan turned around in anguish. Fortunately there were many trees on the hill and I didn’t go far before I was turned around and had my feet planted against a couple of them. I was pulled back up and from then on Chakaphan stayed close to me, offering his hand many times. At the first opportunity he found me a sturdy walking stick.

We finally arrived at our destination, a Lisu Village, at about 6:00 pm, wet, muddy and exhausted. A warm shower and soft bed would have been greatly appreciated, but that turned out to be a pipe dream. This village was far more primitive than the Karen Village. The only “shower” was a pipe protruding from the side of the hill, hurling fresh, clean and very cold water down from above, and the children of the village perched on the hill watching, fascinated with their “white” visitors. How was I going to get out of my mud-soaked clothes and wash in that glorious water?

Lisu Village Children

Captivated Lisu Village Children

Sarah changed into a Sarong that she’d taken with her. I finally decided that I needed to get the mud off my clothes anyway so just dove under the waterfall and scrubbed the best I could. I ducked into the outhouse and stripped off my wet clothes and wrapped myself up in my towel, having to be careful not to drop anything on the mud-covered floor. Day light was rapidly fading and I knew that I would soon be unable to find my way around (I suffer from night blindness). Sarah led me to our “room”, where the women and children were all lined up on a bench, still watching! Chakaphan had to send them on their way so we could get dressed.

Once cleaned, we were invited to the Cookhouse, where Chakaphan was busy preparing an evening meal over an open fire pit.

Lisu Village Cook House

The Village dog waits expectantly outside the Cook House

Meal Prep, Lisu Village

Meal Prep, Lisu Village

We could hear the chatter of the women outside. Chakaphan explained, “They want to come in to show you the things that they make. They sell them very cheap and it helps them out.” Of course we agreed, and we were soon surrounded by smiling women spreading their wares out on the tables before us. Pretty hand-woven fabric had been crafted into little purses, eye glass cases and water-bottle holders, obviously made with tourists in mind. Sarah and I picked out a couple of items each and handed them the few baht that they were asking. They left happy. We were then served a wonderful meal of stir-fried fish and vegetables and fruit.

Using our flash lights, we once more made our way to the toilets and then off to “bed.” We all were bunked together in a large bamboo hut similar to the ones in Mae Hong Son, but this time the mattresses were only the thin foam mats that Chakaphan had supplied and the pillows were small, filled with grain, and very hard. Despite how tired I was, it was difficult to get to sleep, but I eventually dozed off, wondering what the next day would bring.

Adventures in Mae Hong Son


What a wonderful place! The noise and crowds and heavy smells of Bangkok were far behind us.

Mae Hong Son (The City of Three Mists) is the Capital City of one of the northern provinces of Thailand, and at the same time the westernmost, nestled in a deep valley hemmed in by the high mountain ranges of the Shan Hills. It is in the most mountainous province in Thailand.

We checked into the Sang Tong Huts on the outskirts of the city (it hardly seemed like a Capitol City to me). I had my own “hut” which was made of bamboo and had a thatched roof. The bed was a mattress on the raised floor and included bedding and pillows. A little table with a cloth, an electric lamp, and fresh flowers sat in one corner. What luxury! There was a porch on the front that looked into the jungle-like setting of trees and colourful, flowering plants, and mountains off in the distance. I strained to catch a view of the melodic birds that sang from high up in the tree-tops, but they were well hidden. I thought I was in Paradise.

Hut in Mae Hong Son

My “room” at Sang Tong Huts in Mae Hong Son

cabinfront porch

my front porch

View from my porch

View from my porch

Because we chose the less expensive huts (250 baht per night, or $9.45 CAD) we had a short walk along a wooden path to the toilets and showers. In the mornings I had to keep a close eye on where I was stepping to avoid the very large snails that were about, but the squat toilets and shower rooms were separate and very clean. The showers were individual stalls that were partly open on one side, away from the path and view of others, and a large water barrel that was filled from a tap. A large dipper was provided for dumping the invigoratingly cold water over one’s self. Although this was more difficult early in the morning, because the weather was hot and humid I found myself taking more than one shower a day, and the afternoon and evening ones were refreshing. This time I had my own towels, which could be hung on the porch railing to dry.

A large open common room welcomed guests with light refreshments and seating for reading books or the magazines that were there, or for just relaxing by the centre campfire. I enjoyed a bowl of granola with lots of fruit and yogourt for breakfast each morning.

The first day we walked into town to poke around the shops and tried out different restaurants for lunch and dinner. Because I have an intolerance for spicy (i.e. chili) foods, it was difficult for me to find things that I could eat, which was disappointing; Thai dishes all look and smell so delicious. It isn’t heartburn or ulcers that are the problem. It’s in my throat; I choke. Rice and stir-fried veggies became my staples.

Motorbikes in Mae Hong Son

Motorbikes line the street in Mae Hong Son

antique shop

Antique Shop

Lunch at Outdoor Cafe

Lunch at Outdoor Cafe

dinner restaurant

A more upscale restaurant for dinner

The rainy season was just coming to an end, but it was best to not leave the hut for the day without a trusty rain poncho in your backpack. We’d often emerge from a shop into a torrential downpour that might last five minutes or half an hour. During those times, we caught up on emails at a Cyber Café.

Sarah and Kendrick had planned a trek into the mountains for us, so that evening we met with our guide, Chakaphan, with whom they’d trekked before. While we sat with him in the common area, we were soon joined by other guests who had also arrived that day – one couple from Singapore; another also from Singapore, but who had been teaching in the Czech Republic for the past twelve years and had just retired; and a young fellow from Germany.  All of them spoke English and it was great chatting with them.

Our three-day trek that was supposed to begin the next day was postponed because of the heavy rains. The sun came out and we spent the day doing more exploring of the city and its many temples.

funeral parade

We came upon this funeral parade as we walked into town

guest house courtesy car

We hoped the Guest House was in better shape than this vehicle parked out front

city views

City view from up a hill

Posing in the park

Sarah and Kendrick strike a pose

Beautiful Magnolia Trees

Beautiful Magnolia Trees

Mae Hong Son temple

Mae Hong Son temple

Another temple

Another temple

Lake in centre of town

Looking across the lake in the centre of town

A huge school of fish vied for bread crumbs thrown off the shore

A huge school of fish vied for bread crumbs thrown off the shore

In the evening, though, the rain poured down again, sending us into our huts for a rest. It was still raining hard at 10:00 pm, but our guide was optimistic about the weather for the next day so it was agreed that we would strike out at 8:30 in the morning. He warned us that we’d be wading through thigh-high rivers and streams and I felt a little apprehensive, unsure that the thick soled sandals and runners that I’d packed were the proper foot wear.

Tune in tomorrow to see how that went.

Resuming the Journey


It’s beginning to look a lot like winter here today. After a few very emotional and tiring weeks, what better time to resume my trip down memory lane and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, in Thailand?

The next couple of days in Bangkok were quiet. I experienced the first torrential rain since my arrival, which kept us inside one afternoon. We waded through some flooded streets that evening on our way to dinner at the home of the parents of another of Sarah’s students.

On our final day before heading out to experience more of the country, we roamed around the city. We visited the Isaan Village that had been set up around Government House by people protesting the building of a dam that had destroyed their fishing and their rice paddies. We had a ride in one of the Khlong* boats which carry passengers and floating markets up and down the polluted canals that wander throughout the city. Then we boarded an evening train for Chiang Mai.

boats on Khlongs

boats on Khlong

Passengers disembark

Passengers disembark

 

At 5:15 am I wrote in my journal:

“We have been travelling all night on the train to Chiang Mai.  It has been reasonably comfortable with the seats folded out into beds.  I think I went to sleep at about 9:00 pm, exhausted after our day of roaming the city.

The train isn’t air-conditioned, but there are ceiling fans and open windows. At night screens and shutters cover the windows.  I haven’t tried the toilets yet, after Kendrick’s negative description.  I’m hoping I can hold off until we arrive in Chiang Mai. Even then I’ll have to use the squat type, which I find hard to get used to.  I thought Sarah had said we’d arrive at 5:00 am, but everyone is still sleeping. A shower and some breakfast would be nice. Some people are starting to stir now.”

I soon discovered that in Thailand, scheduled time has little meaning. We were still on the train at 7:30.

“We’re still on the train but everyone is awake. The seats are back and the windows are open to a beautiful, sunny day.  The country is gorgeous – tree covered mountains, lotus growing in the ponds, and a little cooler temperatures. Our new arrival time was supposed to be 7:30 so we should be in Chiang Mai soon.”

We arrived in Chiang Mai at around 8:00 am and had just enough time to grab some breakfast at an outdoor café, where a roll of “toilet” paper set in the centre of the table served as napkins, before catching a tuktuk to the airport. Chiang Mai was not our destination that day.  We boarded a plane for Maehongson, which cost only ten baht more than my room at the Atlantis!

*The Thai capital Bangkok was crisscrossed by khlong and so gained the name Venice of the East.[1] The khlongs were used for transportation and for floating markets, but also for sewage. Today, most of the khlongs of Bangkok have been filled in and converted into streets, although the Thonburi side of Bangkok (covering areas west of Chao Phraya River) still retains several of its larger khlongs.

Central Bangkok has the Khlong Saen Saeb, which is a route for a boat service that remains a vital public transportation function in the traffic-congested capital. (Wikipedia)

A Day Spent with Buddha’s and Wats


On day three Sarah and I decided to escape the crowds of Bangkok and catch a train to Ayutthaya, an hour and a half trip.It was at the train station that I experienced my first “squat” toilet, and was surprised when a package of tissues was offered to me for purchase as I entered the stall.  I was grateful when I saw that toilet paper was not commonly used in Thailand. Instead the job was done with a bowl of water for rinsing, which often missed the toilet and accumulated into puddles on the floor!

At Ayutthaya we hired a “tuktuk” for the day and did a tour of the many Buddhist temples (Wats).

tuktuk

Our tuktuk and driver

Wat Suwan Dararam

Wat Suwan Dararam, a modern temple

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

Ancient Palace Ruins -Ayutthaya

School girls climbing up for a better look at Buddha

schoolclass2

These giggling girls were practising their English. “Hello, you take our picture?” My daughter, Sarah, at back.

Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

Sarah in front of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

A row of sitting buddhas

A row of sitting Buddhas

Wat Phukhao Thong

Wat Phukhao Thong

Now that I’ve  become a better photographer and more observant traveller, I’d love to do this trip again.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make notes of the temple names.  I’ve managed, I think, to identify some of them from internet pictures, but if anyone cares to help me out with accuracy, it would be appreciated.