Chiang Mai

I enjoyed exploring Bangkok but after a few days I was looking forward to visiting a much smaller city, Thailand's ancient capital Chiang Mai and exploring the nearby jungle. Thailand is a big country with 25 million people so a bus or train to Chiang Mai would have taken all day. The flight was only an hour and a half. The old part of Chiang Mai is delineated by four moats that form a square. My hotel was just outside the moats on a street that now hosts a night bazaar. Every evening around sunset vendors begin setting up kiosks on the sidewalk. They remain until after midnight selling a wide variety of crafts, souvenirs and clothing. Bargaining is essential. Of course those of us who don't know what anything should cost are at a big disadvantage. I liked some pillow covers and asked how much they cost. The lady said "200 baht". I said "No thank-you". She said "How much will you pay? 150?" I again said no and started walking away. She said "125? 100? 90? 80? 70?" Then I turned around and bought some. Of course I still don't know what would have happened if I had insisted on 60. My Teva sandals are old and in need of replacement. I saw a pair and asked how much. He said $25. I said that's too much. He said, "For you, a good discount price -- $20. I said no, and he asked how much I would pay. I said "$12.50". He said "How about $15" I said "I will think about it then come back." He said, "OK, $12.50".

The next morning I walked into the old city to see what there was to see. Every block had another old temple.

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Every temple had at least one Buddha. Most of them were sitting in the traditional seated posture, but a few show him "reclining".


Next I found ruins of the oldest temple in the city. Outside the temple were several young monks. There was a sign that said "Monk Chat". Student monks practiced their English by telling tourists about themselves and Buddhism. They were all high school students who had left their home villages to live at a temple and study Buddhism. They seemed to spend about half of their class time on Buddhism and half on traditional school subjects. Now they were on their lunch break. They woke early, prayed, then had breakfast and classes. Now they would have their last meal of the day, lunch and would fast until breakfast. Some were playing a game on a checkerboard. I couldn't figure out the rules, but they were moving stones quickly.

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I continued to explore the city, finding more temples.

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Then I returned to my hotel for an afternoon tour of a nearby village and the temple on the mountain. A van picked me up and we drove out of the city and headed into the hills. The first stop was a small village. They had lots of trinkets for sale but I bought fresh orange juice instead. We found our way to a beautiful garden on the hill. Many poppies still grow here but our guide explained that they are no longer made into drugs -- they keep the plants only to show to tourists like us.


Then we drove past the palace of the King and on to the famous temple on top of the mountain. We rode up to the top in a cable car. The temple was pretty but would not have gotten much attention if it had not been on top of the mountain.

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Back in Chiang Mai, I thought it might be fun to have dinner on a boat cruising the river. I found my way to a small dock and found a boat with dinner tables set for a couple dozen people. Unfortunately they were sold out. They directed me up the river to another boat, but they were also filled. Next trip I guess I should make reservations. I wandered back to the night bazaar and found myself a good Thai dinner at a food court with performances of slow Thai dancing. That evening I also found an exhibition of Thai kick boxing. It was free -- the plan was that you would order some drinks from the bar and perhaps leave a tip for the boxers.

The next morning a truck arrived at my hotel to take me into the jungle for a three-day trek. Nine of us sat on two facing benches in the covered back of the pick-up truck. Except for me it was a young group, mostly in their twenties, but otherwise diverse: an Irish couple on a two-month tour of SE Asia, two young women from Germany, a pair of graduate students studying at Cambridge (a woman from Austria and a man from Poland), a young man from England who had recently graduated from the university and had spent the past year traveling around SE Asia and a man from Finland on his way to Shanghai to begin graduate studies.

After a few stops to pick up everyone and get some provisions we drove out of the city. From the back of the truck we couldn't see much, but after a couple hours we stopped by a small village where our guide bought our lunch: rice and vegetables in individual styrofoam boxes. We at our lunch under a pavilion on the edge of a rice paddy.


After lunch we walked across the paddy and down to a waterfall. Our guide dove into the cold water from a tree high above the waterfall. It took me some time to jump into the water, but it was refreshing on a hot day.


We returned to the truck and drove to another temple on a mountain top. This time we had to walk the last five minutes or so. I liked the Buddha outside the temple more than the temple itself. There was a monk quietly praying in one corner, but he didn't seem to mind us exploring.

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Then we started walking through the jungle. For the next three days we walked from one village to the next, alternately through jungle and dried rice paddies where cattle grazed. (The rain would come in a few months and refill all the paddies for the next rice crop.) We crossed many streams on make-shift bridges. I didn't mind the logs when there were hand rails, but I wasn't happy when we had to balance on single logs. A few times I opted to wade across instead.

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We slept in wood and bamboo houses in the villages. They gave us mats for mattresses so I was glad to have my thermarest pad. They also put up mosquito netting around each sleeping place, but that proved unnecessary.

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It was seldom more than an hour walk from waterfall to the next. We didn't swim at all of them, but many of you know that on hot days I will swim in cold water. Some were for swimming, others more appropriate for showers.

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For lunch one day, our guides took rice and vegetables they cooked in the morning and wrapped it in large leaves. Then they carved chopsticks from bamboo.

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The villages were simple. Most people made their livings farming, though some catered to tourists like us. Many of the villages had no cars at all, though most had a few motor bikes that people used to go to shops in neighboring villages.

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After noon on our third day of trekking we came to a larger village and waited for our truck. We went to a cafe operated by the tour company for lunch, then drove to a river where we got on bamboo rafts. A guide helped us pole through the shallow spots and rapids and work our way downstream. At the bottom of the trip they took the rafts apart and threw the bamboo logs in pickup trucks to go back to beginning.

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Then we drove a short distance to an elephant camp. We walked up a ladder to a loading platform then got on the elephants' backs. The guides sat in front of us on the elephants' necks. Then they lumbered up the hill as went for a one-hour walk. These elephants did not move quickly. The trip was bumpy enough to make photography difficult. When we finished the elephants enjoyed drinks and showers.

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That was a good ending to my trip. We drove back to Chiang Mai and I returned to my hotel for a shower. Then I wandered around the night bazaar and had a good Thai dinner at a restaurant with outdoor tables. The next morning I found a grocery store to buy some ingredients for Thai cooking and some Oreos and enjoyed a relaxed time. Then I flew back to Bangkok where I stayed at a hotel near the airport so that I was poised for my early flight back to Tashkent. Early the next afternoon I was back in the office in Tashkent, plotting for my next vacation.

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