Monday, May 14, 2012

Chiang Mai

Thankful to be away from the craziness and pollution of Bangkok, after a 1.5 hour flight I arrived in the lovely northern city of Chiang Mai. It is about 35 degrees here in the largest and most cultural significant city in northern thailand 700 km north of bangkok. Chiang Mai means new city (chiang is city in the Thai language), with a population of 160,000 located on the Ping River and surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the country. Five million tourists visit this historic area every year.
Chiang Mai is a lovely picturesque city and very clean. My accommodation is a winner (thank you trip advisor) Rimping Village is a lovely small resort with a pool - the resort is probably a 3 - 4 star but the staff are a 10! They cannot do enough for you, making tour arrangements, tuk tuks, taxis. Any request is not too much and they deal with all requests in the most prompt and efficient manner - they even remember what you ordered for breakfast the day before! The resort is also within walking distance to the centre of town and you feel very safe walking around here in the late evening. Chiang Mai has more markets than one could ever explore - the night market (every night), the Saturday market, the Sunday night market, the regular daytime market for locals plus numerous stores, all kind of restaurants and bars. The middle of the city is surrounded by a moat and a brick wall. The area inside is the old city and many buildings have been restored. Chiang Mai too has a number of temples located throughout the city (during the various markets a number of the temple grounds become street food courts) - the lady cooking over the wok is making my phad Thai dinner - best ever for less than $1. The city depends on the tourist industry which mainly happens between September and January as the weather is more mild. The city is hurting economically this year because of all the negative newscasts about the flooding in bangkok last fall. Thailand is down 5 million tourists due to cancellations and it is really affecting the small businesses. One of the locals told me that a lot of the girls who have jobs in small businesses are not making enough money and are having to resort to prostitution to pay the family rent. The minimum wage here is 300 tbh or $10 per day, and some rents can be quite high because of all the expats moving into the area. (but you know me I will spend to help support the economy here).
First an hour long Thai body massage for 200tbh $6 - I had no idea my body parts could be manipulated in so many directions.
I took a tour to go to the most northern point in Thailand. On the way we visited the Sankamping Hot Springs. I took the opportunity to dip my feet in the hot spring - not really refreshing especially with the sun beating down in the mid thirties. Of course there was a market here and I made a couple of purchases to help the economy.
Next stop was the White Temple. I must admit I am a bit 'templed out'. Europe has its churches and castles - Asia has temples. However this one looks like something out of a magical fantasy land. The outside is completely white with tiny mirror like pieces which are enhanced by the sunlight. The temples real name is Wat at Rong Khun (Wat is temple in Thai). It is artistically different than any other temple in Thailand and built by a well-known Thai artist who wants to build the most beautiful temple in the world and to show the glory of modern Thai buddhist art. He and 60 followers have devoted their life's work to building this temple. The project began 12 years
ago and the artist does not expect it to be completed for another 60 to 90 years so part of his work is to pass on his vision to others. He hopes one day people will look at it in the same light as the taj mahal or Angkor Wat. He seeks only private donations to fund the project. I urge you to look up information about this temple as the paintings on the walls inside are not what you normally see i.e. depicting the struggle between the Lord Buddha and the Mara (demon) with paintings of elephants, swords, lances, arrows etc
The artist has taken a more modern approach to show how the world is being destroyed by those who crave to build weapons that kill and destroy the environment. He has done this through depicting people such as Bush and Bin Laden and events like the New York Twin Towers. He also includes figures such as superman, spiderman etc to let people know there really are no heroes in our world. He chose white on the outside as a departure from the normal gold which is suitable to people who lust for evil deeds. He certainly is a man with a vision and whether one agrees with his vision or not this place especially from the outside is spectacular and it would not surprise me if this becomes as popular as he envisions.
Yes there was a market at this temple and I continue to help the Thai economy! Some other people on our tour helped the economy by purchasing dried, crispy worms. Now I vowed I would not eat any of the creepy, crawly things in Thailand - but since everyone in the van had a taste testing so did I. Dried worms - not taste just crispy!
On to the Golden Triangle - this is where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet at the Mekong river.
We took a ferry (see picture with floor boards) up the Mekong and the picture with the Buddha is Thailand, the hotel paradise is Burma and the gold dome structure is Laos. I even got a shot of the Laos naval fleet as well as the children swimming in the Mekong river - oh yuk it is sooo dirty! The ferry took us over to Laos where we were able to visit a market - yes I am now helping the Laos economy!!!!
Next stop was the most northern point in Thailand at the Burma border. The person in the picture with me was our tour guide (did I mention he was a lady boy).
Last stop of the day was the Karen Long Neck Ladies hill tribe. They come from eastern Burma but a few families have settled as refugees in northern Thailand. Apparently the brass rings distorts the growth of their collar bones and makes them look like they have long necks which they actually don't. The rings squash the vertebrae and collar bone, now doesn't this sound comfortable. They wear some 20 plus rings which feel like they weigh about 20 pounds. They start wearing the rings at the age of 5 or 6 and also wear rings around their arms and legs (shins to ankles). I don't know much about the history of this practice other than it is tribal culture and is written up in the guinness book of records. Their village is very remote and extremely poor (see picture of the bridge we had to cross). They make money by making some beautiful woven and embroidered handicrafts (yes I helped their economy too). The little children are so lovely but it is my understanding most of them do not go to school.
This was an extremely long day as I was picked up at 7am and dropped off at 9:30 pm.

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