Week 14 on the Big Trip: Thailand-Chiang Mai
Continent Count: 3 = South America, Australia, Asia
Country Count: 12 = Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, The Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong/China, Vietnam, Thailand
I had never heard of Chiang Mai prior to our trip. Since Jared did the planning of this leg of our trip with our travel agent, Sue, I hadn’t really dived into the details. I knew it was north of Bangkok, nowhere near any large body of water and that was about it. We arrived early evening after flying up from Bangkok, checked into our hotel and got settled in. We stayed at a resort hotel called the Yaang Come Village (http://www.yaangcome.com) which had a nice swimming pool. Our room had a big bedroom and a living room with a segregated sleeping area for the girls. There were also two large patios, which we quickly realized weren’t going to be a place to hang out due to the very large population of mosquitos in the area. Our guide, Del, picked us up and drove us to the most sacred temple in Northern Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, for a blessing and sunset ceremony. We climbed up long, steep stairs and were rewarded with sweeping panoramic views and dazzling statues and mosaics. Thoughtfulness abounded at the temple and at an area where they were constructing a new building, we found a pile of bricks where you were encouraged to leave a message or dedication. The brick would later be added to the structure, sealing your inscription and wish permanently into the new building Bella and Lilli each selected a brick to inscribe. Lilli wrote her friend’s names on one and placed it gently back on the pile for future use. As we traversed the hilltop, we stopped to marvel at the amazing views—you could see for miles in each direction. Soon we were signaled to join the sunset ceremony by ringing gongs and bells. The resident monks, dressed in orange sarong-like robes, processed to the main temple to start the ceremony. There were several “civilians” at the temple for meditation training also participating in the ceremony dressed all in white. It was very peaceful and I found myself enjoying it very much. It made me think that I might want to try meditation training sometime, especially in such a beautiful and serene setting. The ceremony lasted for around 30 minutes and consisted of processions circulating around the main temple, lighting of candles and incense, and chanting of prayers. The girls got a little restless during the ceremony and seemed more interested in playing with the offering candles—but they did a pretty good job of keeping quiet. At the end of the ceremony we descended back down the stairs and located our driver to take us back into Chiang Mai.
Later that evening, we ate dinner at Whole Earth, (http://www.wholeearthrestaurant.com) which was conveniently located next to our hotel. We sat in the outdoors garden setting and cozied up to the mosquito coil burning near our feet–designed to hold off unwanted guests. We began the meal with the most delicious natural fruit smoothies made from local tropical fruits. Mine was so delicious that I was tempted to order another one but wanted to save room for the Green Curry I ordered. Isabella really only likes to drink water but is enticed by the prospect of a fancy drink. She took 2-3 sips of her fruit smoothie and then didn’t touch it again-so Lilli was happy to end up with an additional fruit smoothie, and finished both well before our meals came. My meal was amazing—it was delicious and I ate every single bite—in fact we all loved our meals. On the way out of the restaurant, we met Jack, the resident dog, and visited him several more times during our stay. The location, the food, the service, and the dog quickly made Whole Earth our favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai and another highlight of the trip.
We woke up early to a sunny, hot day and ate breakfast next to the swimming pool. We drove into the country to visit a recycling center. Now you might be thinking recycling center-glass, plastic, paper, etc… and you would be partially correct–there is paper involved–but the recycling comes in in the making of the paper–which is made from elephant poo. The girls had fun learning how to make their own paper from recycled Elephant poo and some of you may have received some fun postcards from us too. These cards were printed with: “This postcard is made of poo, and it reminded me of YOU!” 🙂
Next stop was the Elephant Nature Park, a nonprofit sanctuary and rescue center and one of the rare places in Thailand where the elephants no longer work for the humans. We joined the parks volunteers in feeding and bathing the elephants. The girls loved feeding watermelon to the elephants, dumping buckets of water on them, and having a splash party in the river after the elephants were done bathing. You can read more about the Elephant Nature Park at this link: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org. While there we watched a National Geographic documentary on the founder, Lek Chailert—she’s a strong and amazing person! You can watch her video as well at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0510/feature5/video.html
Del, our guide, took us to several temples and all had their own flavor. As we were now in a smaller town and the temples felt more intimate and integrated into the community. We drove into a rural area and came upon a very large and ornate temple. During the tour we learned that this temple was built to honor a local monk who had passed away several years earlier. In fact, said monk was actually mummified, covered in gold leaf and lain in a glass case, housed in a building next door to the temple. Apparently he was to be moved to his final resting place many years before, but since the money continues to roll in to honor him, there has been hesitation. For now, the revered monk stays where he is for all to honor. In a strange way, this reminded me of the Illinois Tollways where the toll booths were put in place in 1958 and were to be removed once the road was paid for. Anyone who has been in the Chicago area recently knows the tollways are alive and well–when the money is rolling in it’s hard to wean off of it.
Our next adventure in Chiang Mai was a trip to a more rural area called Mae Kampong village. We stopped at the market to pick up ingredients for a local home lunch/cooking lesson and then drove for about an hour into a mountainous area that was reminiscent of an alpine town. We met up with a local guide and hiked into a forest that contained tea trees and waterfalls. Our very knowledgeable guide pointed out edible, medicinal, and useful plants along the way. We stopped for a break and a snack and imagine our surprise when one of the items on the menu was lemon poppy seed cake! Jared’s mom is an amazing baker and makes wonderful lemon poppy seed bread, so we had to try this as a potential reminder of home and it did not disappoint. This cute coffee shop was quite busy and had beautiful and peaceful views of the valley below. After our break, we hiked back down to the village with a new friend—the girls found a dog that happily followed us the rest of the way down the hill. We then went to the host home to make our lunch. The girls chopped, diced, and sliced and then stir fried everything together on a hotplate. After lunch we drove to the adventure center and equipped up for an afternoon of zip lining We flew through the leafy canopy of the rainforest on zip lines and traversed lofty sky bridges. We met the Hancock family from Calgary, Canada on this adventure and spent the afternoon with them. The Hancock family was also spending the year traveling around the world and we had great fun connecting with one another and sharing stories of our adventures.
We spent a morning visiting a smaller village and learning about the agricultural lands where rice, fruit and grains are grown. We visited a ‘Three Generations’ village, where it aims to strengthen and celebrate community life through an initiative called ‘3 Generations Thai’ which actively encourages intergenerational activities such as home work programs, agricultural skills, basket weaving, cooking and music. The girls took turns learning how to weave and cook and we were honored with a gift of candles with each of our names inscribed in an ancient Thai calligraphy.
We wrapped up our time in Chiang Mai with a very unique experience. How many people can say they have climbed up a waterfall—actually IN the water with water rushing around on all sides? The wet rocks look quite slippery, but this waterfall was different. It was a “sticky” waterfall– limestone deposits on the rocks from the highly mineralized water made the surface areas like fine sandpaper. We all climbed up and down the waterfall, named Bua Tong several times and watched the girls play, splash, and swim the cool clear water. It was a great place to visit for local families as well as tourists. Check out this video to see it in action: https://www.facebook.com/jared.m.svoboda/videos/vb.1477123939/10206679957945737/?type=2&theater
We learned so much in Chiang Mai and left with a great feel for the history, culture, and people. Our activities were plentiful and we quite busy and very ready for a little R&R in Koh Samui. Next up, read about our island adventure on the Andaman Sea.