Archive for February, 2012

A Few Snapshots of Thailand

February 27, 2012

I trust this note finds you all well and enjoying a peaceful day. Here are a few shots I took this month while exploring NorthWest Thailand.

While still in Chiang Mai, I visited a ‘dog rescue’ center. It’s so great being in a place where most of the dogs are well cared for and folks treat them like members of the family. The man who runs this center where 50 or so dogs are living, is from New York and comes here every year in the winter. I had a great time petting these guys.

I also took a day trip out from Chiang Mai, visited the Karen hilltribe, road an elephant and visited a marvelous botantical garden. They call these women “long necks” it is amazing to see what they do to their bodies. They also put a set of these rings just below the knee which restricts the natural growth of the calf and insert ever increasingly large ear rings until they have great loops. This tribe came in from Myanmar (Burma) to escape one of the wars there some years ago.

This village is set up for tourists but folks do live here and farm, make cloth, etc. Not a ‘real’ experience of the culture but interesting none the less. I was not able to find an overnight trip that would have included sleeping in a hill tribe family home.

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There was a flower show the weekend in Chiang Mae. Folks built floats all decorated with flowers, sort of reminded me of the rosebowl parade.

This elephant ride was heavy on the touristy side but still fun. Mostly made me want to do some of the other things one can do with elephants here including spending a day with just one elephant, feeding, washing, etc. So much to do, so little money 🙂

Well just as I was getting used to the no toilet paper thing, along comes perhaps the strangest food I have yet to sample. I’d recommend the grasshoppers and crickets but stay away from the grubs and worms as the texture is what you might imagine. The rest are just crunchy with a smokey taste, sort of like eating the tails of fried shrimp. Gotta try the local foods, ya know.

I did a great Zipline too before I left Chiang Mai. The forests were beautiful and you sure get a bird’s eye view! I was with 3 folks from China. Sure do neet some very nice and interesting people traveling around.

I next went up to the town of Pai where I did a day hike with a local guide and 2 young women from Holland. Here he is making our lunch.

It was some strange parts from a pig I didn’t recognze but they were all tasty. Like they say, everything tastes good when it’s cooked outdoors.

We also passed through a number of hill tribe communities, these with a different culture and dress, no bands on their necks, etc. I believe these folks are from China but I can’t really remember. Too much imformation in too little time.

I also saw a higher level of the diversity in Pai than in other areas. There seems to be a greater mix of peoples as you get closer to the borders.

I left Pai and headed north to Mae Hong Son which I didn’t get much out of beyond the ride up through perhaps the most curvy roads I have ever experienced, great views though.

I left after only one night and headed up to the small town of Thaton which I greatly enjoyed, quiet and peaceful, very little traffic to dodge. This man makes the best ‘banana pancakes’ I’ve had lately. I am learning that “pancakes” come in about as many forms as there are folks cooking ’em. I’ve had them fluffy like in the States, some as large as ours served on a real plate, others the size of silver dollars, served on a folded banana leaf. This man begins with a thumb-sized ball of dough which he works like a skilled pizza-maker, spinning it and slapping it on his countertop until it’s waffer thin. Then he adds some oil to his shallow wok and cooks it for a minute while he scrambles an egg and adds it along with banana slices to the middle of the dough, folds it into a square and cooks it for another minute before cutting it into bite-sized bits and adding condensed, sweetened milk and sugar. Eaten with an overgrown toothpick which is common for the street venders here. Not something one should eat everyday, but a great treat! When not at a Vipassana center (where the food is simply unbelieveable!), I have been eating “off the street” almost entirely on this trip and loving it. The interactions with the venders and the locals add a dose of local color that I have come to deeply appreciate over these past 5 or 6 years living and traveling in the “developing world.”

And, as it always seems, in these developing countries, folks can make do with very little and make something out of nothing. I saw several of these rigs riding up and down the road during my travels in this rural area and elsewhere in rural Thailand.

I then took this small boat down river for 3 1/2 hours to Chiang Rai (just over $10) where I stayed in a quiet, clean $5 room with my own bathroom with a charming cafe nearby serving $1 meals! The next day I took a day tour and along the way, made my first ‘border run’ to get my visa stamped. Got to spend all of 10 minutes in Myanmar but was glad it all went well and only costs B500 ($16.50).

I also talked the guide into taking the four of us who were on the tour by one of the meditation caves in the area. It was pretty neat, much larger than I imagined such caves would be. Gotta check those out in India for comparsion now!

We also visited the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos and Cambodia come together, an area made infamous by a thriving opium trade up until fairly recent time. This statue was on the river bank. It represents a famous one that was discovered here and is now kept in Bangkok.

We also took a fast boat across the Mekong river (I was reminded of hearing this name frequently during the Viet Nam war) into Laos and visited a tourist trap of a place but did see some interesting things, whisky with baby snakes inside the bottle and some of the first real poverty I have seen on this trip. This little girl’s face tells one story of this still-struggling country.

These Thai boys living along the river between Thaton and Chiang Rai seem to live a different life. Reminded me of the kids in the jungle village in Peru, fishing and swimming, not a bad life for little boys!

Well, that’s about it for now. I’ll be heading out to the western edge of the country a bit further south, to sit a 10 day meditation course and then heading to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat and stay in a Vipassana center in the area for a couple of weeks or maybe only some days before making my way to Vietnam. Haven’t made up my mind on that one yet. Want to see what I find in Cambodia first. I’ve received mixed reviews. Alas, so much to do, so little time 🙂

Take good care and keep me in your prayers and know that I am returning the favor!

John

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