Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Have we really only been here 3 days?

I can’t really believe how much we saw today. My head is swimming, and I wish we could post our photos right away. Kyle’s going to see if our hotel has a USB cable we can borrow tomorrow.

Thanks so much for all the comments and advice. I know we're writing a lot, and you obviously don't have to read it all. We just don't want to forget a thing!

We woke up early on the train this morning and ate our sort of OK breakfast. (It wasn’t fantastic – even if we hadn't been comparing it to the Amari.) We started watching out the train window as soon as it was light, thinking we’d only get an hour of countryside viewing before our 7am arrival in Chiang Mai. We later found out the train was running almost 2 hours behind schedule, so we had more daylight with which to enjoy northern Thailand. We were especially lucky in that we were in the last car, so we stood for awhile at the very back of the train and got an awesome panoramic view.

Upon arrival at the train station, we failed to find a metered taxi (we were told you can only get these from the airport in CM). We took our first Sonthaew instead. It’s basically sitting in the back of a pickup that has a high topper and two benches along the sides for seating. Possibly safer than a tuk-tuk, and lots of fun. Our hotel is outside the city center by almost a half hour, so we had a private ride through gorgeous lush countryside. The driver’s wife sat in back with us trying to set us up with tours during our stay. Today was the only day we hadn’t yet booked, and there were some things I wanted help getting to (being so far from the city), so we arranged for her brother to come with a car and guide us for the day. They dropped us off at the hotel and she phoned her brother to tell him to fetch us in an hour.

We checked in at the hotel and it is AMAZING. (Baan Namping Riverside Village, if anyone’s interested.) We feel like we’re in paradise here. Our bungalow is along the lazy Ping river. The grounds are overflowing with tropical plants and trees. All we can hear is the birds and the bugs. The staff is friendly almost beyond the astounding Thai friendliness. The proprietress tried to give us coffee when we arrived and we declined, being hot and somewhat in a hurry to shower and be ready for our guide. She assured us that coffee, tea, and water are all free, and their ice is made from bottled drinking water to it’s safe to drink. She again offered us coffee. We again politely declined but accepted some water. The bell boy took us up the little path to our bungalow (huge windows all around for a stunning view, with a large porch with comfy chairs looking at the river). He offered us coffee as he set our bags down. We again declined. He came back with coffee anyway, knocked on our door, and told us he set it out on the porch for us in case we changed our minds. We drank the coffee. =) The only downside to this place is it's far enough outside the city that it takes some planning and a little extra money to get around. But the room is a quarter the cost of our Bangkok room, and a million times better.

Baan Tawai

We quickly showered and were a little sad to have to scoot off on a tour, but we also wanted to see as much as Chiang Mai as possible. Our driver and guide was Boon, a very friendly (are any Thais not?) man who speaks excellent English. He took us first to Baan Tawai market at our request. This market was very near to our hotel and had amazing prices. It was a large market and we were shocked to find that we were nearly the only people there. We were told it’s now the low season for tourists because it’s bordering on the start of the rainy season. Lucky us! We spent an hour and filled up a large backpack with goodies. The prices at this market were so low I was embarrassed to bargain, so I wasn’t very aggressive (which I usually enjoy).

Handicraft Shops

Our next stops were many different handicraft shops all along a main road. Drivers take tourists to each stop, where the process for making a particular handicraft is demonstrated. After this very quick demo, customers – I mean tourists – are herded into the showroom and encouraged to purchase something. We toured places that made/sold silk, lacquer-ware, jewelry, umbrellas, and cashmere. We bought a few very small items, like a lacquer-ware ornament for the Christmas tree and a small stuffed silk elephant for T (shhh – don’t spoil the surprise!). These things were generally overpriced, but it was interesting to see people working on traditional crafts.

Spinning silk from cocoons

Making paper umbrellas
We ate a delicious lunch from a stand in the complex that made the umbrellas. Both of us had fried rice (Kyle – chicken, me – veggie) for 30 baht each. That’s $1. Nothing on the Dollar Menu at McD’s will ever come close to that lunch!

Boon’s sister works for a tailor in Chiang Mai, and took us there to get Kyle measured for a suit. We’d meant to do it in Bangkok before we left but had run out of time. This place seemed to be very high quality, and not at all sleazy. We’ll let you know for sure when we pick up the finished product on Thursday.

The final craft place Boon took us to (to kill time, because we had a lot to spare) was a place the sold cashmere. I’m not sure what exactly this has to do with Thailand, because I’m fairly sure the goats are not living in the Thai mountains. In any case, we found a cute little patchwork elephant square that would be nice on T’s wall. It was WAY overpriced. We had no interest in actually purchasing it, but the salesguy was so entertaining I decided to barter with him awhile for fun. The salesguy and my back-and-forth had Kyle in physical pain from laughing so hard. Salesguy was hysterical, and I was laughed at him, saying, “You’re really funny.” He was quite for a moment, and then almost whispered “Thank you” out of earshot of his boss, who was standing by to observe. By the end, Salesguy was begging and pleading with me to move up on my price. When I’d go to walk out of the store, he’d say, “OK, stop stop stop. I don’t want you to buy anything. Just look at these pieces and tell me which you like best so I can put the others away – I don’t want you to be confused.” (OK, so that sounds condescending when typed, but he was laughing while he said it and the whole exchange was extremely silly.) In the end, he got me to go up $4 from my price, and only after a low-voiced consultation with his boss. All for something that cost less than $30. I didn’t negotiate so hard for my CAR! I really didn’t need it, but it was so much fun bartering with him, it’ll be a fun reminder of the afternoon. When we got back to the car, we jokingly yelled at Boon for taking us there, and Boon acknowledged he’s heard before that the guy is an amazing salesperson.

Doi Suthep

Our next stop was Doi Suthep. The road up the mountain to the temple was windy and very steep in places. We were nervous as we watched all the little motorbikes make their way around the curves. Boon left us to explore the temple for an hour and a half. We climbed the 300-some steps to the top of the mountain and temple. It was overcast and almost drizzly, so it wasn’t a hot or difficult climb at all. The panoramic view from the top, although the weather didn’t cooperate, was still amazing. We could see the old city of Chiang Mai as a square, surrounded by the taller buildings of the new city. The temple was very nice, although we had to take off our shoes and socks to meander around the entire upper section of the temple, instead of just inside the buildings housing Buddah statues like at most Wats. It had been raining, so the marble floors were slick and a bit slimy.

A Thai guide was sitting at the shoe pile when we exited the no-shoe area, waiting for his clients. He started laughing and pointing at the enormous shoes that several people had left behind. He was making fun of their huge feet, and this had us giggling as well. He then introduced himself, wanted to know where we were from, and gave us a tip to visit the Wat Chedi Luang to witness the annual flower giving festival. We thanked him kindly, thinking to ourselves we’d never have time for an extra stop.We had coffee at the temple before we headed back down the 300-some steps.

Huaykeaw Waterfall

On the way down the mountain, Boon stopped at the Huaykeaw waterfall. A small market along the path sold fried insects of all kinds for munching. Ugh. The vendors laughed at us for taking pictures. The waterfall was beautiful, and we’ll see a much larger one tomorrow when we tour Doi Inthanon (national park).

Dogs are everywhere in Thailand, especially at Wats because the monks feed them their extra food. This dog, who seemed to be gaurding the waterfall, struck us as particularly funny.
Continuing on down the mountain, Boon told us our dinner plans didn’t start until 7pm so we had a lot of time to kill. He said he wasn’t sure what we should do, since we’d already accomplished everything on our list. I was tired, and told him we’d be happy to just sit in a park and relax for awhile and he could pick us up in time for dinner. He replied that he’d rather take us to the Old City of Chiang Mai to see some Wats if we were interested. Ah, of course! We passed through the old city walls, which are 700 years old.

Wat Chiang Man

We stopped at Wat Chiang Man, which was empty except for a few monks, one of whom was talking on a cell phone. It is the cities oldest Wat and was very impressive. The base of the chedi was surrounded by huge stone elephants.

While we were there, Boon pointed out a tree that has flowers that only smell fragrant at night. The name of the flower means something like "sadness", so Boon said most people won't plant it at their homes, but the trees are often found at Wats.

Boon displays the flower that smells only at night

Wat Chedi Luang / Inthakin Festival

Next, we drove to Wat Chedu Luang, and Boon looked worried. It was absolutely mobbed with people, and he confessed he didn’t know if we’d be able to get in because there was a festival going on that he’d forgotten about. Score! The Inthakin, flower-giving festival we’d heard about earlier! He found a parking spot and left us to run in. The sight was truly amazing and I was holding back tears. Everyone was lining up with baskets and bowls of flowers of all types. They were leaving them at all different altars, Buddah statues, and little platforms. Everyone was smiling. People were carrying cups of water with flower petals and getting sprinkled with the water, and sprinkling the Buddahs. There was live music and many many stalls with food and goods for sale. It was a very happy occasion, and whole families were out together to worship and give thanks for their good life and the good fortune of their city Chiang Mai and to ask for good luck (or that was the purpose according the guide we'd met earlier). We saw only a few other non-Thai people, but no one seemed to mind us enjoying their merriment. I took many pictures and didn’t want to leave. I tried to just soak it up, and I’ll never forget the experience.

Kanthoke Dinner

While witnessing the Inthakin Festival should have been the end of our day because nothing could ever have topped it, we already had tickets to for dinner and Thai dancing/music at the Chiang Mai Cultural Center. We were tired, but it was nice to just sit (on the floor) and relax. We were given a little table with 8 different dishes to try. It reminded me of an Indonesian Rijst Tafel (Rice Table). After dinner we were treated to music and dancing. It was very nice, although we were embarrassed to be tourists at that point, as many other observers weren’t observing at all, but talking rudely and loudly during the performances. We felt really bad for the dancers, and annoyed that it was hard to enjoy the performances when we could barely hear the announcer over the din of the morons behind us.

We happily piled into the car after the show and were driven back to our hotel. Now it’s time to sleep. Tomorrow we visit a national park for the whole day. It should be relaxing. Thank goodness!



Chris, Terri, Matt and Mark said...

I'm taking you guys with us when we go! Start saving your money for your trip back in 2010! I laughed outloud that you arranged for your pickup driver's wife's brother to drive you around. All you needed was a cousin's uncle thrown in there and you'd be in Kentucky. Thanks for sharing!

Courtney said...

I'm thinking we'll just follow your itinerary when we are in Chiang Mai! You two are all-star planners. Hmmm, do you think Boon would drive us around when we are there? :)

Nichole said...

I love reading your updates. I feel like I am actually there with you 8-)

Courtney said...

We just went to the Chiang Mai Cafe in Brookfield. You know so that we could feel the connection, can you feel the connection? I practiced some Thai with our waitress (actually from Laos but a Thai speaker). As Courtney said, her face lit up every time I spoke Thai (or tried to). We got a little clarification on her name pronunciation to which is nice.

Great posts, we are so greedy, where are the pictures? Have fun with the national park and then the cooking class!