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Thailand 2009 Archives

March 5, 2009

Thailand, here we come!

Our original plan was to take a trip to Greece(and Rome) in September/October. However, we are also planning on hunting for a place to buy in Jacksonville,Florida after we are done with this assignment in Maui. And, it looks like we will be here until end of August!

So, it was time for some decisions to be made. Not that I am complaining about extending our contract here, but it is interfering with our vacation plans, (even though technically nothing is set, it is all just plans),so Bill came up with the bright idea!

We will be taking couple weeks off at the end of our original contract( May 15th) and we'll take our vacation then! So since we are in Hawaii already, we decided a trip to Asia is in order, rather than going all the way to Europe. Japan, China, Thailand??

And although I'd love to go to China and Japan,we settled on Thailand, for many reasons:
1-Money Matters, it will be an extremely affordable vacation from our initial assessment. Right now the American dollar is about 37 Baht, so our moneys will go a long way.
2-We are interested in the Thai food and the Thai culture.
3-We only have two weeks, so it is a quick vacation to two cities or three.
4-It is only about a 15 hour trip from Honolulu counting a stop in Taiwan, and we should be able to get it for about $850 on China Airlines, an affiliate of Delta, so we get our frequent miles.
5- I need a good massage!
6-Well, what it comes down to it, Thailand sounds like a great deal to us, even though it will be hot, so we'll focus on northern Thailand.

As of right now,tentative plan includes spending 10 days or so in the Northern Thailand around Chiang Mai, and few days at Bangkok. I'll be posting our planning progress.

WooHoo, Thailand in two months!

March 16, 2009

Thailand:Initial trip plans

Thailand%20Map.jpgThere is no doubt that one of the best parts about taking a trip, is the planning ahead. I've only lived in the era of internet, and cannot imagine how trip planning took place before then. What do we do without Google, Slow Travel, Trip Adviser and the more destination specific websites? I could not tell you.

As this is our first trip to that part of the world, it took me a little while to find my resources and get a grip on planning. My favorite travel site: Slow Travel has very little hotel reviews and information about Thailand, so I had to search sites I don't necessarily frequent often. However, there were couple trip reports, written by ST members, that were helpful and fun to read.

I am relying on Trip Adviser and Asia Rooms for hotel reviews.

Thailand%20flag.pngSome helpful sites that I came across are:

Thailand Tourism Board.
Travelers Point
Thailand Discovery
Travel Fish
Thai Focus
Hellfire Pass.
Chiang Mai Chimes

Another website I checked was the CDC for Thailand travel specific health precautions.There are no serious health risks in the areas we are visiting, we might check with the Health Department for Hepatitis A vaccination, but I am not worried about it.

Fellow blogger girasoli is helping with recommendations from her friends, who've been to Thailand. And Maria's brother,who lived in Bangkok for a while, is an invaluable resource.Thanks to all.

I am also checking the Frommer's Thailand and Fodor's Thailand(not liking the later much) guidebooks.

As of right now, we have booked our airline tickets to Bangkok for May 17th, returning May 31st. Due to the seventeen hour time difference, we get to Bangkok on May 18th(next day) afternoon.We have a total of twelve nights, not counting days of arrival or departure. Since we are taking our trip in May, a hot season, we will be spending most of our trip in Northern Thailand. We decided to skip the islands in this trip, as we are already living on the beautiful island of Maui.

Our theme for this trip is: Culture, Adventure and a little Pampering!

This is what our raw itinerary looks like:

May 18th to May 21st:Chiang Mai 4 nights
May 22nd to May 24th: Three day trekking trip in Chaing Rai and the Golden Triangle area,two nights accommodation with hill tribes( Work in progress, do not have a tour booked yet, but have couple leads I am working on).
May 25th to May 27th: A three day(two nights) Mahout training program at the Thai Elephant Conservatory Center in Lampang.
The above destinations are within 120 miles of each other in Northern Thailand.
May 27th until we leave May 31st: Bangkok for 4nights.

We are so excited about this trip, it is our most exotic destination yet, and we will be leaving in two months, woo hoo!

I will be posting more specific information as the plans unfold, and reservations are made.


March 19, 2009

Thailand Plans: Thai Elephant Conservation Camp

Thailand%2C_elephant.jpgThe third segment of our upcoming Thailand Trip takes us to Thai Elephant Conservation Center, in Lampang( about 45 miles south of Chiang Mai). I will start posting about our plans with this segment, since it is what first got us so excited about our trip.

One of the first things that come up ,when you are researching things to do in Thailand, is riding elephants. And of course, this is something we'd like to do while in Thailand. However, there are always reports of abuse of "tourist elephants", and the declining number of elephants in Thailand. I was concerned, because I did not want to be part of that. Sure, I'd like to ride elephants, but I do not want the guilt of the extinction of Asian elephants.So while searching and researching, at some point I found TECC.

First of all, it is called conservation center, which implies that they conserve elephants, so I thought that was a good start. Then I was reading glowing reviews of the center on Trip Adviser. So I thought great. Then I found this site and couple others that confirm the integrity of TECC as a camp to preserve the knowledge about elephants and their mahouts. And then a couple of Thais commented(even on my blog), that TECC is a responsible camp for conservation of elephants. Yipee, I can ride an elephant guilt free(or almost guilt free I guess).

We decided to sign up for the Three Day VIP Mahout program. Which includes two night accommodation at the camp, and a three day program during which we will be introduced to the mahout( elephant handler) duties, from bathing, feeding and riding the elephants to participating in elephant shows. How cool is that? I can hardly wait.

I think it is appropriate to share some information about elephants and their history in Thailand. I got this information from Tourism Authority of Thailand, News Room.

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March 24, 2009

Thailand Plans: Bangkok for four nights.

Grand%20Palace.jpg
Grand Palace
I am sure one could spend much more time in Bangkok than the four nights we are spending May 27th through May 31st. However, spending any longer than that in congested,bustling Bangkok in the hot weather, did not sound very appealing to us.Instead, we will be spending the remainder of our two-week vacation in Northern Thailand, where it should be cooler and less crowded(I hope, more on that later).Note: Photos are from Bangkok Tourism official site.

Researching hotel in Bangkok, was fun, never have I seen hotels in the capital for $17 a night. I am still amazed at that! Of course, there are resorts for $600 and $700 a night, for those who can afford and like a splurge. According to my guidebooks, the best of the best is the Oriental Hotel on the legendary Chao Phraya River. But this is not where we will be staying, although we will go take a look.

We will be staying at Phranakorn Nornlen Hotel, winner of Trip Adviser Travelers' Choice Award for 2008. I am not sure how they judge these things, but it does have a lot of great reviews, in a great location, close to the river and for less than $50 a night. I feel very good about this choice.

We will be getting into Bangkok, from Chiang Mai, via Air Asia, at about 1830 on Wednesday May 27th. An hour and ten minutes flight, for $17 a person. This fee also includes a medium bag for up to 20 KG.(about 44 LBS).Bangkok will be the last segment in out trip.

Continue reading "Thailand Plans: Bangkok for four nights." »

March 30, 2009

Thailand Plans: Trekking in Northern Thailand

Chiang%20Rai%20trekking.jpgIt comes as no surprise to those who check out my blog regularly that hiking is high on my list of favorite things to do. It is a great way to bond with nature, get some adrenaline pumping and feel the good tired afterward.

Hiking also makes me feel part of something so much bigger than me. I stop frequently during a hike, and not only to catch my breath, but to look at what lays ahead. If I am climbing a mountain, I love looking at the top of the mountain, our end destination, and enjoy feeling small, a good sense of small, that is.

So, when checking out things to do for our Thailand trip this coming May, trekking was mentioned in guidebooks, forums, tour operators websites and many other places, so we decided to have trekking as part of our trip. And since we will be spending most of our trip in Northern Thailand, planning a trek in Northern Thailand became a goal of mine.

The more I researched, the more excited I became about it. It is not just going to be hiking for the sake of hiking and exploring nature only, we will also be exploring Thai culture, visiting Thai villages in the highlands, and realizing a part of the local lives in Northern Thailand: interesting and colorful ethnic minorities known as the hill tribes.


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April 14, 2009

Trouble in Bangkok

Red%20shirt%20pteesters%20smashing%20car.jpgOn the 12th of April, Thailand's Prime Minister announced a state of emergency in Bangkok and nearby provinces in an attempt to control the "red shirt "protesters, after they surrounded and beat the car carrying the PM on Sunday afternoon.

The anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) protesters, aka red shirt protesters, who are loyal to the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra(ousted in 2006), claim that the current government was not elected democratically, and demand that the current PM( Abhisit) resign and new elections to be held.

The state of emergency means that officials are allowed to arrest protesters without a court order, and also prohibits gathering of five people and more. Officials have been using tear gas, and warning gun shots in an attempt to disperse the protester, some injures and one kill were reported.

Red%20shirt%20protesters.jpg


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May 11, 2009

Six more sleeps....

Reservations are confirmed , bags are almost packed, and we are counting down to six more sleeps before we leave for Thailand. We have cooking classes, elephants, jungle trekking, unique temples and an exotic culture to look forward to.And of course delicious Thai cuisine.

Political situation seems to be stable in Bangkok, and according to the WHO, there are no confirmed swine flu cases in Thailand, so far anyway.

Because of flight schedules,or to avoid a yucky flight schedule I should say, we will be spending Saturday on Oahu. We'll have a full day to relax on the beach, melt toxic work thoughts away, and get in slow vacation moods. Hopefully, we'll meet girasoli for dinner that night,get a good night of sleep and have an uneventful flight to Bangkok on Sunday morning.

All so exciting, all so near!
And you know, the six nights we have to sleep here are not that bad, here is a photo of a beautiful evening sky on Maui.

Evening.jpg


May 16, 2009

Off we go....

After so much excitement, anticipating and debating, off we leave to our two week trip to Thailand. Thanks to everyone who's helped me plan, referred me to someone who's given me ideas, or just read my ramblings. I decided against taking my laptop with me to this trip( I don't want the extra wight on the trek, or leaving it with the rest of suitcase at the storage place),but I will try to blog from internet cafes and such.

See you all back in two weeks!

May 18, 2009

Welcome to the Land of Smiles..

After a long,long day of traveling,we finally made it to our final destination, Chiang Mai Thailand! And all I can say now is wow! A beautiful country, with beautiful people and awesome food. Even food at the airport Thai restaurant was delicious!

Our "main" flight from Honolulu to Bangkok was uneventful, and I may even add pleasant, despite the fact that it was super long. China Airlines provide great customer service and even coach seats were pretty comfortable. When we were checking in at the Honolulu Airport, the agent asked us twice if we want to sit together(me and Bill that is), we had a good laugh about it. Why would we not? I guess they have many people who travel together and would not want to be seated together for a 13 hour flight?!

After about 15 hours of travel, we arrived at the Bangkok Airport, and were very impressed. It has a great layout, signs are posted everywhere and easy to follow, and everything is easy to find . Customs and baggage claim went quickly, and we had about two hours to kill before we board our AirAsia flight to Chiang Mai. So, we ate for the fifth time that day:) My curried prawns were delicious, and not as hot as I expected, I guess airport food is cooked with tourists in mind. Bill had some soup with duck meat and he loved it as well.

Our flight to Chiang Mai was delayed by 40 minutes. And maybe that was the reason, our luggage,along with fifty or more passengers' luggage,were not there when we arrived Chiang Mai an hour later. Bummer! Only half the flight received their luggage, and the other half stood there for about 15 minutes, until one of the agents came out apologizing and asked us to follow her to file claims. Tired and a bit disappointed we filed the claim, and learned that our luggage may be on a flight arriving twenty minutes later, so we decided to wait, but alas, our bag was not on that flight. So we got taxi voucher, and took taxi to our hotel. Twenty minutes and seven dollars later(with tip), we were at the Lanna House, a charming small guesthouse with smiley faces! With not much change of clothing,we got ready for bed and crashed, at about 1000 pm Thailand time, but maybe 0500 am our body time(about 24 hours after we woke up at the hotel in Honolulu).

We got up this morning to a gorgeous day, and got a call that our luggage will be here in about an hour. We had delicious free vegetarian breakfast, and here I am using the internet in the cafe next door to the hotel for less than a dollar an hour.

And now, off to explore Chiang Mai!

May 19, 2009

Chiang Mai:Temples and friendly people

I continue to be awed by the friendliness and kindness of people in Chiang Mai. Never have we been approached by as many locals in any other country we have visited. As we had our map, and were walking around yesterday, just amazed by the beauty of the city, uniqueness of the temples and trying to navigate the street signs(there aren't many), we were stopped and helped by so many Thais that I lost count. People in Chiang Mai are very friendly and offer all kind of advice, even without us asking for it about how to get to places, where to dine, shop or just visit. Of course, many of them are taxi drivers with the motive to getting us in their cab. Nonetheless, they continue to be friendly even after we decline their offers. It is so refreshing to be in such a place where almost everyone is smiling and friendly!

After breakfast yesterday, (and waiting for our luggage),I had a nice chat with Emmy, the receptionist at the hotel front desk. We talked about Thailand, Thai culture,people and food. She even gave me some exotic tropical fruit to try, which were delicious! I believe they are called litchi.We also talked about America, and I was impressed by how much knowledge she has of American politics and economy. I was also pleased to hear her say that Thai people like Obama. She has also mentioned that they did not like the "Texan". Really, this is what she called Bush:)

After we got our luggage, we set out exploring Chiang Mai by foot. Our hotel is just outside the east gate(ThaPae) of the walled town, two minutes walk and we were inside the city wall. What a sight! Delicious food everywhere! Smiley faces, and not so many signs of roads names. So we just followed our hunches for directions. Well, Bill's hunch, as I lack that feature. Of course, we could have taken a taxi, or a tuk tuk, but what is more fun than getting lost in a new town?

We visited temples, ate, visited more temples, talked to locals, ate, and visited more temples. Five hours later, we got back to the hotel and got a much needed one hour of traditional Thai massage in our room ,for less than ten dollars each. I've never had a Thai massage before, and really enjoyed it. Nothing is off limit for the masseuse to use, from her hands to her feet, she made sure I am well stretched and mellow by the time the hour is over.

After that, we headed to the Night Bazaar, another great scene.Vendors, food carts, massage chairs, anything and everything one could think of. We had delicious seafood dinner, watched traditional Thai dance and walked home feeling fully satisfied with our first full day in Chiang Mai.

Today, cooking class and flower festival!

May 20, 2009

Cooking Thai style in Chiang Mai

We had a fabulous day cooking up a storm with Nan and Pot from Siam Rice Cooking School in Chiang Mai. Hospitality and kindness of Chiang Mai people continue to shine through!

We were picked up ,from our hotel, at about 0930 am this morning, and Pot drove us to the market(or one of the markets) in Chiang Mai, along with four other tourists:two guys from the Netherlands and a couple from Holland.

The market tour was great. We got introduced to many fruits and vegetables grown in Thailand. We got to smell, touch and taste various products. A great way to get a sense for the Thai cuisine.

After the tour in the market, we were driven to Pot and Nan's house,where a cooking school was set up for us. We were treated to mini coconut pancakes,which were delicious, and each one chose a different option to form a seven course meal! From soups, to salads, to appetizers to the main course, and the desert, everything was delicious with a big D. We also got to make our own curry paste, and then sauce. A bonus was to learn how to carve fruits, but I really did not do well on that, so I am not going to dwell on it.

It was very interesting and amazingly easy to make all these courses. Of course, most things were prepared, and we only had to the final preparation steps. Each had their own chopping board and stove.Nan is very knowledgable of other cuisines, so she was able to point out differences and similarities between Thai cooking and other countries' cooking.She also is a very nice person with a great sense of humor. I was looking at calender in Thai language, and she taught me how to write numbers from one to ten in Thai, well it is not easy, I felt like a little kid who is holding a pen for the first time!

I will write later about the courses we made. It was nice that me and Bill got to choose different options, so we actually tasted fourteen dishes in about six hours! Yep, I think the scale will show it when we get home, but who can help it, Thai food is delicious!

After the course was over, and we ate all what we made(gasp), we received certificates from the cooking school. It was nice that Nan took the time to write our names in Thai along with English so that we have a great souvenir of our time in Chiang Mai cooking Thai style.

We were dropped off at our hotel after school was out,feeling full and happy.

What a great city to visit!


May 21, 2009

Chiang Mai: more temples, more food and more fun

Our fondness of Chiang Mai seems to keep increasing at every turn we make. This morning we were considering canceling our leg in Bangkok and staying in Chiang Mai instead. But again, maybe we'll like Bangkok, and there are sites in Bangkok that I definitely want to see.

Last night, we took a tuk tuk for the first time in Chiang Mai, well first time ever really, what an experience! They are loud, noisy and polluted, but it was a fun short ride to Wat Chedi Luang, the temple where we attended the Intakin festival. What a festival that was! It could not have been any more unique or exotic to us than attending a festival that is used to ask Buddha for peace,rain and prosperity.We bought some flowers, candles and luster water, and participated as well as we could in the festive ceremony. I will write about the festival in more details later.

This morning, we took a taxi up to Doi Suthep, the mountain in Chiang Mai, where one of the most sacred temples in Thailand was built. It is said that a relic was placed on the back of a white elephant that was set free to walk. The elephant stopped and died on the top of the mountain and that is where Wat Phrathat was built. The temple is very beautiful, and the views of Chiang Mai are gorgeous from its terrace.

After visiting the temple and the mountain, we visited couple more unique temples outside the city walls: one built in a tunnel(Wat Umong), one that is very white and open(Wat Suan Dok) ,and one that is old with rectangular(rather than circular) chedi (stupa).I will also write about these temples in more details when I get home.

We will go to the night market again this evening,and we'll be leaving tomorrow morning for our three-day trek in northern Thailand with Sam(who is a very nice and funny guy by the way). Although we are sad to be leaving Chiang Mai, we are hoping to have a great experience hiking and soaking up more of the Thai culture.

What an amazing trip so far!


May 28, 2009

The not so dreamy part of Thailand: Bangkok

So we are back to civilization, and not so thrilled about it so far.

Our three day trek in Northern Thailand was unique, exotic and relaxing.We had two tour guides: Sam and Jay, both speak English well, very nice and fun to be around. We started by driving about three hours north of Chiang Mai, to a neat small town called Chiang Rai, where we had lunch, and visited one of the most modern temples in Thailand(The White Temple, my absolute favorite and a photographer delight). From Chiang Rai, we started by taking a long boat tail ride through the Mekong river,where we had our first elephant sighting. Right there, on the river bank, a giant beast flapping its ears and drinking water! Not a sight one sees everyday! After about an hour boat ride, we started trekking through the mountains. It was amazingly beautiful, and exceptionally hot. We were thankful for the fresh breezes that greeted us once we started reaching the top of the mountain.

After about three or so hours of hiking, we reached our destination for the first day: Lahu village. The Lahu hill tribe immigrated to Thailand from China many years ago, they have their own language and don't speak Thai well. Our accommodation for the night was in one of the village bamboo huts. It is amazing to see people living on only life basic necessaries! Sam cooked delicious Thai dinner for us, and we chatted about life in Thailand until bed time. It was a great day!

The second day of the trek involved more hiking, a swim in a waterfall, delicious Thai food and accommodation at Akha village in another bamboo hut. During our trekking trip, we realized the various uses and importance of bamboo, from food to tools to construction,bamboo is widely used in Thailand. Sam also carved a bamboo cup for us while we were hiking, a very nice touch, and great souvenir from our trek.

We spent the third day mainly in the car, driving all over Northern Thailand, and visiting amazing places like the Golden Triangle, the ancient city,monkey cave,beautiful lake where we had lunch, the White Buddha, the Dragon Buddha, and another hill tribe called Karen Long Neck village. Women in this village were copper rings around their necks since they are kids, and as they grow, these rings push down their shoulders extending their necks. It felt like exploiting people walking around their village to check them out, but Sam assured us that they like it, and it is a way for them to benefit financaly by showing off their culture. They were very nice and friendly.

After our three day trek, we headed back to Chiang Mai just in time for the Sunday Walking market, and a much needed Thai foot, neck and shoulder massage. Ah, an absolute delight.

The following day we hired a taxi to take us to the Thai Elephant Conservation center, about an hour south of Chiang Mai, where we spent what might be one of the most memorable experiences in our lives riding elephants and learning about their lives from their mahouts. It was an amazing experience and we had great time with our elephants and mahouts. Elephants are truly the gentle giants. They were smart, sweet and obedient. And I was happy to see that they were well treated. I will write about that in more detail when I get home.

After three days at the elephant camp, we caught the plane to Bangkok. The journey was uneventful, we got our luggage, got hassles by various taxi drivers in our way out to the legitimate public taxi counter, where we got a ticket assigning a metered public taxi to us. The drive from the airport to our hotel took about half an hour. Traffic was fine, and I didn't think Bangkok drivers do a worse job than Rome's, so I felt fairly safe.

Our hotel in Bangkok is great, and staff is very friendly and helpful. The city is hot, noisy, polluted and smelly. The river and canals are extremely dirty, and there are many annoying people, who are trying to misdirect tourists for reasons that I can't figure out. The Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple are absolutely magnificent, and the trip to Bangkok is worth it if only to visit them. The reclining Buddha is huge, and very elegant, and the Temple of Dawn is unique and attractive. Other than that, we really don't like Bangkok much. We have couple more days here before going home, and I am researching ways to get away from the city, we'll see how it goes.

May 29, 2009

The remedy for dealing with Bangkok:shopping!

We managed to have a great day in Bangkok today. We started our day with a super delicious hotel breakfast that consisted of yummy Thai fruits, poach eggs,some vegetable salad, and some freshly squeezed pineapple juice. Yum!

With our tummies full,we took a cab to the canal boat pier, and took the public boat to Jim Thompson House.It was a great visit, with a guided tour included in the price of admission ticket to the amazing Western/Thai style house that is full of a splendid collection of art and artifacts. Jim Thompson is an American architect who,after joining the military,fell in love with Thailand and moved there building his house and reviving the Thai silk industry.We saw many amazing art work and incredible statues. It was also refreshing to see the Thai friendliness shine through the staff in Bangkok, like it was n Chiang Mai.

From the museum, we took a ten minute walk to MBK shopping mall. In the air conditioned six story mall, we found most of the tourists in Bangkok, shopping for electronics, clothes, shoes, bags and souvenirs. Many food places to choose from as well. We settled for some sushi and Japanese food, which was delicious. And somehow we managed to spend about five hours at the mall! Who can blame us? The AC is very inviting,the pushy crowds on the roads were replaced with busy friendly shoppers, and the only smells were of delicious foods and candles.

From the shopping center, we walked for about ten minutes to Erwan Shrine, where a very worshiped Hindu Buddha statue resides. We were treated with a performance of folklore Thai dancing, and enjoyed people watching for a while.

We finished our day by walking around Chinatown, which seems to be the most atmospheric part in Bangkok. We also had Chinese for dinner and took the cab back to the hotel.

It was a great day in Bangkok, and we decided if ever come back to Bangkok, it will most likely be for shopping. Some great deals can be found here. More importantly, it seemed to be a good way to spend a hot day in Bangkok, and it revived our faith in the city.

June 1, 2009

Reflections on amazing Thailand

Here I am, downloading photos, reading notes, and recording dates and places, as I recover from my jet lag, trying to savor every little detail of our amazing two week trip in fascinating Thailand.

The trip home was almost uneventful. The taxi picked us up at 0530 am on Sunday morning and we were at the Bangkok airport half an hour and nine US dollars later. Suvarnabhumi Airport, opened for business in 2006,sometimes called Bangkok New Airport, is a very impressive and organized structure. Checking in, and going through security was a piece of cake.A short layover in Taiwan, and 14 hours later, we landed in Honolulu at 0540 am, still Sunday morning.(What a long Sunday that was!), then the doors to the airplane won't open. Actually, the problem was the runway not moving properly at that gate, so ten minutes later, they try another gate, nope, not working either. The plane had to move to the other side of the airport, and finally,about 40 minutes later, the plane door opened and we are out! Not a minute too soon, the last thing one needs after a nine hour flight is waiting forty minutes for the door to open.

Going through passport control and customs was another quick process, and we managed to get on an earlier flight to Maui, instead of waiting couple hours for our booked flight. We were finally home at about nine a.m.There are so many blogs, events and news to catch up with, I am glad I don't have to go to work for another couple days. The Air France missing in the Atlantic is very scary and tragic, I feel for the families. GM filing for Chapter 11 is sad too, all the jobs that will be lost. As someone, who left Michigan in 2004, and it was a bad financial situation then, I can't imagine how horrible it will be now. I can only hope and pray for good solutions for the people affected directly by the bankruptcy,and for our nation as a whole.

Ok, about Thailand, simply put, it was amazing! I would not hesitate to go back right now if I could.As I was planning the trip, I was excited about all the possibilities, and could only imagine what it would be like. It has exceeded every expectation I had. It was a trip of a lifetime, and I would love to repeat it again in the future. I would even follow the exact itinerary, maybe cut the Bangkok visit shorter, or not go to Bangkok at all if I don't want to shop.


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June 2, 2009

Fruits in Thailand

One of the highlight in our Thai adventure was the variety of the exotic fruits our taste buds had the pleasure to encounter. In addition to the most known tropical fruits, like pineapple, banana(although bananas are much smaller and less sweet in Thailand), mango,papaya,there are many fruits that I was introduced to in Thailand.

Mango.jpg

Litchi was the very first fruit I tasted in Chiang Mai, it was given to me by the receptionist at the hotel, it is sweet, refreshing and rich in vitamin C. We started seeing litchi all over Thailand after that, and we got to eat a lot of it, especially during our trek in Northern Thailand. Despite all the litchis we had, I seem to have failed to take a photo:( The Wikipedia link has one though).Among the fruits I know, grapes are probably the closest to litchis, but not that similar really. Litchis are bigger than grapes, the outside is a reddish somewhat thick cover, that is peeled before eating to reveal clear white flesh surrounding a brownish inedible rind. I drool just thinking of the moisture and sweetness of the litchis. Girasoli said that litchis are in Hawaii in September, and now that I think about it, I may have seen it on Maui before, (never tried though), I hope when it is in season I can afford to buy it on Maui.

There is also the famous durian; famous for its strong odor that is. Many people think it smells bad, but we really thought it smells like a pumpkin.We tasted it on our last day in Bangkok, and nope, I will not try it again. I think I dislike the texture more than the flavor. The fruit itself is large oval or round shape, looks very similar to Jackfruit, with a brownish green husk, and yellowish edible part that is very mushy and has a very strong smell that durian is forbidden in many hotels and public areas.

Durian.jpg


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June 4, 2009

Chaing Mai: The city of 350 temples

Chiang Mai, means "new city" , was founded in 1296 by King Mengrai as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The city was surrounded by a moat, and a wall for protection. Despite that, the Lanna Kingdom was conquered by Burma in 1556,and the dynasty of the King was ended. It was not until 1774, when Thai King Taksin captured it from the Burmese, and it became a part of Siam.

Today, Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, after Bangkok, and is the capital of the northern province of Chiang Mai. Parts of the moat and wall are still visible around the town center,which has four accessible gates. Even though Chiang Mai accounts for more than half of the population of the province, it has a small town feeling,but with many attractions to see and activities to do. It is a perfect spot for a vacation that combines fun,and adventure with rest and relaxation. From delicious food, beautiful temples, friendly people, many shops, pampering massages, cheap public transportation and many activities, Chiang Mai has it all. We have truly enjoyed visiting Chiang Mai, and our only regret is not spending more time there.

CM%20East%20Gate.jpg
ThaPae,East wall gate in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a very tourist friendly city; tour and travel agencies are literally at every corner. We always felt safe in Chiang Mai, and people were extremely kind and helpful. Cafes, restaurants(of many nationalities) and food vendors are everywhere as well, and we never had a bad experience. Fruit shakes are famous in Chiang Mai,maybe because of the abundance of fresh and delicious fruits, and I highly recommend trying the fresh fruit shakes while in Chiang Mai. We loved mango shakes. Watermelon, papaya, coconut and orange are other examples of refreshing shakes one can have in Chiang Mai, all for $1 or less.

Mango%20icecream.jpg
Mango ice cream served in a coconut,yum!

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June 8, 2009

What's in a wat?

Buddhism is the religion of the Kingdom of Thailand, and many of Thailand's visitor attractions involve visiting some of the unique Buddha temples. For good reasons too, some of these temples are fabulous pieces of art;beautiful designs, vivid colors, and many beautiful statues.

The word wat in the Thai language is loosely translated to temple in English. But wat actually is more than just the temple , it refers to the courtyard containing a collection of buildings,shrines and monuments and enclosed by a wall. I enjoyed learning about some of these buildings, it made exploring the temples more enjoyable. Here are some of the terms one may encounter touring temples in Thailand:

Wiharn: the prayer or sermon hall of the temple. Some temples have more then one wiharn. It normally contains a large Buddha image, and many smaller images, and it is where worshipers perform their religious rituals.

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Chedi:the domed solid structure like a pagoda or stupa.Inside or underneath the chedi is where relics of the Buddha, or a revered Buddhist teachers or monks are stored.

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Ubosot : also called a bot and it is the ordination hall. It is hard to differentiate it from the wiharn to someone like me, because it too contains an altar with Buddha images. It is different,however, in that it is surrounded by sacred boundary stones(sema). In some temples, it is only open to monks.

Ho Trai: the library building.

Naga:mystical serpent like animal that according to the Buddhist scripts sheltered the Buddha during meditation. The Naga is often present at the beginning of a staircase to the temple.

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Kuti:the monks quarters on the temple grounds, come in all sizes and shapes.

Chofas:horn or bird-like finials seen on the roof ridges of temples. They are very characteristic of the Thai temples and represent the head of mystical garuda.

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Many temple grounds also have a banyan tree,distinguished by an orange monk cloth, or some other decorations, to symbolize the tree where Buddha attained enlightenment.

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And finally, there is a gong, or many, that is used for announcements.Sometimes, it is in a gong tower.

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In future posts, I will be writing about different temples we visited in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.


June 9, 2009

Chiang Mai's oldest temple:Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in the city of Chiang Mai. It is believed to have been built by the founder of the city, King Mengrai, on the spot he stayed while building Chiang Mai, more than 700 years ago.

It is a relatively small temple, and many buildings have been restored since the temple was originally built, nonetheless, I thought it was a gem, and in fact we visited the temple twice during our visit. The temple is located inside the city wall, just near the north gate.

There are two wiharns (prayer halls) in Wat Chiang Man. Behind the main wiharn, stands one of the most elegant chedis(pagoda) I've seen;the base of the chedi is lined with fifteen,life-size elephants crafted out of plaster. Inside the main wiharn, stands the oldest Buddha image in the city, dating back to 1465.The smaller wiharn contains two very small and very revered images of Buddha that are believed to have powers to protect against disaster and bring rain.The first is an elegant crystal Buddha, and the other is an 8th century bas-relief Buddha. Both of these beautiful Buddha images are kept behind glass and bars and hard to photograph.

Here are some photos of Wat Chiang Man:

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June 10, 2009

Chiang Mai's largest temple: Wat Phra Singh

Wat%20Phra%20Singh%20sign.jpgWat Phra Singh, The Temple of Lion Buddha, is the largest temple in Chiang Mai, and seems to hold a special spot in the hearts of Chiang Mai residents, for everyone wanted to make sure we don't leave Chiang Mai without seeing the beautiful temple, originally built in 1345 by King Pha Yu to enshrine the ashes of his father, King Kham Fu.

The wat occupies large grounds; many buildings and shrines.We ended up spending quite some time in the main wiharn (prayer hall) to wait out the rain. It was very interesting to watch monks at work, and the faithful at worship, it was inspiring actually.

I like the entrance to the main wiharn, with what I am assuming is the King statue, golden Naga staircase , and large golden Buddha inside,built in Lanna style.

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June 11, 2009

Market tour in Chiang Mai

A popular tourist activity in Chiang Mai is taking a Thai cooking school. There are many cooking schools in Chiang Mai,in all different sizes and shapes. And for the love of food and cooking, we signed up for a cooking class with Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. I did not really spend so much time deciding on a cooking school, I figured I am sure any of them is a better Thai cook than myself,but I did want a smaller class. Siam Rice has great reviews on Trip Adviser, and the small group size and detailed information on the website are very appealing to me. So, when I e-mailed Nan, the owner and cook, and she replied very nicely, I figured, this is it.

As a part of most cooking classes in Chiang Mai, an introduction to Thai cooking ingredients in the market is included. And Siam Rice cooking school is no exception. We were taken to the Ton Payom Market in the morning, and got to touch, smell and taste various ingredients that go into Thai dishes. I was intrigued by the different kinds of basil in the market;sweet,holy and lemon. The Thai ginger, Galanga,is used in many Thai dishes, from curry pastes to soups, it is larger and lighter in color than regular ginger.And of course the fragnant kaffir lime and its leaves are always great additions. Lemon grass,garlic and turmeric roots are other ingredients that are used in various Thai dishes. It was very interesting to get to tour the market with a native, and see the raw ingredients of dishes we enjoyed eating.

Here are some photos of the market:

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Demonstrating Ginger

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Turmeric Root

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Veggies at the market

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Jelly Mushroom

Continue reading "Market tour in Chiang Mai" »

June 15, 2009

Cooking up a storm in Chiang Mai:Part 1

Siam%20Rice%20cooking%20school.jpgBoth me and Bill enjoy cooking, and we both love Thai food, so it was natural to sign up for a cooking class while in Thailand. And with the convenience and the availability of the many schools, it was easy to book a cooking course. Being raised in a household that income was generated from a small business, I always rather spend my money with family and small businesses, whenever I can anyway. Siam Rice Cookery School is owned by Nan and Pot, they have a darling six month old baby, and they run their business from their home. It was a great pleasure to get to learn the secrets to Thai cooking from locals at their own home.

After Pot picked us up from the hotel, and we did the tour in the market, he drove us to a nice neighborhood in Chiang Mai, a place we would have never got to see if it was not for that class. It was nice to get to see the way Chiang Mai residents live at home. We were treated to mini coconut pancakes,which were delicious, and we were shown the menu of the various courses that we got to choose from. Me and Bill took advantage of being able to choose different courses and thus increasing our tasting and learning options. There are seven dishes in each course: an appetizer, soup, salad, first meal, curry paste and then curry sauce, second course and finally dessert. I am drooling just thinking about all the food we ate that day. We actually skipped dinner that night since we got to eat everything we cooked and then some.

It was a small group of six people:us, a couple from Holland, and two guys on a six month Asian tour(lucky them) from England. We all had a great time, cooking, eating and drinking lots of water to be able to keep on eating the delicious spicy foods we cooked. We were each given our own apron, wok, cutting board, knife and ingredients. At the beginning of school day, Nan said that we can choose to add as much chili peppers as we prefer, from none to a handful, which is practically what Nan said Thai people do"just grab a handful of chili peppers"; no counting, no measuring. These chili peppers are tiny but mighty, I started with four in my soup, but needed to drink a lot, a lot of water to finish it, so for further courses I reduced the number to two and that seemed to work better for me.

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Some of the main ingredients we used,almost every time, for frying and are in the jars in the above pictures are: oil, sugar, fish sauce and oyster sauce.We cooked all the dishes with chicken, but the same recipe can be used for pork, beef, tofu or seafood.

Continue reading "Cooking up a storm in Chiang Mai:Part 1" »

June 16, 2009

Cooking up a storm in Chiang Mai: Part 2

After eating soups, salads and appetizers, it was time to learn how to make curry paste. It is interesting that in Thailand, the basis for the delicious curry sauces we got to eat are wet pastes made from fresh herbs and ingredients rather than curry powders.We had four choices for our curry paste: green, red, yellow and phanang curry. As a group, we made all four of them.

Nan%20explaining.jpgThe key ingredients in the majority of Thai curry pastes are: fresh chilies, lemon grass, galangal(Thai ginger), garlic, shallot, kaffir lime, cilantro roots, and shrimp paste. Nan and Pot said that shrimp paste is nicknamed Thai chocolate;and it sure looks like melted chocolate, but it smells horrible! They had fun getting us to smell the "chocolate" and watching our faces getting animated.It is a good thing that with the other herbs used, the curry paste smells nothing like the shrimp paste used in it.

For making the pastes, we used a mortar and a pastel for combining and grinding the ingredients. Combining the main ingredients, one will get green curry paste. Once we add to that red dry chili peppers, the green curry paste is transformed to red curry paste(the hottest I thought). mortar.jpgFrom red curry paste, if one adds curry powder,yellow curry paste is born, and if one adds peanuts, phanang curry paste is created.It is amazing how much the peanuts absorb from the heat of the chilies making phanang curry paste the least hot I thought. It was a fun experience making these curry pastes, although I imagine, I would whip out the blender when I make them at home:)

Continue reading "Cooking up a storm in Chiang Mai: Part 2" »

June 17, 2009

Chiang Mai's Intakin Festival

The festival of the city pillar,Intakin Festival, is held annually for seven days and seven nights to invoke blessings for peace,happiness and prosperity for the city and its residents. The festival takes place in one of Chiang Mai's original temples; Wat Chedi Luang , during the seventh lunar month, as the rainy season in Thailand starts.

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We were so lucky to be in Chiang Mai in time to attend the opening night of the festival.We were not sure what to expect, but as we were getting closer to Wat Chedi Luang,we could hear the monks chanting,see the crowds aggregating and smell the burning of incense mixed in with the distinctive aromas of Thai cooking. Our senses were overwhelmed trying to analyze everything taking place.As we passed a stand that,to us,looked like it was selling flowers, the attendant lady handed me a brochure and was trying to tell us something. After looking at the brochure(or the little of it written in English), and trying to put her words together, we understood (or we think so anyway) that she was trying to tell us to get a tray to participate in the activities of the festival. We placed some money in the donation box,answered the question about our birthdays, and grabbed the two prepared trays handed to us.

flowers%20and%20lustar%20water.jpg The trays had flowers,joss sticks,candles and a cup of lustral water. For a minute, we were not sure what to do with the tray,but as we entered the temple grounds, we saw people sprinkling the lustral water on a Buddha image sitting elegantly in the middle of the courtyard;surrounded by flowers, candles and worshipers. Glancing at the brochure handed to me, I learned that the Buddha image I was standing in front of , is called "Fon Saan Haa", which literally translates to "One hundred thousand drops of rain", and the belief is that by sprinkling it with blessed water, one will be blessed with good health, and rain will fall in the right amounts in the right seasons. So in the line we stood, and our cups of lustral water we poured on the revered Buddha image.

Continue reading "Chiang Mai's Intakin Festival" »

June 18, 2009

Wat Chedi Luang Chiang Mai

I posted yesterday about the Intakin Festival we had the chance to attend during our trip to Chiang Mai in May. Wat Chedi Luang is the temple where the festival took place, and it is where the city pillar is stored. It is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai, and it is beautiful.

The temple was decorated for the festival, and very crowded with worshipers, so moving around admiring the grounds was a little harder, and also taking photos was harder and it was dark. I really wished to go back after the festival was over, but we did not have the chance to.

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The standing Buddha in the main prayer hall is giant, and very impressive.

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June 23, 2009

Temple on a mountain: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Doi%20Suthep%20elephant.jpgDoi Suthep is the mountain that overlooks the city of Chiang Mai from the northwest. From the city, its presence adds beauty and dimension to the horizon, and from the mountain, it provides an amazing views of the city. But the natural beauty and views are not the main reasons that attract visitors to Suthep Mountain, but rather the beautiful temple that adorns the summit is what brings most people here.

The temple is known as Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, and it is one of the most important and revered temples in Thailand. It claims its fame from a unique legend, beautiful location and amazing architecture. The saying in Chiang Mai goes:'If you haven't seen Doi Suthep, you haven't been to Chiang Mai". And I must admit, it was a highlight in our trip.

The legend goes that the Buddha relic that was about to be enshrined in the chedi of a temple called Wat Suan Dok(another gorgeous temple) ,had magically replicated. The cloned relic was then placed on the back of a white elephant,and the sacred elephant was allowed to roam wherever it pleased. It is said that the elephant climbed to the top of Suthep Mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down and died. The king then took that as a sign that the relic wants to be enshrined there, and the temple was erected.

Because the temple is built on an elevation of 3464 feet, it is a nice escape from the heat of the city. It is located about 10 miles outside of Chiang Mai, and all taxi drivers are happy to take visitors there from Chiang Mai. The drive up the mountain is beautiful, one is surrounded by green trees and lush forests.The fact that it is a major tourist destination is evident as soon as the taxi parks there, for there are businesses and artists selling all kind of stuff, from crafts to paintings to Buddha offerings. I don't do well under pressure, and I ended up buying many souvenirs that day, many of them I will never use, but people were nice and tourism is down, so I looked at it as doing my part to revive the Thai economy.

After we started to pretend to be deaf(and blind), and managed to pass all the sellers, we were awed by the beautiful Naga staircase, that we had to climb all 306 steps of, to get to the temple.

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June 26, 2009

PhotoHunt: flags

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The theme for this week's photohunt is flags.

Browsing my photos, I realized that I have many photos of flags from many places we have visited and lived. Flags fly high above government buildings, historic monuments, and many other structures. While we were in Thailand, we have noticed that Buddha temples display two different flags; one of them we recognized as the Kingdom of Thailand flag, the other was a yellow with a red wheel. When we asked around, we learned that the yellow flag is the Buddhism flag and every Buddhist temple is marked with one.

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Here is an example of Wat Pon On in Chiang Mai, with both flags soaring high.

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Wat Pon On was a temple that we just happened to stumble upon walking around the city of Chiang Mai. We thought it was really beautiful. Here are some more photos we took of the temple.

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Off the topic note:It was such a sad day yesterday, Farrah Fawcett lost her courageous battle with cancer, and the world lost the King of Pop; Michael Jackson. Let their souls rest in peace.

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June 29, 2009

Our trek in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Every time I talk about our trip, I am always inclined to say "this was the highlight in our trip", then I change my mind to say "that was the highlight of our trip", I guess I should feel blessed that we have taken a trip that was full of highlights(as opposed to lowlights?). Anyway, there is no doubt that the three day trek we took in Northern Thailand, starting in Chiang Rai and ending close to Chiang Saen, was full of great memories that we will always cherish.

Our trek started on Friday May 22nd, when our two wonderful guides Sam and Jay, from Go With Me Tours, picked us up in their nice air conditioned SUV for our three hour drive to Chiang Rai. We did many stops in our three day trek, so I will skip these for now and focus on the actual trek, otherwise this post will be really long. So, to get to our trekking trail, we boarded a long tail boat that took us along the Mekong River for about 45 minutes or so. I can't say that I was not nervous on the boat, lets face it, being on a wooden boat that doesn't seem to be equipped with any life preserves and was floating in the middle of no where as far as I am concerned, was a bit alarming. The scenery,however, was very beautiful and we spotted our first elephant(then) drinking water on the side of the river.

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The boat docked at the side of a rather large village,Karen Rummit village, where I got my first practice(in that trip anyway) to use the squat toilet, and if there is anything that I did not like about our trek it is these squat toilets, I find them really hard to use. Okay, moving on, we did not spend much time in that village, although they were selling many souvenirs, offering elephant rides and photos with snakes,we politely declined the offers(gasp!I can't believe anyone would decline a photo with a huge snake wrapped around their neck!) and started with our trek.

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The actual hike was not that hard, although we were gaining elevation. But the real killer was the heat, and I can't say exactly how hot it was, but we were getting soaked with sweat, and stopped very frequently to take advantage of shaded spots. We saw many huts and farmers along the way, and were offered litchis, which were very refreshing. It took us about two and half hours to reach our destination: Lahu hill tribe village. The Lahu tribe is believed to have originated in Tibet and then migrated to China making its way to Northern Thailand among other south eastern Asia countries.

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After managing to take a challenging shower, we had a lovely evening with Sam cooking, and us eating and chatting with him. I was surprised to see that the village was equipped with a solar battery that was used for some lighting. The village people were very nice and accommodating,although we could not communicate with them at all since they did not speak any English. Actually, they spoke their own language, and very little Thai. It was fascinating to see people living the simple life. Coming from a life full of computers, laptops, iPods, blenders, cellphones and other luxuries and comforts, it was very empowering realizing the fact that we can live without it all, might not be as comfortable,luxurious or entertaining, but we sure can survive.

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After talking the night away, we went to our fairly comfortable bed in out private room. The mosquito net worked very well, and we managed not to get bitten during the whole trek.

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June 30, 2009

Kayan Long Neck Village in Northern Thailand

I remain skeptical about my feelings towards visiting hill tribe villages in Thailand. In a way, I feel like by visiting them I am exploiting them and invading their privacy, on the other hand, the villages we visited seem to expect us and welcome us, and it is a lot of fun to learn about their lives and cultures. So when Sam and Jay, our trekking guides, suggested that we visit a Karen long neck village while we were in northern Thailand, I was hesitant, but they assured us that the village relies on tourism to generate income, so my curiosity beat my guilt, and we stopped to visit the Muang District Padaung:Karen Long Neck Village.

The Padaung are a sub-group of Karen tribe, originating from Eastern Burma, near the Thailand Border. They call themselves Kayan, and have their own language and culture. Due to conflict with the military regime in Burma in the late 1980s/early 1990s, many Kayan tribe people fled to neighboring Thailand, and settled among other hill tribe villages, mainly in the the Muang District and near Chiang Dao , both in northern Thailand.

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An interesting aspect of Kayan women cultural identity( and the main reason people visit this village) is the tradition of wearing coils of brass rings around their necks. However, contrary to popular belief, and name of the village, Kayan women do not actually have longer necks, but rather compressed rib cages that make their necks appear long. Kayan tribe girls start wearing brass rings around their necks, as well as rings on the forearms and legs, at age of five or six years. As these heavy rings push the collarbone down, more rings are added until the vertebrae is squashed as far down as it goes. The average adult woman wears a brass coil that weigh around seven lbs. I got to hold one, and it felt heavy!

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Kayan girls and women wear these coils while sleeping, eating, weaving, bathing and they seldom take them off(Just imagine the uncoiling and coiling of these rings!). Many of them line the rings with a piece of cloth underneath, I am assuming to lessen the pressure from direct contact. I don't know where the tradition came from, this is what wikipedia suggests:


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July 1, 2009

Wat Rong Khun: The White Temple in Chiang Rai

"Let each man exercise the art he knows."-Aristophanes.

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Chalermchai Kositpipat
, an artist who grew up in Chiang Rai, Thailand, had a vision;sacrificing his own time and money and using his talent to create the greatest work of his life as well as the most meritorious.He wanted to announce to the world the magnitude of the contemporary Buddhist art consisting of architecture, painting and sculpture. After winning multiple art awards, he used his gained fame and fortune(no government or public funding) to create a unique art style of his own: Wat Rong Khun, often called the Chiang Rai's White Temple for an obvious reason.

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The building of the temple started in 1997, when Chalermchai was 42 years old and at the height of his art career. Seeing the temple, it is hard for me to believe that the gorgeous, detailed masterpiece is still a work in progress twelve years later. The fact that it is a private modern temple is very interesting, but it is the amazing art work that brings visitors from all over the world to admire a man's vision.

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I loved that fact that we were accompanied by Sam and Jay,our trekking guides, when we visited this temple. A big part of admiring the art, is trying to understand what went through the artist head while creating it. And with the information the guides provided, as well as information from a book I bought from the temple museum, I am fascinated with the artist marvelous creation. Chalermchai imbues beliefs and riddles from Buddhism in his paintings and sculptures, creating a truly magnificent masterpiece.

White%20Temple%20white.jpgThe use of the white color represents the Buddha's purity; the adornment of the glittering mirrors symbolize the Buddhism belief of observing one's mind and reflecting love and kindness towards humankind. Even now, it gives me goose bumps looking at the photos of the pure white color. It adds peace and innocence, as well as complexity to the building. Looking at the temple, I am reminded of some childhood mornings in Michigan, waking up and looking outside the window to see snow covered grounds for the first time that winter, on Christmas day. It is the feeling of clean,wished for snow that I get looking at the white temple.

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July 6, 2009

Southeast Asia Golden Triangle

As part of our Northern Thailand tour, we stopped at the infamous Golden Triangle;where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Burma meet at the Mekong River. The area claims it fame from the poppy fields that once covered its plains and the major opium production,which became illegal in 1959, when crops substitution program was launched successfully by the King.

The area has natural beauty, couple temples, some beautiful statues and a whole lot of vendors and restaurants. When I think of our stop, however, the first thing that comes to mind is the unbearable heat! Our guide said that it is a top major attraction, and many tourists like to take the boat to Laos or Burma for some shopping;we passed on that. I found the Golden Triangle area very commercialized, and although it was an interesting stop, where you can see three countries right before your eyes and some beautiful Buddha and elephant statues, it would not be on my list next time I visit Thailand, it was good to see it once,but not much goes on there, and the heat takes away from the charm.

With that said, I did enjoy couple ice cream cones(for like 10 cents each), and walked under an elephant statue,three times, for good luck. Here are some of our photos:

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July 7, 2009

Dragon-headed Buddha on a Hill

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Another site we stopped at during our tour of Northern Thailand was the beautiful,golden, dragon-headed Buddha that adorned the top of one of the hills. Our guide shared with us the story of the dragon that kept unsuccessfully trying to hurt and conquer the Buddha, and when his attempts proved to be a failure, the dragon decided instead to protect the Buddha realizing how special the Buddha must have been. I thought the honey combs that the bees attached to the dragon make the Buddha image even more charming.

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July 8, 2009

Temple on rolling hills:Wat Thaton

Thaton is a village in Northern Thailand near the Burma border. On top of some of the village's rolling hills, stands the magnificent Wat Thaton. It is a very unique looking temple, both on the inside and outside. The beautiful light colors, the many amazing Buddha images from all over the world, the beautiful Naga ramp/ staircase, the glass indoor chedi , and the amazing views, are just among the things that make Wat Thaton well worth "another temple stop". It is my understanding that Wat Thaton is also a meditation center, I imagine it makes a great one. Here are a few of the photos we've taken of the gorgeous Wat Thaton.

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July 9, 2009

Thai Elephant Conservation Center:Getting there and first impressions

Yay, I am at the point of our Thailand trip blogging where I can post about our wonderful three day experience at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. It was definitely a most memorable experience, and we will always cherish our memories of the elephants and the camp.

When we first decided that we would go to Thailand last May, the only thing we knew that we wanted to do was to ride elephants. My initial research left me feeling uneasy, I guess I never realized that the number of Asian elephants was dwindling at an alarming rate, and many predict that many species have gone extinct already. I couldn't help but think that taking elephants out of their natural forest environment for tourists to ride, is not helping the situation either. So my mission became to find a solution,if there was one out there, that would allow us to ride elephants without exploiting them, or putting them in any danger. To my delight, I found more than I even bargained for.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center(TECC), is a beautiful establishment for preserving elephants, while enjoying them at the same time. It offers many services, from various training programs, to an elephant hospital, an elephant nursery, elephant shows, and elephant dung paper factory. The center occupies a large area in a green forest outside the city of Lampang. It is an easy one hour cab ride from Chiang Mai, and well worth the visit, whether it is for one day or multiple,like we did.

We signed up for the Three Day VIP Mahout Training Course, not knowing exactly what the difference was between the VIP or non-VIP courses, but the difference in price was thirty dollars, and we figured it would be only in Thailand that we could afford any VIP treatment. We were glad we had the VIP course; we spent more time riding the elephant in the forest(versus the show grounds) and we had more down time, where we could relax and reflect on the beautiful surrounding nature. The accommodation was another difference, we had a beautiful room, fully equipped kitchen and beautiful views in the Elephant Resort Center. Meals were prepared for us, and we really felt pampered.

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July 13, 2009

Thai Elephant Conservation Center: Fun,food and relaxation

I wrote about getting to the Elephant camp few days back, and now I will write about what we did there for three days. I can very much sum it up in three words, we played, we ate, we napped, and then repeat.

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All the ingredients for a happy vacation were there, well, maybe except that we had to get up early to go get our elephants from the forest. Did you know that healthy elephants sleep only three to four hours a day? Generally between 1100 pm and 0300 am, Supat said. So our routine was to go get them after they ate their breakfast in the forest at about 0630 am. We would brush their backs to get rid of all the dirt they put on there(elephants use their trunks to cover their backs with dirt as soon as we get off them in the forest), and then ride them to the lake, where they can drink and we can bathe them and have some water fun.

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There are many interesting demonstrations of the intelligence of elephants. The mahouts use a very long chain to tie the elephants so that they don't wander so far away from where they were left. When we get back to the forest to get them, the elephants would pull these chains towards the mahout so he wouldn't have to go get them himself. I loved watching Tantawan do that. Another show of their intelligence is in the water. Elephants love to cool off in the water, and it was always great fun to bathe them and watch them move in the water.

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July 14, 2009

Thai Elephant Conservation Center:Playing with baby elephant

One of my favorite memories of the time we spent at Thai Elephant Conservation Center is playing with a baby elephant;a seven month old,cute, hairy elephant.

At the conservation center, baby elephants stay with their moms for the first three years, before they start their training. I was amazed to see the baby suckling from his mom using his mouth rather than his trunk. The trunk has tens of thousands of muscles(can't remember the exact number) and it takes time to train them all to do what they are supposed to do. We tried handing the baby some sugarcane leaves in his trunk, and it was a hit and miss;sometimes it grabbed, sometimes it didn't. This reminds me of another fun thing about elephants anatomy; their teeth are located on each side of their back jaws and not in their mouth per se. We were able to place food directly in our elephants mouths(just for fun really) without worrying about getting bitten-not that while you are trusting your life to a three ton beast you would be worrying about a bite.

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One of the first things that surprised me when I saw the baby elephant was how hairy he was! There is a lot of hair all over the body. Adult Asian elephants have hair too, but it seems like mostly on the head area, which is very cute I think.


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July 15, 2009

Thai Elephant Conservation Center:More Photos

Okay, I just can't resist sharing more of the photos we and our mahouts have taken during the three days we spent at the conservation center.

Candi%20and%20Tantawan.jpgMe and Tantawan

Getting%20off%20Tantawan.jpgGetting off Tantawan

Camp%20lake.jpgOne of the many lakes in the preserve

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July 21, 2009

What about Bangkok?

Bangkok%20democracy%20monument.jpgDemocracy Monument in Bangkok

After spending ten glorious days in Northern Thailand, we flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok for the last segment of our amazing Thailand trip: three days in Bangkok. And I am going to take this chance to express my disappointment when I compare our experiences with South Asia airports and air carriers to those in the US. Why can't we have a pleasant experience traveling in the US? Why can't US customer service people in airports and airlines provide satisfactory service to their customers? Is it ever going to get better? I don't know, but it saddens me to realize that we have more enjoyable experiences traveling with carriers like China Airlines and AirAsia than we do with Delta and US Airways, and that Bangkok International Airport is way more organized and beautiful than any airport of its size that I've used in the US. Are we ever going to catch up?Okay, now that that's off my chest,I can go on.

We arrived at Bangkok International Airport on the evening of May 27th. We claimed our luggage and proceeded to the exit. And although it is not unique to Bangkok, self proclaimed drivers who were trying to get us in their taxis seemed especially annoying after the peaceful, enjoyable encounters we had with people in Chiang Mai and the north. Until then, the Thai people we came across were very friendly, cheerful, helpful and just so sweet. Imagine our shock when all of these "other" Thai people were shouting prices at us! We bypassed the crowds, and got to the legitimate public taxi counter,where we were assigned a cab that took us to our charming hotel;Phranakorn Nornlen Hotel,which I will write more about in a future post.

The drive from the airport to the hotel was less than charming,it was dark, and we were tired. I was a little worried about traffic and the taxi drivers in Bangkok, as I read some horrifying reports about that. However, I did not find the traffic or driving that bad. Sure, it is a big city with a lot of traffic, but I didn't think it was worse than say Rome, or NYC. We were very pleased by the reception at our hotel, and very touched by the friendliness of the staff. We loved the hotel and our room, and we were very hungry. It was already about eight thirty, so we decided to just walk around the hotel and find a quick bite to eat. Well, that was the first real not so pleasant face that Bangkok showed us. I had no problem eating street food in Chaing Mai,I actually enjoyed it immensely, but these stands that night did not look welcoming at all, nor did the people. Bill grabbed a quick soup dish that he didn't really enjoy, and I grabbed a quick sandwich from the Seven-Eleven next door to the hotel and we called it a night.

Bangkok%20Taxis%20and%20tuk%20tuks.jpgTaxis and Tuk Tuks in Bangkok

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July 28, 2009

An amazing budget hotel in Bangkok: Phranakorn Nornlen

When we travel, we normally seek budget accommodations. Our first choice is a vacation rental to spend the week or longer, however, if we are staying for less than the week, we look for a budget hotel with a character. Personally, I prefer a non-chain hotel that reveals the personality of the place we are visiting, if such an accommodation exists in our destination. When we visited Bangkok, we found just what we were hoping for.

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PN Courtyard

Phranakorn Nornlen was the perfect hotel for us while in Bangkok; everything about the hotel screams hospitality, cleanliness and going green. The building is an old school that was later converted to a charming little hotel. From its organic garden on the roof, to the clean, comfortable bed in each room, PN was one of the highlights of our time in Bangkok.

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View from the rooftop at PN

A delicious, freshly squeezed juice( I think it was jack fruit juice) was a great gesture when we were checking in at the hotel. The hotel staff were among the friendliest, kindest people one can meet, and truly understand and apply the concept of customer service. We were shown to our room, which if I had taken photos of before I moved in, I would have posted the photos, alas, the ones I have show the not so tidy side of us. The bed was spacious and comfortable, the AC was refreshing, a relaxing music was playing from the little CD player that was mounted on the wall, the bathroom sink was very cute, and the stand up shower was interesting. Overall, the room met every comfort and cleanliness standards, and still held a charm.

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PN Second Floor Hallway

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July 29, 2009

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

High on the list of every visitor to Bangkok is its magnificent Grand Palace, or it should be anyway. This massive 218,000 square meter compound, surrounded, in all four sides, by 1900 meter walls is definitely worth an admiring gawk and a half-a-day stroll.

The Grand Palace was established in 1782,under the reign of King Rama I, to serve as the royal residence and host some of the government offices, after the capital was moved to Bangkok. Since then, the palace has been expanded, and more buildings were added.

Wat Phra Kaew;The Temple of Emerald Buddha, one of the most venerated sites in Thailand, was added to the Grand Palace Complex in 1785.In addition to the its holy, beautiful decorated buildings and pagodas,Wat Phra Kaew houses one of the most famous Buddha statues in Thailand: The Emerald Buddha. Despite its name, The Emerald Buddha is carved from a block of green jade, and not emerald as it was initially thought. One of the first things I noticed about the statue, is how small it is. Compared to the large Buddha images we've seen all over Chiang Mai and Bangkok, the 18 inch green Buddha seemed quite small,but its greatness is still obvious. The beautiful green jade image, adorned with gold garment is simply stunning. It has three different gold costumes, one for each season(summer, rainy season and winter), and the costumes are changed by the King of Thailand in ceremonies around March, July and November.Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the monastery, but I found this photo from Bangkok Tours website of the Emerald Buddha with its three golden attires for the summer, rainy season and winter. Visiting in May, we got to see the Buddha in its summer costume.

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August 3, 2009

Bangkok's Erawan Shrine

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In the heart of Bangkok, and by the luxurious Erawan Hotel,stands a shrine that houses the four faced Brahma;the Hindu god of creation. I was surprised to see the large number of crowds paying their respects and making merits to the Hindu god in the country of Buddhism, the small area was so crowded that it was really hard to take photos clear of people.

The shrine was built in 1956, in an attempt to eliminate the bad omens that were associated with starting the building of the Erawan Hotel on the wrong date, and the subsequent bad karma that followed, so an astrologer advised to build the shrine as an auspicious gesture.

Brahma.jpgI found the four-faced Brahma god interesting so I did a little research on it, and learned that the four faces represent the four Vedas,which are the sacred texts of Hinduism. You may also notice the beads or rosary the god is holding ,they represent the progression of creation. It is important to note that even though the Brahma is a Hindu god, it is the Thai representation of the god.

When we visited the shrine, Thai dancers were performing. I later learned that these dancers are hired by worshipers as a way to show appreciation for their prayers being answered.

We enjoyed visiting the shrine, watching the faithful pray and make offerings was awesome, the dancers made the shrine seem festive, and the trees around the shrine provided a nice shaded spot to watch Bangkok go by.

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August 4, 2009

A Bangkok Attraction: Jim Thompson House

One of my favorite memories of Bangkok is our visit to The Jim Thompson House; the beauty of the house, the amazing art collection, the Thai hospitality, the jungle style garden with its trees providing a much welcomed shade were all factors for me declaring Jim Thompson House a must see in Bangkok.

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Jim Thompson was an American architect with a great interest in art. He volunteered to join the Army, and was assigned to the Office of Strategic Service, a position that would take him around the world. After spending some years in Bangkok, Thompson developed a fondness of the city, and when he was discharged from the Army, he took up residence in Bangkok permanently. While living in Bangkok, Thompson turned his attention to Thai silk, and vowed to revive the craft. Using his talents for color and design and his determination, Thompson is credited for rebuilding the Thai silk industry and introducing international distribution.

In 1967, Jim Thompson went on a vacation to the Cameron Highlands, and mysteriously disappeared to never come back to Bangkok.His legends,however,are very much alive with his Thai silk shop that distributes internationally,and his splendid house turned into museum in Bangkok.


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August 12, 2009

Bangkok's Vimanmek Mansion

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Another attraction that we enjoyed visiting in Bangkok was the Vimanmek Mansion: the world's largest golden teak building. The completion of the building was celebrated in 1901, and it was the royal residence for King Rama V for five years. After that, it was mostly used for storage until in 1982, Queen Sirikit obtained the permission to renovate the mansion and turned it into a museum.

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The mansion is of a very elaborate architectural design, and the inside is ostentatiously decorated with beautiful exhibits of ceramics, silverware, crystal ware and ivory.Unfortunately,inside photography is prohibited. However, the official website has few virtual tours of some of the exhibits if you are interested.

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The admission ticket to the Vimanmek Mansion is included in the Grand Palace ticket(300 Baht), and included in the ticket is a mandatory tour of the beautiful mansion. After the hour and a half tour of inside the mansion, visitors are allowed to tour the beautiful garden and waterfalls.Proper attire is required and the mansion is open daily 0930 am to 0400 pm. I highly recommend a visit.

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August 19, 2009

Temple of Reclining Buddha: Wat Po

Wat Po is probably one of the most famous, and most visited temples in Bangkok. Everyone wants to take a look at the colossal ,150 feet long and 59 feet, high statue of the reclining Buddha. The Buddha is the largest in Thailand, and is plated with gold and decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay on the eyes and soles of feet, which are decorated with 108 auspicious signs of a true Buddha.

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January 8, 2010

PhotoHunt: bulky

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It is my first 2010 photohunt , and the theme is bulky. Yay!

I decided to go to Thailand for this week's photohunt theme. More specifically, the sweet, gentle, bulky and giant elephants at Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang.

Complying to be ridden:

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Turning into the forest:

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Lying to get the dirt off:

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I miss them..

Happy 2010 photohunting all!

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January 15, 2010

PhotoHunt: jiggly

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The theme for this week's photohunt is jiggly. If I hadn't used the elephant photos for bulky last week, I'd have used them for jiggly today; everything in the elephant jiggles:) But here I am this week, left with no jiggly photos that I can think of, except to take a twist on another photo from Thailand, specifically Wat Thoton in Northern Thailand.

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If anyone had the belly this statue of the happy Buddha shows, I'd imagine it'd be jiggly.

Happy weekend all!


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March 5, 2010

PhotoHunt: foreign

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The theme for this week's photohunt is foreign.

We love traveling, both in our country and to foreign countries. As much as it is exciting to stumble upon home treasures, it is eye-opening, educational and enchanting to view foreign cultures up close and get a personal perspective of them. Bill and I agree that among the foreign countries we had the pleasure of visiting, Thailand wins the prize for the most foreign to us.

I thought I'd share our photos from one of the temples in Chiang Mai that I didn't get a chance to write about before: Wat Suan Dok.

Wat Suan Dok is different from many of the other temples in Chiang Mai, or for that matter Thailand, in that not only is the prayer hall large, but it is also open on its sides rather than being totally enclosed.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Candi's Corner: Wanderlust and Passions in the Thailand 2009 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Southern Utah National Parks 2009 is the previous category.

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