Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Ken told us to have our bags outside the hotel room door at 6:30 and he would take care of the rest. By the time we finished our breakfast, he had them loaded on the cart, and we were off to the airport by 7:00 AM.
Last look at Bangkok from our hotel balcony. We could have easily spent the entire vacation in this great city.
Soaking up the last bits of wifi before hitting the road.
We have been traveling by private transport, and all of the minivans have been roomy, air conditioned and comfortable. The one we were in this morning was even more “bling bling” than usual. It had bright lights, wine bottles and glasses, curtains, a fold-down big screen TV, and pillows. I'm certain at night this baby has another life taking the party set around town. We weren't in the mood for bright lights or red wine (even I have my limits, and I usually don't start before noon.)
Ken pointed out a few sights on the way to the airport. Traffic was very heavy. The city has seven million cars and ten million scooters, and it looked like every single one of them was out in force this morning. I am not exaggerating to say that their traffic makes Houston look like a drive in the countryside. Our drivers have all been amazing. I would certainly have wet my pants if I had to drive. The lane lines seem to be mere suggestions, and the scooters dart in and out of spaces with clearances that measure in single digit centimeters. At one point, Ken joked that one of the drivers had 10 eyes that he used for his job.
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, and Ken escorted us all the way through checkin and to the security area. We gave him our spare water bottle, a parting tip, and our sincere thanks for a job well done. He was gracious, professional and accomodating in every way. He told us only a little about his family life. We know that he has a 14 year old son and that his days start early and sometimes end late. To get to us each morning, he wakes up at 5:30 and catches a minibus into town to beat the traffic. We would often run into him while going to breakfast, well before our appointed meeting time. His job involves a lot of waiting: waiting for the day to start, waiting while we have lunch, waiting while we go on bike rides, waiting….
A word about language: the Thai alphabet has 44 letters. The language sounds are tonal and may be rising, falling, mid tone, low tone, high tone, short, long. For instance, an “ah” sound isn't just an “ah” sound. It may rise at the end, fall at the end, remain constant, or God knows what else. The differences are too subtle for my ear. Ken told us about a word that sounds like the sheep sound: baa. (I have no idea how it is really spelled.) He told me that the word has seven different sounds and something like 14 different meanings. He went through the litany of them, and he sounded like a little lamb to me. Each one sounded exactly the same to me, but he claimed they were clearly different words. I have learned to say hello and thank you, and that's my repertoire. The bike guide said my accent was pretty good. I think the key is to almost sing it more than say it. The language has a very sing-song quality about it. I can't describe it any more than that. English seems to be spoken pretty universally in Bangkok, and many signs have English translations. We had no trouble getting around on the streets or the airport. I would not have wanted to drive though. The street signs were often incomprehensible.
Anyway, back to the airport. Don't you love priority seating?
Our flight left on time. The flight to Chiang Mai was only about an hour long, but in that time, they managed to serve us a little lunch, water orange juice and a moist towelette. Bangkok Airways is a big step ahead of Southwest, where you are lucky to get a bag of peanuts tossed at you on a short flight.
Vicky (or was it Nicky; we were never sure) met us at the airport, and our tour started immediately. She told us that the people of the north were La Na people, not really Thai. The La Na kingdom dates back from the 13th century, so the history and traditions are ancient. She said in Chiang Mai the locals would not understand English. She said the north is sometimes called the land of the smiles, but she says they are smiling because they don't know any English so the smile is all they've got. I guess I can smile right back at them.
Our first stop was Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, a temple located at the top of Mount Doi Suthep, which is 5,500 feet tall. She gave us a choice of taking the 300 steps flanked by nagas (a kind of serpent) or riding the cable car. We chose the exercise and hoofed it to the top. Midway up, a Thai (or was he La Na?) man was singing with his guitar. He was giving us a little John Denver “Country Roads.” I helped him out with “West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home.”
The wind made the bells tinkle, and it is a very soothing sound.
Will the real Emerald Budddha please stand up?
This fellow was hanging out on the side of the building. I think I saw his brother on a food cart in Bangkok.
There is a Buddha for every day of the week. Genene was born on Sunday, as was Greg, so their Buddha stands in pensive thought, his right hand over his left. I was born on Tuesday, so my Buddha is the reclining Buddha. That's fitting for me. I like to lay around a lot and read.
Genene scoops the oil from the trough below and pours it into the candle to keep her Sunday Buddha lit.
The views on a clear day from Mount Doi Suthep must be breathtaking. We had clouds and rain, so our view of Chiang Mai was more obscured.
Here's an image of Mother Earth, getting ready to squeeze out her hair and wash those demons away.
Ganesha is a Hindu Buddhist deity. One version of the story says he got his elephant head after his father did not recognize him and killed him by beheading in battle. Shiva put the elephant head on him and breathed new life into him. He is considered a remover of obstacles. Vicky/Nicky called him the Buddha of success. Actresses and performers who want to become famous pay respect to Ganesha.
Can you see the names on each of the roof tiles? Temple donors.
We finished at the mountaintop and continued on to Chiang Mai and Wat U Mong, a forest monastery. It was very quiet and serene here.
The small passageways put me in the mind of the catacombs in Paris or Rome, only without the bodies. Buddhist people are cremated after death. If the family has wealth, the ashes may be stored at a temple. If there is no money for donation to the temple, the ashes may be poured in the river.
Nicky (or was it Vicky?) explained that all of the objects in the garden have been brought by people who want to rid themselves of bad luck. If a relic such as a Buddha image or a spirit house is broken, it is bad luck to simply throw it away. It must be brought to the temple. Also, if a Thai person buys something for their home and then has bad luck, they may come to believe that the object has a bad spirit and brought the bad luck to them. To remove the bad luck, the object must be brought and left at the temple. Bad luck is thus left at the temple.
Greg called it the “island of misfit toys,” hearkening back to our Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer days.
I love the way the afternoon light kissed the Buddha's head.
Even the bathrooms are segregated.
Toilet and manual flusher.
There were chickens and roosters everywhere. VIcky/Nicky explained that people make offerings of live chickens to the monks and at the temple. The monks do not kill them and must feed and care for them. We saw eggs laying on the ground. I wonder if the monks eat omelettes?
We finished our tour and Vicky/Nicky showed us to our hotel at about 3:30, with the rest of the afternoon and evening free to explore the city on our own.
It is a simply spectacular hotel, and our suite is to die for. This is the living room.
This is our balcony, which covers the entire second floor in this building.
There are two bedrooms and two baths, one with a sunken tub. No more waiting in line for the toilet today!
We had a very late lunch. Crispy fried pork was the bomb.
It is considerably cooler here in Chiang Mai, and thus I felt emboldened to have two glasses of red wine with lunch. It's the first thing other than beer that I have had. It was probably a mistake because it made me lethargic. I haven't been getting much sleep. I often wake up in the middle of the night and work on my blogs. Today, it caught up with me. I took a hot bath and fell asleep in the tub. I tried to blog in our suite. I nodded off. I went out on the balcony. I nodded off. I went back inside, climbed into bed and took a nap that lasted until 8:00 PM. Greg was also tired and content to nap and read. Genene watched videos and read her book. Our grand plans to explore Chiang Mai turned into a rest and recharge afternoon and evening, and it was wonderful. When we all came to the surface at about 8:30 PM, we ordered room service and stayed in our robes. We will be back in Chiang Mai after our elephant camp experience, so perhaps we will get to explore a bit more then. I will probably feel a little embarrassed when the tour guides ask us what we did on our own and we say, “Eat, sleep, repeat.”
I feel recharged. It's 6:00 AM on Thursday morning, and I've been up for about an hour catching up the last blog. The sun is coming up, and I can hear the birds singing. We will have breakfast and then move out of our fancy suite and into the elephant camp. We will have three days and two nights there, and each of us will get our own ellie to care for and feed. There will be no air conditioning, no wifi. I will be off the grid for a few days. We are looking forward to meeting our elephants.