Sunday, August 1, 2015
We had another lovely breakfast at our hotel in Chiang Mai this morning. I wish we had more time to spend there, because we were truly in the lap of luxury. The breakfast was three courses served leisurely. It makes for a good start to the day to drink the small cups of strong coffee and wait for the next plate of food to arrive.
Nicky/Vicky and driver met us at 8:00 AM and we hit the open road. I asked her which was her name and she replied, “Both.” Then she told us her real Thai name (totally unpronounceable) and explained what we had already figured out: nearly every Thai person gets a western nickname. She told us that the morning she was born, the hospital was very quiet, and the only sound her father could hear was a ticking clock. Tick-tock, tick-tock. She explained, “I can’t answer to my nickname Tick-Tock. People would laugh, so I’m called Ticky. Some people can’t say Ticky so they say Nicky or Vicky. Say any of them and I will know you are talking to me.”
Our drive was uneventful for about 30 minutes until we were stopped at a checkpoint at the edge of the city by the highway police. Our driver did not have the proper license for carrying tourists, and so he had to pay a fine to get his paperwork right on the spot. Plenty of others were in the same boat. We also saw truckloads of Burmese people being stopped and asked for their work permits. Our guide and driver took it all in stride and so did we. The delay was only about 20 minutes, and our driver came back with a scowl on his face and the papers wadded in his hand. Ticky said that sometimes the police are corrupt and simply take a bribe and give no paperwork in return.
We drove about 2 1/2 hours to Wat Rong Khun, better known to foreigners as the White Temple. The temple is really an art exhibit. It is contemporary, unconventional, and privately owned by famous artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997. The white is intended to symbolize the purity of the Lord Buddha. There is also a gallery of the artist’s works, and he is prolific and imaginative.
There was a wishing well. Your wish will come true if the coin lands on the top-most cup. I think Genene hit it, but it was hard to tell.
The artist likes superheroes and movie characters as well. There is not a real person inside this. It’s a statue…sort of.
We hit the road again. Our itinerary called for us to drive into the mountainside to see the hill tribe people and go to a plantation. Nicky steered us away from this plan. It had been raining all day, and she said the roads to the tribe and plantation listed on our plan were very narrow and there were mudslides in the area. She said she knew of a good tea plantation and a hilltribe village along our route and asked if it would be okay to stay on the main road. We agreed. It was the right decision in the end because we still didn’t get to our hotel until 5:00 PM. If we had done as our travel agent planned, who knows when we would have arrived. I think it is best to follow the advice of the local guide.
The Akha hilltribe village was a sad place. The Akha people are originally from China but arrived in Thailand via Burma. Civil wars have driven them from country to country. They have a subsistence farming living, and some of them grow poppy for opium. As soon as we got out of the van, an old woman and a child attached themselves to us, pushing a basket full of trinkets in our direction and trying to get us to buy something. The trinkets did not look appealing at all. There was no real craftmanship to them and they were probably made in a sweatshop in China somewhere. We took a pass, but they stayed at our side constantly. Nicky explaned that the men were “lazy” and did absolutely nothing all day (except chew betel nut and perhaps smoke a little opium). The women must go to the fields, work all day, and come home to cook for their men. “It’s not fair,” Vicky said. Genene and I agreed. Greg thought it sounded like a good gig. As we walked by, one man gestured to Greg. He was holding some kind of bong pipe (Was it opium? Nicky wouldn’t say). Greg waved him off and kept walking.
This old woman is in her 70s. Her teeth are gone from chewing betel nut.
The old lady wanted money after I photographed her, but Nicky told me not to pay her. Nicky said that the children do receive a free education, but the cycle of poverty is hard to break.
We were glad to get back in the van. It’s one thing to know that people live lives like this. It’s another thing to hop out of your fancy van, snap a few photos of them, and motor off. I waste more than these people have.
We saw rice fields all along the way.
We drove another hour to the Choui Fong tea plantation. The setting was beautiful. The tea plant can live 50 years. The leaves are picked by hand from the top of the plant. If two leaves sprout from the top, that is the top quality tea. If there are more than two small leaves, it is a lower grade of tea. The top leaves can grow back in only a few days so the leaves can be harvested constantly. The leaves are spread out to dry. Because it was raining, the drying area was not in operation.
We arrived at our resort at about 5 PM. While it had been a long car ride, our day was not that strenuous. We felt good. We sat down to check in and our hostess greeted us very graciously, offered us hot ginger tea and cold face towels. She said, “It’s been a long day in the car for you, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon. Would you like a small neck massage while we are getting your passport information?” I knew immediately I was going to like this place. A beautiful lady appeared from nowhere and began rubbing my neck and back. I sat and relaxed for about five minutes while she worked the kinks out of my neck and Greg took care of the paperwork. Then it was his turn for the neck massage. I could get used to this!
Our resort package is all inclusive and each day we get an activity. I was so enthralled with the neck rub that I chose a spa treatment on the spot. We had just enough time to go to our rooms, take a quick shower, put on our robes and head for the spa. Greg and I chose a 60 minute Thai massage and a 30 minute facial. Genene chose the Balinese massage and facial.
I’ve always heard about Thai massages but cannot recall that I have ever had one. Back in my SEAL PT days, we all used to go see a lady named Betty the Bonecrusher who gave rough, “therapeutic” massages. The Thai massage was something akin to that. It’s a dry massage that involves a lot of muscle stretching and manipulation. Greg and I were in the room together, and they asked us to put on Thai pajamas, a loose fitting white top and bottom. Then they worked us over. Some of it was a bit painful. I’ve had massages where I have almost fallen asleep, but there was no chance of it happening on this day. My lady was up on the table with me, bending and manipulating and stretching me. My buddy Mark Ivy swears that a good Thai massage can help a lot with back pain, and I believe him now. They released a lot of sore muscles and pinched nerves on my body. Riding the elephants was hard work, and we had many sore spots and kinks. Greg and I only squealed a few times as the ladies dug in.
The facial was more relaxing. They rubbed on various oils and astringents and massaged gently. When we were done, we met up with Genene in the spa reception area, where we all enjoyed some more hot tea. Her Balinese massage had been much more relaxing. They had rubbed her with warm oils, and she felt pampered.
We had a delicious three course Thai meal at the hotel restaurant and came up to bed. We have nothing planned tomorrow until a cooking class at 5:30 PM. It’s our first night to sleep without an alarm. What a luxury that will be!