We saw these yellow flowered trees everywhere---and so incredibly beautiful!
We had originally booked train transport from Surat Thani (in the south) to Chiang Mai (in the north)....again on a 3rd class night train. Third class seats were all that was available due to holiday travel around the Thai New Year festival, Songkran. While in the lounging on the beach in southern Thailand, we debated whether to splurge on a flight or cram ourselves into a "cattle car" for 24+ hours to get to Chiang Mai. We thought we'd check it out and went to find internet to research flights and cost.
By the way....traveling has really made us aware of our dependency on the internet. It is simply amazing. I think about posting blogs, monitoring our banking, paying bills, booking flights and lodging, getting maps, finding referrals, etc. and I realize how much it is embedded into our lives....and it's everywhere. Our trekking guide even checked his email at 14,000 feet to keep track of his next clients' arrival dates (but it cost over $20/hour there...he read very quickly : )
Thankfully, someone sitting next to us told us to be sure and check Air Asia, not just Thai Air. The cost of airfare was only a little
Characteristic dragon entry stairs at the entrance to this temple.
more than what we paid for the 3rd class tickets. We saved 24 hours of travel time but still were glad to have had the "experience" of the first train ride down to Surat Thani.
We arrived in Chiang Mai just after the Songkran Festival which was good (we stayed dry) and bad (we missed some fun). Think of the description we gave of the water fights in Koh Tao times 100. We talked to one traveler who inadvertently arrived on the very day of the New Year and drove around in an open-air tuk-tuk for 3 hours getting soaked with buckets of moat water (there's a moat around the old city) continuously and enthusiastically by Thai revelers. Her driver, she found out later, had just moved to Chiang Mai a couple of days earlier, had no idea of navigating the city, spoke no English, but was too polite to tell her all this......so he drove her around for 3 hours getting soaked until she cried and made him drop her off so she could ask for directions. She arrived at a hotel feeling utterly defeated. Of course that's not the intention of the revelers but they are certainly
Stone elephants lined the perimeter of this old temple.
not discriminatory on Songkran and I think open-air tuk-tuks are especially prize-worthy targets.
Heather found us a great place to stay in the Old City . In fact, this internet shop is just across the street and there's a great, tiny Thai restaurant next door that has wonderful mango-sticky-rice for just over $1.00 US. Hmmm.....maybe I need a break from blogging, huh?
We headed to the Night Market. Heather LOVES the markets and we will both miss shopping or just walking in markets when we get back. The markets here have so much food. It sounds macabre but today we saw an entire hog's head sitting on a market table looking quite smug but not the least bit tasty. Sights like these have become so common place throughout all our travels that they only seem natural.
The night market was great. Sometimes the mixture of cheap trinkets and Chinese fake designer goods along with intricate hand crafts and exotic foods is a bit overwhelming when you look down the street and see literally hundreds of vendors. It's
Attention to detail
This colorful gold dragon was very common at the entrances of many Buddhist temples here in Chiang Mai.
much more relaxing than the markets in Israel and Jordan with much less pressure to buy and much lower-key bargaining. We picked up a few nice things but mostly window shopped without the windows. I wanted to buy some teak carvings but the cost was quite high.
By the way, did I mention that we have come to Thailand at the very hottest time of the year? Did I mention that there's also been a particularly oppressive heat wave this past week? Our shirts are literally sticking to our bodies like we just stepped out of a swimming pool. It takes me back to my boyhood days in Louisiana sharing a bunk bed with my two brothers, laying in a pool of sweat, engaged in our nightly ritual fighting over the position of the floor fan that was placed in the center of the room like a shrine. Can anyone wonder that I now live in Alaska?
Since markets are my favorite (hi everyone, it's Heather for this paragraph), I'd love to share them with you. Everywhere we've travelled I've searched out for the markets. I really enjoy walking amongst the locals and looking (and sometimes drooling) over
Heather's dreaming of trees like this in her yard when she returns to AK!
all the fresh fruits and vegetables. Markets here are like a super-WalMart: they have everything you need...just not in one place! It's great. There's one stall selling plastics, another selling underwear, another selling shoes, etc. etc. Here the markets are relatively calm places: no yelling or loud music. There are certain markets you go to during the daytime and others that are only open at night. The Night Market here in Chiang Mai is open every night of the year. It is somewhat crazy and quite touristy. So we strolled through there a few nights and bought a few things---this market is almost all non-food. You could find everything from Thai silk, to clothes, purses, watches, hill-tribe art, wood carvings, etc. There was a separate area for the food stalls. Our favorite market by far was the Sunday Walking Street. On Sunday afternoon around 4pm they close off the street (probably 1/2 mile long) to traffic and vendors set-up on the sidewalks selling their goods. We loved it...mostly because it was local Thais shopping and not all tourists! Again, it was fun just to stroll around and look at everything.
After shopping the night market a couple times we
Thai cooking class
With a little culinary magic, Heather turns a common tomato into a beautiful lotus blossom.
decided to should try the Sunday Walking Street as well. This market starts during the day and is mostly filled with Thai locals. We found a bit of food and started walking. The size of the market is just amazing. Ben spotted some beautiful teak wood carvings and asked the price…mostly out of curiosity since the same size carvings in the Night Market had been a bit too expensive. We were both shocked to hear the price about one tenth of the cost at the night market….too good to pass up, right? Only they were a bit large. We ended up getting three pieces and the sweet lady wrapped them in newspapers and offered to send them to our hotel later.
People are really wonderfully honest here but we thought we might as well just take them then as risk not getting them at all…no problem. Only by this time the market was quite packed. Ben grabbed two pieces and Heather grabbed one and we headed off through the market. With no where to set them down and seemingly no end of the market in sight we just kept moving with the current of ambling shoppers until our biceps
Thai cooking class
Ben was the prize student in this class---the instructor even said he was better at carving vegetables than she! I must say, he is very talented.
were near bursting. People stared and we could imagine their thoughts at The Crazy Americans. I think we may be a bit weird even by American standards. We eventually found an outlet from the market and a tuk-tuk driver was flagging us into his little 3-wheeled motorcycle with bench attached. I was imagining the inevitable exchange… “Are you sure this’ll fit?”…. “No Problem”. This response seems to be the international motto of cab drivers and never fails to fill me with helpless concern.
Luckily there was a sawngthaew (red pick-up truck kind of taxi) driving up and I hopped in the back with our prizes and Heather (who some how always knows how to get home) jumped in the front to give directions. He dropped us off near our lodging and we walked the rest of the way home getting the same stares from everyone we saw. We finally got them back to our place and then started wondering how we were going to get them back to Alaska. Our first few inquiries for shipping were just over 14,000 Thai Bhat, or 4 times what we paid for them.
Thankfully we had met Joni and Nangsar Morse
Thai cooking class
Here is the finished product of our vegetable art. We had a lot of fun learning all the tricks.
who are long-time missionaries in S.E. Asia and friends of some other good friends back home. They graciously drove us around with our carvings, looking for a cheaper way to ship back to AK. If you're curious about missionary work in Burma/Thailand just google their names for an incredible multi-generation story. What wonderful family and amazing individuals. Joni is a third-generation missionary here and it was great to see their work and life. God is doing amazing things here and it was incredible to see a glimpse of it. Our best times were spent talking for many hours at the dinner table over a meal.
Now that we had eaten all this delicious Thai food and walked through the fresh-food markets, we wanted to try preparing it for ourselves. So we signed up for an all-day cooking class! It was so much fun. The class was held at the chef's home in an outdoor kitchen---very neat. We started off learning how to carve vegetables and then got into the demonstrations and actual cooking. We learned how and cooked for ourselves 5 meals, the last being a dessert. It was actually more difficult than we had anticipated, as their gas
Thai cooking class
Heather's concentrating hard on wrapping the chicken up in the pandana leaf---it sure was tasty!
burners here are very hot and they cook with a wok on a special burner---not like the ones in the States. Anywho, after cooking each meal, we got to sit and eat our product. We actually had made delicious meals! We are excited to put our skills to the test when we get home.
By this time we were certainly done shopping but headed back yesterday evening to the Night Market for a fun stroll and some people watching. Heather is a better people watcher than I (I get too distracted by the many Thai food booths) and spotted a very interesting couple. Here we are, 12 hours time difference from Wisconsin or ½ way around the world, and we run into our friend Jenny Nie from Wisconsin. Coincidence?....probably not. We met her new husband, Gust, who are also on an around-the-world trip going East to West. We enjoyed spending the rest of the evening with them and talking about each of our travel experiences.
Well, the time really has come for us to return home. It has been an incredible journey and we are so grateful for this opportunity. Really, the adventure has just begun...
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