A Festive Season in Thailand - December, 2018

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January 11th 2019
Published: January 10th 2019
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A Festive Season in Thailand

December 2018

Spending a major western holiday in a country which doesn’t recognize it in their culture, is always an interesting experience. Picture a fully-decorated Christmas tree, complete with angel perched on the top, and surrounded by gaily-wrapped presents, slap in the middle of the hot and humid chaos of Bangkok – evokes a weird mental image doesn’t it? My latest adventure to Southeast Asia begins with an early morning Delta breakfast flight to Seattle, connecting with Korean Air enroute to Seoul, South Korea - finally landing in Bangkok some 23 hours later, just after midnight. This trip I’m trying out another Hilton – the Sukhumvit Bangkok – one of their limo drivers was waiting just outside baggage claim for my transfer across town. At this time of night and after such a long journey, he was a very welcome sight. Just walking out of the airport is akin to walking into a sauna. It’s 1am on Christmas Day with temperatures hovering around 77f and humidity levels at least that high. Within seconds, rivets of sweat were running down my back and face, all I wanted to do was dive into the back of the limo and gulp down a bottle of chilled water. Arriving at the Sukhumvit Hilton, I’m ushered into the stunning lobby and am immediately greeted by the resident “guests” Jay and Daisy – two large white sculptures which can be found throughout the hotel. I’m assigned a lovely executive king suite on the 21st floor and the first thing I do is take a cold shower before falling face first into the comfy bed – its lights out from then on!

A short introduction:

Bangkok welcomes more visitors in one year, than any other city in the world and it doesn’t take long to realize why. It is a city of contrasts with action at every turn. Marvel at the gleaming temples, catch a tuk tuk around bustling Chinatown or take a longtail boat through floating markets. Food is another Bangkok highlight, from local dishes served at humble street stalls to haute cuisine at romantic rooftop restaurants. Luxury malls compete with a sea of boutiques and markets, where you can treat yourself without overspending. Extravagant 5-star hotels and surprisingly cheap serviced apartments welcome you with the same famed Thai hospitality. And no visit to Bangkok would be complete without a glimpse of its famous nightlife. Be it nightclubs, cabarets or exotic red-light districts, this city never ceases to amaze.

The city’s official name is Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok popnoparat ratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit (try saying that three times after a few belts of bourbon). It is listed as the world's longest location name by the Guinness Book of Records, and a close English translation goes something like this: The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city of Ayutthaya of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn. Commit this to memory, you never know when it could be the winning answer on Jeopardy.

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand with a population of over eleven million inhabitants, and by far its largest city. Its high-rise buildings, heavy traffic congestion, intense heat and naughty nightlife may not immediately give you the best impression — but don't let that mislead you. It is one of Asia's most cosmopolitan cities with magnificent temples and palaces, authentic canals, busy markets and a vibrant nightlife that has something for everyone. For years, it was only a small trading post at the banks of the Chao Phraya River until King Rama I, the first monarch of the present Chakri dynasty, turned it into the capital of Siam in 1782, after the burning of Ayutthaya by Burmese invaders. Since then, Bangkok has turned into a national treasure house and functions as Thailand's spiritual, cultural, political, commercial, educational and diplomatic center. A stroll down any of Bangkok's thousands of sprawling and labyrinthine alleyways can bring untold adventures for visitors who are keen to unearth the real Thailand. First-time visitors are often amazed by central Bangkok's glittering modernity, and at the same time, delighted by the treasures found amid the grunginess of ramshackle back streets; it's very easy to stumble across hidden markets, museums, or spectacular temples. The city is famous for being just as vibrant after dark as in the day. Many of its largest boulevards are swathed in fairy lights, and a bevy of swish rooftop bars all offer fantastic night views. Admittedly, things aren't as crazy as roughly a decade ago, when the party scene ran nonstop until dawn, and alcohol flowed day or night. Still, Bangkok has many markets, bars, and clubs open until at least midnight, plus the big department stores and malls don't close until around 9pm -- which should sate even the hardiest shopaholic.

Located just 14 degrees north of the Equator, it’s warm at any time of the year with average daily temperatures over 86°F. The most pleasant time to visit is the cool season that lasts from November till February – thankfully coming in late December, I timed it just right. This is both the coolest and driest period — the Emerald Buddha statue even wears a scarf during this period! Don't think that's necessary though — daytime temperatures still hover around 89°F, but it does cool down into the lower 70’s as it gets dark.

Culture exists all around you in Thailand -- and there are ample opportunities to take part in the daily activities, festivals, ceremonies, events, and practices that weave the fabric of this society. Keep an eye out for free magazines, such as BK Magazine, or local English-language newspapers The Nation and Bangkok Post, for major events during your stay here. The best part of Thai festivals is that, whether getting soaked by buckets of water at Songkran or watching candlelit floats drift downstream at Loy Krathong, foreign visitors are usually invited to join in. Thais are very proud of their cultural heritage, and opportunities abound to learn and participate.

This Hilton is located just a short 5-minute walk to the Phrom Phong metro station. Considering the chaotic traffic found on city streets, Skytrain (known as BTS) is undoubtedly the swiftest way to get around and can whisk you right where you want to be in no time at all. It's a cheap, smooth, cool, clean, fast and scenic way to enjoy Bangkok. Major shopping malls, Chatuchak Weekend Market, all Sukhumvit Road's attractions, and even the riverside are accessible by Skytrain. While the Silom line runs west to south, the Sukhumvit line runs north to east. So, if you're new to Bangkok, it's a great way to find your way around and see a large part of what the city has to offer. Service runs between 6:30am and midnight every day, but its best to avoid during peak hours of 7 to 9am and 4 to 7pm when trains are packed. As I will be here for a few days, it makes economical sense to purchase an unlimited use ticket, known as a Rabbit Card. BTS Rabbit cards are used to access all stations, with fares starting at 15 baht ($0.46) per one stop. One-day Pass Unlimited travel costs 120 baht ($3.66), which is ideal for most tourists. Staying longer than a couple of days? Consider a 30-Day Pass for Adults which is priced by number of trips taken within this period: 15 trips - 375 baht ($11.44); 25 trips - 575 baht ($17.55); 40 trips - 840 baht ($25.63) or for 50 trips - 1,000 baht ($30.50) – this is a very cheap way to travel by anyone’s standards.

Once I got caught up on sleep and had adjusted to this time zone, I was ready to first explore the hotel. This 26-floor structure is in the middle of the region's business, shopping and entertainment facilities, with a sophisticated modern Italian-American design throughout. On the rooftop is Lapse, an outdoor infinity pool, which is the perfect location to soak up the sunshine and enjoy stunning 360-degree views of Bangkok. On floor 4 is the Executive Lounge, open from 6am to 11pm daily, offering complimentary breakfast, hors d'oeuvres, afternoon tea, evening cocktails and light refreshments. On my first evening, I checked it out – somehow platters of pizza (3 varieties), pad thai noodles with shrimp, salads, pasta, fresh fruit and a selection of desserts doesn’t equate to “light refreshments” in my book – more like a complete dinner at a local diner. The open bar of wine and alcohol is extensive and having an onsite bartender prepare your choice of poison certainly doesn’t hurt. The room is large with multiple tables, chairs and lounges scattered around the space, and even boasts a small outdoor patio for the smokers in the crowd. It’s a comfortable, airy and pleasant lounge but usually quite crowded in the early evenings with too many kids for my liking, but that’s just me. On those days I’m not out sightseeing, it will be my hideout to read, write and relax with numerous vanilla lattes from the expresso machine.

My first sightseeing stop is located at the heart of the city - the Grand Palace - which was a former residence for King Rama I through King Rama V. Today, the place is used for hosting royal ceremonies and welcoming the King’s guests, state guests, and other foreign dignitaries, and also a place where remains of Kings and high-ranked members of the royal family were situated before cremation. The Grand Palace is divided into two main zones, (1) the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and (2) the royal residence. The latter is divided into three major areas: the Outer Court, the Middle Court, and the Inner Court. The Outer Court is now the location of several state offices such as the Bureau of the Royal Household, Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, and the Office of the Royal Institute. The Middle Court is the area where significant royal ceremonies are held such as the Royal Coronation and the Royal Ceremony of Coronation Day. The Inner Court contains row houses which were formerly palace walls during the reign of King Rama I. The southern area of the Inner Court was then a female-only zone; no man except for the King was allowed access to this area, where the Queens, consorts, consort mothers, and daughters of the King lived together with many ladies-in-waiting and servants.

A little bit of history: ​

Construction of the palace began on May 6, 1782, by order of King Rama I, after he moved the capital city from Thonburi to Bangkok. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development. Additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning Kings over 230 years of history, especially during the reign of King Rama V (1853 -1910). The palace was initially built entirely out of wood, but over the next few years, the King began replacing wooden structures with masonry. To find more material for these constructions, King Rama I ordered his men to go upstream to the old capital city of Ayutthaya, which was devastated in 1767 during the war between Burma and Siam (Thailand’s original name). They were tasked with the dismantling and removal of as many bricks as possible, with orders not to remove any from the existing temples. They began by taking materials from the forts and walls of the city, and ultimately the old Royal palaces were completely levelled, with the bricks being ferried down the Chao Phraya River by barges, where they were eventually incorporated into the walls of the Grand Palace and Bangkok alike. The entire complex is a massive man-made island with a complex of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions, temples set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. ​

It has been the official residence of the Kings of Thailand since 1782. The subsequent Kings, his court and his Royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925. The Grand Palace is still used for official events, with several Royal ceremonies and state functions held every year. By 1925, the King, the Royal Family and the government were no longer permanently residing in the palace and had moved to other residences, coinciding with the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932. Open every day from 8:30am to 3:30pm, with a 500-baht ($15.23) admission fee.

The Emerald Buddha located within the Grand Palace itself, is the main attraction. It was purpose-built to house a figurine of the meditating Buddha seated in a yogic posture, made from a solid one piece of green jade, clothed in gold and diamonds and elevated above the heads of the worshippers and tourists, as a sign of respect. This is Thailand's most important sacred temple housing the utmost precious religious icon. The Emerald Buddha is beautifully surrounded by courtyards of countless majestic and all inspiring examples of exquisite royal architecture through the millennia. A must visit and pilgrimage. For more than 230 years it has resided here, however its lineage expands beyond Bangkok and even Thailand. Religious scholars conclude, with its particular pose of meditation, that it resembles images of Southern India and Sri Lanka. Moreover this pose is not prominent in traditional Thai sculptures. Historians know that the Emerald Buddha has traveled to numerous areas in Asia. Various armies and kingdoms battled for the ownership, as it is strongly believed to bring prosperity and good fortune to any country in which it resides.

The complete story behind the very early history of the Emerald Buddha remains somewhat a mystery, as it’s alleged that from India the statue was moved to Sri Lanka and from there was taken to Cambodia where it was kept at Angkor Wat. Ultimately arriving in Thailand to reside in various temples located in provincial kingdoms that quickly rose in prominence. In 1778, King Taksin went into battle with Laos and retrieved the Emerald Buddha which he enshrined in Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). When the new capital of Thailand was established in Bangkok in 1782, a magnificent new temple was built to house this icon and then transferred to The Grand palace in 1785. The Emerald Buddha statue has remained there to this day.

Fun Factoid:

In tone of great reverence for the Emerald Buddha, a ceremonial costume change occurs three times per year, for the summer, rainy and winter seasons, and only performed by the reigning monarch. The costumes consist of a diamond-encrusted golden robe for the hot season; a solid gold robe for the cool and a gold-plated monk's robe with headdress for the rainy season.

Each custom costs approximately $3.8 Million! The summer and rainy season costumes were commissioned by King Rama I, (1737 – 1809). King Rama III (1824-1851) had the third costume crafted for the winter season. The costumes that are not presently adorning The Emerald Buddha are displayed nearby at the pavilion of Regalia, Royal decorations and Thai coins on the grounds of the Grand Palace. This royal ceremony takes place with a procession of monks and dignitaries, with the King, sprinkling water over the faithful to bring good fortune throughout the upcoming season.

Next up on the sightseeing agenda is Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn, another iconic Bangkok edifice, not to be missed from a tourist’s “must visit” bucket list. The grand and evocative design of this towering Buddhist temple was first established in the 1600s but gained its distinctive porcelain-clad prangs (spires) during the reign of King Rama II in the early 19th century. The temple represents an apex of religious architecture and is one of the best maintained of all buildings commissioned by the Thai monarchy. Open to the public as a place of worship and tourism, the site contains prized artifacts relating to the religious and royal history of Thailand. Located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, it derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, often personified as the radiations of the rising sun. Wat Arun is among the best known of Thailand’s landmarks and the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple with pearly iridescence. The temple is open daily start 8.00am to 5.30pm, with a 50-baht ($1.50) admission fee.

My third and probably my most favorite sightseeing stop in the city is the Thompson Museum and Arts Center. For a westerner, Jim Thompson made one hell of an impact on Thailand – Bangkok in particular. And who is Jim Thompson, you ask?. Born in Delaware in 1906, Thompson briefly served here in the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) during WWII. He settled in Bangkok after the war, and when his neighbors’ handmade silk caught his eye and piqued his business acumen, he sent samples to fashion houses in Milan, London and Paris, gradually building a steady worldwide clientele. In addition to textiles, Thompson also collected parts of various derelict Thai homes and had them reassembled in their current location in 1959. This jungle-like compound is now a museum, art center and his former home. Some of the homes were brought from the old royal capital of Ayuthaya; others were pulled down and floated across the canal from Baan Khrua, including the first building you enter on the tour. One striking departure from tradition is the way each wall has its exterior side facing the house’s interior, thus exposing the wall’s bracing system. His small but splendid Asian art collection and his personal belongings are also on display in the main house. Thompson’s story doesn’t end with his informal reign as Bangkok’s best-adapted foreigner, however. While out for an afternoon walk in the Cameron Highlands of western Malaysia in 1967, Thompson mysteriously disappeared. That same year his sister was murdered in the USA, fueling various conspiracy theories. Was this communist spies? Business rivals? Or a man-eating tiger? Although the mystery has never been solved, evidence revealed by American journalist Joshua Kurlantzick in his profile of Thompson, The Ideal Man, suggests that the vocal anti-American stance Thompson took later in his life, may have made him a potential target of suppression by the CIA. Open every day from 9am to 6pm with guided tours conducted in English, Thai, French, Chinese and Japanese (last guided tour begins at 6pm). Unaccompanied visits to the complex are not permitted. Admission fee is 200 baht ($6.11) per adult, with reduced prices for kids. Conveniently located at 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama Road 1, it can be reached by taxi, tuk-tuk or the Skytrain (BTS National Stadium Station). A free shuttle service up to the complex, is available at the intersection of Rama Road and Soi Kasemsan.

For my last 3 nights in the city, I moved over to a riverside hotel – the Ramada Plaza Bangkok. Here I was assigned a pretty decent room overlooking both the pool and the river – great views but the bed wasn’t particularly comfortable at all. It’s very definitely a tour-group type hotel, with way too many screaming kids and oblivious parents everywhere in the lobby - ugh! However it did have some positives, starting with the Terrace Restaurant where an excellent buffet breakfast is served every morning. Next is the river-side walkway, where I had a front row seat to the party boats and fantastic fireworks show on New Year’s Eve. One of the more popular tourist attractions is the Siam Niramit, which combines an authentic Thai buffet with a world-class stage show depicting Thailand's historical and spiritual heritage. With over 150 dazzling performers and state-of-the-art special effects (including more than 500 costumes), it’s a captivating journey. The first act describes how Siam became a cross-roads where civilizations met, the second how karma binds Thai people, and the final act shows how religious ceremony earns Thai people merit in this life. In addition to the show, you can visit replica villages from the country's rural regions and buy Thai handicrafts. Highlights of this popular tourist attraction include the live theatrical performance of Thai myths and legends, a walk-through of a recreated traditional village before the show, a Thai buffet dinner and round-trip transfers. Most hotels and online booking sites will sell the entire package and considering the traffic chaos to get to the location, having roundtrip transfers is definitely the best way to go. Don’t expect culinary excellence here, however. It is a typical tourist “all-you-can-eat” buffet dinner with mediocre food and indifferent wait staff. But, on the positive side, it is an outstanding show and worth seeing at least once.

Next morning it’s “pack-up and leave town” time - now I’m headed to Kanchanaburi, located approximately 76 miles southwest of Bangkok. Beyond its hectic modern center and river views, Kanchanaburi has a dark history, paid tribute to with excellent memorials and museums. During WWII, Japanese forces used Allied prisoners of war and conscripted Asian laborers, to build a rail route between Thailand and Burma, modern day Myanmar. The harrowing story became famous after the publication of Pierre Boulle’s book The Bridge Over the River Kwai, based loosely on real events, and the 1957 movie that followed. War cemeteries, museums and the chance to ride a section of the so-called “Death Railway” draw numerous visitors here every year. Kanchanaburi is also an ideal gateway to national parks in Thailand's wild west, and home to an array of lush riverside resorts. One of these resorts is where I’ll park my butt for a couple of nights: Mida, an exclusive boutique resort built in contemporary Thai style nested in tropical gardens, which wind around 189 elegantly appointed luxury accommodation units – including the first villas with private pools in Kanchanaburi. They even offer luxury air-conditioned tents right next to a fabulous waterfall and facing the river – now that’s what I call camping! This stunning and tranquil resort is located off the Srinakarin Dam Highway, with a spectacular view of the famous River Kwai blending harmoniously with the lush natural setting. Many activities are available onsite including cycling, rafting and swimming, and let’s not forget the outdoor salt-water pool with an outstanding wooden sundeck, hanging out over the river. I had a deluxe room in the M3 superior building on the ground floor. The sliding glass doors led out to an enclosed open patio complete with lounge sunbed, and a stunning view across the manicured lawns to the river….it was magical. The only complaint I would have here, is not finding a single English-language tv station but hey, you can’t have everything in life, right?

Dinner on my first night was in the open-air Terrace Restaurant. Lovely location and attentive staff, but (isn’t there always a but with me?) I was disappointed in the bland, very unimaginative western-style food offerings at the buffet table. I could care less about unseasoned veggies, pieces of chicken breast in some unknown sauce, a mediocre selection of salads and don’t even get me started on the stone-cold French fries. Where’s the Tom Yuan soup? Redtail Catfish Herbal Curry? Fried Giant gourami with Fish Sauce? Grill Pork with olive leaves salad? I can only hold out hope that breakfast in the coming two mornings is far better, however I have my doubts – we shall see. Thankfully the buffet breakfast I sat down to in the M Café the next morning, did rise to the occasion. The coffee machine pumped out an acceptable latte, the made-to-order omelet was delicious and a bowl of Thai glass noodles with chicken rounded out the meal.

Time to head out once again, with the next stop being Ayutthaya, some 55 miles north of Bangkok in the central part of the country. Enigmatic temple ruins are strewn across this city, whispering of its glory days as a royal capital. Once replete with gilded temples and treasure-laden palaces, it was the capital of Siam from 1350 until 1767. About the time that Americans were tossing tea into Boston harbor, the Burmese attacked and sacked Ayutthaya. Only ruins remain from this period of thriving trade and art, but dozens of crumbling temples evoke Ayutthaya's past grandeur. Standing among towering stupas, it's easy to imagine how they looked in their prime. A day trip is enough to tour temple ruins and catch the flavor of its faded majesty but linger for a couple of days, and you'll fully experience its otherworldly atmosphere of sloshing riverboats, temple silhouettes drawn sharp against the setting sun, and ruins illuminated at night.

The Ayutthaya period is looked on by many as the time when much of what is now thought of as "Thai style" was developed. In temples, this is when you see a marked transition from the Khmer style prangs to the bell shaped chedi. While Sukothai further north, is seen as the birth of the Thai kingdom, Ayutthaya is seen today as its high point. Around Ayutthaya are signs of the Japanese, French, Dutch and Portuguese traders that came to the Thai court. The city is usually visited as part of a packaged day trip from Bangkok, which usually includes stops at the Bang Pa-In Palace as well as the Bang Sai Royal Arts Center. It’s easy to spend a leisurely day here and see the main sights, all with relatively low pressure compared to many other tourist sites. From Ayutthaya, use an expressway and be back in Bangkok in about an hour. Yes, you can do a day trip on your own, going at your own pace and probably spend a lot less money.

I have always enjoyed the northern part of Thailand more than the Bangkok region, and so I finish this trip to Thailand with a few days in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai – two very popular tourist towns, especially with Americans. Chiang Rai City remains a sleepy provincial town with a pleasant atmosphere. Compared to its sister town Chiang Mai, it has a more relaxed and down-to-earth feel but is never short on historical and cultural attractions of its own. Founded in 1262 as the capital of the Mengrai Dynasty, today the city retains a strong identity, mostly through its impressive collection of temples, art, language, cuisine and music. But unlike Chiang Mai, the city offers little diversity when it comes to nightlife, entertainment and shopping, and most of these are concentrated in the area around the Clock Tower. The city is gradually developing its tourist sector, beginning with its own Night Bazaar, Saturday Walking Street and Jazz Festival. The riverside remains mostly undeveloped, albeit with a few luxury hotels along the waterfront. To fully appreciate the beauty of the Mae Kok, it is best to hire a long-tail boat and take in the scenery along the two riverbanks. At the end of the day, Chiang Rai City is all about chilling out and taking it in slowly, savoring each moment as it comes. With endless verdant forests and mountain ranges, Chiang Rai is like an expansive playground for nature lovers and explorers. To experience the best however, it’s best to embark on a combination of journeys. Whether retracing the opium trail in the Golden Triangle, staying overnight with the ethic hill-tribes, or embarking on a waterfall trek on elephant back, one of the easiest ways to go about exploring this region is to book local tours, and your options for these are many.

Probably the most notable structure here is the White Temple – talk about Disneyland on steroids – that doesn’t even begin to describe it. By the end of the 20th century the original Wat Rong Khun was in a bad state of repair, with no funds available for renovation. Chalermchai Kositpipat, a local artist from Chiang Rai, decided to completely rebuild the temple and fund the project with his own money. So far, he has spent approximately THB1,080 million (almost $34M) of his own money on the project. The artist intends for the area adjacent to the temple to be a center of learning and meditation and for people to gain benefit from the Buddhist teachings. Kositpipat considers the temple to be an offering to Lord Buddha and believes the project will give him immortal life. Today the works are ongoing but are not expected to be completed until 2070. Admission to the wat compound is free for Thais and THB50 ($1.57) for foreigners. Donations are accepted, but are not allowed to exceed THB10,000 ($313), as Chalermchai refuses to be influenced by big donors. The exterior is so fantastic, you really don’t need to enter the complex of buildings at all – just viewing it from the street is enough to drop your jaw to your feet. Envision the movie “Frozen” overlaid with mirrors and curlicues for days and you get the picture.

Arguably the most popular tourist location this close to the Burma border is Chiang Mai. The former seat of the Lanna kingdom is a blissfully calm and laid-back place to relax and recharge your batteries. Here you can participate in a vast array of activities on offer, or just stroll around the backstreets, and discover a city that is still firmly Thai in its atmosphere and attitude. Located just 435 miles north of Bangkok and adjacent to the highest mountain range in the country, it is a sprawling modern city which has grown up around ancient Chiang Mai, ringed by a tangle of superhighways. Despite this, the historic center of this city still feels overwhelmingly residential, more like a sleepy country town than a bustling capital. If you drive in a straight line in any direction, you'll soon find yourself in the lush green countryside and pristine rainforests dotted with churning waterfalls, serene Wats and peaceful country villages – as well as a host of markets and elephant sanctuaries. It would be no-brainer to spend your whole vacation exploring the famous Night Bazaar here, but once you’ve exhausted the art of the cheerful haggle however, there’s plenty more to explore. The National Museum and Botanic Garden are great places to soak up some local culture and to breathe in the delicate fragrance of Thai orchids. In the city’s center, the remains of ancient walls embrace over 30 temples. Think you have a decent level of fitness? Well then, go ahead and climb 300 stairs to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an ornate Buddhist temple in the hills, and check your heart rate at the top! Doi Suthep is a constant part of life here. A Thai saying goes, "If you haven't tasted Khao Soi or seen the view from Doi Suthep, you haven't been to Chiang Mai." This regal mountain overlooks the city from the northwest, providing commanding views from its summit. Aside from its dominating presence on the horizon, Doi Suthep is the home of some of the most deeply loved symbols in the Kingdom. In 1981 Doi Suthep, Doi Pui and Doi Buakha, along with the 62 square miles of forest in which they are located, became Thailand's 24th national park. A year later a 38 square mile annex was added, bringing the park's total area up to 100 square miles. Dense forests hang from the mountain's shoulders like a cloak; deciduous at lower elevations and evergreen near the peaks.

Chiang Mai is a land of mist-enshrouded mountains and colorful hill tribes, a playground for seasoned travelers, a paradise for shoppers and a delight for adventurers. Expand your horizons with a Thai massage and cooking courses. Others will be bowled over by the variety of handicrafts and antiques. The wild child will find plenty of lively nightlife, and the epicure can indulge in wonderful cuisine. Despite its relatively small size, Chiang Mai truly has it all. Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 as the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, in a verdant valley on the banks of the Ping River. Today it is a place where past and the present seamlessly merge with modern buildings standing side by side with venerable temples.

For the most part the weather has cooperated over the past couple of weeks but starting with my final day in Chiang Rai and the entire drive south to Chiang Mai, the heavens opened, the thunder crashed, and rain came down in monsoonal form…..simply torrential. It barely let up until later in the afternoon when finally sunlight broke thru the heavy overcast. Needless to say, this downpour increased the humidity levels across the board – thank god the temperature was on the cool side, or I would have had a miserable time attempting to breathe. After dark the mercury drops enough to warrant a light sweater.

It's a zero-dark-thirty departure from Chiang Mai to the airport, to catch flights which will transport me to my next port of call. Stay tuned, it only gets better from here!

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16th January 2019

Thailand 2018
Loved your narration of Thailand. Brings back wonderful memories of past visit. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

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