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Published: March 9th 2019
Awoke to the sound of branches falling
So now it’s everyday life at BaanSongJum , which means House of Memories in Thai, with sisters Nui and Kong. They’ve both retired from previous jobs and lives and now run this guesthouse in the old family home, where their grandparents lived. It’s a little time warp and haven from the busy world of the city outside. Around the wooden house on stilts there’s a jungle of plants, carefully tended by Nui, attracting birds , lizards and squirrels and there are three gentle welcoming dogs, Lanna, Frankie and BamBam. A constantly changing multi-cultural and inter generational set of guests who stay in the eight little rooms around the main house are made to feel at home. There are so many interesting stories to hear and thoughts to exchange every day, or you can just retire to your room and read a book. There are several people, who like me, feel so comfortable and at home here, that they return year after year and we greet each other again like old friends. One of these such friends is. Christiane, a delightful French lady who travels for much of the year, and , like me, writes a blog. The rest of the year
Kong looking for the fruit
we can keep in touch with Facebook. She’s not staying at BaanSongJum this year as she’s planning to meet up with her son in the old city.
On Wednesday 20 February I awoke to the cracking of branches and the rustle of leaves as a tree surgeon was clambering up the huge ‘star apple’ tree which overhangs the main house. Nui has been concerned that it might be leaning on the roof and doing a bit of damage. The tree surgeon clambered high up in the tree , braced himself against the trunk,of wealding a huge cleaver/ sickle tool in one hand while steadying himself with the other. No health and safety apparent here! Nui said he used to work at teak logging in Burma. He removed some of the fruit too. It looked huge and was quite hard , so luckily now it wouldn’t be falling on our heads! It seemed to be the sort of fruit you’d have to cook before eating. When he’d finished the tree looked the same but there was a huge forest of branches and leaves on the ground.
I walked to inside the old walled city to meet Christiane at the Tamarind Village
Star apples (?) from the pruned tree
Hotel. The previous day I had stopped by at the restaurant run by the Chiangmai women’s prison for a drink and snack ( after clocking up 17,500 steps on my mobile phone app, checking out old haunts) When I had returned to BaanSongJum for a Thai massage from Upin, I’d checked Facebook and could see that Christiane had posted a picture and message from the very same restaurant just one hour after I’d been there! So we’d arranged to meet up next day. It was lovely to meet up with Christiane, the Fearless Frenchwoman, and catch up on what she’s been doing. She’d been in Shanghai earlier this year as her artist daughter had got a six month residency at a gallery there. She’s planning to meet up with her son later this week. He’s been living in Phuket and has a Thai girlfriend he’d like to introduce to her.
Next morning I was looking on line for a swimming pool and I found two hotels in Nimenhaeman who welcomed non residents to their pools, but that’s a bit of a trek to the other side of the old city. So I consulted Nui, who told me about Eco Resort,
Tree surgeon at work
on our side of the river and only about a 15 minute walk from Baan Songjum. So I went to check it out, and it just so happened that I had my swimming costume in my bag, so I paid the 150 baht ( about £3.50) and went in. That morning I had the whole place to myself, so I vowed to try and go every day. It’s so lovely to swim in a pool where nobody else is making waves and the water is warm ( from the sun) and brightly coloured dragonflies were skimming across the glass-like surface. The Eco Resort was based in an old colonial style building with a newer accommodation wing and set in a verdant tropical garden with lush greenery and fruit trees. Facilities around the pool were very basic and no food or drinks on offer, but I liked it. It wasn’t far to walk to Rimping Supermarket afterwards, and I popped into the hairdressers next door to get a wash, fringe trim and blow dry -£220 baht ( About £5.50)) I popped into the supermarket and bought some tonic water and strawberries ( locally grown fruit in season now) and then wondered
BamBam lopes over for a cuddle
how I could call a Grab car without any WiFi. Brainwave! The Marwin Hotel, where I stayed on arrival in Chiangmai when Baan Songjum was full, was just around the corner. Sure enough, if I stood just outside I could still pick up their WiFi signal. So I went online and requested a driver to take me to Dorothy’s apartment further out of the city. I quickly received a confirmation with a photo of the lady driver and the make and registration number of her car. She was only 4 minutes away..,.,, so not too long to wait in the noonday sun. But then I received a Google translation message from her. It said , “Whete are you? Are you in the river” Please send photo of your location” Strange. I took a photo of the hotel behind me and sent to her and she immediately appeared over the Iron Bridge in her car, giggling away. It seems my ‘fat finger syndrome ‘ had plonked my pick up location right in the middle of the Ping River which was just in front of me. We both had a laugh, and then she performed a very complicated route to Dorothy’s place,
via the airport, using Google maps on her phone which she held in one hand while navigating the steering wheel with the other.
Every Thursday the ‘Crafting Group’ meet at one of their homes, everyone brings a dish towards lunch and the more enthusiastic members of the group get out their craft projects. But with or without creative input, everyone enjoys eating, drinking and chatting until sundown. I usually go along at least once when I’m staying in Chiangmai, and on this particular week Dorothy was the host so I was very happy to go along.
We were a small, select group this week as many of people were away on holiday and such like. The conversation is always very lively and entertaining. Kerstin chatted while she replaced elastic in the waistbands of some old skirts. Jo , the librarian, arrived after school finished, and she brought with her several unfinished sock puppets of mice , for her International school drama production of Roald Dahl’s “ The Witches”. Cynthia quickly helped with the final ears and whiskers , and Dorothy and I helped by not doing anything at all.
I got a Grab car back ‘home’ to BaanSongJum.
BamBam reclining on a garden chair
next day I walked to the swimming pool after my usual breakfast of papaya, pineapple, strawberries and bananas. I’m going to try and keep this swimming up every day when I can ...... but I was foiled because the pool was closed for cleaning and wouldn’t be open until afternoon. So I walked to Central Festival shopping mall, using all the back streets and had a good look around Uniqlo. I may have to buy a couple of warm things for my stopover in Istanbul on the way home. A Japanese store was promoting their prescription glasses. Very trendy frames and promised to have them ready in 20 minutes. Anyway, I just looked because there was such an enormous selection I couldn’t possibly choose! So I walked back to the swimming pool, which I had all to myself again. Just me and the dragonflies skimming the surface and dancing around at a respectful distance. It was really hot so I walked back to BaanSongJum, turned on the air conditioning and had a little nap. In the evening French Christiane arrived with her son Nico and his new Thai girlfriend, and together with sisters Nui and Kung, we all went across
Tamarind Village Hotel
Meeting up with Christiane for lunch
the road to Samson Villa restaurant ( possibly the best Thai food restaurant in Chiangmai) . We had a table by the river and watched the sun set behind the mountains. I felt sorry for Nico’s New girlfriend-she must have felt she was being checked out by not one but four ladies!
So the weekend slipped by with swimming, re-visiting my haunts from previous visits to Chiangmai, and chatting to other people staying at BaanSongJum. There’s a lovely young Dutch couple who are cycling their way from Holland to China or maybe Tibet. They’ve got this far , through all the ‘stans’ and are heading for Chiang Rai next and then taking the slow boat up the Mekong to Luang Prabang. I did that trip with Kath and Bob a few years ago, and we really liked the old town of Luang Prabang ( in Laos) which is a World Heritage site.
After swimming on Sunday I discovered a new ( to me) little Thai restaurant where I had a delicious lunch for £1.50. Then I walked to the supermarket and bought a box of South Africa Shiraz for £25. Ah well. Win some, loose some!
Dorothy came over for
Tamarind Village Hotel
Christiane and our lunch
a drink in the evening and with a box I could share a glass with Nui, Kong and permanent resident Rich, an American who is applying for retirement stays in Thailand. Those three were sharing diner , and Dorothy and I went off to the Gallery restaurant just along the river bank. Sitting outside we could hear and see all that was going on along the opposite bank. It’s Worarot market, the flower market and Chinatown. And today was the last day of Chinese New Year on the official calendar, so things looked and sounded pretty lively. So we decided to cross the river bridge after dinner and to watch the last day of the street theatre. A bit like in Shakespeare’s day, the actors are all men with stylised voices, clothes and distinctive make up.... so everyone has no difficulty In recognising the characters and who are the bad guys! The dayglow costumes gleam in the light of the fluerescent strip lights and the air is heavily scented from the giant joss sticks smouldering behind the audience. Just one curtain call at the end of the show ( they’ve been doing this for 15 consecutive evenings now) and the
Aha! A swimming pool!
actors hurry down to the back of the audience ( to get their pay..... their dinner ....... we don’t know)
I won’t be seeing Dorothy again until next Sunday as she’s doing a two day road trip down south with a friend and then her son Matthew is flying in from Hong Kong to see her for a couple of days. But I’m happy to be in the slow lane for a week ...... life will get busy enough when I get home and there’s all the blue-ginger pre-opening stuff to do.
On Monday a Swiss couple arrived..... travelling around Asia with their little 11 month old baby. Nui was a bit taken back because she says on all her information that it’s not a suitable place for children under six years ( three dogs and numerous fish ponds plus lack of sound proofing in the rooms) but the agency Agoda seems to be letting her down on this point. She’s far too kind to send them away, but the young Dutch cyclists are not at all happy with their new neighbours and the sleepless baby.
The tree surgeon turned up as a builder today, with his female partner doing
Eco Resort .
This is where I go to swim
all the carting things around and cleaning u after him. They’ve made a new big window in the kitchen, and replaced hardboard walls in the kitchen and laundry room with brick ones . Should let in more light and be easier to keep clean, although these old wooden buildings are open to nature and the elements , so it always feels like an outdoor life.
I walked to Mengrai pottery kilns , on the other side of the old walled city. I was hoping to find a lot of the turquoise flower vases I bought last year for the blue-ginger tables. Only found three-so the first three lucky customers will get those! But I bought. Few more items in that lovely turquoise glaze. Oh dear -luggage nightmares! I walked back , stopping off for a pad Thai. It really is a lovely lunch. Crunchy bean sprouts and chopped peanuts with vegetables , egg and egg noodles.
That evening I joined Dorothy’s book group at Dash restaurant. This place is incredibly popular these days and they have chairs outside where customers can sit and wait until a table is a available. Dorothy thinks it may be that the owner is great
Just a flower
at using social networking sites, and has learned Mandarin. The Mainland Chinese do seem to be the biggest nation of travelers these days. Anyway, they always keep a little quiet room at the back for the once-a-month book group. Last year when I was in Chiangmai and came along to the book group there were 16 or 20 people. This evening only five. Dorothy, a Dutch woman, a Brit/ Australian woman and an American woman and me. I’d downloaded the book onto my kindle. I can highly recommend this book : Educated by Tara Westover. It’s the autobiography of a woman who was born into a Mormon family in Utah , with a very controlling and delusional father. The father took the children out of school , saying they’d be home educated, but in fact they worked on his scrap metal yard. It’s the story of her fight to get an education and escape from the situation. A true story. What made it such an important discussion for me is that the American woman said , “before we start talking about the book I have to tell you that I was born into a Morman family and , with great
difficulty, have left the Mormons.” She wasn’t the one who’d suggested the book either. There are so many parallels in today’s world too, with young women going off to join Isis and many women in different societies still having to struggle for the right to an education . A fascinating and thought-provoking evening.
This week Dorothy is off on a road trip and her son Matthew is coming on a two day stopover from Hong Kong. So I plan to settle down into the totally relaxed part of my holiday.
I started out on Tuesday with just my usual fruit , muesli and yoghurt breakfast ( this is a treat for me because on blue-ginger mornings I’m often too busy baking to sit down and enjoy breakfast) Then a walk to the swimming pool. Twenty lengths ( but don’t be too impressed-it’s about 2/3 size) Lunch at my new-found Corner restaurant ‘Tom Wah’( Japanese Katsu curry today) and a walk to Rimping Supermarket to get some breakfast treats.
On Wednesday I stirred myself to do something and so glad I did. Jo from the Meeting Room gallery had suggested that I should go to the Maiiam Gallery in Samkampaeng, a
fairly new contemporary art gallery about a 30 minute drive from Chiangmai. There’s no more Uber cars in Thailand and the business has all been taken over by ‘Grab’, so I call a car on the app on my phone, it gives me the driver’s name, the make of his car and the registration number, and the cost. And he’s outside waiting for me in two minutes. My Grab driver was a friendly and delightful young man who was happy for the opportunity to practice his English. And no, he hadn’t learned it in school, he taught himself by watching tv and talking to his foreign passengers. He told me that he had three jobs. His main job was financial advisor to people wanting to invest on the stock market, but that wasn’t going too well as many of people had lost a lot of money and weren’t so keen to pay for his expertise. I wasn’t sure if people had lost money so didn’t have any spare to invest or if he’d lost money for them so they weren’t wanting to take his advice! Anyway, I also learned that he had 13 cats and a wife and it was
his ambition to save enough money to go on holiday to Switzerland. He commended me for my ‘pure’ English ....... so much better to understand than many of his other passengers and he’d be happy to drive around all day talking to me. Luckily that didn’t happen as we arrived at Maiiam Gallery.
The building was faced with reflective glass, and reflected the trees so was rather interesting in itself. The gallery exhibits the private collection of the family and also hosts temporary exhibitions in many different art forms. A new exhibition was about to start in a few days, but I was lucky in that much of the artwork was already in place. The title of the temporary exhibition was ‘Diaspora - Exit, Exile, Exodus of Southeast Asia’. Its aim was “to be a conversation with the audience..........by exploring the everyday significance of territorial and ideological borders, political and religious identity, and home and belonging “ so ...... a global subject really at the moment and interesting to see it from a SEAsian stance.
In the entrance was a fantastic painted VW Beetle, in the style of Bollywood movie posters. This is the work of Thai artist Navin Rawanchaikul.
A poignant video piece charted the experience of migrant workers outside their home countries. Presented in “chapters”, each one highlighting a protagonist whose life reflects the Thai-Korean migrant crisis. I had no idea that so many poor and desperate Thais migrate to work in South Korea illegally. Because Thailand sent armed forces to fight with the South Koreans in the 1950’s Thais are offered 90 day visas although that doesn’t give them the right to work there. Many are held at the airport and sent back home if they can’t prove they are tourists.
There were some disturbing and poignant photos of the artist Abdullah wearing a monkey mask while cradling a real monkey.
Another fascinating video piece was ‘The Namelass’ by Ho Tzu Nyen.He portrays the “ traitor of all traitors “ , Lao Teck who pledged multiple allegiances to the French, British and Japanese secret forces and was the Secretary General of the Malayan Communist party. He was known by about 45 different names and aliases.
There was so much to see and probably easier to get a feel for it by taking a look at some of my photos.
Exhausted by all this serious thinking , I
Crafty lunch at Dorothy’s
The coconut and mango dessert
gravitated to the gallery coffee shop for a delicious Thai omelette and a coffee. Coaches began to draw up outside the gallery, disgorging large numbers of students-time for me to retreat! Looking out of the window I could see that the pottery Siam Celadon was just across the road, so I popped over there to have a look around and make a few little purchases ( slightly worried that I’m bringing difficult-to-transport ceramics!) I called another Grab car , but this time it was a serious non-English speaking driver so we had a silent journey back into Chiangmai. I called in at the swimming pool and did my 20 lengths before going back to Baan Songjum. And I was invited to join Nui, Kung and long-standing resident American, Rich, for dinner. Lovely stir fried sunflower sprouts.
I decided the next day to go to a matinee of The Favourite. So I sat around under the old wooden house for most of the morning, chatting to a young American, Tim, who’s just arrived to stay for one month to do a TEFL certificate so he can work in Thailand. And the young Dutch couple were packing up and loading their panniers
on their bicycles ready for the next part of their journey, heading for Chiangrai. We took some photos and waved them off. I walked down to The Meeting Room gallery to have a coffee with owner Jo, and to thank him for suggesting that I go to the Maiiam Gallery yesterday. I’m on a search for ‘tung’ the Long hangings in the temples and sometimes in trees, so I went on a search in another shop in the market. Lots of useful paper products, but no rungs. So I set off to the cinema at Maya shopping centre, following an interesting route suggested to me by the Maps. Me app on my phone. Plenty of interesting things to see along the way.
Sadly, when I got to the cinema the programme had changed and the film was not now on at 5.40 as advertised, but started at 9.40. Didn’t fancy being out so late so I ditched that idea. It was getting lively up on Nimmenhaemen road too, with a street market and street food vendors popping up .... so I decided to have some mango and sticky rice, make a few purchases and walk back home instead. The birds
Crafty afternoon at Dorothy’s
Ah! Some craft! Finishing off the mice for Jo’s school production of The Witches
on the power lines were singing so loud at sunset that it blocked out the roar of the traffic on the road beneath them ( I’ll try and add the video to the blog)
On Friday morning after breakfast I walked to the once weekly ‘Muslim Market ‘and took lots of photos. Hoping the photos will transport me back to Thailand in my head on a cold wet evening in England! There was lots of gorgeous fresh vegetables and fruit laid out on ground sheets. I bought a huge bag of passion fruit for less than £1 and a bag of Cape Gooseberries for about 75p ( and had a bit of a laugh with Nui when I told her their other name -physalis) I walked back via Love at First Bite cafe and a slice of green tea and strawberry cake with my coffee ( all research for blue-ginger you know!) I dumped my things at BaanSongJum and went off to the swimming pool to do my 20 lengths. The trishaw man was just coming back after a hard day peddling tourists around the town. He leaves his trishaw at Baan Songjum overnight and takes his motorcycle back to
his home outside in the country. In return for free trishaw overnight parking he sweeps up leaves at t the house. And those leaves are big and leathery and seem to drop all the time.The place would soon get swamped with them if he didn’t do his daily task.
Whitney has arrived at Baan Songjum to see Nui. She’s a lovely Chinese lady who lives in Shanghai and she visits Chiang-Mai every year about the same time as me. She’s got a soft spot for Nui because she was a bit of a matchmaker and got her together with her boyfriend Al, an American from New York . Whitney has a multi entry American visa, so she often goes to visit him. Then Michel and Marie-Noel arrived . They are French and I’ve met them here every year for about 4 years. They’d also been staying in Australia, but in Queensland, so we had a good enthusiastic conversation about how we liked Australia! We all shared some of Nui’s cooking for dinner and some glasses of red wine from the box I’d bought at the supermarket.
I’m trying to ignore the fact that I only have two more days here.
Dinner at Samson Villa
Watching the sun set from our table
I’m not ready to go yet! Saturday and I had my usual wonderful breakfast: half a papaya with freshly squeezed lime and piled high with soya yoghurt, muesli , banana and passion fruit. Off I went to the swimming pool. Eek! Very disappointed to find it BUSY!! But mainly with young Germans and Dutch who must have arrived last night and are sprawled all around the pool working on their suntans. Luckily not interested in actually using the pool except to cool off when too hot. So I got my 20 lengths in virtually undisturbed.
I walked to Central Festival shopping centre, and after having a bit of lunch in the basement food hall, I went to Uniqlo and bought a pair of jeans and two warm tops ......... ready for a few days in Turkey before I get home ( hee hee not quite finished with this holiday yet!)
So that evening we all went over the road to Damsen Villa to eat : me, Nui, Kung, Whitney, Michel, Marie-Noel, Australian Howard with his new Thai wife Bee , two of Bee’s girlfriends, and a German man , George ( a friend of Howard’s) so quite a big group
Dinner at Samson Villa
Christiane, her son Nico and his girlfriend..... and some great food!
of us. After dinner we went back to Baan Songjum and sat under the old house chatting and drinking wine. Did I say before....... Baan Songjum means ‘house of Memories ‘. It certainly lives up to its name!
Sunday and my last day . Howard and Bee has stayed overnight as there was a free room, and after breakfast hey gave me a lift to the Sunday Farmers market and flower/ plant market. I had a lovely time looking around and very tempted by several things but I’m very aware of the fact that my Bangkok Airways flight only gives me an allowance of 20 kg baggage. I’ve got a 30kg allowance from Bangkok to Istanbul. So I just had a delicious homemade mint and choc chip lolly. Then went and bought a few things on the way back ,and decided to go to Bake and Bite for lunch. It’s a bit out of the way ( but near Baan Songjum) But I’ve been told the food is good so I decided to try it.
Now here’s one of those strange coincidences stories! I sat outside and had my lunch, a smoked salmon and avocado salad and a mango lassi.
Chiangmai-Love at First Bite.
Lunch beside the Caro at this lovely cafe
Then decided to buy some cakes to take back for Nui and Kung, so went inside to choose. While they were packing up the cakes I flicked through a box of cards. They were all by a local photographer who had taken local photos of people and elephants and developed then with a sepia effect. Imagine my surprise when I recognised two, no actually three of the people! There were Nui and Kung sitting in the trishaw carriage with their trishaw man, totally unaware of the cameraman as they took a ride through the little streets nearby, probably heading for the market. I bought all three copies of the card and hurried home to show the ladies. They were surprised and excited too. I gave them two cards and kept the third for myself. There’s a website address on the back of the card but I couldn’t get through to it. I was hoping we’d be able to get an original copy.
Dorothy came over in the evening and we went to the Sunday WLking Street market. There are millions of stalls but as the evening goes on also millions of customers and I hate crowds. So we walked through
while it was still fairly early and not too many people. Stopped for a two for one large beer as it was thirsty work, and then went to another of my favourite Chiangmai restaurants for dinner -The Swan Burmese restaurant. And walked home. Can’t believe this is my last night here!
I had originally intended to have two or three days in Bangkok before my flight back home with a three day stopover in Istanbul. It would give me a chance to see some more of my old students. But I’d decided to change my flight and get one that would arrived in Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, just a few hours before the Turkish Airline flight. I’m so glad I did because the row between Pakistan and India had flared up and on the Wednesday Thai AirwYs had cancelled all its flights to Europe because they’d be flying through airspace that was closed. Four thousand people had been stranded at the airport, and although flights resumed the next day it meant that the airport was quite chaotically full of tired people.
So on Monday morning I packed my bags and went to the post office to send some summer clothes back
Chinese Street theatre
by surface mail ( I won’t be needing them for a while) I also booked myself in to a lovely spa for a facial and massage before my flight ( still suffering with back pain) It felt wonderful. I stopped off at the Meeting Room Gallery to say goodbye to Jo, and found myself buying one of Lek’s metal music boxes. It’s a pig and plays ‘Only You ‘. In memory of Tracey Pig who had to be put to sleep last week. The pigs are old ( as pigs go) and it’s always difficult leaving them and worrying that I’ve left friends and neighbours will the possibility of difficult decisions. But she’s gone. Gormley pig will be very lonely without her.
Anyway -all my farewells done, and a taxi to Chiangmai airport. Flight to Bangkok and midnight flight from Bangkok to Istanbul.
But the last bit to look forward to. I’ve never been to Turkey and friend Julie Dent from the Clover Mill Ayurvedic Yoga Retreat in Cradley is meeting me and already there.
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