More pictures

Mari and I descended on NW Thailand with one week to go before our respective flights, hers back to Washington and mine to Nepal. Disappointingly, Chiang Mai proved to be just as hot and sticky as NE Thailand. Such is life traveling in the off season.

After a week in the less-traveled NE part of the country (Isaan), it was somewhat shocking to suddenly see westerners all over the place again. We decided that we wanted to get out of the city again and so when we awoke in Chiang Mai, we immediately caught a bus to Lampang, about 60km and 1:30 hours by bus to the southeast. One of the ever-handy songtheaws at the bus station took us to our sleep spot in Lampang, the Riverside Guesthouse. As soon as we walked in, any thoughts of rushing back to Chiang Mai went the way of the dodo. We we single minded in our desire to remain as long as possible (so really, 2 nights).

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The guesthouse has an incredibly relaxed, please-hang-out-here sort of vibe, and the owner is lovely. She’s originally from Switzerland but moved to Thailand when she was 19 and never left. That was more than 20 years ago. I was mightily impressed with her fluency in Thai. Typically, it seems that expats living long term in Thailand are older white men who never bothered to learn the language of their Thai wives. From that general perspective, it was refreshing to meet someone who made the effort to integrate into the culture of her new home.

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In Lampang, we visited wats (because wat else would you do in any given Thai city?) of both Thai and Burmese origin, and it was fascinating to see how different the Burmese style wat was.

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The Burmese monks had a “sayings garden” with a sense of humor. It was well appreciated.

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We also visited the Elephant Conservation Center just outside of town. THAT was a cool experience, to be so close to such giant, wrinkly, weird looking, intelligent creatures. And goddamn, “trumpeting” is a resoundingly appropriate term for the noise those guys make. I felt morally justified for seeing elephants in this setting because the Center is not there to exploit the creatures. Rather, the money made from tourists goes to support the Center and the skills that the elephants demonstrate during the daily show are “fun” for the elephants also. Apparently, elephants without a purpose are unhappy, much like humans. So the shows give the elephants purpose, and we tourists get to gape at creatures that don’t frequent our parts of the world.

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After the skills show, I even got to meet one of the performers. I felt like a little kid. A really happy little kid.

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Also, the Center uses elephant excrement to make paper. POO PAPER!! I wasn’t excited in the least. No indeed.

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On the way back from the Conservation Center to Lampang, Mari and I got to wait for 45 minutes until a bus actually stopped for us. This was another instance in which a travel partner makes life better – we amused ourselves with in-depth discussions of hypothetical questions. My favorite was Mari’s prompt “if you were going to spend a LOT of money on a vacation, what would it be?” We chewed on that one for a while. Now I have some ideas for vacations when I finally make the big bucks (oh, and my mindset changes to justify spending buckets of money on a vacation).

After a lovely couple of days in Lampang, we hopped the train back to Chiang Mai. This was not a fancy train by any means (cooling was via forced convection of ambient air), but the views were scenic and much different to those you see on the highway.

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I found that train ride especially peaceful. I was headed to our destination with purpose, but in no particular rush, and with pretty scenery and in the company of a lovely lady friend. I made special note of my deep contentedness. I’ve found that I’ll remember the difficult emotional times, so I counter that by taking very intentional mental snapshots of the wonderful times. In general, practicing mindfulness helps me avoid taking this incredible travel experience for granted. Good and bad, I’m always learning and growing.

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Back in Chiang Mai, we saw more wats (whats? wats!). However, I’ll admit that I posses a limit to the number of wats that are interesting to visit (fortunately, Mari is of a similar mind). After a while, it’s just  another wat (a what? a wat!). You can’t swing a dead cat in Thailand without hitting a wat (a what? a wat!). Something that didn’t get old was this exchange:

Mari: “oh look, a wat”
Cori: “a what?”
Mari: “a wat”
Cori: “hehehehehe”
Mari: *shakes head*
(To Mari’s credit, she got me with my own stupid joke a couple times. Respect.)

Anyway, some wats are more grand or popular than others, but they all serve as community foci and they really are all over the place. The most interesting wat experience for me was the one with the “Monk Chat.” You see monks everywhere also (I don’t think they like it when you swing dead cats at them). For someone unfamiliar with the culture, their monkly whereabouts are shrouded in mystery. Fortunately, certain wats hold informal Q&A sessions where monks will sit with you and help shed light into their culture. These meetups also help monks practice their English. Mari and I sat with a 24 year old monk from Lao and it was super interesting. Here are some of the things we learned:

1. Monkhood can be temporary (days) or long term (life).
2. Monks subsist on donations only (they’re not allowed to work) – they go out every morning to collect food from the community, walking 1 or 2 hours to do so; community members who support the monks in this way receive blessings (probably in addition to other spiritual nourishment). Oh and monks may not explicitly ask for alms.
3. Monks carry (smart)phones! (if someone pays for the plan) 
4. Their robes can have lots of hidden pockets for stashing things. Also, the robes are made from many pieces sewn together. The reason for this is that one of the first monks was gifted an expensive robe (one continuous bit of fabric) and subsequently robbed. He thus determined that monks’ robes should be made of many pieces such that thieves would be untempted.
5. Our particular chatty monk studied in Chiang Mai for 4 years and plans to go back and render his monk-ly services to his village in Lao. He likes the monk life for now, but might change his mind later if he needs/wants to work to help his family.
6. Before marriage, young men will join the monkhood temporarily to “cleanse” and prepare for their marriages. A married man can also temporarily join the monkhood, but he needs permission from his wife. As monks can’t earn a living to support a family, this latter case is rare.
7. Monk robe colors and drape manner are a matter of style and/or availability in a monastery (red, orange, or yellow hold no special significance).

I’m sure we discussed more than this, but I can’t recall any more right now.

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Our other Chiang Mai activities included eating REALLY tasty food at Cooking Love, a restaurant owned by a very personable Thai woman and run by her and her family. It was probably the best meal we had in Thailand, especially welcome after the generally (and surprisingly) underwhelming Thai food we’d had in general.

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We also went to have my 5+ months of traveler leg fuzz removed. Mari very patiently waited for me to torture myself in adherence to societal body hair norms. She also kindly chuckled at my discomfort and recorded the experience for posterity. (There’s a video on my camera somewhere, but that’ll probably only be available for private screenings in the States. Time and location TBD.)

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While in Chiang Mai, we got the news that the military coup was officially on, especially in Bangkok. A 10pm curfew was instituted and military personnel were stations at transport hubs and in large public spaces. TV was taken over by the military, and the only thing viewable was an announcement screen. Abstractly, for me as a tourist, the coup was a scary thing. In reality, I barely felt that anything was amiss (aside from everything closing down at 9pm). It was an interesting experience to continue traveling like normal through a country so obviously in turmoil.

With our time in Chiang Mai at an end, Mari and I boarded the night train to Bangkok. It was my first night train, and as such was an exciting experience. We brought carry out from Cooking Love (the tastiest restaurant in Chiang Mai, as far as I’m concerned) and were the subjects of much envy by our car mates. I’ve slept better, but I’ve slept worse.

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Back in Bangkok, we visited the Grand Palace and the Chatuchak weekend market. The Grand Palace was, well, grand. Like getting whapped in the face with grandeur. I especially enjoyed the murals detailing epic mythology (with which I am sadly still unfamiliar).

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The most interesting part of the complex for me was the Textile Museum. A series of tasteful displays explain how silk is made and how Thai clothing is wrapped, in addition to detailing the Queen’s initiative to re-establish and export “traditional Thai style” and to teach silk making and weaving to villagers who could then earn income from their new skills. I was impressed. Somehow I managed to take no pictures. Fortunately, Mari was on it and got some of me playing dress-up.

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That’s a wrap for Thailand! I’ll leave you with some examples from the Mari-inspired series, “Things That Make You Say ‘Hmm’ ” (TTMYSH, pronounched “tuh-mish”)

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4 comments on “Chiang Mai, Lampang, and back to Bangkok

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