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Embedded in Bangkok

December 15, 2011

Hi all,

Well, we have left the relative safety of our spot in the country, and are now in the midst of this bustling, chaotic city.  I may have made a major blunder in allotting 5+ days for exploring this city, as it does not yield its treasures easily, and the contrast between the country areas we have visited (paradise) and this huge urban giant is just too great.

Air quality here is really bad, traffic is horrendous, and the locals seem to make a living from scams on hapless tourists like us.  We set off for the major sight of the city yesterday, the Grand Palace, and along the way fell for one of the most classic schemes, one that has been described in all of the guidebooks- a really friendly, well-spoken guy “helped us out” by letting us know that the Grand Palace would be closed until 1 pm (not true!), and that a good use of our time would be to take a little tour of another temple until it opened up again… he even helped us get a “tuk-tuk” driver to take us around, for a really great price!  What a nice guy!  It all started off well, we entered a nice temple, and another really friendly guy there showed us around.  We had absolutely no suspicions at all of either of these fellows.  He then proceeded to tell us that it was a special week for “made in Thailand” goods, that factory outlets had opened their doors to retail customers for one week only, and that he had just gotten some incredible bargains for himself and his wife in handmade clothing.  Next thing we knew, we were taken to a clothing showroom where you order custom made clothing, choose the style and the fabric, and it is made for you in a matter of a day or so. The people there were actually no problem and not pushy… Pat actually had a nice chat with them as they were of Nepali extraction from Burma.  The driver then took us to another clothing showroom, and then a jewelry showroom….. we had LOST CONTROL!!  When we said “no more shopping!!” he became angry and started driving rather erratically, demanding much more money to get where we wanted to go.  We had him stop, we got out, and paid only the amount that we had agreed to in the beginning and then we walked away…. leaving one angry driver behind.  This is a very common scam, elaborately choreographed by all parties.  The driver gets a commission for all of the tourists dropped off at these overpriced clothing/jewelry emporiums.  We are not going to be taken advantage of again!!  Once bitten, twice shy!

The highlight of our day was taking a water taxi ride down river to meet our friends Steve and Piyawee for dinner.  The water taxis seem to be the best way to get around this town, and they are fun too!

More river traveling in store today- stay tuned!!

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Chiang Dao, part 2

December 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Pat!!  Today is his 67th birthday, and we are happy doing whatever he wants to do- and for this day it is simply exploring the little town of Chiang Dao, 7 km away, having a simple lunch there, and then relaxing at the “nest”,  a wonderful place to spend time.  There are innumerable places to read and relax, all with gorgeous verdant views of the gardens here and the surrounding mountains.

Open air dining room at the "nest"

Super zoom shot of the flags on Chiang Dao mountain

We walked the entire length of Chiang Dao town, in both directions,  in about an hour or so…. it is just lined with little shops carrying the needs of the townspeople.

One of the two funeral processions we saw in our short time in town

There was a lovely assortment of lotuses in small water gardens outside of the shops… here are a few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have been finding some Thai attempts at English to be highly amusing:

I would call this "Engrish", but I can't tell what phrase is being slaughtered here!

Back to the nest for more reading!

The reading room

Now, to a celebratory Thai dinner for Patrick’s birthday…. tomorrow, we will start up the trail to the mountain- just to explore, not to conquer!

We miss you all…  much love!

 

 

 

 

 

Hi all!  We are continuing to have the best of luck with our adventures and travels, with all of our connections and arrangements working out perfectly.

We had a short stay in the northern city of Chiang Mai, which allowed us to get the flavor of this ancient city.  It is home to an extraordinary number of temples- in some cases, more than two per city block!  We spent the day walking around the old walled city, which is enclosed by a moat!  The old city itself seems rather sleepy and laid-back, while the city outside the moat is extremely fast paced- and they seem not to appreciate the value of streetlights, as it is almost impossible to cross the street- the busy traffic of motorscooters, trucks, autos and conveyances never seems to let up.

We concentrated on the beauty of the temples:

Notice all of the upward pointing corners: pointing to heaven.

Beautiful Golden Buddha.

After visiting Chiang Mai’s huge night market, and after a good night’s sleep, we were ready to get to the country: so on to Chiang Dao.  This is a beautiful area in the northern mountains, nestled right up against Thailand’s third highest mountain.  What a beautiful area, and just right up our alley.  We are staying in another sweet place, the Chiang Dao Nest, which puts us right up next to the mountain and the outdoors.  Tonight, they say, there will be a lunar eclipse, which will doubtless be extra  dramatic in this setting.

We walked up to the local mountaintop monastery, this time 500 beautiful steps:

The way up featured many helpful philosophical proverbs:

This was a really beautiful place, with a gorgeous and inspiring view:

This temple is dedicated to its founder, the monk who built the monastery in the cave.  He died in 1993, and statues and memorials of him are everywhere. His remains are here in an urn, and glass cases contain his few possessions- even his thermos!

The dragon motifs here were outstanding- this is a detail from the handrail beside the stairs going down from the temple- the dragon’s scales are individually glazed tiles, really beautiful.  

Dragon's head at the bottom of the stairs

As always, Anna finds a friend.

 

Finishing up in Ao Nang

December 7, 2011

We have had a superlative stay in the Ao Nang/Krabi area- and we will be leaving today for Chiang Mai via an evening flight from the Phuket airport.  Some of the highlights:

Following a tip from Steve Larson, we made a visit to the Wat Tham Sua (Tiger Cave Temple), a temple complex that includes a 1266 step walk up to a mountaintop temple, featuring an immense Golden Buddha at the top, with unbelievable 360 degree views of the peaks and valleys all around.  Here are some photos of that walk:

Still looking fresh at the bottom of the hill

A glimpse of the stairs

the Golden Buddha atop the mountain- 30 to 40 feet high, I'd say

View from the top

Pat and Anna at the top

The walk down was broken up by the antics of the macaque monkeys that frequent the staircase:

A young scamp chomping on a toothpick

After our descent from the staircase, we entered another area of the complex: a protected primary (first-growth) forest that serves as a hermitage for the monks that live there- there are also several limestone caves that are used as temples and residences as well.  There are some trees in here that are amongst the  largest in all of Thailand, as the area was never logged due to its isolation- it is essentially in a circular rock valley.  This was an enchanted forest to my eyes, a magical place that transported one back in time, thousands of years:

Hermitages built into the limestone walls

Cave Temple- this photo does not show the scale- it was at least 20' high

Sacred Tree

Another of the old growth trees- so amazing

The other really wonderful thing we did here was take a longtail boat trip out to some of the outlying islands… for some swimming, sightseeing, and snorkeling.  A longtail boat is an indigenous wooden boat, powered by an automobile engine, with a propeller on the end of a long shaft, so that it can be navigated through shallow waters.

Longtail boats on the beach

Our trusty craft- #32

The scenery in this area is so arresting, with the limestone cliffs and formations springing straight up and out of the water- and some with very unusual shapes, as you will see.  We visited Poda Island, for a little beach time.  The beach reminded us very much of the windward side of Oahu beaches- Lanikai in particular, with powdery white sand and shallow water.   

Next up was the snorkeling spot, adjacent to what is called Chicken Island. The views on the way there were so lovely:

Fisherman under a limestone cave/overhang

Daredevil, up the ladder and up the side of the cliff for some showy diving!

 Chicken Island!    Here we stopped to snorkel, and the coral reefs and fish here were really varied, healthy looking, and plentiful.  We had a wonderful time exploring the reefs from the boat here.  The water was so warm and clear.  It was an excellent diving experience for all of us.  I even saw a seahorse-like creature, with a seahorse head and a snakelike body, about 8″ long.  The boat pilots threw out some fruit scraps  for the fish, and    it served as an attractant  for vast numbers of black and yellow striped fish, some of which thought WE were the food (a little scary to be surrounded by schools of fish, nipped by a few)!  I wish I’d had an underwater camera to capture some of the action, but no.

Anna really loves having her picture taken

So- now to pack up and leave for Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao.  It’s sad to leave this place, it’s been heaven!

Every pig needs a roof

Time for the next phase of the trip: the trip from Singapore to Hat Yai in Thailand by train, through Malaysia, a trip of roughly 500 miles.  We started by lining up at the Singapore Woodlands train station, with about 200 school children with their suitcases, all ready for an overnight field trip.  The excitement was palpable: (see Anna and Pat in the left corner, not as excited).  I found out soon after taking this picture that taking pictures in the train station in Singapore is STRICTLY forbidden, as a mother of one of the schoolchildren asked to do so, and was promptly reprimanded by station police, and threatened with having her camera confiscated!  Whew, close call!

 

The first leg of the trip was on a daytrain: a first class coach to Kuala Lumpur.  We left at about 1:45, and arrived in KL at about 9 pm.

Palm oil plantations, miles and miles of them!

The scenery relied heavily on palm oil and rubber tree plantations, vast tracts of land devoted to these crops.  The other scenes were more prosaic, consisting of glimpses into the backyards of those citizens unfortunate enough to have to live adjacent to the railroad.  These people live in grinding poverty, made worse by flooding in many areas of Malaysia.

This area of Malaysia is heavily (or overwhelmingly) Muslim, so we passed many mosques, and many of our fellow passengers  (as well as the passing populace) were Muslim, with women and girls in covered headdresses.

Once in Kuala Lumpur, we transferred to a sleeper coach, along with many families on holiday, and we each crammed ourselves and our luggage into upper sleeper berths for the train to Thailand.  I thought it wasn’t possible, but my suitcase, backpack and myself DID fit into my berth!

VERY cramped quarters, but strangely restful

With the curtains drawn, it was a cozy and comfortable bed which proved very conducive to a pretty good night’s rest! The swaying of the train and the white noise of the rails probably helped as well.

Once dawn broke, the scenery changed to much more picturesque Thailand:

And this:

 

Once we arrived in Hat Yai, it was a long, complicated, cramped minivan ride to our hotel in Krabi in the pouring rain.  What an oasis here, though!

The Na-Thai Resort is like a sweet home away from home.  It has bungalows ranged around a beautiful outdoor pool, and a main building, open on all sides, that serves as a pleasant living and dining room.  It’s a great place from which to explore this amazing coastal/mountain area!

Time to relax!

We are (finally) in Thailand, after an arduous nearly 24 hour train trip… (filing that under experiences that we’ve done and don’t need to to again), and are feeling relaxed and ready to explore. We had a wonderful time in Singapore- a seemingly completely organized country that has it’s act together- rules about everything, as we’ve heard, and here is just one example:

 

Talk about being specific!!

We enjoyed the hawker center food, it was universally excellent. Here was one favorite dish:

fried whole fish with thai sweet chili sauce

 

We took a long hike around a lake in central Singapore, the main feature being a suspension bridge high above the treetops- amazing bird/monkey’s eye view of the jungle all around.

 

We also took a night walk to see the amazing waterfront area of Singapore as lit up at night.  This place rivals the great cities in the scale and scope of the city- it was so impressive!

 

Merlion Statue at the Esplanade

 

Time to get on the train to Thailand!