Sunday, March 18, 2012

More of Thailand

This is "walking street" on Sunday in Chiang Mai.  It is 6:00 PM.  Every day at 8 AM and 6 PM everything stops for the national anthem and tribute to the king played over loudspeakers.  Thais are very respectful of their king and it is an egregious infraction to speak or write anything negative about the royal family.  Every Sunday the central street in the old town is transformed into one never-ending market.
This is what "walking street" looks like early in the early evening and goes on all night.  When you've tired of standing, walking and dodging people you can just stop at a street massage chair, pay your $6.00 and get your half-hour foot and leg massage or pay $10 for a full hour.
There is a town near Chiang Mai that is famous for umbrella making.  Besides large showrooms there are several workshops out back where you are free to wander around and watch the process of how they are made. The all bamboo and paper umbrellas are painted and decorated in each workshop's standard designs.  Paper ones are used as sun protection, but they also use some kind of varnish to waterproof the ones made for rain.  I had one made special-order for our department at the university where I work in our colors and with our department name on it for about $15

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thailand Odds and Ends

There are a few more items I want to share about Thailand.
These are mostly catfish in a pond in a wonderful and strange monument park.

These surprisingly large sculptures are scattered through a garden park-like setting.  The story goes that the man who spent his whole life creating it did so in devotion to Buddhism because he wanted to be a monk and was rejected for something heinous in his past.  It is never divulged why he was rejected, but all his possessions from life are on display in the park museum, even bloody compresses and medical equipment used during the end of his life.  His body is displayed under glass with gads of fake flowers in funeral fashion.  Very strange.

On my moto excursions I often came across unusual sights like this man harvesting long bamboo poles from the roadside.  He tied one end to this moto and will drag them back to a construction site where they will be dried and used for scaffolding or perhaps even house construction.  Some of the back country houses are pretty minimal.

Traveling far into the mountains gas was sold out of 55 gallon barrels.

These boy scouts were hiking on a 3-day campout in the forest.  I saw girl scouts with the same black face makeup.  The reason is that Thai people do not want to get tan.  Light skin is the desirable look and apparently sunblock isn't good enough.  I wondered about all the "skin lightening" products I saw in pharmacies before I saw this.

Rubber is a major product of Thailand and the harvesting looks like this.  Sap was not flowing so it must be the wrong time of year, but the tree bark is slashed as you see, then when the sap stops running, the wound is painted over and a new slash is made.  There are whole plantations in reclaimed forest plots.  Most of the agriculture is slash-and-burn here and Thailand has lost a huge amount of natural jungle starting back when teak wood was indiscriminately harvested.

In order to make one of my trips a loop I had to cross this "moto bridge" which I rode across.  Many of the slats were missing making it a bumpy and somewhat scary crossing.

It felt inappropriate to "steal" any pictures of monks, so I asked these guys and they politely agreed to the photo.  Monks are everywhere and seem to go about business just like everybody else.  Very early in the mornings they can be seen going out of their wats with metal bowls to collect alms from restaurants and homes which they take back to eat one meal a day.

There are natural thermal springs scattered through the countryside.  I had a leisurely afternoon soaking in this one, but not in this really hot pool where people are actually cooking eggs.  The baskets of eggs hang on hooks.  3 minutes for soft; 5 minutes for medium; 7 minutes for hard boiled.  It is a popular activity for school groups who then picnicked on the grounds.

A trip to the Bangkok flower market was initially intended to pick up roses for the room at the guesthouse.  There were few roses to be had and were expensive (by Thai standards), so we picked up orchids instead.  This bouquet cost about a buck and a quarter and lasted my entire stay in Bangkok.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

The final stop on a 3 1/2 week tour was the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai.  This turned out to be my city of preference for all it offers and the cooler temps at about 1,000 ft. elevation.  The Ping river allows nicely situated restaurants on the water and the university of CM offers arts and music venues.   My guesthouse, the DM, charged the equivalent of $10 a night including 60 channel TV and hot water shower. Hot water showers were nice for getting the message oil off my body.

As I read travel articles about travel in Thailand I realize I am flying way under the radar in terms of accommodation and food preferences and prices.  Those writers are saying what a bargain Thailand is and then recommending hotels in the price range of $100 or more! This morning I read a travel article that mentioned a stop for lunch at a nice place and only cost $15.   Outrageous!  The noodle house around the corner from my guesthouse served great noodles with chicken and vegetables in a nice broth for less than a buck.  The bonus of my meal is that I was dining with a hundred other Thais and not a place full of westerners.  I'm not an upscale traveler and I never see articles written for the backpacker style with prices to match.  I guess there is not a big enough market for us.

Chiang Mai city center established in the1620's is about a square mile and is completely surrounded by a moat.  Each corner has a preserved section of the old city wall seen here.  The moat has been outfitted with fountains and decorative spray sculptures giving extra visual intrigue to the unique feature.

My visit coincided with Chinese New Year which the Thai culture celebrates with a particular fervor. Often while out on my moto exploring there would be road closures for parades or roads not closed, but parades coming down the street anyway.  Nobody seems annoyed at the mix of traffic and parade.

These little cages contain 5 or 6 very small sparrow-like live birds that one can buy and release for good luck and new beginnings of the new year.  It's fun to just hang out and watch people buy and release these birds that seem so pleased to be free again.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand

Chiang Rai is the furthest northern city in Thailand of any size.  Any further north and you bump into Laos and Myanmar (Burma) across the Mekong river which is shown here.  It is very wide and apparently shallow according to locals who say you can wade across it in the dry season.  The floating structures along the shore are restaurants which I did not investigate, but apparently specialize in fish.  The Mekong is where the largest catfish in the world are caught, some weighing more than a large man.

Chiang Rai is small enough to get a good sense of the city within a few days and large enough to realize there is more to it than the central city.  I needed to buy a cell phone here because my European phone wouldn't work outside Bangkok.  It was quite a distance to the outer ring road to the Tesco Department Store.  With my rented Honda Wave 125cc moto (left) it was an easy trip since motorcycles can go to the front of the line at stop lights and go around traffic backups.  I wish I could have rented the covered moto (above) because the sun was hot on my trips out of town.

Besides the side trip an hour north to the Mekong River, I rode an all day loop trip into the northwest mountains to explore the tea plantations.  Thailand is somewhat famous for tea growing, at least in Southeast Asia.  The tea plants are of the Oolong species, but they mostly do not ferment the tea into black tea.  It is mostly dried into green tea and is for sale everywhere.  I find the tea to be very flavorful, but I wonder if pesticides are used in the growing process, a question language limitations would not allow.  Another thing I learned is that one cannot pick buds and leaves directly off the plant and make tea.  On one of my stops along the way I found workers out in the field hoeing weeds and they showed me how they pick and gave me a good handful of tea.  When I returned to my guesthouse and tried to brew these fresh leaves nothing happened... just hot water, not even any aroma.  They didn't even taste like anything but a green leaf when I tried chewing the fresh leaves.

Tea plants produce a pretty flower and a berry which I assume is a seed pod.  Even though the language barrier prevented many questions I had about the tea industry here, I learned quite a bit and this was my first encounter with live growing tea plants.