Chiang Mai (March 8, 2002 - March 16, 2002)

New Zealand

Chiang Mai
Ayutthaya & Bangkok again
Krabi & Bangkok again 


Chiang Mai is known for its crafts, temples, and also as a launching point for treks. 

Our room in the Tawan Court Guesthouse was conveniently located near the night market. Sarah shopped with Trish, who we had met on the train, while the kids and I did homework and watched some of the DVD's that we bought in Bangkok. By the way, if anyone knows what happens at the end of Lord of the Rings, please let us know. I think out bootleg DVD was missing the last minute of the film. 

Kids with Fishing Friends

Mark found a number of helpful locals who got him organized for bait and fishing techniques. He and Chloe fished a lot in the Ping River behind the guesthouse, Thankfully he did not catch anything - the river was disgustingly dirty. Sarah also visited some of the 'factories' (they seemed to be more big shops where they made things) and watched paper, silk and umbrellas being made.

Wat Phra Sing

We visited Wat Phrasing and Wat Chediuang, two of the many Buddhist temples here in Chiang Mai. We have seen many Buddhist Monks in Thailand - actually, with their orange robes, they're hard to miss. One special event we attended was 'Monk Chat' where we got to speak to a Monk. It was held in Wat Suendoc, located on the grounds of the university with the impossibly long name. The Monk could practice his English and we could learn a bit about Buddhism. Buddhism is intriguing. It seems more like a philosophy of tolerance than a religion. 

We signed up with Panda tours for a three day trek in the Pai - Chiang Dao area to see hill tribes, ride on elephants, and take a rubber raft down some white water. The trek started out badly, as expected. But it ended up being terrific... again, as expected.  

It was hot, dusty, and a relatively steep walk on the first day. We covered about 7 km and went up about 1000  metres. As in Mt Kinabalu, Chloe immediately started complaining loudly and dragging her feet. Heather was also struggling, but quietly. Chloe's pack didn't have much, but she only weighs 20kg, so it doesn't have to weigh much to be a significant problem for her. I carried Heather's pack, and Ed  (one of the other trekkers) carried Chloe's pack for some of the first day. Then Heather found her second wind and carried Chloe's lighter pack instead of her own for the rest of the trip. 

Kai, our guide, was terrific with Chloe and very quickly brought her out of her slump. He brought Chloe up to the front of the group and gave her a bamboo walking stick after our first rest stop. She happily led the group ... until a biggish snake scared the daylights out of her while slithering past her feet. At the next rest stop, Kai made Chloe a dagger out of bamboo so she could protect us and herself from the snakes - then she was off again. By the end of our three days, Chloe carried (or delegated to others to carry) an assortment of bamboo 'arrows', quivers, walking sticks, and her dagger - all the usual things that 8 year olds collect while on jungle treks in Thailand. Actually Kai had all sorts of tricks to keep kids, and kids at heart, entertained. We even learned how to make a blade of grass shoot through the air like a javelin.

Trekking group

Meo kids

Of course, it was Kai and the others in the group that made the trek so fun. The two day and three day trekking groups traveled together on the first day, but then pared down to 11 of us for the last two days. Sue and Dave were from England. Aartie, Gerard and Ed were from Holland. Front row - Mark, Heather, Aartie, Chloe (look at her collection of sticks), Kai. Back row - Sarah, Gerard, Ed, Dave, Sue.  

We visited four hill tribe villages during the trek - Hwang (Meo), two Lahu, and Akha. These are Meo kids hamming it up for the camera. While the villages we visited were in the hills in relatively desolate locations, there are about 750,000 hill tribe people in Thailand according to the 2000 census. The hill tribes each have their own language, dress, religious beliefs, and customs. The Lahu and Akha came from Tibet over the last few hundred years. I could not find where the Hwang came from, but they are currently located throughout south China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma. 

All tribes used slash and burn agriculture. When the land is exhausted from farming, they move on to a new spot - sometimes even vacating an entire village to move to a new area. 750,000 people slashing and burning is obviously not sustainable.

Another issue that the modern world had with hill tribes was opium. Poppies grows readily in the hills and it was an easy source of cash. In 1975, it was estimated that 150 tons of opium was grown by hill tribes in Thailand. To combat both land use and opium problems, The King of Thailand, the Thai government and the UN started programs to introduce different farming methods, and cash crops to replace lost opium revenue. They also brought water supply, schools, solar power, and other more modern services to tie the hill tribes to a permanent village. Cash crops we saw included lychee nuts, pineapple, banana, coffee, and tea. Another tour company offered poppy field tours on their trek, so the opium problem is not entirely gone.  

We stayed at a Lahu village on our first night. About 20 of the village's children (aged perhaps 5 to 12), came to sing songs to us after our dinner, and then they asked us to sing to them when they had finished. Heather and Chloe sang one of their Guide songs, and Ed and Dave impressed us with their singing and dancing talent. All the tribes in the area we walked were in the process of burning stubble off the land before planting a new crop. We nervously listened to crackling fires throughout the night from the 'security' of our flammable bamboo hut with thatched roof. 

Elephant ride

The second day passed quickly - 5 km of trails with some steep downhill parts and a cool waterfall to shower in. We stayed overnight at the elephant camp. On our third and last day, we got to ride elephants for an hour. Elephants are surprisingly graceful for their size. Each step was gently taken as we climbed some very steep and narrow trails. The seats on the elephants must be about 3 metres off the ground, so every movement of the elephant was magnified in the seat. We swayed quite a bit from side to side, and pitched up and down. It was fun but not a very comfortable ride - the kind of ride we only need to do once. After the elephants, we split the group into two rubber rafts for a refreshing paddle down the Mae Tang river. Before returning to Chiang Mai, we visited the Butterfly farm, Orchid farm.

I wouldn't say visiting a hill tribe was a deeply cultural experience - it was the kind of experience you would expect when thousands of other tourists have preceded you in identical treks. However, it was a great time. The group shared a closing dinner back in Chiang Mai before going our separate ways. Its funny how traveling is - you get quite close to a group, then say goodbye. Within a few days, you're all thousands of miles apart going in different directions. May our paths cross again some day.

New silk dresses

Kid's portraits

Banana's rotee

We had another two days in Chiang Mai before leaving. We visited the excellent Tribal Museum and learned about the Hill Tribes. Sarah and Heather had final fittings for their new silk dresses. (You-know-who still doesn't wear dresses.) The kids had charcoal drawings done of them which I look forward to enjoying on our return. We also had a last lunch at Kaosoi Islam, my favourite hole in the wall restaurant. We had one Kao Soi (a soup with noodles, chicken or beef and spices in a coconut broth), 70 satay chicken and beef sticks, and 7 freshly squeezed lemon juices for less than $8Cdn. The kid's favourite was bananas rotee from a food cart - this is a rotee (sort of a crepe) filled with bananas, sugar and condensed milk. They are all set to start a food cart business next year at home when we return.  

Our return trip to Bangkok was a bit of a disaster. Following our great but cold (due to air conditioning) sleeper trip up,  we thought we would try a fan cooled sleeper going back. For some reason that we did not understand, we had to ride in what was really an uncomfortable subway car for the first two hours of the trip - but at least we were one of the first on, so we got seats. Then we switched to a very hot sleeper car for the rest of the trip. Sarah and the girls got stuck next to some particularly objectionable backpackers who were noisy till quite late - despite being repeatedly asked to be quiet. 

However, all was not bad. One of the places that we wanted to visit was Ayutthaya, the capital of Thailand before it was sacked by Burma in 1767. When we realized our train stopped there on its way to Bangkok, we got off early. Go to Ayutthaya.