You may be wondering what I do in the afternoons… except for when I am out for a whole day, this is my time to rest and relax beside, and occasionally in, the pool, or to read, upload photos to Facebook so my family back home knows what I’m up to, enjoy non-strenuous massages, and just let every experience sink in so that it doesn’t become a frantic blur. This is the beauty of having plenty of “do nothing” time built in to a holiday, and really suits my contemplative nature. But now to the next week’s action:
Day 8: A meditation walk through the trees at Wat U Mong. There used to be many “Bhudda wisdom” messages on the trees (both Thai and English), but only a few now. However, it was quiet and very peaceful as I ambled along, and I deeply drank in the sense of lasting serenity that this place seems drenched in. When I sat down for a while, two cats joined me – they seemed to like the place too. A contrasting change of pace took me to Nimmanheimen to shop and have lunch. Looking for “take home to the family” gifts, I found celadon ceramics and a branch of Ginger holding a 50% off sale with plenty of attractive things to choose from.
Back to relaxed restfulness in the afternoon with a visit to Padma, the massage place near Baan Orapin. I’m not one for painful, strenuous massage sessions, so I chose to have a Hand and Foot Spa Package (THB 700). This was so blissful, and my hands and feet have never felt so good. The starter for this was soaking in warm water in which lime slices floated, then light massage with cleansing, gritty soap, oil massage, and a manicure and pedicure. It took about an hour, and I just floated out!
I went to Anusarn market (just south of the night market) primarily for dinner but I found the restaurant I chose was quite disappointing – sorry, I forget the name, but it was about 3 up from O’Malley’s. I think most of the restaurants at Anusarn have very thick menus with far too many dishes to be able to do any justice. It was a lesson to me not to ignore the advice of Yui from A Lot of Thai, who maintained that the key to finding good food was to look for a short, more restricted menu. A long menu means difficulty in keeping all ingredients at their freshest, and often less developed expertise. This is why the street food is so often excellent – they specialise in only one or two dishes. However, I did enjoy browsing around the market – and people-watching, especially the performance of one guy who was selling a strange Thai version of what I know as Cold Rock icecream with great flair. Some of the things you could have mixed into it were a little peculiar, to say the least.
Days 9, 10 and 11: I went to Chiang Rai for this long weekend and will write this JBR later on the Chiang Rai Forum.
Day 12: I went out by songtao (THB 40) to Central Airport Plaza shopping mall (apparently the name is changing to Airport Kad Luang, but it still has “Central Airport Plaza” lettered large on the building) to browse around the Hill Tribe Village section there. Some of the shops/boutiques in there are supplied by Saturday and Sunday Walking Street stallholders or by whole villages in Northern Thailand. Quality is generally good and it tends to be a little more “upmarket” than the Walking Streets. Apart from this section, there is a Robinson’s department store, a TOPS supermarket, and many other chains. Plenty of choices for meals or snacks. I went down to the Kad Luang Market in the basement, where there were numerous choices for typical street food. I enjoyed Pad Thai with Shrimps, it was very good and only set me back THB 40.
Day 13: This morning I tuk-tuk’d (THB 50) to Wat Pan Tao, next to Wat Chedi Luang – one of my favourites. The temple itself is all teak, with huge teak pillars, so looks a little different from most of the others, but has a more simple beauty of its own. But what sets it apart for me is that, around the side and towards the back, they have a gorgeous display which changes depending on what festival happens to be on, or is just recently over. I haven’t yet seen it at Songkran, but am sure it would be interesting at that time. The permanent part of the display is a golden Bhudda who sits under a bhodi tree on a little island, past which a stream stocked with carp meanders. The stream is fed by a waterfall (sometimes not operating), and edged at one end with flowers. At, and just after, Flower Festival time, Bhudda sits among hundreds of tulips. At Loy Krathong, he is surrounded by hundreds of little dish oil lamps, and krathong lights float on the stream and lanterns are hung in the tree. Just magical at night!
In the afternoon I planned to go to renew acquaintances with Wat Doi Suthep – an absolute MUST in any Chiang Mai visit – and combine this with a trip out to Ratchapruek Royal Flora Park to see what it looks like without its big floral expo which only happens I think every 3 years. I’d heard it would be still worth a visit. So yesterday I rang Jeff Dechapun, who drives Nancy Chandler whenever she’s in Chiang Mai, and whose details she shares on her website. I definitely would not go up the mountain to Wat Doi Suthep by songtao, since it’s a winding road that would produce carsickness for me, plus you don’t get much of a view from inside a songtao. Mr Jeff arranged to pick me up at Baan Orapin, though when the car arrived it turned out that he sent Jit, which was fine – he was a good driver, fairly quiet. The cost was higher than I’ve paid Joy/Sunny for a similar tour, though I forgot to note how much.
Wat Doi Suthep’s grounds sported Valentine’s Day decorations (!) and looked its usual glorious self – though the view of the city was marred by the smog haze. This place is great for families – young and old love ringing the bells and, even apart from the sense of holiness and awe that it gives, there are a hundred great photo opportunities. Take the cable car up from the carpark, and walk back down the Naga staircase – about 300 steps.
Ratchapruek Royal Flora Park was beautiful in the late afternoon sunlight. Much quieter than a year ago when the expo was held, but a lovely place to visit, especially if you like gardens. Colourful statues “stroll” between lawns and trees. There are still quite a number of permanent pavilions, and it’s easy to get around by buying a ticket on the “hop-on, hop-off” tram-train that takes you right around the vast park. Be sure to hop off at the Royal Pavilion, a magnificent temple-like building set up high, surrounded by moat-lakes, where the much-loved King is honoured. I only had time for an hour or so of exploration, but could easily have spent longer.
Day 14: Sunny picked me up and today we headed to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain – there’s a good road right to the summit. Admission fees THB 200 (me) + THB 30 (the van) give access not only to the national park, but also to waterfalls and other sights inside. Once in the national park, our first stop was at the foot of Wachirathan Waterfall, which drops over an escarpment and makes a nice pic in your slideshow – we had a toilet stop – joy of joys, there was a western one, we older women can have a fair bit of awkwardness with squat toilets! After a great Thai coffee, we drove up to the summit. Arriving near lunchtime, I found it much warmer (17 degrees C. and calm) than my visit last year (8 degrees plus high windy chill factor). We had a short walk from the carpark to the actual summit point, and then a longer well-signposted 45 minute circuit walk in the rainforest , where at this time of year wild rhododendrons in red, pink and white were flowering. Quite a few birds were enjoying the day too. Then it was back down the mountain about 3 km to a little local café opposite the pagodas carpark for a lunch straight off the Thai-style barbecue. I had half a chicken (sounds a lot for one person, but they’re really small here), spicy minced pork in banana leaf, sticky rice, sweet chilli sauce and nam prik, which together with a Coke Zero came to THB 60.
Back across the road, we transferred to a songtao that ferries visitors up to the twin chedis built to commemorate the king’s and queen’s 60th birthdays in 1989 and 1992, respectively (admission to this area is THB 20). They are beautifully set on the top of a mountain spur in wonderful gardens, and with fantastic views of the valley below, folded into mountains, if the cloud layer is high, or else of the mountain ranges across the valley if (as I was a year ago) you are actually above the clouds. In the King’s pagoda, the Bhudda story is told on four plaques, which Sunny was happy to explain to me.
Back in the van, we drove part-way down the mountain to a Hmong market, the women in their hilltribe dress. After being urged to taste, and offered numerous varieties to try, I bought 3 bags of dried fruit – pineapple, mango and a mixed one that had other unknown fruit in it – for THB 100. On then to a Karen village, Ban Sop Had, which had a poorer look than the Karen village near Chiang Rai (Ban Ruammit) that I visited several days back, much smaller too, and watched women weaving the most beautiful scarves, table and bed runners and cloths. These were actually better quality than those at Ban Ruammit, and I couldn’t resist them. The village is all run co-operatively, and has rice fields, water buffalos and cows and pigs. Chickens and dogs too. The terraced rice paddies are dry at this time of year, they can only grow it in the wet season. Apparently they are Christian, there was a tiny church.
Down past a checkpoint, but still in the national park, we came to another village where we walked in about 300 metres to Mae Klang waterfall. Village boys gleefully swam in their clothes in the pool below it.
This day was a real highlight. The cost for the day, aside from the admission fees and lunch I’ve already mentioned, was THB 2,500 for car + gasoline + English speaking guide ( Sunny ).
Thank you all for your kind comments. I'm getting even more than you from reliving the memories!