Saturday, December 19, 2009


No photos for today. We're back in BKK and have checked into the Paradiso. June's gone shopping. I'm stricken with food poisoning. Maybe raw fish wasn't the best choice for dinner after all. Well, that's the chief suspect, anyway. I ate other crap yesterday too. The Professor who runs the CMX Flora was nice enough to give me two stomach-calming capsules to help me survive the flight back here.

Anyway, of all the hotels we've inhabited so far, the Paradiso has the most comfortable bed to lie in. The mattress is firm, providing excellent back support, while the angle of the wall-mounted LCD TV is perfect for viewing in a supine position. Programmes are terrible, though, but I don't care 'cos they're just on to provide a little background noise while I try to sleep.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shopping spree

Oops. Caught sampling pork floss snacks at this stall in Warorot market. They're made fresh daily here, and the auntie was thrilled to practice a little Teochew dialect with us. Regular customers, we are -- two days in a row.

Today's tour didn't thrill me so much. We were chauffeured to see some "handicraft" stores, a.k.a. expensive souvenir outlets: a Thai silk factory where June bought a lovely black dress for formal occasions; a lacquerware factory we breezed through; and a gemstone centre which we would have escaped from sooner if we didn't meet the same sales staff who sold us soap the previous night at the night market. The people here work two jobs! Kinda' puts us to shame, that.

Above is part of the big temple at Doi Suthep. Everyone who comes to CMX has to visit this landmark temple if not for religious, historical or aesthetic reasons, then...

for this glorious view of the whole of CMX city. Don't know if we're looking through smog, haze or cloud cover, but I'm sure I could spot our hotel down there somewhere, if I knew where to look.

We made a discovery: The airport mall isn't in the airport at all, but a huge mall complex near the airport. This spread is our dinner at Zen, a deviation from the usual tom yum goong, mango salad, steamed rice affair we've been surviving on since we arrived in Thailand.

June discovered this outlet in the mall that sells fair-trade tribal handicrafts. Since the organization was non-profit, and since our money would go towards helping the tribes directly, we bought a number of souvenirs from here. Assisting us was this obliging salesperson whose high-heel shoe size was... unusually large. I will speculate no further.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trails and tribes

A full day tour of the Doi Inthanon National Park kicks off with a couple of waterfall views. This one is the Vachirathan (rainbow) falls, so named because the sun from behind creates a rainbow in the spray from the falls.

... like so.

Not too many people find their way to this spot on the falls 'cos the trail is partially hidden by a snack bar. The trail is clearly marked but once people see snacks, they get distracted.

Once again among tribal scarves...

... made by these (non-long necked) Karen women.

We're at the King's Project, a royally-backed effort to bring sustainable living to these Hmong people. The emphasis on agriculture, handicrafts and tourism seems to have brought some prosperity to them -- without compromising too much on their traditions and culture. Their kids are kinda' cute.

The royal twin pagodas top off this trip. That's the King's pagoda in the background. This shot was taken by a Dutch lady who was among the United Nations that our tour bus comprised. There were the Omani couple, the Israeli couple, the Italian couple, the Singaporean couple (us), the two Dutch ladies, and the two guys: a Dane and a local Thai (a couple of indeterminate status, on which I have no wish to speculate). Throughout the trip, while the rest of us were dosing in the back of the bus, there was a Middle Eastern conference going on in front, presided over by our chatty, often hilarious, tour-guide. Nice to see the Arabs and Jews getting along so well under normal circumstances. Politics just spoils everything.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

At the Flora

Moving day again! We've now come downtown and have checked into the Rachamankha Flora House. A very pretty, cosy family-run guest house, so new that the tuk-tuks have no clue where it is unless you tell them the posher BP Hotel immediately across the street. So new that the two PCs in the lobby for guest access is running on Win 7. Proprietors are warm, friendly people. Nice place to hang your hat for a few days.

New daily routine is to take a brisk morning walk to Warorot Market and back. It's a local market and not so touristy here. Lots of colour with these flower stalls this side of the market. Inside, there's fresh food (for cooking) and other daily sundries. I need the walk for the exercise, she needs the shopping.

Ah, Uncle Map makes an appearance! This is his tour office where I've returned to meet June who went for a Thai cooking class earlier in the afternoon. She was a bit disappointed with her lesson, though. The teacher didn't give away too many secrets, insisting that the necessary ingredients can be bought pre-mixed at the supermarket. Teacher wasn't expecting an advanced student, I guess.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Comin' round the mountain on an ATV

This activity we arranged with Away since we were just down the road from ATV-Chiang Mai Tours. We opted for the 3-hour tour and this is the starting point. Here, after the mandatory safety and operational briefing, we took our ATVs around the test track (behind) for some practical experience. It was then decided that June should ride pillion with me.

To be honest, most of the tour was on asphalt up the mountainside, but here's where we got our kicks -- off-roading a couple of these tracks that were dusty and at times narrow enough to peer over the side and contemplate falling over the edge into the green unknown below. Fun!

One of a few rest-stops for a shot of the fantastic view of the mountains and the rural activity going on around us. Wasn't as cold as I had imagined, despite climbing to this elevation. Rest-stops were necessary to alleviate sore butts and to calm our hands and feet that were still feeling the vibrations even after we'd got off our bikes for a while. Think I've chalked up enough experience for the full-day tour by now. Next time.

Like I said, the view is fantastic. Oh, in case you're wondering about the lousy quality of today's shots, it's because some idiot (actually, there's only one suspect) previously tried to take some night shots but forgot to reset the ISO to normal day shots. These shots were taken at ISO1600 in broad daylight! Duh.

Monday, December 14, 2009

On tour: Chiang Rai - Golden Triangle

We had booked the Chiang Rai-Golden Triangle tour from the agent in BKK Domestic. Slightly more expensive than what Uncle Map was offering, but we still got quite a lot out of this one-day adventure. First stop, the White Temple. The design is a fusion of traditional Thai mythology and contemporary pop culture. From a distance, the building is quite impressive -- blindingly white in the daylight. The imagery portrayed in the intricate details are quite head scratching. Visions of hell on the outside, and on the inside the walls are painted with incongruous images of technology and modern pop cultural icons, reminiscent of graffiti art with an Asian influence. And acid. Painting was still being done at this time. Wonder what the finished product will look like.

Visited a "Karen village". Actually more like a village facade where the Karen and other hill tribespeople bring their handicrafts to a tourist-accessible location and display some of the more photogenic aspects of their culture.

We watched some young Karen women weave similar scarves on looms attached to their booths. The scarves were fine and colourful, and we couldn't resist buying a couple at 200B apiece.

A boat ride up the mighty Mekong to take a closer look at the Golden Triangle area. No poppy products to take home as souvenirs, unfortunately. Somehow, the authorities seem to take a dim view of people trafficking in such produce. The place looks to be being developed for tourism in place of illegal agriculture. Sadly, development still seems a long way off yet.

We land on the Laotian border: Done Xao, a little village set up to receive Golden Triangle visitors like us. Lots of little shops selling touristy junk which we can already get from the Thai side. And a handful of little urchins like this one begging for a handout. We quietly gave this one 20B. Five minutes later, this same urchin was still holding out his cup to other tourists with just one hand. In his other hand was a chocolate coated ice-cream from which he was taking bites. Ahh, the simple pleasures of life.

The Burmese border. Only 500B to cross over and look at exactly the same market set-up run by Burmese instead of Thai vendors. We remain on the Thai side because there are lots of bedroom socks and preserved fruit to buy for friends and family; fresh fruit and roasted chestnuts to take back for dinner later.

We didn't really need this stop other than just to break the monotony of the long ride back to CMX. A hot geyser around which has sprung a yet another tourist trap. One last photo op for the day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Street walking

Flew out first thing in the morning to Chiang Mai (CMX). Checked in at the Away Suansawan, Maerim. As the name suggests, the resort hotel is far, far away from downtown CMX. Nice hotel with very friendly, accommodating staff and plush, comfortable rooms, but the distance from town led to... consequences for us later. It's a great place if you want to get away from it all and not bother with the outside world, but if you're an urbanite needing the buzz of city life and shopping, better choose accommodation closer to the city centre.

Downtown CMX: Walking Street, a gigantic pasar malam only open on Sunday nights. From the many street food vendors, we finally pluck up the courage to sample... a mango salad! Spicy and sour, but despite our apprehensions (we live in too clean a city) it didn't kill us.

When the sun goes down, Walking Street erupts into a frenzy of activity. Vendors selling art and handicrafts or cheap souvenirs, itinerant buskers (disabled or otherwise), street food featuring things on sticks all on offer to an ever-growing mob of tourists and locals looking for the best deals.

The distance from our hotel led to consequences, like I said. We (actually, there was only one possible suspect) lost the directions back to Away, so we stopped to make inquiries at Chiang Mai Five Star Tours, a local tour office that said "Tourist Information" on the frontage. Uncle "Map" provided such friendly and helpful information that we purchased a few of his tours around CMX and the surrounding locales. Reasonably priced, too -- better than the tours offered at the BKK Domestic terminal, anyway. Good consequences.