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Saturday, February 2, 2013

January 2013 – An amazing and busy month in Phuket and Chiang Mai, Thailand Part 2 (Chiang Mai)

We had originally planned just the three nights in Chiang Mai to meet Jeff and Jeri Lyn on their way from Myanmar via a three-day stop in Chiang Mai. But Pauline and Martin hooked us up with an Aussie friend of theirs named Will Willis, who had moved just north of Chiang Mai. During an email exchange between them, Will invited us (sight unseen) to be his guest for a few nights, so on that recommendation we flew into Chiang Mai a few days earlier. We did the old, “… send me your photo so I’ll know what you look like”, exchange with Will and he picked us up at the airport, transporting us to Chez Willis where we met his Thai wife named Toy (pronounced “Doy”). I’m sure he took some ribbing on that – a Thai Toy! She and her two daughters, In and Som are absolutely adorable! We told Will that if they have a third child, they should name her “Nia”!

Will and Toy have carved out a garden of Eden on their acreage there in the countryside, where they have planted a few small crops of vegetables and fruits, carving out a tranquil haven for themselves and a beautiful place for visiting friends and family. The entire property is laced with Jackfruit trees, Mango trees, Banana trees, Papaya and they have planted an orchard of Mulberry Trees and even a rice field. They built their home as two separate buildings in an “L-design” with large porches across the front of each, overlooking a beautiful pond/pool. We felt as though we were in a B & B with a private villa. During the day, Will drove us around lunching along the rivers and into the mountain areas, very reminiscent of our own Colorado foothills. We even spent a morning in the natural hot springs pools at the nearby park. We really enjoyed some laid back time in the fresh country air. Being very cool at night we ended the evenings warming up at the fire pit in the back yard. The day of Jeff and Jeri Lyn’s arrival, Will, Toy and the girls made a family outing of driving us into town.

After they headed off, Frank and I went for a walk around, stopping for a delicious lunch at The Duke steakhouse and then we hit a gourmet grocery store around the corner, picking up snacks and drinks to have with Jeff and Jeri Lyn when they arrived. The city of Chiang Mai is incredibly multi-faceted. The old city is walled and was originally surrounded by a moat. We were just across the river from the historic old section. Our hotel, Rimping Village, provides complimentary bicycles to all guests, which we intended to use to go exploring the next day. Unfortunately Jeff and Jeri Lyn’s flight was running very late, so we killed even more time hanging out at the pool and then finally going for dinner. It turned out that snacks and drinks were a perfect way to greet them when they at last arrived much later.

The next morning at breakfast we made a plan – first ride into the historic old town for massages, grab lunch and go exploring. We found a spa that was advertised as one of the top recommended by Trip Advisor: Fah Lannah or something like that. The entrance and lobby were attractive and the prices were amazing! I think it was under $10 for an hour aromatherapy massage. All four of us were led into a room with mats on the floor and pillows, separated by curtains. At first we thought it resembled a hippie commune! Jeri Lyn and I were put next to one another – told to strip naked and lay facedown. They didn’t even close the curtain between us. It’s a good thing we’re close friends. They did close the curtain between her and the next pallet where they placed the guys. At first the massage was wonderful, but then the attendants began pulling on and twisting our arms and legs into positions they didn’t want to go! We could hear grunting and groaning coming from the men’s side of the curtains. It was really hard to relax and enjoy our own massages without giggling at their painful grunts and moans. It sounded as though they were being tortured over there. Toward the end of the massage, the lady got behind me, and laid down with her knees up into the middle of my back, literally bending me backward over her! Now this did hurt. I’m no limber lassie anymore! That is when I groaned as I could hear my spine cracking. Apparently this is their traditional Thai massage. It hurt like hell, nonetheless I felt pretty good when it was finished. The men were very displeased and it showed in the end when Jeri Lyn and I sat down for a foot massage they both practically ran out of there saying they were heading for a drink to assuage their pain. We didn’t see either of them again until dinnertime.  She and I left, riding around the winding streets just enjoying the sights, and sounds of the old town – not so much the smells! We lunched at a small open-air local spot, having some delicious but un-nameable dishes, followed by some serious browsing and window-shopping. We returned to the hotel close to 5 PM to find our men happily sipping drinks while watching something sporty on the TV.  We all freshened up before heading back into town via Tuk Tuk for an adventure at the night market and dinner in Old Town.

The night markets in Chiang Mai are a treasure trove and a tradition. We had a wonderful time buying silk scarves for next to nothing. I picked up a long black skirt and some trinkets and fun things to take back to our grandson, Trace. Jeff and Jer stocked up on gifts – they even had to buy a suitcase at the market to put their purchases in to get them home. We mentioned street food to Jeff for dinner, but he was having none of that. We ended up at a wonderful Asian Fusion restaurant overlooking the main street.

The next day we hired a driver to take us to the hot spots of Chiang Mai. He first drove us through the district where we visited the silk factory. The visit started with a display of live silk worms eating the Mulberry leaves then spinning the cocoons. Next the cocoons are soaked in liquid to soften them so that the silk thread can be loosened from the cocoon where it is spun in one long string onto a spinning wheel. The threads are then dyed with natural pigments by soaking them in the juice and various essences such as leaves, barks, herbs, etc., from which the colors have been extracted. The colored threads are then placed into a loom and hand-woven into the gorgeous fabrics on display in the shop. These fabrics and prints were very beautiful and so well made. They sold here for a fraction of the price of what we would pay back home.

We next toured the umbrella factory where the decorative bamboo umbrellas and other bamboo articles are made. Next was a lunch buffet stop at a place where we dined with several hundred of our closest tourist friends, finally realizing these drivers have a set routine whether you pay for the private gig or take a group tour you get thrown in with the masses. We didn’t have a lot of choice, however, we did choose to pass on several of the recommended stops, such as the jewelry shops, the snake farms, and creepy creatures.

 the silk worm eats the mulberry leaves

then it spins the cocoon of silk
silk being unwound from the cocoon

weaving the fabric
Our next stop was the Elephant kingdom where we watched a most amazing show of elephants performing feats we had never before seen. They played basketball and soccer. They threw darts at balloons with their trunks and actually popped them. There were several circus acts as well but then the best of all was when several elephants were set up with easels and paints, then holding a paintbrush with their trunks they each painted amazing pictures. Afterward the pictures were available for sale. People flocked to them so quickly they were sold out before we could get to one. 

The paintings by elephants.

After the elephant show we had one last stop on the agenda, which was the Tiger Kingdom/habitat where we could actually get into the cage and pet live tigers. It was a bit pricey but we were definitely all into this. As a group we got into the cages to visit the juvenile and medium size tigers where we were allowed to individually sit with some of them, but could only touch them on the back half of their bodies. They didn’t want us getting too close to their heads. We seriously enjoyed this. The tigers are absolutely beautiful and as soft as a kitten to touch. What an amazing treat this was!

Jeff, Jeri Lyn, Frank, Barb

 By the end of the day we were hot and sweaty beyond bearable, so we returned to the hotel for a rest and shower before dinner. We ventured back into the old section of town to a place Jeri Lyn and I had spotted on our bike outing. It offered excellent fresh Italian. We were “Thai-fooded-out”, and hadn’t had good Italian food in ages. It actually was surprisingly excellent. This was our last night together and we just didn’t want it to end, but the Martins had a very early flight out in the morning, and so we sadly bid them goodnight knowing we would not be getting up with them at the crack of dawn to see them off.

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