Category Archives: Chiang Mai

Travel Theme – Street Markets

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I am participating in my first challenge with this post. Very exciting for me… anyway, this travel theme comes from Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack. http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/05/25/street-markets/

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I’ve been to a lot of street markets in a lot of places, but it wasn’t really difficult to narrow down my pick.  I chose to feature a street market in Thailand. After all, it is the most recent trip. I went to this market as part of a full day tour visiting Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. It was one of the last stops before our long drive back to Chiang Mai. So many of the street markets I’ve been to have left memories of the numerous stalls, colors, smells, the sounds, the chaos. This market was no different in that sense, but it had more to offer than that.

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I have many memories of this market, but two stand out far above all the rest. The first was how close to the Burmese border we were. I had the unexpected pleasure of ‘stepping foot’ in Laos at the Golden Triangle. I don’t know that I would count it as having ‘traveled to Laos’, but I can say that I’ve been there. Here, at this market, I could see the border gate to Burma from where the van dropped us off. I’ll admit I briefly entertained the notion of making a run for the border to be able say that I’ve been to Burma, too. The thought was quickly squelched when the realization of any conversation would require me to explain why I was so adamantly running toward a country in such political disarray and with so many human rights issues.  I decided to let that one go for now.

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The second memory I have of this market is the time spent with a couple of people I met on the tour. We shopped together choosing new sunglasses for Jack, a very cool guy from Perth, Australia. He is one of the most interesting teenagers I’ve ever met. He was traveling with his grandmother. A fascinating woman that kept wandering off leaving us to wonder what items had caught her eye now.  This market didn’t stand out to me in any extraordinary way.  The company I kept did. It was spending the day with my two new friends that made this a truly memorable street market.

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Here and Now

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I was immersed in Buddhism during the trip to Thailand. I am not a religious person, per se. I believe in a greater power, a light, not sure I go for the guy in a white robe, but to each his own. I can’t explain it, so I’m certainly not going to try to dispute it. I didn’t go in with much knowledge on Buddhism and I’ve only gained a tiny bit more in my travels. One of the things that perplexed me was that Buddhists pray. It was my belief that the enlightened path is a journey one must take on one’s own. So, what’s the point in praying to Buddha? Technically, he can’t help you. I would like to think that a Buddhist prayer is more substantial than ‘I want to win the lottery’. But, then, I would also like to think that of Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc… Frequently not the case, however.

As I visited different wats, I was surprised at how many different ways there are to pray to Buddha. So much ritual, tradition. I was a little nervous at the first wat I entered. I certainly didn’t want to do anything ‘wrong’, offend anyone. I knew to take off my shoes and never point my feet toward an image of the Buddha. The basics, maybe, but important stuff. The next wat threw me, though. Wat Phan Tao, a small teak building was next on my self guided walking tour of the Old City, Chiang Mai. Immediately upon entering, a smiling, jolly man quickly approached me and handed me a bowl of coins. “for wishes.” He said, “you make wishes.” So confused. What do I do with the coins? Am I supposed to give him money for the coins? He just handed them to me, smiling and bounced away. Now what? I noticed the bowls all lined up and I got a flash of one of ‘The Amazing Race’ episodes. (!) A coin in each bowl…aaah, I get it! I did what was expected of me, but as I started dropping coins methodically into each bowl I couldn’t come up with something to wish for. It seemed so contradictory to what Buddhism was about to me. With each ‘plink, plink, plink’ of the coins in the bowls I was drawn deeper into the task… ‘plink, plink’, deeper into the moment, ‘plink’, into the present. There it is! So much of Buddhist prayer is meditation. It all made sense.  Wishes, prayers, affirmations, intentions, chants, whatever you want to call them, they are manifestations of present energy. What a wonderful lesson! It should be said, however, meditating over your scratch ticket does not guarantee a winner.

Namaste
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“My Idea Of Exercise Is A Good Brisk Sit” ~Phyllis Diller

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I am leaving Chiang Mai today. I’m so glad I opted to head north in the country as opposed to hitting the beaches. Beaches are great, but I was really looking for culture with this trip. Chiang Mai was the better choice.
I am headed to Bangkok, but only temporarily. Tomorrow I leave for the volunteer program in the Surin Province. I will not actually be anywhere near the city I until my return from the program. Tonight I stay close to the bus station north of the city. This hotel has a gym and since there’s not much else to do this evening I’m actually looking forward to working out. Is that weird? Do other people work out when they travel? What do you do for a workout if no gym is available? I’ve always counted all the walking (I do a lot of walking when I travel) as a workout, but it’s so different than what I’m accustomed to at home. I brought clothes, a resistance band, and a jump rope figuring at least if I get the chance I will have options and it’s so easy to pack that. No excuses, right? Hmmph. After the days touring around so far I’ve been exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel.
Is anyone passionate about their workouts, even away from home? Or are you the ‘vacation means vacation from everything’ type?

Chimes And Chants

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Today I planned a Wat walking tour for myself. The old city of Chiang Mai is only 3sqkm so this wasn’t going to be a big endeavor, but the little streets that weave in and out can be confusing and play with my internal GPS. Armed with my guidebooks and Google maps I took to the streets. I hit the major wats; Wat Chiang Man, Wat Pan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Phra Singh, as well as a few lesser in between.

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It seems no matter where I travel there’s always something that requires notes; referencing where I was, what that’s a picture of, why I took it… It’s usually churches. In Ireland it was dolmans, standing stones, etc. In Egypt it was pyramids. No matter, If I don’t make notes… clueless later on. There are a LOT of wats in Chiang Mai’s old city. Not knowing the intricacies of Buddhism there doesn’t seem to be sweeping differences from one to the next, but then, I’m sure they say that about churches.

I decided to end the day with the piece de resistance, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. The most revered wat in Chiang Mai and for most Thais. The 309 step climb is supposed to meditative. I was certainly concentrating. The complex is massive and uber-ornate compared to the others. I am snapping photos at every turn. There must be thousands of Buddha statues in just the main prayer area alone.

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The sky is darkening and it makes for some very moody shots. Cool. I can hear the low rumble of thunder off in the distance and it adds to the scene as I watch those praying light their candles, bow their heads, offer their flower.

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The rumbles grow louder. No doubt there’s a storm coming this way. There is just something about mixing an intense thunderstorm with religion that makes the experience a bit more fatalistic. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but Doi Suthep is on a mountain. Almost the highest point in Chiang Mai city. The rain is just starting. The lightning brightens the evening sky and a heart stopping crack of thunder inspires a shout as if my team just scored. Thunderstorms wind me up. A quick inventory of my wits and I remember that I am surrounded by metal spires, domes, and statues. It’s time to descend.

 

I Fed An Elephant… A Blind Elephant… During A Thunderstorm…. In Thailand

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Today was a venture out to the Elephant Nature Park. It’s a facility run by a tiny woman, Lek, with a huge vision. It’s her desire to stop the domestication and use of elephants as loggers, street beggars and performers. She has 35 elephants on her 200+ acre reserve. There are no fences, chains, ropes. They are free to roam where they like. Over the last twenty years she has acquired these elephants by purchasing them from their abusive owners, rescuing orphans, and giving aid to the injured and distressed.
I am heading out to be part of the volunteer program in the Surin Province in a couple days and I wanted something that would give me a little preparation, insight to what I might see and do while I’m there. When we arrived at the nature park, we had an orientation of the facility, given knowledge about the Asian Elephant and it’s struggle, and we were introduced to the herd. Like humans, each elephant has its own personality, quirks, traits and as a result there is a mahout (person who works with elephants) assigned to every individual elephant. Someone who becomes expert in what that elephant likes, dislikes, their characteristics, moods…someone who understands the subtleties of that elephant. Someone that knows that elephant better than anyone else. They become best friends.
Its an amazing place. The herd is gentle. They have finally found a peaceful life. And although they come from all over Thailand and have different backgrounds and stories, they have a bond with one another. They are a family. Some of the elephants have created incredibly strong bonds. Jokia is blind. She was blinded by her logging owners because she refused to work after she lost her baby. She gave birth while working and the calf fell down the steep hill where she was being forced to move logs. The calf died and Jokia fell into a depression refusing to work. Her owners thought that beating and mutilating her would get her to work again. Mae Perm is her companion and her eyes here at the reserve. The two are inseparable. I don’t know that I’ve seen anything so moving.

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I could go on about each elephant here, but I recommend visiting them for yourself. We fed them, visited the babies and their families, bathed them in the river, and generally had the opportunity to observe their lives. Some know tricks from their performing past. They touch their head with their trunk, they give a kiss. It’s something they know how to do and they still do these things, but they will never be forced to do them, or beaten for not doing them ever again.

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If I Said ‘Big And Adorable, But Not Graceful’, Would It Remind You Of Someone You Know?

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It’s my first day here. No more airports (for the time being). No more travel purgatory, that in between place after you’ve started the journey, but before the destination is reached. I know the ‘getting there is half the fun’ thing, but 24 hours of economy seating and fluorescent hallways is not going to be the highlight of THIS journey. Although I will say that meeting Bobby and Stuart (my new Scots friends) made that part of it far more tolerable.
It took a while to get me out of the hotel room. I decided I was going to start the day at the Chiang Mai Zoo. I thought this would be an easy day given the inevitable jet lag. I have no jet lag. I don’t know why. I am a biological wonder, I guess. Whatever, I’ll take it. I wish I could say I’m fearless. I am not. So, fear kept me in. Not for long, though. I procrastinated for less than an hour. Glad to get that behind me. Now, on with the day!
I figured out how to get to the zoo. I had read that this a pretty good zoo, as far as zoos go. My opinion of zoos has changed over the years. When I was younger I was skeptical of zoos (not as a child… What child doesn’t love the zoo.). I thought they were cruel. That animals should be in their natural habitat and who are we to cage these animals for our own enjoyment. Later, I went on to receive a bachelor degree in biology concentrating on wildlife conservation. I know now that zoos can be a place to help save those animals in danger of low population numbers, threatened by loss of habitat or physical danger of poaching, etc. Zoos, if well maintained and funded, can be a place of education for the public and aid in the genetic research for mating programs to keep a species sustainable. With this in mind I wanted to check this zoo out. I had heard about their feature exhibit – the Giant Pandas. They currently (and only for a couple more months) have the result of a successful mating program involving Chuang Chuang, the male, and Lin-Hui, the female. Lin-Ping was born almost three years ago and lives in the habitat next to her mother. I could have spent hours at this exhibit. There was only a small group of us (maybe because it was 10am on a Wednesday) and the animals were active! It was amazing to watch them eat, play… Do whatever Pandas do. This is absolutely the exhibit that is the draw here and it pleases me that they are using it to better the species. Overall, the zoo is great; well laid out, fairly well marked, clean, improvements going on. I know this sounds like an odd review of a zoo, but part of me is still skeptical and a zoo needs to prove their intentions to me. I only made it through half if it..it’s pretty big, but I hit the highlights and attractions I tend towards. The big cats, mainly.
A little lunch and on to the National Museum.

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