The other morning I was awake very early and decided to go out for a walk. The sun had just begun to peak over the horizon. As I walked, the streets were very quiet– a rarity to be savored! The images of the night were slowly giving way to dawn. The ladies of the evening, finally calling it quits, looking oddly out of place in glittery evening wear among the people at the bus stops going off to work; the road-side food stands being replaced by the merchandise sellers getting ready for another day of haggling with the tourists; the sounds of the birds in the park in a losing struggle to be heard above the car horns and engines; the perfume of the jasmine overpowered by the exhaust of the taxis and buses already plying the streets in search of customers.
I soon found myself not far down Sukhumvit Road opposite Soi 13 and the gates of the Chuvit Gardens. This small park was designed and constructed several years ago by a wealthy Christian Thai named Chuvit Kamolvisit. His intention was to offer a place in Bangkok to be free from the noise and preserve even this small little 2-acre plot of land to some resemblance of nature. A small oasis in this rapidly developing city. As you walk through the gate there is the rectangular one-way track that borders the front part of the park. People are already there walking, jogging or simply sitting on a bench and contemplating the quite atmosphere. I sat near the fountain for a while which gave me a greater sense of detachment from the ever-increasing din of the early morning traffic. In the back section of the park is a wonderful sala (rest station looks like a gazebo). I retreated there to meditate for a few minutes and enjoy the view of the beautiful teakwood traditional Thai-style house.
I was then finally ready to greet the day.
That night I was on the night train in the second class sleeper car bound for Chieng Mai. It is clean and filled with an equal number of middle-class Thais and Western tourists. It is fairly quiet until a group of slightly inebriated Italian kids come through. Fortunately, they pass through and don’t linger long. It wasn’t long before I was fast asleep.
I woke in the morning and pulled open my curtain. At that very moment the attendant, a chipper youth with moussed up hair and dark painted nails greeted me with a cheerily, “Good morning, kha!” You couldn’t help but feel assaulted by his exuberance and at the same time amused by his sense of reverie! He was the final bell on my alarm clock– you know, the one that tells you it is finally time to admit that you had to wake up!
The train arrives in Chieng Mai after a one-hour delay. I blow off the cacophony of the taxi drivers and get a taxi at the street for half the price. Never even bother with a taxi driver who is standing there waiting for people to arrive. I got to the Surwongse Hotel, in the night bazaar, my usual haunt in Chieng Mai. It isn’t long before Ach and his wife, Noi are there to pick me up. We went to get Chalermsri at her home in the village of Sarapee and we were off to enjoy the day. With Ach and Noi as your tour guides you never go to the same restaurant twice. There are so many great eateries in this city, you don’t have to. We had lunch at Khao Mao, Khao Fang on the river bank. A gentle rain was falling. The spicy shrimp soup, fried fish cakes, and vegetable dishes were superb! Dinner was at the phenomenal Chinese restaurant, Jia Tong Heng. Three floors usually filled to the table tops with customers. They dropped me off late and I took a walk through the growing night bazaar before turning in.
The next day, Ach and Noi had business to take care of, so I was free for the morning to roam the old city and finally check my email. I love the old inner city of Chieng Mai, but it will never compare with the way it was in the old days (1970’s). It was my favorite place in Thailand. The city was much smaller then. In fact, you couldn’t find Western food if you tried. That has all changed now! The morning market crammed with goods of all kinds. Half the sellers and customers dressed in traditional native garb. The hilltribe people still dominate the markets, but you would never know them from what they wear now. the only time you see a native costume is for effect.
In the afternoon, the four of us went to the city of Lampoon to visit one of the old temples there– dating back as a site to 1100 AD. Ach dropped Chalermsri and I off at the Royal Gardens, constructed to commemorate the 60th year of the reign of Bhomipol, the king of Thailand. I saw these gardens being built in 2006, but they were closed for renovation last year. So finally, I got the chance to walk through. Too much to report here, but the Shaded Paradise house was all that and more. The Thai “palace” with its approach of pillars recognizing important moments in the king’s 60 years on the throne are the highlights here. It is the rainy season, but I imagine that the park must be unbelievably beautiful in the cool season in December and January.
The next morning Ach, Noi and I took a “cruise” of sorts on the Ping River. It was great seeing the city from that vantage point. The owner made a stop by his house and guest house along the river. We rested, had refreshments and listened to some wonderful stories by this guy. He had pictures of Cheing Mai from 100 years ago that were just amazing.
That afternoon I left the hotel and spent the night in Chalermsri’s traditional Thai-style guest house in a village outside of Chieng Mai. It was great waking to the sound of chickens and roosters and the sounds of the morning in a village. We had a light breakfast and I spent an hour just wandering the neighborhood. Chalermsri’s neighbors invited me in and we just sat in a circle in the common area between the houses talking.
Then it was off to Lampang for my annual visit to see my old student, Samreung and his wife, Gitsana. We had lunch and then Sam took us to a local ceramic factory. Lampang is noted for its ceramics, but I resist the urge to buy recalling the ceramics I bought in Jaipur that I have yet to tote back to the US! At that point, Ach, Noi and Chalermsri sadly returned to Chieng Mai. Ach is already planning a big three-day trip to a remote province of Mae Hong Sawn, northwest of Chieng Mai and an overland trip to southern China in two years. He is too much sometimes! Hey, I’m there though!
Sam and I spent the day touring my favorite Thai and Burmese-style temples and had a terrific dinner of sticky rice, friend chicken and vegetables. The trip to Pra That Luang temple was my favorite. The site itself dates back to 650 AD. There is a nice museum there and the grounds are so inviting. Happily, there are few people there this year in contrast to last year when it was packed with visitors due to Khao Pensa.
The next night it was back to Bangkok to get ready to attend a wedding in Chonburi province on Sunday. Spent Saturday resting up and doing a lot of errands. I got up at 4 AM and was off to the bus station at 5:00. The bus for Chachengsao, the one you take to go to Bang Boh my old Peace Corps site, left at about 6:00. It wasn’t long before it was packed to the doorway. Every seat taken, and lines of people sandwiched by twos down the aisles! I had some time exiting the bus at Bang Boh!
The bus left me at the inner ramp of the superhighway, so I had to walk a ways down until I found a spot to jump the ditch to get to the side of the roadway. I no sooner got there than Pichai and Maliam arrived to pick me up.
The wedding was interesting. It has been quite a while since I’ve been to a “traditional” Thai wedding. The monks prayed at the house of the groom and then eat their morning meal. After that the food comes out for all of the guests. One course of fish, pork, duck, vegetables, fruit, etc after the other! During all this the bride’s family “arrived” in a procession to ceremoniously bring her to her husband’s house. It is greeted by firecrackers and a troupe of men dancing with drums. One by one or in couples the guests go into the house to offer greetings to the families and gifts for the couple. During this time, the guest will tie a piece of string around both the bride and groom’s wrists and give words of good wishes for their marriage. A number of my former students were there, so it was an added pleasure to attend.
It isn’t long before I am in another overcrowded bus bound back to Bangkok to get ready for the trip to Ratchburi and Kanchanaburi in the morning. I’m going to need a vacation from my vacation before this is over! But I love it!