A Land of Color – Chiang Mai, Thailand

The east wall of the old city that was once used to protect the city

I was doing a quick flip through the pictures I have taken so far this school year. They started in Oregon City, Oregon a day before I got on a plane to fly out to Thailand. There was a distinct change in the amount of color that was present in the pictures that I took before I left as opposed to the world of color that I live in now. To be fair, that last day in America was an overcast day which is part of the reason why it was not as colorful because Oregon is usually a beautiful place to visit. But it is not Thailand with its explosion of color and its expressive nature.

One of the wats in the old town that transforms itself into a market every Sunday evening

Now, I know that there are other places in the world where the colors explode much in the same way that they do in Thailand. From the pictures I have seen from India, I know that it is an even more expressive place and the colors cause a sensory overload. But every corner that I look down in Thailand I am able to see the same kinds of color showcased. From the temples to the markets, I never feel bored with what I see.

A display of lanterns used to celebrate the end of the monsoon season

It might have helped that I was in Chiang Mai during a Buddhist holiday. What would best be described as their Lent period ends in October to signify the end of the monsoon season. The monks have been sequestered in their temples during the last three months so that their wandering would not tread upon the rice fields and destroy the much needed crops, but now that it is about time for harvest and the rains will no longer turn the fields into the muddy environment needed to grow these plants, they no longer have a need to hide out. It is at this time that they receive their new robes, and there is much celebration that accompanies this moment. This helped add to the color, as the temples were adorned with yellow, white, purple, and red lanterns.

Even boa trees are decorated in a display of color for the holiday

Despite the temples, markets, and celebrations, there is also nature that adds to this color. Thailand in covered in trees and there are always various shades of green that contend with the landscape. There is also thousands of flowers all over the place that add to the color. And when it is not colorful enough, the people of Thailand know how to add their own touch so that it creates a harmony with the natural surroundings and makes everything look festive.

Even KISS does not look as drab in this environment, but then it might be because they are made to look like giant lego mice

It is this addition to the whole color wheel to the landscape that makes even the drabbest of color pop out when you come across it, it still seems to add to the festive nature. Black no longer looks like it should be associated with evil, but instead it just adds to how colorful the place can be.

Thailand is a land not afraid of color, and they love to display it in all aspects of their lives from their homes to their food. It is one of the things that makes this place such a destination for millions of people each year, and it is what makes it a fun place to live in as well.

Making Food Babies – Chiang Mai, Thailand

The rice fields on the farm at the Thai Farm Cooking School

Have you ever played that game where you ask a person if they could only eat one type of food for the rest of their lives, what would it be? Many people would answer Italian, or Japanese. Every once in a while I have heard French, or Indian, but I have never heard anybody mention English food. If you ask them what their second choice would be, Thai food tends to pop up more than any other kind. Sometimes when hearing this second choice from other people, some may change their minds and make this delicacy their first choice. It is a type of food with rich history, tons of variety, and enough spice to keep you interested for the rest of your life. And if you are ever in Chiang Mai, it is a wonderful way to spend a day, not by hopping from restaurant to street vendor, but enrolling in a day long cooking class.

A wander around the garden requires a sun hot, and not just because it is so stylish

There are many different school offering all day cooking classes around town and it may be hard to pick the right one, but I was happy with the one that we went with, the Thai Farm Cooking School. The day starts early in the morning when they picked us up at our hotel, and drove us out to one of the markets so they could talk to us about some of the ingredients that we could find there, and what would we would want to buy to make the perfect Thai dishes. It was a fun introduction to the markets in Thailand, and the one they took us to was one of the better ones I have seen for produce.

Afterwards they took us out to a farm that they ran. The tour continued as our guide, Gift (yes, Thai names can be weird, but they usually fit the personality of the person that possesses them), took us around so we could try the various flowers, vegetables, and roots that could be found in the garden. It was interesting to see how complicated the process came to collecting the right ingredients to make some of these iconic dishes.

Cooking pad thai

The rest of the day was spent making a dish and then eating it. I had heard about what a test of endurance this could be for even the hardiest of eaters, so I made sure to have a light breakfast before I started on what would be a delightful culinary day. I learned about why my Thai cooking never turned out as good as the food I could have gotten at a restaurant, and I learned how to blend them together to make the perfect dishes. A lot of it had to do with ingredients that can only be found in Thailand, or at least the local Asian market in the United States. Either way, it takes a little more time to collect these ingredients, and then it takes even more time to prepare them so they are ready to be made. This includes pulling out a mortar and pestle to grind up chilis and other spices to make the paste needed for curries.

Tom Yam Kung soup, a great spicy starter

But it wasn’t just about learning how to make the perfect Tom Yam Kung, it was also about learning a little bit about the Thai culture and language as well. Gift was great about telling us about how to eat like a real Thai person, and the language that we could use to blend in a little bit more. She even explained to us all about the complicated wai as a greeting, a sign of respect, and a goodbye. I had heard a lot of this before, but I could see how the other people along the trip would have appreciated hearing all about it.

How to make a presentation out of a yellow curry dish

Thai food is not only delicious, but the really good Thai food also knows how to be visually stunning as well. There are numerous stories about why this is the case, but the most popular one comes from one of the ancient kings, Rama IV. One of his servants would craft the food that she made into some of the most intricate art including ships and flowers that when he saw it he became instantly enamored of her talents. He then required that his wife learn this art while she prepared food as well, and the tradition took off in Thailand. Our teacher tried to teach us some of the finer aspects of this art as she would made some of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen with what appeared to be the simplest of ease.

A failed attempt at making a presentation out of a red curry dish (Kaeng Phed)

I quickly found out that recreating these masterpieces was not as easy as it looked. And even though I could not make it look as pretty, at least, it still tasted delicious. The meals kept on coming as well. After the soup and curry, we made pad thai, and stir-fried basil chicken. We had a papaya salad, and even ended up by making a traditional Thai desert of bananas in coconut milk.

Chicken basil stir fry as a girl with pigtails

Along the way, I even was able to make one of my dishes appealing enough so a five year old might even want to eat it. There were no five year olds around, so I have to eat it instead. And it was delicious. By the end of the long day, and the five courses that I had consumed, I had created a food baby in my belly, and was verging on a food coma. I had learned a lot about traditional Thai food, and a little bit about their lifestyles. And all along the way, I had a great time. It was a great way to spend the day, and should be placed on anybody’s itinerary who makes it out to Chiang Mai.

Getting Some Culture – Chiang Mai, Thailand

A small Buddha temple made of teak wood and protected by dogs

I know I have been very lazy ever since I have landed in Chiang Mai, and there is a lot that this city has to offer which I have been missing. So I finally pulled myself away from the pool to go out today and see the sights which is a harder thing to do than you would think. It is not easy to leave the comfort of the pool out here to wander around in the confines of the old city walls because Thailand is hot.

I knew this before I moved out here, but I had no idea how oppressive the heat could be. It is even the official end of the monsoon season out here when the temperature outside should start cooling off a bit, but nobody has told the weather that this is what it is supposed to do. Granted, I have not seen any rain since I have been here, but the sun has continued to beat down on me and this might be up there with the hottest temperatures I have experienced since I have been out here. I didn’t want to leave the pool life and explore, but I knew that if I did that for another day I would have regretted it.

A bamboo grove on the grounds of Wat Phra Singh

So I went out to explore a couple of the various wats that can be found in the old city. I started early enough in the day so the heat would not drag me down, and I was able to explore both the Wat Phra Singh and the Wat Chedi Luang. These structures are the ancient temples that house some of the most spectacular buddhas that can be found in Chiang Mai as well as the grounds on which the monks can travel around and meditate. Not only are the gold encased buildings and statues impressive, but so are the well-cared for grounds on which they reside.

Look carefully and you can see the apple in the naga’s teeth

Every temple has a series of steps up to the inside of the building where you are supposed to take off your shoes. The steps are guarded on either side by some kind of creature depending on what part of the world you find yourself in. In Thailand, the common statue is of a naga. This mythical creature is said to live in the rivers, lakes, and ocean waters all around the country, and before the monsoon season, the citizens of the country will squirt water to appease these beasts so they will come out and spit water into the air causing for an exceptionally rainy season. Most of the statues I found at the temples had one head, but the ones at the Wat Chedi Luang seemed to be a hybrid of the hydra from ancient Greece. People do come and offer these creatures gifts, and you can see various fruits, and flowers laid at the ground in front of them. Somebody gave the one I saw an apple and placed it in his mouth.

The ancient temple at Wat Chedi Luang

The temples that hold the buddhas are also impressive. The one at the center of the grounds at Wat Chedi Luang was built in the 13th century, and even though it has seen better days, there are efforts to restore it to the magnificence it once was. The brick building reminded me of the types of buildings that could found at Angor Wat in Cambodia and as I walked around it, I was rewarded with sculptures of not only buddha, and nagas, but also elephants as well. It added to the majesty of this place.

One of the various Buddhas at Wat Chedi Luang

And there are plenty of images of Buddha around. There are many different ways that he is presented from standing, sitting and sleeping, and all of them were present at these temples. The ones that disturbed me the most were on the lifelike wax statues that were created of some of the more celebrated Buddhist monks. At first, I thought they were the actual monks that were waiting to greet visitors as they made there way into these sacred places, but they were just replicas. Why they did that I could not say, but it made for a unique experience as I went into my first temple.

The largest temple at Wat Phra Singh

I will admit that I did not last very long before the pool at my hotel called me from across the old city, but it was fun to endure the heat, and go see these ancient and beautiful places. It made me feel like I had earned the refreshing dip in the cool waters, and I know that I have a few more days out here to go out and get some more culture.

The Lost Horizon – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I came back to my hotel room last night after a great meal and saw that the staff had come into our room to turn down our bed. They also must have noticed my books on the nightstand next to the bed, so they thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to give me a book mark. It had a memorable quote on it that went…

“He was enjoying the pleasant mingling of physical ease and mental alertness which seemed to him, of all sensations, the most truly civilised. So far, the appointments of Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished – certainly more than he could ever have expected.” – James Hilton

At first glance, it might seem that this kind of sentiment should be reserved for the greatest of hotels, a place where relaxation is the appointment of the day, and the greatest need is collect one’s self so they can return to the grind from whence they came. But then it does make sense that the hotel I am staying at takes its name from that mythical place that James Hilton created in his iconic novel, Lost Horizons, the Shangri-La. This is not the typical place that I search for when I look for a place to stay on my vacations. It is considered one of the more luxurious places that a person can stay in, and I don’t usually travel for the hotels, but it is fun to treat one’s self from time to time. It also helped that the room was booked at the last minute so we were able to find a pretty good deal on the room, even though it still was a little bit more of a splurge than what we usually are willing to do.

Because of this, we decided that our first full day of this vacation would be spent not leaving the hotel and getting the most out of the place. Of course, this did not mean spending the day locked in our hotel room, ordering room service and watching bad movies on cable. The Shangri-La has a lot more to offer that we were able to entertain ourselves throughout the day.

And we were in Thailand at the end of the rainy season.

The view from the poolside at the Shangri-La in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This meant enjoying the pool, and they have a beautiful pool here in Chiang Mai. There are numerous lounge chairs all around the deck with the shade of palm trees allowing for a relaxing spot to watch the ripple play in the calm water. There are many other amenities that the place has to offer, such as a spa, and small shops as well as two restaurants, and a couple of bars, but the things that caught my attention was the pool. There is no better way of spending a day than relaxing by a pool, and jumping in the water to cool off whenever I get too hot. It even featured a waterslide that I thought was for children, but soon found out that it could be enjoyed by all ages. I did have to pay attention to the big barrel of water at the top of the slide that would tip over every ten minutes and drench whoever stood up there at that time, but it was still fun to go down every once in a while. It made for the perfect day.

Some would claim that this is a wasted day of vacationing. The purpose of traveling some place new is to experience new things, and see new cultures. Why would anybody want to spend the day sitting by the pool getting pampered? Because vacation cannot be all about going around and seeing stuff. Yes, I do enjoy being a tourist and experiencing different cultures, but I also need some down time. Some people only get to travel a couple weeks out the year, and part of that time is spent visiting family and friends. I find myself very fortunate to have created a life for myself where I get to take these trips on a regular occasion. Just because I go some place does not mean that I do not wish to have some downtime as well. In my profession, I have found that it is a much needed thing to do every few weeks. And though I like to spend my time seeing different parts of the world, I also like the time that I get to spend recharging my batteries. This one day at the Shangri-La allowed me to do that.

James Hilton understood this completely when he said, “The appointments at the Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished.” I needed that day-long appointment with the pool. I will get back to exploring the world again in a day, and go back to the places that are more speed, but for one day, I enjoy feeling like I deserve the others taking care of me. It makes for the perfect way to start any vacation.

I Wonder How Many People Are Named John Here – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Travel days are always interesting. You get to go from some place where you are comfortable to some place you have never been before, and in the process there are a lot of transfers from taxis, buses, planes, and trains. The whole time you can feel the excitement about getting away and seeing that new part of the world, but at the same time you have to squeeze into tight spaces, and spend time with a bunch of your instant friends who are also going through the same experience. And when you finally get to your destination, you want to drop everything off and go explore, but you do not have enough time to really dig into the new location and check out what the place has to offer.

What I like to do with this short amount of time before I really start to enjoy the place I find myself in is to find the center of town and start to wander. Any place that looks interesting is a place I will stop at, have a bite to eat, and a drink, and get a little more comfortable with the area. This brings me to the best marketing strategy that a restaurant can do to bring in those random stragglers, name it after a really popular name.

We have all seen the places. I have seen my fair share of them, and on my first night in Chiang Mai, I ran into another one, John’s Place. I went with my first instinct to get my picture with the sign to show to everybody that I know that I somehow now own a restaurant in this small corner of the world. But then I found out that the place had a rooftop bar, so I had to take the experience one step further, and go upstairs to eat and have a drink.

It wasn’t like the rooftop bars that I can find in Bangkok, but it was the perfect place to spend a part of this cool evening. I was given a place that overlooked the moat that was at one time dug out. I got to watch the other travelers that I had found themselves in a different part of the world as they explored as well, and enjoy some spring rolls. But I also wondered if I would have stopped here if the place was not called John’s Place. I might have, but the fact that I had that small strange connection with the place made the choice that much easier.

I started to look around at the other patrons that night, and started to wonder how many of them shared the same name that I had, and had also fallen for the same marketing scheme. There had to be at least one John at each of the tables. It also made me think how many times I had ended up in places that had the name John in the title or at least JC (there is a JC in Bend, Oregon and I have been there a couple of times, partly because of the name). Would I make the same choice again the next time I came across a John’s Place, or has the realization allowed me to grow as an individual and not be so easily manipulated.

In all reality probably not. So the next time you hear that I am in town, just stop at your local John’s because you know that is where you will find me.

A Weekend on the Coast – Hua Hin, Thailand

An aerial view of Huua Hin looking over the Bintabath section of the town

It had been awhile since I felt like I had gone on a real vacation. I had taken a night or two to spend some time in downtown Bangkok and explore that area, and before that I had visited my family back in the United States, but it had been a long time since I had gone to a new destination and enjoyed the comforts of that place. I didn’t think much about this as I left Bangkok for the first time, and made the three-hour trek down the coast to the town of Hua Hin, but what I found when I finally arrived there was a great city with lots to offer that I was able to enjoy a wonderful experience at this great destination.

The wide open space available on the beaches during the off season months

The most obvious attraction in this city is of course the beach. It stretches all the way down the main strip with many hotels perched above its sandy shores. I went down here during the perfect time. Even though it was a national holiday last weekend, there were still not a lot of people enjoying the beach. I could easily find a spot where I would be comfortable enjoying the sun and warm water, and still feel like I had the beach to myself. I do not know if this would be the case during the height of tourism season in January, February and March, but in October, it was perfect.

The view of the beach from one of the restaurants found there

If got too sunny, I could go to one of the various restaurants along the beach and park myself underneath their umbrellas, and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. The food wasn’t that great, but the shady spot where I could watch the tide come in and sip on a beer was the perfect way to enjoy the afternoon. My favorite part of this was watching them taking the umbrellas down and replace them behind me as the water threatened to get them wet. I started the time in this shady retreat in the back row, but by the time I left I found myself almost able to put my toes in the water, and I didn’t have to do a thing to get closer to the water than just sit there.

A food stall in the Cicada Market

Hua Hin also has two night markets that it can boast about. The first one is the older market closer to town that has most of the traditional things that you can find at a market in Thailand, clothes, various household items, and street food. The nice thing about this market is the restaurants that line the street behind the vendors. They have set up places along the street where you can sit down and watch the various people shop while enjoying some of the street food that you have found.

The dining area in the Cicada Market

I liked the Cicada Market on the southern end of town a lot more. It was a little more upscale, and most of the people working the booths were the artists that produced the items that they are selling. If you are looking for that unique gift or memento from this part of the world, this is the perfect place to find it. They also have to amphitheaters where bands or acts will play to entertain you in between the moments of shopping. In the center, you can also find various stalls selling their versions of Thai street food. This place had some of the best street food that I have fond in Thailand, and it was still pretty inexpensive. I had a hard time stopping myself from eating too much because there was too much good smelling food that was being offered.

The Black and White platter from Prime Steakhouse

This isn’t the only place to find good food in the city. There is the bar section of town Bintabath. This is a fun place to go barhopping because they all seem to be located in this area. Besides finding a good drink or a nice pool table, you can also get an amazing sit down meal. My favorite place was the Prime Steakhouse. It was a little pricey, but the meal could easily have been in my top five for steaks I have eaten on all of my travels in the world. It also has a beautiful, relaxing and comforting atmosphere that makes the time you spend here just as good as the food.

A marching street band I came across on my last day in town

I only got to spend one weekend in Hua Hin, and every corner I turned there was a new site to see, or a new experience to be had. I know that I had barely scraped the surface of what this little corner of Thailand had to offer, but after spending a couple nights here, I know that I have found a gem that I want to return back to soon.

A view of the sunset from the bar on top of the Hilton Hotel along the beach

Most of my attention was directed towards the shore while I was out there, and it was only the sunset on my last night there that allowed me to see that there was another side to this place that I had not even seen, the mountains and the fun hikes that hid themselves over there. I know I will be back someday because it is so close and the perfect little retreat for those long weekends I get, but until then, I will have to explore the rest of Thailand and see what it has to offer me.

 

Being Indiana Jones – Hua Hin, Thailand

I know that there is only one Indiana Jones movie that takes him into Asia, and for most people, it is not the best installment in the series, but thanks to recent efforts, it is not longer considered the worst by some people. Despite this fact, I had a great morning adventure that made me feel like I was Indiana Jones, exploring the wilderness of some forgotten forest in search of a secret temple. It made me feel the magic that I have heard about the country of Thailand for the first time since I have moved here, and it is truly one of the hidden gems that the country has to offer.

I have taken a weekend trip down to Hua Hin, a beach resort town on the eastern coast about three hours south of Bangkok. And even though the town has a lot to offer, and I have had a lot of fun exploring its nightlife, it is this morning side trip that will probably stick in my mind longer than any other event, and be the thing I remember about the place. I got up early and grab a taxi to go see the wonder of Phraya Nakhon Cave, and I do not regret the decision.

Basically, the forty-five minute cab ride from town costed me 700 baht, and took me down to Sam Roi Yot National Park which is the entrance to a path that would take me to this hidden cave. For another 200 baht, I was able to buy entrance into the national park, and I had a choice to make. I could take a half an hour hike over a rocky out cropping to get to the trailhead, or rent a boat that would take me there in ten minutes.

I went with the later choice, and I am glad that I did. There is a big collection of water taxis that sit on the edge of the beach, and the take people back and forth to the beach on the other side of the mountain.

They were constantly going back and forth, and I didn’t have to wait for a second to catch a boat either way. It always fun to travel by boat as well. Smelling the fresh salt water as the boat skims over the mild wake helps to build up anticipation for the experience that is going to follow.

When the boat landed on the other beach, it took a little while of walking through the sand before I reached the trailhead. This is where the ease of the boat ride really paid off. I had gotten to the trail head at about 9:30 in the morning, and even though it is starting to cool off a bit in Thailand, it is still really hot and humid as I traversed up the rocky stone path that took me to the entrance of the cave.

It was also nice that I went early. There were a couple of people that were on the path as I went up, but they were far enough between that it made it feel like I was out there by myself. On my way back, there were a lot more people coming up, so I was glad that I had started early so I would not have to deal with these crowds as I made it to the treasure at the end.

As I went through the trek, I was amazed by the natural surroundings. I was definitely in the tropics as the foliage crowded in around me, and the humidity made me sweat. Monkeys jumped from above in the trees, and every once in a while they got close enough where I could see them. Rock formations poked out from the overhanging recesses that I found along the trek, and I really thought that I was getting some place where very few people had ever seen. From time to time, I would come across something that would remind me that this was a sacred place for the people of Thailand as I would see a statue or a sign indicating that I was still going in the right direction.

As I made it further into my decent, the landscape changed even more. I found myself in a natural cave carved out by the wind, rain and spraying ocean water. It started to cool off a bit more as I found myself surrounded by the cliff faces, and I could marvel more at the natural way that things were carved above, around and below.

Finally, I turned a corner, and for the first time I could see the treasure that I had come down here to see in the first place. It was like Indiana Jones standing at the edge of a long hallway in which the end of it stood the golden statue bathed in a shimmering light. What I had found was a lot bigger, and only pictures of it would be the things that I would be able to bring back with me. And I wouldn’t realize how stunning those pictures would be until I made that final turn.

There it was, the temple that was framed in the morning light from the opening of this cave out in the middle of the hills in Thailand. It was the perfect time of the day to come out here to see this as well because the lighting was perfect. I could see how an hour later, it would not be as dramatic, but it really stood out during the time that I was there. The strange thing was not that many people were out there to look at as well. I could move around and pick the perfect shots and not have to worry about some random tourist getting in the way of me snapping that picture. I couldn’t understand why this was true except for maybe the fact that it took about an hour and a half to get to from Hua Hin, and it would take people away from the comfort of the beach and convenient bar street. And even though it does require some physical exertion and does take away the whole morning, it was completely the trek that I made. It is a must go see if you ever find yourself in Hua Hin, but you do have to plan ahead for it because it is best experienced in the morning. I am glad that I made the voyage.