This is my final blog on our travels in Thailand apart from some photos which I have scheduled for the end January. I cannot say I won’t be returning, it has been an incredible journey of learning and adventure and perhaps one day we will go back.
The last few days of our Thai experience were spend at Chiang Mai synonymous with Lanna culture, elephants and of course temples. Nestled amongst foothills of the north are elephant camps, in bygone days many buildings in Chiang Mai were made of teak, hauled by elephant from the surrounding forest. Today some camps are called ‘sanctuaries’ other are used to train elephants for tourists’ entertainment and for that reason we didn´t go. This meant that we also missed one of Thailand’s most sacred temples, reached by a strenuous 306-step staircase flanked by serpents. Nevertheless, we spent our morning around the centre of Chiang Mai.
The weather in the north was cooler, making it ideal to visit a tea plantation. I will never be a tea person, but the tour was a good. It took us through the process of harvesting, where only the youngest shoots are picked. The picking by hand is arduous, wages low and there are no machines on the steep hillside, however, the scenery and cool mist of morning made the views spectacular.
Just outside Chiang Mai is Baan Tong Luang an eco-agricultural village. It was created as a cultural project and tourist attraction to generate income for the hill tribes, many of whom are refugees from Myanmar, Tibet, and China. The villagers keep traditions alive and share them with the world.
I remember as a child reading about the long neck tribes in remote jungles. Looking at pictures of women with giraffe-like necks, they were so far removed from my life I never thought that one day I’d meet them.
The Karen girls start wearing the rings at about 4 or 5 years old, beginning with just a few. Another tribe are the Kayaw who also encircle their legs with brass and others who insert big metal earrings into their earlobes.
There are lots of crafts to buy but they don’t do high pressure selling or charge for photos and Jim really enjoyed trying out the handmade crossbow with an elder of the tribe.
This village isn’t just a day job catering to tourists, the people live here. Rice paddies line the walkways, and water buffalo graze, there is a small school and a church but I noticed the men were missing, perhaps they earned an income elsewhere.
Finally, our last evening and we enjoyed a police escorted Tuk-Tuk ride. The officer obviously felt very important, flashing his lights, waving his arms and tooting his horn as he led us around town where people gawped as our convoy sailed past.
We eventually ended up at another temple. Temples are the Starbucks of Thailand there is literally one on every corner. This one was the elephant temple, Wat Chedi Luang, the most impressive in Chiang Mai. Despite money from UNESCO, the construction of the Chedi was largely destroyed several hundred years ago. Unfortunately, no one knows what the original chedi looked like, so that was left untouched. It is difficult to imagine there was another 30m that should be atop what remains. Nonetheless, it is impressive, particularly at night when we visited.
As the sun set the street vendors turned up. Chiang Mai has some of the most fascinating markets. We explored markets and bazaars specialising in organic food, fruits, vegetables, even insects, and the wonderful Kham Tiang Flower Market. The picturesque market has a huge diversity of tropical flowers from orchids to chrysanthemums. Most of which will be offerings to Buddha in a temple somewhere, but we were all given a floral necklace.
Our night ended in the famous Night Bazaar. Even if you don’t want to buy, but you probably will, is an amazing experience. The place is bustling with buyers and sellers, alive with music, the sounds of bargaining for goods and aromatic smells as you pass food stalls.
So our time in Thailand was over, early the following morning we headed to the airport for our flight to Bangkok and onwards to Heathrow. Once again, we were delayed; however, I am impressed with BA, as we have already received a substantial sum into our bank account, so now we are set for our 2017 trip that will once again take us back to India.