A Travellerspoint blog

We saw three kings

sunny 39 °C

After moving hotels yesterday morning, we just wandered around the new area, this area is very different from the previous area, mainly as it is full of Wats. There are three Wats on the same street as our hotel, but we were not dressed 'politely' so decided to go another day. The hotel is based around a swimming pool and there is a balcony in each room, and on the balcony, there is a seat hanging over the edge of the balcony, I haven't been able to sit on the overhanging seat, as just the thought of it gives me terrible vertigo.

This morning, I persuaded Bill to go on a city walk, (I love to wander around and get lost, Bill isn't so keen). We had decided because of the heat we would 'walk' by tuktuk, but a couple of drivers gave us different prices and kept changing the price when we agreed on one, so we decided to walk. Well, I decided we should walk, Bill took great exception to every tuktuk driver on the road and held a grudge against them all morning (he refused to talk to any tuktuk driver or acknowledge them). Our first point on the map was the Three Kings monument; which was of King Mengrai (the founder of Chiang Mai) and his two friends. The three of them designed Chiang Mai in 1200. Residents treat the monument as a shrine for the three men and you can buy replicas in tourist shops. I felt we were just going here as it was on the walk, but we really enjoyed it. In this area, in early morning, you can see lots of monks and local people giving alms to the monks. Near the monument was a beautiful Wat, which was dark wood and gold, we were sorry we didn't have time to go in, but we had places to go.

Wat Hua Kuang, was mainly being renovated, but we got a chance to walk around the grounds. The roof had four layers and was different from other Wats we have been to see. Outside the temple, was a statue of a grey elephant, which was unusual as elephants are usually white at temples. Walking along the road, we found White Elephant gate, but there was no gate or elephant, just a break in the wall. The wall that we can see around the city (mainly in the four corners) is a replica; the original wall was torn down by the Japanese to reuse the bricks in WW11. In the 1970s Chiang Mai decided to rebuild the five city gates and all four corners of the wall. Walking along side the wall we were looking for Wat Kun Kha Ma, which is known as the horse temple. It was impossible to miss as it had about fifty statues of horses all along the wall. Next door to the 'Horse Wat' was the 'Dragon temple', which was called Wat Ratchamontian, to get into the Wat you had to climb massive steps, which were about a foot high, but at the top was a huge seated Buddha on a raised platform, so was worth the struggle.

The next stop was quite a walk away, so we got a tuktuk to take us there, the driver thought we were Australians and was telling us how much he loved Australia and hoped to travel there one day, although Bill told him we were English twice! Wat Tung Yu, was also being renovated on the outside, but we did have a nice stroll around the outside looking at the statues. I had read about a statue of a policeman holding a child, with another child near him, but we couldn't find it anywhere, it was only after we had walked out of the Wat and walked passed the police station that we found the statue.

We were looking for the Monastery of a Thousand Kilns, but ended up in Wat Chedi Luang, where we had been the previous week. Outside the temple was an area called Monk Chat, where several monks were sitting. Next to the monks was a sign saying 'Don't just stand and stare, come and ask us a question', so after making myself 'polite' we went over and sat with the monks around a round table. The monk we were speaking to was in his early twenties and was a great English football fan. When we said we came from near London, he asked if we were near Tottenham Hotspurs or Chelsea, Bill said we weren't, nor were we near Liverpool or Manchester, the monk told us he was a big Manchester City fan and showed us his bag which was in Man City colours. We told him our Brother in Law, Andy, was a big Man City fan and he blessed Andy!

I have been wondering about the different robes that monks wear and the meanings they had, he told us they had a robe for in the temple a robe for out of the temple and a multi area robe, he also explained that the different shades were due to washing the robes and nothing spiritual! We chatted about religion in the UK, the age boys become monks, Manchester City winning something or other and people giving alms., his English was very good and every now and again there would be words he couldn't understand. We both really enjoyed it and felt very humbled, when he thanked us for allowing him to learn about us and our country.

We stopped for lunch at a wonderful place, which gave us super spicy food, it's great when it is really spicy, as we love it. We are aware we only have a few weeks left in Thailand and yesterday when we went out to eat, I was really sad when I realised that we only had a couple of weeks of beautiful Thai food left.

We are watching the news and reading up, after the Army has announced Martial Law, the Home Office just tells us to stay away from certain areas, but there is no suggestion to leave the country, obviously we will keep watching out for changing advice or activities.

Posted by mulliganward 02:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Lazy weekend

sunny 39 °C

Chiang Mai is such a lovely city and as we haven't seen anywhere near enough of it, so we have decided to stay here for another week. At the moment our hotel is outside the city walls, so we will be moving hotel tomorrow to be inside the city walls, which is much prettier (and nearer more of the temples). We will then be heading back to Bangkok the following week so we can use it as a base to do a few day trips out to the south of the country.

We haven't done very much at all in the last few days. Yesterday we decided to go to China Town and whilst we were walking out of the hotel I hailed a songthaew, which are the vans which have two rows of seats in the back, facing each other, as I did this Bill said he didn't want to go in a songthaew and we should get a tuk tuk. Unfortunately, the driver of the songthaew had stopped and thrown all his Thai passengers out of the songthaew as he would get more money from tourists. I was shaking me head saying sorry and the driver was shouting at all the passengers he had told to get out to get back in again; Bill and I walked down the road (eyes averted) with them all glaring at us.

China Town here, appears to be one massive market, which was very loud and vibrant. Moving around the city we got several tuk tuks, in Thailand the seat is the same level as the floor. I find them almost impossible to get in and out of, and have to sit on them and then shuffle back to the seat. The tuk tuk drivers find this hilarious and stand and laugh at me and do not attempt to help in any way. Wandering around the beautiful flower market (near the a River Ping) in China Town, we came across Pung Tao Gong Ancestral Temple which is Chiang Mai's oldest Chinese temple, although much of it was rebuilt in the late nineties. The Chinese council even purchased the shops in front of the temple and demolished them to give the temple better feng shui The smell of incense in the air is usually the sign that there is a Chinese temple around. In several Chinese temples we have been to we have seen people shaking and shaking a bamboo container with sticks inside it, whilst they are standing infront of the Buddha or deity. It seems these are Chinese fortune sticks and each stick has a number on it and the idea is to shake a stick out of the container and the number on the stick corresponds to future fortunes. Yesterday, I saw a young man doing it and he obviously didn't like his number as he put it back in and started again.

Everywhere you go in Thailand you see pictures of the King Bhumibol of Thailand and he is known as Rama iX and has been king for sixty seven years (the longest reigning current monarch), he is the head of state and of the royal house. The king is in his late eighties and was in hospital for four years with a lung complaint in recent years and is said to be very frail today. The king is very much respected by Thai people, I have asked several people about the King and they say he is such a good man and works tirelessly for his people doing good deeds (I know he does a lot for dog charities!). When you visit Thailand one of the things you are told is never to disrespect the king, this includes the way you stand in the national anthem and the way you handle money, as it has the king's picture on it and you must never stand on money or screw it up as the Thai people will see it as a sign you do not respect the king. We find it all very endearing.

Last night, when we went out for a meal, we came across another Chinese Temple (the Chinese population is fourteen percent of the population in Thailand), I have looked all over and cannot find the name of the temple anywhere. It was a beautiful colourful temple and we spent quite a while wandering around it. Afterwards, Bill saw a barbers and decided to get his hair done, it was only as he was leaving, that I took great pleasure in pointing out to him, the sign in the window, which said 'Ladyboys a speciality'.

Today, we have spent next to the pool in the hotel, until a very noisy thunder storm saw us retreat to our room for safety. We do love these slow days as they give us a respite from the heat and allow us time to read. Something we have noticed as we travel around, is that we see very few people reading books unless they are a tourist. We also watch a large amount of movies (much to Bill's delight) and we have watched 'Pretty Woman' for the grand total of three times this week after managing to avoid it for twenty four years. Let's hope the new hotel has better TV channels as well as location.

Posted by mulliganward 05:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Shoot me now

sunny 38 °C

Popping in for coffee this morning, before a day at the Elephant Nature Park, the young man behind the till in Starbucks asked me where Bill (using his name) was this morning. I think we may have made too many visits!

The Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants in Mae Taeng about forty miles from Chiang Mai. It was founded in 1996 by Lek Chailert. Lek, who was my age (Bill was shocked at this and exclaimed she looked like a young girl next to me!), was an amazing lady. There are thirty seven elephants there at the moment and some of the elephants were orphaned, disabled, blind and rescued and of all ages, the youngest was eight months and the eldest was eighty years. Logging was outlawed in Thailand in the late nineties and this left thousands of elephants without a use, so lots of elephants were used for begging on the streets and tourism (allowing people to ride on them). There were also four hundred dogs, fifty buffalo, thirty cats, two horses and two pigs living in the park.

We were picked up by minibus early and it was already full, so Bill and I had to sit in the seats behind the driver. This, we very quickly realised was a mistake as the driver spent the journey speeding through the traffic. When we stopped for a quick break, I very quickly moved further back in the bus and Bill said that I couldn't control every situation in life and I should stay where I was. I felt very smug seeing him put his safety belt on after sitting a couple of minutes in the seat I had just vacated. There were a couple of young girls (early to mid twenties), who were sisters, who came from Coventry and three sisters from Canada on the bus and we had quite a nice time chatting to them. The guide who was wiith us was a volunteer with the park and spent the day asking Bill's advise on his English vocabulary, and said he remembered Bill's name as Bill reminded him of Bill Clinton! He did tell us that elephants in Thailand are called Chang, which is the name of our favourite beer!

When we got to the park, we were give safety information and told that we would not see any elephants performing at the park and we would fit our day around them. We were allowed to feed them first, but had to keep behind a red line, it was exciting feeding them as we were so close, but it was quite tiring as we had to feed them faster as we went along, otherwise we were told this would be teasing them. After feeding them we sat and watched three elephants bathing in the river. It was explained to us that in the wild elephants stay in family herds and in the park the elephants had made up their own new herds. Elephants are extremely soulful animals and you can see their emotions in their eyes and then they surprise you by the strength they have when they snatched food away from you.

After a great vegetarian lunch, we went to watch a video of the history of the park and the treatment of elephants in Thailand. In Thai culture elephants are iconic symbols of power and strength, in Buddism a white elephant represents the mental strength achieved after taming the mind, and they are often seen in the buildings in temples. The dichotomy is, that these elephants are being tortured for human use. Phajaan is the practice where the elephant's spirit is broken so it will be submissive to humans. The elephant is tied up in a confined pen and beaten with sharp instruments over and over again until their spirit is broken and they become submissive to humans. The practice is used when the elephant is about four years old and the calf is never reunited with its mother. It was very hard to watch the video but it is important that we watch this and know what is happening to these beautiful animals and if you ever get the chance to ride on an elephant, we ask you to watch this video before making the decision. Bill and I spent some time talking to Lek, the founder of the park and the passion and pride in her voice was tear jerking when she said that although many of the elephants in the park had been through phajaan, the babies in her park will never go through it.

The stories of many of the elephants were extremely sad. One elephant was blind in both eyes, she had miscarried her calf and lay down in desolation and she was blinded in both eyes by her owners as she wouldn't work. Several elephants had foot injuries as they had stood on land mines in Burma and Medo (the elephant we threw water on) had broken her hip whilst logging and had then been made to have a calf even with her broken hip. One of the babies mother had died and he had sat next to her body for several days. Today all these animals are being looked after. When we left tonight, Bill and I both felt happy knowing that sanctuary is there and all the elephants are living in peace tonight in their new home in the forest.

There were dogs and cats all around the park, we were told that dogs with red collars could bite, but we only saw one. Whilst looking in the gift shop, there was a cat curled up in a pile of Tshirts and Bill was really taken with this. The park has lots of volunteers and when we were leaving tonight we could see many of the dogs being taken for a walk, although they lived in a forest.

The elephant park was very close to other elephant centres (but none with the same ethos). Leaving the park this evening, about a mile down the road a truck had broken down which had an elephant on the back. The driver and the mahout (the keeper of the elephant) were pulling the elephant to try and get it off the lorry with a drop of at least four foot, via a small stool. The elephant had chains around his neck and was a real reminder of the life lots of elephants live.

Getting off the minibus tonight, we decided to go for a meal before returning to the hotel, so wandered down a road and found an absolutely marvellous restaurant that did the spiciest food. I said to Bill if I was shot now, my life would be complete, a day with elephants and a spicy curry.
We have had such a great day, the look on Bill's face for most of the day when I looked at him was the best as he was so happy. Life is good.

Posted by mulliganward 06:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Wat more temples?

sunny 38 °C

This morning we were picked up by our guide and driver, who were going to take us on a day of temple sightseeing. We have been asked if we are fed up of seeing temples and Buddhas, but definitely not. I find each temple such inspiration to be a better person and Bill who has been temple weary in the past said that today has allowed him to see that Buddhism is not lots of superstitious acts, but he can see that the religion shows in the spirituality of some of the people and the community of the temples.

Our guide Noni, had the best English of any Thai person we have met . We were able to ask her lots of questions, that we have had unanswered whilst we have been away. We spent a lot of time asking questions particularly about monks ( well I asked lots of questions, most of the time Bill was off taking pictures) . Monks are not necessarily monks for life, some men become monks for just a day so they can be a monk at their parents or grand parents funeral. Many families when looking for a husband for their daughter, will look for men who have been monks as they are seen as better people and are calmer and wiser. She told us about a Japanese monk in Thailand, who had been a monk for thirty years, who left to get married. The guide also told us about a monk, that used to be a Lady boy. Men have become monks as they needed hospital treatment and better education (some get bursaries for cars to transport them) and they leave afterwards; none of this was seen as negative. We also discussed nuns, who are known as white monks, ordained nuns shave their hair off. The king was a monk for fifteen days.

Wat Chaing Man was the first Buddhist temple built in Chiang Mai by King Mangrai whilst he built the city of Chiang Mai and was very influenced by Burmese style. The temple really gave us an understanding of the significance of religion to Buddhist people. It had a large elephant stupor (a domed monument to death, similar to a grave), which had fifteen life size amazing elephants emerging from it. In the trunks of the elephants people had put sugar cane to feed them. Inside the temple wa a ten cm crystal Buddha and is believed to protect the city against disasters. The Buddha within the temple had elongated ears. The elongated ears remind us not just to listen to what people say to you, but to understand them. We asked the guide about people adding gold leaf to the statues, she showed us behind some statues where people had also added gold leaf, who wanted to do something good but didn't want recognised for doing good. Around the walls of the temple, as in all Buddhist temples, were paintings depicting the Buddha's life, the guide walked us around and told us about the Buddha's journey to enlightenment, which explained a lot of things we had seen whilst traveling, such as lotus leaves in Buddhist temples and buildings, which appeared when the Buddha was born.

The second temple we visited was Wat Chedi Luang. King Saen Muang Ma started to build the temple in the fourteenth century to enable him to bury his father's ashes. The king died whilst the temple was being built and his widow continued with the build. The Queen was looked on as very weak by her people (Burma took control during her reign). The temple was damaged by an earthquake during this time, which was seen as indictment of the Queen's weakness. The Emerald (jade) Buddha, which we saw in Bangkok, was originally housed here. Whilst we were at the temple the monks started to gather for prayers before their meal of the day, we just sat on the floor of the temple and watched them. The guide explained to us about respected monks (we have often taken pictures of them) in Buddhism, and in this temple, they had wax works of them which were extremely life like if not a little spooky. The monks after prayers/chanting sat on the floor of the temple and ate their meal. Our guide explained to us that the meal is cooked and paid for by the people, very often on their birthday, when they come into the temple and cook for the monks. The temple also had a statue of Tan Pra Maha Kajjana, who people think is a laughing Buddha, but we learnt he was a very handsome monk and his good looks distracted people so he put on weight to show people that outward appearances should not be considered in life. Our guide pointed out to us the different poses on the Buddha for different days of the week, Wednesday had two Buddha poses as it is their most religious day. Embarrassingly she asked us which days of the week are children were born and we had no idea!

Our third temple (are you still with us?) was Wat Pra Singh, the temple houses the Buddha with the same name as the temple. Around the Buddha there were some amazing murals with such fine detail, the murals were very faint in some areas and our guide said there were discussions around repainting or having a new mural, I hope they reprint (although I did keep thinking of the instance recently when someone repainted the picture of Jesus in Spain and botched it, which made me smile). In most of the temples we had been to, they have a large cloth around the pagoda with people's names who had made a donation. At this temple we added the names of our children and put England on it. Bill then decided this was a good time to get artistic and added a heart around them with shadow, I was really embarrassed as we had just been talking about ego.

The fourth temple was Wat Suan Dok (the flower garden), which had a monk's university in it. The stupor at the temple had been covered in gold leaf within the last ten years. There was a white jade copy of the stupor in the temple, I thought all jade was green, but it seems it comes in many colours including violet. There were several gongs within the temple (which you hit to tell Buddha you have come to respect your ancestors) and I was jealous that Bill was allowed to hit the largest gong and I was only allowed to hit the mid size one. A few of the temples including this temple have English meditation classes (yes, meditation is not about talking!) and they also have Monk Chat, where you can go and talk to monks in the afternoon to ask them questions and they can practice their English by talking to us, which I intend to do later.

The final temple was called Wat Ched Yod and is the centre of pilgrimage for those born in the year of the snake. The temple had seven spires and was built to copy Mahabodhi Temple in Northern India. We were able to go Inside the pagoda (it is rare to go inside a pagoda as they are usually sealed). Around the temple grounds were roosters and lots of cats and dogs. We were told that the monks are often given too much food and they will then give it to the animals.

Our guide who was a Buddhist, very often in the temples would show respect to the Buddha, by getting on her knees and bowing and touching the floor three times, to pay respect to the Buddha, his teachings and his disciples. I think she was all worshipped out by the end of our tour and was quite reticent to enter temples as we went through the day.

Tomorrow is a rest day, although we may walk to a Wat near our hotel! We will also be heading for Starbucks, where Bill will be drinking his newly discovered favourite drink of iced green tea, with aduki beans in it (which is actually quite nice).

Posted by mulliganward 06:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Chiang Mai

32 °C

We left Bangkok on Monday morning, yesterday, and had to get up nice and early to get a taxi to the train station. The stations in Thailand are fascinating; people lie on the floor whilst waiting and we marvel at the amount of luggage they have with them. We were waiting on the platform for the train to arrive (after revisiting the Dunkin Donut shop) and were watching the staff clean the trains in super quick time. There was a monk sat on a bench, and there was a small space next to him in which Bill sat (woman do not sit next to monks). The monk moved along and indicated for me to sit next to Bill; whilst we sat there several people came up to the monk with alms and the monk blessed them (alms is giving monks food in the early morning to sustain them for the day, the monks collect the food and take it back to their Wat). After a while Bill stood up because the sun was on him, and then the monk had to get up as he was now sitting next to me and I got up and indicated for the monk to sit down. Just as this was going on the National Anthem was played throughout the station and everyone stood up, including the people inside the trains, it seems the National Anthem is played throughout Thailand at 8am and 6pm everyday.

The train journey to Chiang Mai is advertised as taking ten hours, sixteen hours later we arrived in Chiang Mai. The train was spotlessly clean and we suspect was fairly new, but the seats were not that comfortable and I struggled the whole journey as I have a sore muscle in my back. We were served a drink and a biscuit early in the journey, rice and curry at lunch time (we just had the rice) and a drink and biscuit in the afternoon. Once it got dark outside, It felt just like an aeroplane (without the fear factor), until the lights all went out, it was very eerie and Bill said it was like a horror movie. Bill sat very smugly with his kindle, reading, whilst everyone else got up and chatted to each other. The train was hurtling (more like moving slowly) along in the pitch black and outside there was a massive storm going on, lighting up the whole sky, several women in our carriage were frightened and shouted out each time there was a clap of thunder. We stopped at a station around the time we should have been getting into Chiang Mai and the guard got back onto the train with take always for everybody. When we looked inside we saw it had chicken in it, so returned them and thanked the guard, about ten minutes later he came back with some plain rice for us. I did learn whilst on the train, that the pronunciation of Bridge over the River Kwai, isn't Kwai like we pronounce it but quare (as in square, as Kwai means buffalo) so not a totally wasted journey, although I did manage to break two pairs of reading glasses.

When we did get into Chiang Mai (about ten at night), I was at the rocking backwards and forwards stage! A lady grabbed us getting off the train and agreed on a price for a taxi to our hotel. Well, I say taxi, but it was like a small truck with covered seats in the back. Once we had sat down she went off and found someone else and then came back with three Thai people, who squeezed in with us. The driver then turned up and him and the lady started to have a lovely chat with the Thai people who were in the back with us. Bill started to tap his watch at them and indicated for them to hurry up, which they ignored, so he got up and showed them the time and told them to stop talking! The roads were virtually flooded.

We swerved in and out of the streets and our hotel was the first stop, so everyone else had to get out so we could get out. Our hotel is very good, like a four star hotel, which has seen better days! It is located outside the city walls and is on the street of the night market and right next door to a a Starbucks (which may or may not have influenced me choosing this hotel!). When Bill heard how much we are paying for the week, he said he liked it much more as it was so cheap. The bed in the room is sooo hard, it is like lying on a table, saying that we both got a good night's sleep. We are literally next to the door for the pool and the gym, so have met or heard most of the people in the hotel. Bill has used the gym and the pool today and was happy with both.

Our plans for today were to look around the immediate area. The area isn't very pretty and most of it was closed as it comes alive at night (Bill lost two hats in Bangkok, so he was looking for a new hat, to no avail). At the bottom of the road there was a Wat called Oopakoot, a man outside told us there was a big celebration there tonight to celebrate the Buddha's birthday. Whilst waiting for Bill, I started to talk to a monk, and he was showing me all these signs with quotes on, I think he was trying to tell me something as he went out of his way to ensure that I saw them all! When Bill arrived, the monk asked Bill how old he was and then grabbed the muscles on the back of Bill's legs to indicate Bill was strong!

When we got back to the hotel, we booked a city tour for tomorrow and a day at an elephant sanctuary on Friday, it was hard to find a sanctuary that didn't allow people to ride on the elephants, but we did find one. Tonight we will go to the market, which I am sure will be fill of genuine articles. Bill has just got back from the shop (on a water run) and said he has seen a stall which is selling genuine Havaianas (he knows my weaknesses).

Chiang Mai has over three hundred Buddhist temples, so we have lots to do! In the next few days.

Posted by mulliganward 03:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

(Entries 41 - 45 of 94) « Page .. 4 5 6 7 8 [9] 10 11 12 13 14 .. »