...and other assorted charms of central and northern Thailand
Saturday 8 January 2011 - Monday 14 February 2011 23 °C
Heading north from Bangkok.
Sukhothai, first capitol of Thailand, means 'Rising Happiness'.
After a 5 hour bus trip I get my first ride in a 'sawngthaew', the name translates to 2 seats and it is literally a little motor cart with 2 benches in the back- great view of the traffic behind you. We checked in at a guesthouse we chose from our LP guidebook and it was just precious. An alfresco restaurant out front, little koi ponds and potted plants and collection of bonsai trees and cute wooden furniture and our own little bungalo. Very cozy. The town it's was generally plain but quite pretty at night with the bridge all lit up and a few street food vendors.
We are here to get our temple on.
The attraction here is the Old City of Sukhothai where there are the 750 year old ruins of a temple complex. We catch a sawngthaew toward the old city. On the way I was entertained by a few local kids. A teenaged boy and 'girl' who were friendly and spoke a little English. They were from a much smaller village and were visiting the 'big city' for some shopping and to enjoy a festival going on for Children's Day- a big national holiday in Thailand to honor the gift of children. Our lucky day, too, as all fees for attractions are waved on this day.
The atmosphere around the Wat was so joyful as well, there were families and Thai boyscouts and girlscouts playing games. We said goodbye to the lively pair when we arrived and rented ourselves a couple of bikes for the day. I hadn't ridden a bike for a decade and the traffic is total chaos but it was worth it for making it out to all the far flung sites. It's just so beautiful and amazing looking at all these elaborately decorated temples. They've been here so long and countless people have worshipped here, layed offerings at the Buddha images. People were lighting joss sticks and leaving flowers at a Buddha where people have been doing that for over 700 years and I get to be there, touch it, look into the face of the Buddha. So peaceful, so cool.
Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai
Another 5 hour bus journey takes us up to Chiang Mai, a small city bustling with life. There are plently of travellers here but not so much the boring old tourists on buses, more backpackers- like us. Also, it seems like a young city, there are some schools here. We met a young lady from the US studying Thai massage- where better? There is a small walled in old city with a labrynth of narrow streets surrounded by a mote and busy roads with any kind of food you could want. Guess what I wanted.
So I gave into my craving, I had a good excuse. At this point in our journey I started to suffer from some really nasty stomach cramps. We never settled into an explaination since Andrew was fine but I think I over did it on chilis extraordinarily badly. Too much of a good thing.
Remember kids, if your food is so spicy you almost faint from hyperventalation- take it easy.
Anyhoo, after plenty of rest I turned out fine. As you probably noticed I am experiencing the world through food a lot and I guess that's just a hazard I'm willing to live with.
Another encounter I had in Chiang Mai was in a dress shop. This amazing dress shop with the dressmaker in attendance. He makes these totally one of a kind pieces with naturally processed and dyed cotton- he had some silk as well but they were so beautiful I coulddn't look because of the price. He chose a dress for me- in a store full of purple and green (my favorite colors), he chose brown but it's perfect. He was so lovely any I can't wait to show off my dress.
We've visited some more gorgeous temples. We learned about how the different positions of the Buddha images represent different aspects of Buddha. When he is lying down this represents the aspect who reaches Nirvana, as this is the posture he was in when he died and therefore attained Nirvana. I came across some art students drawing the temple and they were excited to show of their work.
Another great food discovery we made are the street cart rotis. Our first and best one was in Sukhothai but we've enjoyed them all through the trip now. The lady starts with a lump of dough and spins and smacks it down to stretch it out paper thin of a greased benchtop. Then she chucks it on a hot wok and folds up bananas and egg mixture and cooks both sides and then serves it cut up and smothered in condensed milk. We can hardly walk past them!
Northern Thailand seems pretty laid back. The villages are small and very poor. The homes are mostly little shacks made from wood scraps and woven reeds, some are on stilts. There are veggies gardens and rice paddys and chickens running around. Maybe the people in these villages haven't got much but they seem good spirited. As we rode the bus through the countryside we got to see people going about their lives, lighting fires, bundling reeds, carrying produce, children playing and stopping to wave as we passed. I'd love a second look someday but for now, we are moving on.
Next stop Laos and our treehouse spa adventure...