28 August 2011

Chapter 2 Part 2: The Road North, Chiang Mai & Pai

Hello Intrepid Blog Readers!

Greatings from Pakse, Southern Laos. Aiyanna and I arrived early this Sunday morning via an overnight sleeping bus-- quite a novelty-- and after a lot of go go go-ing, I am grateful for a restful day to allow me an opportunity to continue this story, in 4 chapters, about Aiyanna and I's rambunctious voyage. So while resting in Laos, let me continue where I left off from the last post, traveling from Krabi Province into Northern Thailand. We landed in Chiang Mai, peaceful city of temples...

We stayed in a very comfortable guest house (with the best breakfast to date) that was very near this "wat", or temple. However, almost any guest house in Old Chiang Mai a person stays in will probably be within a stone's throw of a wat.

Old Chiang Mai, where we stayed, is delineated by the ancient square moat that surrounds it, and on Saturday night down the main street that cuts Old Chiang Mai through the middle is the Saturday Night Market. It's a busy affair, with hundreds of vendors coming from around and outside the city, with a lot of stuff for all of us tourists to buy. As the picture shows, the Market happens with or without the torrents of monsoon.

Vendors are not caught off guard by the weather, even if some tourists are ("Where's the umbrella kiosk, Aiyanna?"). Rivers formed through the thoroughfare.

One night in Chiang Mai, Aiyanna and I took a traditional Thai cooking class.
Aiyanna is learning it's hard work to make green curry paste the classic way.

My spring rolls came out great!

All in all, it was a delicious, satisfying, so much fun experience for both of us. We learned a lot, and have a little recipe book we're bringing home, so watch out! We're cooking you the real deal Thai food tonight!

We drove out of the city on a motor-bike (sorry Mom!) to do some site seeing around Chiang Mai.
Here the glittering gold of Wat Doi Suthep, high on a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai.

Lotus offerings.

Funny temple monster #1.

And funny temple monster #2, "Mom"??

Farther up the mountain we arrived at a seldom visited coffee plantation and Hmong village.

It rained at the Hmong village while we were there, but the children didn't seem to mind. They were laughing, playing, splashing in the puddles. I had to think of E.E. Cummings, "when the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful."

We encountered a field of these really beautiful lotus flowers on another drive out of the city. Our curious admiring of their cultivation brought peels of laughter from the school children across the road.

Later that day we found an awesome local market-- no "ferang" (foreigner) but us in sight. There were some usually unusual things to see there...
Crispy barbequed frogs!


Meat, with all the latest in freshness apparatus (the plastic bags whirl overhead to keep the flies off). Refrigeration is just a Western fad.

And these guys really ARE fresh.

We went to a couple waterfalls on our next day with the motorbike.
Seeing waterfalls is also one of my favorite times to see plants and animals, my wild friends. This flower is one of the strangest plants I've ever seen.

Delicate and velvety in texture, green-purple hued, and extra-terrestrial in appearance, a most unusual friend indeed!

Fungi are my friends!

Aiyanna's shoe-moth.

Can you find me? I am a secret, hiding, nearly invisible friend, but if you could hear how LOUD I sing! Cicada friend.

Waterfall #1, very quiet because of a very high entrance fee. We lucked out and didn't have to pay-- the guards couldn't break our 500!

Aiyanna at waterfall #2, also very beautiful but less peaceful.

Back to the city we go...

Next day was a big day. Get ready for lots of elephant pictures!
Welcome to Elephant Nature Park!

We spent a very special day at the Elephant Nature Park, a home for unwanted, abused, and injured elephants in Thailand. The Asian elephant is an endangered species, and Thailand is home more Asian elephants than anywhere else in the world, but the elephants' story in Thailand (as anywhere there are elephants) is very sad. Domestic elephants, though exactly the same species as the endangered wild elephants, are given no protection under Thai law, and after Thailand outlawed logging (no doubt a good step for Thai forests!), the thousands of domestic elephants were basically out of work. Too expensive to keep as pets, elephant keepers were forced to find new uses for their elephants-- mostly tourism.

Elephant Nature Park is simply a home for elephants, "where they can be elephants." They are not forced to give tourists rides, to paint pictures, play soccer, or stand on hind legs; they are not being used to beg in the streets of Bangkok or Chiang Mai; and they are certainly not used to destroy the forests they might otherwise be home in.

Here, tourists just feed, wash, and admire the elephants. These elephants, after all, have had hard lives and deserve pampering. Several were blinded by their owners sling-shotting and stabbing their eyes to force more work from them, often they were drugged with methamphetamine to coax more work out of them, and the elephants suffered withdrawal, many had poorly healed broken legs and hips from being overburdened, and there is even one who stepped on a land mine: here they are safe to relax, and you can see the ease on their faces!

Elephants eat TONS.

So useful... I could go for a trunk of my own some day.

It was really fun getting in the river and washing the elephants. We just splashed them and threw water all over.

And then we just watched them play. Elephants love water...

Water and snacks =)

Aiyanna and I both got wet elephant kisses. It felt really weird. I washed my face later.

My sense after spending the day here was that elephants are very wise creatures. Domestic or wild, they do not deserve to be mistreated and abused for work or pleasure.

I wish Lek, the native Thai woman who founded E.N.P., much luck in her project to improve the lives of many Thai elephants. Thank you for an amazing day!

We left Chiang Mai early the next morning to go farther north, to Pai.
There was a really cool bug on the way there, worth stopping to look at! Stopping for lunch was a good idea also.

You can see why we (and so many others) wanted to come to Pai. This once sleepy village is now a very popular place.

We drove around checking out the views...

sliding into waterfalls...

making friends...

and chasing rainbows.

One of my favorite pictures of the trip so far, this was one bright rainbow!

We reunited with a couple of friends from Tonsai in Pai, an Israeli couple named Guy and Chaquette, and together we teamed up for an awesome hike to a remote waterfall.

It was a good hike on a long trail that followed and criss-crossed a stream for 5 kilometers or so. It was vibrant jungle, full of wonderous roots and vines.

Guy and I enjoy the coolness after the long hike.

Aiyanna snacks on our new favorite tropical delight: dragon fruit!

A fun team for a good adventure.

Hiking back through bamboo and jungle.


Tiny fungus on a log.

Rockstar grasshopper.

More scenery from Pai by day...

And by night.

Street vendors are picturesque everywhere... especially whey they set up in front of temples with a dark sky, etc etc.

That's it from Thailand! I leave you with this tease...
Crossing the Mekong.

Chapter 3 and Laos is yet to come! I have to apologize that it is taking some time to get this blog up-to-date. I am now in the midst of living Chapter 3, which has been so chopped full of adventures and beautiful places that I am more than a little overwhelmed. Also, our days are generally so full of seeing and doing that I am left very little time to prepare these posts, which demand quite a lot of work to prepare for your blog-reading pleasure. But it is crazy to complain about the richness of experience, or the fullness of days; I did not transport around the world to blog of adventures, but to live them! In the mean time, let me just say this about Laos: wow. Wow! WOW!!! You are not going to believe your eyes!!

Thanks for reading everyone, and I hope it wasn't too long (again!)! Peace, love, enjoy~