Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bangkok to Chiangmai

Three days in Bangkok after leaving Yangon, gave us more time to explore that fascinating city. Our hotel was right on the river Chaya Prao and we could sit on the deck watching the water taxis and other river traffic zip up and down the river. It is a very efficient and cool way to travel in a hot, busy city. We could see the beautiful Wat Arun(temple of dawn) from our room and curiously it is called the temple of dawn but it is most beautiful at sunset.


Bangkok is called the street food capital of the world with good reason: Pad Thai, satay, noodle soups, spring rolls and many other delights are available at every street corner, along with loads of fresh fruit to quench your thirst. This is a foodies paradise!
In order to visit some of the sites outside of Bangkok, we did a bike tour with a company called Spice Routes. We did about 30 k, and visited Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand. There are old ruins of former temples and monasteries, destroyed by invaders over the centuries. Our bike ride was great fun, with four others from the USA and a Canadian living in Bangkok. The only problem was a major downpour while we ate lunch. Although the sun came our before we headed out again, the roads were very muddy, making for a very dirty ride. I will never wear white to cycle again.



 The night train to Chiang Mai was very comfortable. We enjoyed our double berth, having been less than comfortable in our berth in India that we had to share with two other men. Besides a few little bugs that scuttled across the floor periodically, it was very clean and confortable. Thai food is served, along with fruit, juice and beer, very civilized and much better than the fare on Canadian trains.


The countryside towards Chiang Mai becomes more green and hilly. The area is surrounded by mountains but they were not clearly visible because of the smoke from all the fires that local farmers use before the rainy season.
We joined a group to visit a local elephant sanctuary where about 10 elephants live and are cared for. Thailand has a long history of domesticating elephants, using them in the past as war vehicles and in the teak industry. Now they are mainly a tourist attraction, although there are still wild elephants in the north that remain prey for poachers. We learned basic elephant language: "que,que" means turn with a knee jab behind the ears;" bye-hun"(like a grunt) means go forward; "toy" is back up and "how" is stop. There was a 9 month old baby, who was still nursing. He was very interested in the bags of bananas we brought, as were the adults who could swallow a whole bunch in one gulp. The biggest challenge was climbing up onto the elephant's back. This is a rather unglamorous procedure unless one is very limber and could clamber up alone. In my case it involved a lot of pushing a shoving.
Riding an elephant bareback is quite a feat and takes a lot of practice. I have a lot of respect for the Thai and Burmese warriors of old that fought their battles riding on elephants. They must have had amazing balance and skill to remain upright on these huge beasts.




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