Sun Kissed and Happy

Wednesday, 19th March 2008

I woke up dreading all good things are coming to an end as we would be flying back to Kuala Lumpur the next day. Without further delay, we decided to check out some home industries like other tourists would. Well, I am just very intrigued by the perfect picture in the paper umbrella industry.

Being such a genius, I left my camera battery in the hotel and ended not having a camera to take pictures. I hi-jacked Alex’s new toy, Canon Ixus 960 and took a few pics! We visited the lacquer ware, handwoven silk, gem stones, paper umbrella making and painting villages. I supposed everyone enjoyed the paper umbrella making the most as we get to get artists to paint on our t-shirts, caps, handbags or camera pouch as souvenirs; starting from 50 baht only. All the traveling mates went crazy and purchased unfinished bamboo used as pen holder one after another, to get their favorite designs painted on them as souvenirs. These artists are really talented lot.

As for the gem stones gallery, I was itching badly to get a blue sapphire for myself but I managed to refrain from doing so. I had gotten myself a star sapphire two years ago and I didn’t even wear it, so why now?

After doing the very touristy thingy, we went to have the promised lunch of tom yum kueh teow and phad thai. Each of us had a bowl (tom yum) and a plate (phad thai) each. I guess other patrons in the restaurant were quite shocked as Thais don’t really eat that much. Dave gave up his sense of moderation and joined our gluttony session by ordering two plates of food as well! Well, if you can’t beat us, join us!

Instead of going to the Roong Aroon Hot Spring, we went to Baan Tawai instead, which indeed proved to be an excellent choice. It’s a place where house deco, antiques, small souvenirs, hand carvings and lots more, are sold at whole sale prices. I didn’t intend to buy anything at first but the prices are way too cheap to resist. I ended up getting myself six owls and three horn bills wooden carvings. You wouldn’t believe how much it had cost me! Only 340 baht!

We wish we could spend more time at Baan Tawai but our wallets and purses said otherwise. I think if we were to spend half day at Baan Tawai, we would have made enough purchases to redecorate the entire house! Baan Tawai is THE PLACE for people who are moving into new houses. You will get whatever you want here, at fraction of a cost.

After the fruitful shopping, we went back to the hotel with the boys opting for another session of Thai massage. I went back to the hotel to rest for awhile and then loitered again around town till it’s time for dinner.

For dinner, Tao Pok requested a Khantoke dinner at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre. It’s a northern styled dinner, served on a round pedestal with 6-8 dishes of food consisting mainly pork, fried chicken, stir fried vegetables, sticky rice, mince pork in tomato sauce, rice dessert and much more. Patrons will eat in by sitting on the floor in circles. Since there are 11 of us, we sat in a rectangle instead. Haha! My friend, Jane, happened to make a trip to Chiang Mai the same time as I am, so I invited her group to join us on the last day for dinner.

It was a good experience, having dinner while enjoying cultural dances of hill tribes and native people from Chiang Mai. A bit cliché, but what the hell? It’s bottomless food – so you may top up as many times as you want, much to the Ethiopians children’s delight.

The girls didn’t retire immediately after the show and dinner. The boys complained too tired – even if they were the ones having a massage and the girls didn’t. We went on to feed our shopping frenzy at the Night Bazaar and had feelings that we would miss this forever. The streets are clean, the air is cooling, traders despite not knowing how to speak English are courteous and hospitable, everything is arranged in orderly manner and you feel so safe and not worried that someone might snatch your bags while you cross the streets like in Kuala Lumpur.

Our appreciation goes to Dave for making it possible to have a great time in Chiang Mai – the endless suggestions for great food and accommodating to our insatiable appetite of having second helpings in everything. I bet he wished that he had charged us more on food alone. Lol! Like he said to Gas Stove – you pay only 350 baht for Khantoke Dinner but you ate 1,000 baht worth of fried chicken. Haha!

As for the traveling friends, I do hope that this trip has brought us many fond memories as keep sakes in our hearts and looking forward to more travels in the future together.

I am home now, feeling slightly tight around the waist area in my work uniform… nevertheless, I am all well, sun kissed and happy.

Phad Kebao Kedao

Tuesday, 18th March 2008

I woke up early to the crows of the rooster near our chalet. Gas Stove almost threw a shoe at the rooster for making so much noise at wee hours in the morning. I liked it here as it reminded me of my late grandmother’s old house in Balik Pulau, Penang.

Like they said, early bird catches the worm. I was glad that I woke up early to watch monks doing their rounds collecting alms. I could have waited at the nearby temple’s entrance to get better shot of the monks. Sigh. I didn’t make known of my wishes to Dave. However, I managed to get this shot of the monk giving blessings to the owner of Baan Yu Pen Sook when he gave some offerings to the monk.

We had appetizer before we have breakfast consisting of sticky rice with custard made by the owner and helped ourselves with some coffee. There was a comb of bananas on the table. According to Dave, this particular species of bananas if taken 3-4 pieces everyday, men do not need stimulants such as Viagra. Yuin said he’s very confident with his sexuality and he didn’t need any help. The other two gentlemen had a piece of banana each and were teased non stop by the girls.

After everyone had their coffee, we walked to a nearby stall for breakfast. Stir fried minced pork (can be beef and chicken also) with basil leaves and a fried egg. It’s called Phad Kebao Kedao– I think! We were made to pronounce this breakfast the entire trip. Lol! If we have problems of ordering in Thai, this will never go wrong. So everyone now, Phad Kebao Kedao…. Phad Kebao Kedao… Phad Kebao Kedao….

As soon as we finished the awesome breakfast, we headed for the border market in Laos checkpoint via Mekong River. This time round, we took the speed boat. Mekong River is vastly huge so there is no problem of getting stranded on the sand. We reached the border quite swiftly and got down to buy some souvenirs at dirt cheap prices. There was nothing much but I could see some products are actually from China.

After goofing around taking pictures, we took a ride on the speed boat towards where the Mekong River divided Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Hence, the name “Golden Triangle” is coined. A casino was built on the bank of river at the border. Thailand does not allow gambling dens to be built in Thai soil. Hence, they leased the land on Myanmar to build a casino. Well, I guess when one loses way too much money in the casino – he can always commit suicide by jumping into the Mekong River.

We made a brief stop at Mae Sai, the border between Myanmar and Thailand. Gem stones are fake here so, beware. Crystal necklaces and bracelets priced from RM5 onwards! The girls spent on necklaces and other accessories as they were too irresistibly cheap! You can get whatever you want here at a fraction of a cost.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we visited the White Temple. Construction is still under progress. This temple is a contribution by a famous local Thai artist who wanted to pay tribute to his hometown. The temple is all in white with shiny silver pieces to add to its elegance. There were unorthodox artistic paintings in the walls of the temple, a sea of crutching and held out hands emerging at the entrance to signify hell, coupled with elephant tusks sent chills down my spine. As beautiful and peculiar as it may be to others, I find temples should stick to orthodoxy simple designs and not contemporary art. Maybe I am just an old fashioned girl.

The hot Tuesday afternoon was made bearable when Dave treated us to some coconut ice creams and sweet baby pineapples. We gobbled up the sweet tasting coconut ice cream with gusto. Yuin, after eating too much coconut based dessert the night before was suffering some stomach cramps and nausea. He somehow didn’t show he was suffering and still managed to kid around with us. Memang macho habis habis! Haha!

We were taken to the Rose Garden to have home made pies, cheese cakes and enjoy a cup of refreshing rose tea. You can have a slice of heaven here! They serve meringue too; much to Alex’s delight that he ordered two slices of meringue for himself. Some of us ordered two slices of cheesecakes and meringues each. I could see Dave shaking his head at the sight of us trying to kill ourselves with so much calories in a day!

As if he knew how to read our glutton minds, he told us what he already knew where to take us to pig out for lunch tomorrow. Tom yum kueh teow!

We made another brief stop at a lake to feed thousands of fish. Buddhists believe in accumulating merits. Thais would buy live fishes from the market and let them go free in this lake. This gesture would add merit to their lives and hopefully, could improve their karma.

On our way back to Chiang Mai, we stopped by a hot spring. Locals sell you eggs to be boiled in the sulphuric smelling boiling water. We changed our minds to go to another hot spring for bath the next day and substitute with another mindless shopping spree at Baan Tawai.

As soon as we got to Royal Lanna hotel, we decided to go for Thai massage. We went to this centre nearby our hotel to check it out. We paid 250 baht each for an hour of massage. It was not as good as the one I had in Hadyai many years ago but much, much better if were to compare to the one I had in Pattaya where the masseur almost dislocate my joints and internal organs with her terrible skills and non-stop chatting while massaging people. I chuckled when my ex boss almost suffocated as the girl trampled on her small frame.

The night ended with a dinner of pork Samurai burger at Mc Donald’s and some shopping at the Night Bazaar. I simply adore the Karale Night Market with its diverse things to offer.

Heave Ho!

Monday, 17th March 2008

Still sleepy, we got down at a temple in Tha Ton. We visited the Kuan Yin temple overlooking Myanmar facing towards China. Mae Kok river separated part of Chiang Mai and part of Myanmar. Dave said, during war, they could hear canon balls firing over the mountains. It’s that near.

We then took a boat ride on a long tail boat along Mae Kok river. Before getting on the boat, Dave already cautioned that gentlemen may have to get off the boat half way to push the boat in the event that it may get stuck in shallow waters. True enough. The boat got stranded twice in the sand. When Dave gestured the guys to get off the boat, my cousin sister aka Gas Stove, was the first person to jump into the river gleefully. Gentlemen, huh?

It was a fun experience. Laughter and chuckles echoed through the shallow river to the land. We felt like pirates for the day! Being the clumsy one, I chose to stay put in the boat, hence contributing to more dead weight to the boat as the rest huffed and puffed to push the boat.

I was intrigued by sceneries of people bathing in the river, kids splashing water at each other, women washing clothes by the river side, men doing their every day chore of netting fish and young monks playing football in the river, overlooking a temple as the backdrop. I wish I have a damn good camera there and then for this Kodak moment. They never fail to show their act of kindness and warmth by waving at us whenever we went by them.

After getting off the boat, we made our way to the Akha and Long Neck Village. It’s an overly commercialized place. It seems, this place actually do not exist. There was this fella who went to Myanmar to pick up the long neck village tribe to Chiang Mai and made money out of them. I shared the same sentiment with Alex. We felt as if these people are exploited – it’s like visiting a zoo. I didn’t take many pictures and all of us ended up buying some souvenirs from almost every shop to help these people. The girls here love make up. So if you have too much make up kit, you may give them away as souvenirs.

Next stop was Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Saen. This would probably be the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. It was simple and fuss free. There weren’t many visitors when we reached this place. The bayan tree is as old as 750 years old! This temple like most of the temples in Chiang Mai are Lanna styled. It can be seen by the many layers of stupa. Seriously, if you ask me, most temples in Thailand look the same to me!

Towards the end of the visit, everyone was hungry. Heck. We are always hungry that Dave labeled us as Ethiopian children. We happily made our journey to Chiang Saen for a pancake treat. I guess this would be the highlight of the trip besides the jumping off the long tail boat at Mae Kok to dislodge the boat off the sand. The eight of us gathered around this stall to eat the delicious pan cakes but not before we went for food hunting for our supper that night. It was like roti tissue rolled up like a spring roll. We had three pieces each.

As we were munching greedily on the pan cake, the national anthem was played in a school opposite us. I was very surprised that everyone stood still to show respect to the national anthem. Even cyclists and motorbikers stopped by the road side to stand up straight to show respect. I suddenly developed a new level of profound respect for the Thais. Small gestures like these surely construe as high patriotism among the Thais of their love for the country.

Dave helped us to arrange for dinner nearby Baan Yu Pen Sook – a small cottage villa in some deserted kampung where we would put up a night at Chiang Rai. Knowing us as the perpetually hungry lot, he ordered about 7-8 dishes for us to try. The happening tom yum, some fried meat, green curry, stir fried kangkung, stir fried meat with vegetables, phad thai, etc. The cook took about 30 minutes to prepare the dinner for us and we shoved down the food down our throats the entire dinner in less than 10 minutes. She must be pretty shocked. The wonderful dinner only cost us 650+ baht!

The moment we reached Baan Yu Pen Sook for a night cap, it began to pour like cats and dogs. What a perfect timing! We very much welcomed the rain as it was pretty hazy in Chiang Mai.

After refreshing ourselves, taking bath and resting, the heavy rain began to trickle slowly into drizzles. We went to the small pantry near the office to have supper – the food we managed to get at the market earlier and chatted briefly. We called it a night and looked forward to another fun-filled day.

Jumbo Erection

Monday, 17th March 2008

We packed our bags to head for Chiang Rai and started the day as early as 7 am to capitalize on the cooler weather in the morning. There hasn’t been much rain in Chiang Mai lately because it’s pushing towards the very hot summer in April when the Thais and visitors all over the world congregate here to celebrate Songkran. Songkran is huge in Chiang Mai. Celebrations would go on for five days straight. If we were to visit Chiang Mai mid of April, be prepared to be perpetually wet for five days.

Since it’s summer, the river at Chiang Dao Elephant training camp is rather shallow. To enjoy the bamboo rafting, Dave suggested that we give the Orchid and Butterfly farm a miss as it would take longer time to cruise down the river in shallow waters. We agreed. When we reached Chiang Dao Elephant Camp, the air was cool and fresh. We quickly got into the camp to get on the elephant ride.

Chiang Dao Elephant training camp breeds elephants for commercial purposes. A wild elephant lifespan could stretch up to 120 years. But working elephants age faster and their life expectancy rate is reduced to approximately 80 years. The Indian elephants in Chiang Dao training camp are trained as young as they are 3 years old and send off to work when they are fully trained. Like humans, they have retirement age for elephants too, at age 60.

I am guilty as charged when it comes to exploitation of these animals. I was very apprehensive to get on the elephants worrying I might hurt their backs. My concerns were unfounded. Elephants could weigh up to 6 tonnes when fully grown and a baby elephant could weigh about 500 lbs after birth. To think of the bright side, I thought of this camp as a job opportunity for the locals for a better quality life. The elephant ride was quite fun – cutting through the forest, walking on the river, going up the hills, etc. The ride really made your entire body moved in sync with the movement of the elephant and you felt like your entire body has gone through a Thai massage!

I couldn’t stand properly after the ride because I went weak on my knees. We then walked to the river where the elephants would take their bath. It was a bit cliché lah. The boys were too busy discussing one well endowed male elephant’s appendage. Then, we went off to the stage where there was a show to illustrate how elephants work together in the logging industry to carry and lift logs.

While watching, Popiah aka Tao Pok asked why the male elephant with the very well endowed appendage did not get an erection like he was when taking a bath just now.

I was amused by her question and quipped – “Well, I don’t think one should have an erection while at work!”

Trying to redeem her pride, she said, “Then, why he had an erection while taking a bath just now?”

I answered, “If I am a male elephant and I have seven other females taking bath together with me at the same time, I would definitely get a massive erection!”

She giggled non stop.

We went on a bamboo rafting on the river near the training camp after the show. I was quite surprised that the bamboo raft is rather buoyant and strong despite having a hollow shaft and light. I had gone to some training camps before, building a raft on bamboos and forgotten how strong bamboo poles could be. It was a breezy cruise with occasional friction on the sand due to shallow waters. Tao Pok and I recalled our Tam Coc trip in Hanoi. We almost got roasted in the hot sun and thank God that this ride was not half as bad as Tam Coc’s. Be careful when you soak your feet into the cold river though. Your feet might get unwanted stuffs sticking on it – the elephant dung!

And do you know elephant dung are used to make paper because of its high fibre content? So, better think twice before you lick an envelope.

After a scrumptious lunch of tom yum, spring roll, stirred fried vegetables and meat overlooking Ping river, we slept all the way through the 2 hours journey to Tha Ton.

To be continued…

*Day 2 is broken into two parts as it was way too hectic to pack into a single post!

Colours of Chiang Mai

16th March 2008, Sunday

Flight AK896 reached Chiang Mai International Airport 25 minutes ahead of scheduled time. Yuin and I looked at each other, rolled our eyes and sniggered. I told him, after flying so many times with Air Asia, they always proudly (to a point of annoyance) announce that they are early to reach a destination, even if it’s only 5 minutes earlier. If there is a traffic police in the air, I am sure he would issue a speeding ticket.

Even though groggy from lack of sleep after being rudely awaken by an announcement from a giggly air stewardess of a marriage proposal on the air and non-stop applause (come on lah); we were very gung ho to take on the city.

We were greeted promptly by Dave, the owner of Chiang Mai Marvel Travel. I came across this contact when I was surfing the internet. I guess I love it because it’s hassle-free. No payment required till we meet upon arrival!

Doi Suthep

First stop is Doi Suthep, the landmark of Chiang Mai. People who came to Chiang Mai and didn’t go to Doi Suthep, would be considered haven’t been to Chiang Mai at all. The road towards Doi Suthep is a winding one; situated about some 30 minutes away from the airport, proudly perched on the hill, some 3,500 km above sea level.

After looking and marveling with awe at pictures of Doi Suthep in magazines, the web or friends’ pictures; I was rather disappointed that it’s not as grandiose as I thought it would be. Nevertheless it was quite worth a visit. We learned that, Doi Suthep was built where a white elephant sent by the King in search of a good land to house relics given by Lord Buddha; died on the site. White elephants are considered sacred by the Thai people.

When we visit any temples, we should go round the temple, following clock wise. Going anti clock wise is meant for the dead.

The happening beef noodles
After a brief visit, our stomachs were growling uncontrollably. Dave asked if we would like to have international buffet or some local Chiang Mai food. Of course we unanimously opted for the latter. He smiled as if agreed with our better choice and took us to Rote Yiam Beef Noodles (I think that’s the name), a shop opposite Shangri-la Hotel. He mentioned that almost everyone he brought to this place would have second helpings of the bowl of goodness. We did indeed! It was heavenly. Go easy on the chili powder. It’s super hot.

After the scrumptious late lunch, we made our way to Royal Lanna Hotel to check in. Dave gave us some directions to the Chinatown and Sunday Walking Street. He mentioned that all visitors must visit the Sunday Walking Street as it’s a place to absorb the entire Chiang Mai experience.

Chinatown – the famous peanut dessert, colorful lanterns, tribal skirts & tuk tuks
Before going to the Sunday Walking Street which is only open from 5 pm onwards, we went to check out Chinatown. It was a typical Chinatown with dried foods and desserts; with the exception that, this one is littered with tuk tuks.


As we loitered about town, we came across this temple near Chinatown. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what was it called. There was a talking mynah greeted us as we went in to check it out. There are about 300+ temples in Chiang Mai, so I guess it’s quite justifiable if I forget this one!

Colours at the Sunday Walking Street

Dave was right about the Sunday Walking Street behind the old city walls. There were street performers, sale of goods you would need or merely enjoy looking at, exotic and bizarre foods, delightful bargains and much, much more. We were delighted to immerse ourselves in the colors, sounds, smells and especially, the camaraderie of the very hospitable people of Chiang Mai.