Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A new beginning, a solo journey - Part 1

   Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is funky and full of contrasts--I made the trip in mid-December 2017---We had always planned to go soon and maybe even move there after a few years of Bangkok excitement. CM is the 2nd largest city in Thailand, with rivers and mountains nearby. It has a little over 1 million people and the vibe is completely different than down in Bangkok with many expats from lots of places making it their home. In fact, I heard more English in one day here than 6 months in Bangkok! It is getting so popular, it is enduring some growing pains. Even so, I found some magic here...quiet and green with sometimes only the sound of birds.
   It is an ancient city surrounded by remnants of the old walls and a moat. It was this area I concentrated on exploring. I was booked at the Banh Mi guest house and the owners, Paul and Aay welcomed me like an old friend. The room was spotless with a super efficient fan and a/c both. 

   This is the view from their restaurant and that is the width of the soi it is located on. The purple lights are the bar across the soi! I loved the location in the bottom East section of the old city, their street meandered around past many little restaurants, laundries and drinking establishments. The old city was very easy to explore, there are main streets with schools, hotels and stores but then you can go on the tiny access sois and think you were in the countryside-if in your country they had adorable tiny coffee houses every block. Here are a few more views of the street. See how narrow it is! Motorcycles and tuk tuks race down them.

   This delicious concoction was from Dash, a really fun restaurant just steps away-

   A view of the moat that surrounds the old city

   One thing I love about the Thai is their sense of humor...

Yet another example of Thai whimsey in this elegant Temple

   Chiang Mai has been inhabited for over 2,000 years and it enjoyed its golden age when it was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom from 1296 to 1558. Many important temples are within the city walls. I happen to love the Nagas, or Snake guardians at the foot of most temple stairs. Legend has it that a cobra protected the Lord Buddha during a storm with its hood and so they have a major place of honor in Thai temples.

Wat Pra Singh

Wat Buppharam

Wat Chedi Luang

tiny Wat Inthakhin

   People do get temple fatigue seeing so many spiritual places but if you can take the time to really look, no two are alike and have their own special energy.

                       Wat Buppharam- very old Stupa

Wat Phan Tao

Wat Pra Singh

Wat Chedi Luang

   The grounds of each Wat are also very unique-some are like parks and others have many other lovely buildings. Even if you just peek inside the main hall where the principal Buddha images are, you will see huge differences, for each pose and posture of his hands or if he is sitting or standing has meaning.

   Another thing I love about Thailand is even the smallest little coffee shop or restaurant is always wonderfully decorated or styled to be inviting and interesting. They put a lot of thought into decor. Miranda's is a perfect example, it had little alcoves amid the greenery to make you feel like you were all alone. 

  The street was right in front but you felt totally secluded. Here is another favorite of mine, the Fern Forest cafe. I could move into this place in a heartbeat! It had waterfalls, ponds, birds and also completely screened off from the street with bamboo and palms.

  My idea of a perfect oasis. Food was good and they must have thought I looked like I was going to keel over as they brought water immediately. (I was!)

  This is a tiny little back soi that passes by people's backyards but there is a hidden coffee shop.

      Needless to say, Chiang Mai with all its touristy, English speaking, expat-heavy feel was a kind of balm to the soul. So many plants and birds and even a blue sky which is rare in Bangkok. Lots more roosters, however-I heard them every morning.

   So I went to several markets, ate right on the river, checked out the modern mall and also made it up Doi Pui (the mountain) to see Wat Doi Suthep. There is a famous temple on top but getting there is interesting. First, you go to the Zoo- then wait in front of it for 9 more people you never met to fill the songthaew. There is no public transport in Chiang Mai but these small pickups with seats along the sides work great. Just tell the driver where you are going and if he is headed in that direction, just hop on for only 20 Baht. (65 cents) If he isn't, just keep trying or change streets. For the mountain trip, it is all set up in advance with regular pickups. Once they have 10, they are off!
photo by Kenneth Robert

   Then it's a hair-raising ride up to the top, about 15 minutes of swerving and hanging on.

   The drop off place is still below the temple, it is another 309 stairs or there is an inclinator, which I opted for.

   Once you arrive, there are more steps and then you see the blinding golden stupa.

The devoted walk around and say prayers, like this monk.

   Everywhere you will see other shrines, and though very crowded, it is possible to find some small areas of peace.

   I decided to brave the stairs and going down was not that hard. See, more snakes! I made some new friends, these girls are from the Hmong tribe.

   I said goodbye to Chiang Mai and went further North to Chiang Rai-and I am sorry to say the little town was not as charming or fun as Chiang Mai, but it is here that Jimm and I were so looking forward to seeing some famous temples. I signed up for a 12 hour tour (gulp) but had a wonderful, LONG day. A few of the stops were not high on my list and of course turned out to be favorites. The major place was the famous "White Temple" or Wat Rong Kuhn. An artist we love named Chalermchai Kositpipat owns and designed and painted this outstanding place as an act of devotion.

    Here, you cross the bridge over hands representing greed     and temptation...

   Here's the main entrance but no photos allowed inside. 

   Every inch inside is filled with colorful murals showing bombs and pollution, destruction, and then oddly--outer space with Michael Jackson, the Enterprise, a tentacle monster and lots of other "characters" flying around.

  Here is another example of current day references-
Hanging on the tree outside are the heads of Gollum, Pinhead, Hellboy and others. 

   It was very meaningful as it was a kind of pilgrimage for me. The next stop was also jaw-dropping and very new, designed by a student of the artist from the White Temple. The main hall opened 2 years ago and it is still being completed. Wat Rong Suea Ten is the "Blue Temple", and you are first greeted by this immense Guardian:
   It's hard to tell scale but a person would just reach the bottom of those horns. He is magnificent, and they accented the blue paint with glitter. My kind of place! Here is the main Hall:

And inside, murals all around of the life of Buddha

   SO beautiful- they are building a matching green Guardian on the other side.

   I have lots more to this trip so in order not to overload with stories, Part 2 will be out shortly-Thanks for stopping by!



Thursday, January 4, 2018

Plans turned to tears and the passing away of Jimm

   I have been silent on the blog for the most terrible of reasons - My beloved husband and best friend Jimm died on November 6. It was very sudden, with an ambulance being called around 3:30pm and he was gone from me by 6:30pm. I have cried about a zillion tears and this is heartbreaking on so many levels.
   Jimm loved being in Bangkok and we had such fun in the year planning it together. As you might have seen from his busy facebook and instagram entries, each day was a new adventure. I am devastated that he was enjoying this new life so much and yet fate cheated him of fully realizing our dream.
   We had decided to hold off collecting his social security a year for a lousy 17 bucks more a month, and he only got to draw on it for 5 months total. It turns out I am too young to receive any of his for many months. Use that as a cautionary tale of never knowing what the future can bring and treat each day as it may be your last.
   So- could anything be more terrible than losing my partner and friend of over 30 years, being alone in a foreign country and not speaking the language, fighting with Prudential insurance, my home back in Las Vegas rented out for 24 more months? I am thinking, not much more. Thankfully our son Sebastian has been a rock of support even though he was suffering terribly himself.

    Most of my friends and family expected I would return to the states, but I feel like the enormous amount of energy it took to get here would be a betrayal of everything we set out to accomplish. My current plan is to travel EVERYWHERE we had wished to go over 5 years and cram it into 11 months. It won't be anywhere near as fun, I will cry a lot but to waste this opportunity we had grabbed for ourselves would be to throw away a lifetime experience.

   So now this blog will not be a lighthearted cultural trip of all things Southeast Asia, but a more traditional solo travel blog. I hope you will follow along with me and see the moon on the other side of the world.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A solemn time for Thailand- in memory of King Bhumibol Adulyadej

   Thailand's beloved King died last October, while we were planning our move to Bangkok. We knew we would be living here when they held the funeral one year later and it has been a very sobering experience. King Bhumibol had ruled for 70 years and most Thais have only known him as King. The outpouring of respect and grief shows how much he was loved. 

  When we first arrived in Bangkok, we saw memorials everywhere with large photos of the king embellished with bunting in black and white. Inside all public buildings are lavish shrines with his picture. Many people bow or show respect when they pass by.
   Now the formal year of mourning is almost over and the King's funeral will take place Oct 26 with many ceremonies over a series of 5 days. Starting October first, we noticed many changes in Bangkok-the BTS only plays soft music while scenes from the King's life show on the monitors instead of the usual raucous commercials.  All photos and videos in newspapers, online and on news shows are in black and white. The King's other name, Rama IX, show up at night on buildings, and there is a brisk business for special t-shirts in black with his symbol on it. (We bought them also)
   Here are some of the signs of respect around the city:

In the BTS stations- scenes from his life

On the sides of Malls

Here is a beautiful memorial with the number "9"
in marigolds for Rama IX

Shrines at small businesses

In our local Tesco grocery store

In lights, the number 9

Siam Paragon mall had a spectacular memorial- 
and also a large display of his many Royal projects
(over 4800) that helped Thailand and his grateful subjects

   At every mall there were stands set up for people to make paper flowers for the funeral- there were ALWAYS people making them, day or night. They must have made millions.

October 13 was the anniversary of the King's death and a national holiday. The new King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun honored his father at the making merit ceremonies in the Grand Palace Throne room. 

   During the ceremony, monks chanted and the King gave out robes. See the photos above and below show the monks with their ceremonial fans.

   Next week start the 5 days of ceremonies and rituals. Here is a how to see all the information, from maps, photos of the royal chariots, explanation of processions to timelines:

        www.bangkokpost.com and choose the left button.
   The city is preparing for hundreds of thousands of visitors from around Thailand to view the funeral-we will watch live on TV and hunker down as EVERYTHING will be closed. We share the sadness of the Thai people over the loss of their King.

                                                     Until next time, Audrey