13 February 2019 Bangkok and Chiang Mai Thailand
We had two of Diane’s cousins (and their wives) come to Thailand to visit us. This was the first visit to Thailand for Ron/Brenda Toonders and Larry/Sharon Toonders. Since our boat had the generator tore up (again) and the engine was out of commission (heat exchanger and oil cooler out for repair) – we had long ago decided to meet them in Bangkok for four days and then in Chiang Mai for 3 days. With four people visiting, we couldn’t really accommodate them on our boat anyway, its just too many people.
I was in Thailand on a 4 week holiday way back in December 1990, 28 years ago – so I had seen many of the touristic things in this country before it became overrun with tourists, particularly Russians and Chinese. Nonetheless, we didn’t want to restrict our view of Thailand to just Phuket, so we committed ourselves to this holiday within a holiday. Diane booked the group AirBnB’s for both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and I booked our flights. They were noticeably cheap – and we had a great time.
On the first day, we spent quite a bit of time at the Grand Palace, together with nearly every other tourist in Thailand. The Toonders were real troopers, despite the 12 hour jet lag.
Sunday is clearly not a good day to visit the Grand Palace – which is free for locals. Temple pants are “in order” every day as both the men and the women need to cover their knees and shoulders. If you’re not wearing them “on entry” then you can buy them at the entrance – although it is much cheaper if you thought of this beforehand.
The number of tourists at the Grand Palace was just staggering, or maybe strangling would be a better description. Our trip to get there involved a tuk-tuk, then a river bus, and then a bit of walking.
The Grand Palace itself is a complex of buildings in the heart of Bangkok and has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. It is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development, with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings.
The Grand Palace is currently partially open to the public as a museum, but it remains a working palace, with several royal offices still situated inside. There are no government offices on site as the monarchy has no official role in the government.
After seeing the Grand Palace, we went to see the “solid gold” Buddha, another popular attraction but apparently with far less tourists. This Gold Buddha is a Maravijaya Attitude seated Buddharupa statue, with a weight of 5.5 tonnes (5,500 kilograms) of solid gold. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok. At one point in its history the statue was covered with a layer of stucco and coloured glass to conceal its true value, and it remained in this condition for almost 200 years, ending up at what was then a pagoda of minor significance. During relocation of the statue in 1955, the plaster was chipped off and the gold revealed. At US$1,400 per troy ounce, the gold in the statue (18 karat) is estimated to be worth 250 million dollars.
We also saw an incredibly large reclining Buddha on the same site.
On Day 2, we went to see the Mahanakhon Skywalk, which was actually only a few hundred metres walk from our AirBnB. The building was very futuristic, and apparently very stable.
I thought the price was quite high, but since they offered me a substantial seniors discount, I couldn’t turn it down. In fact, the whole visit was quite memorable and worthwhile – and offered incredible vistas of the sprawling city of Bangkok. Since it was 78 floor up, and 314 metre high – there weren’t very many tourists. The toughest part was the exit at the bottom. We had to work our way through about 30 minutes worth of gift shops!
Yes, we are standing on some sort of transparent polycarbonate glass. We had to remove loose items from our pockets and wear slippers to prevent the glass from being scratched.
Late in the afternoon, we stopped in to visit a massage parlour only a hundred metres from our AirBnB. All the windows were blacked out and there was a large empty car parking lot in front. We thought we’d give it a try for some leg and back massages. As we walked in, the women behind the counter started waving their arms frantically and saying “sexy massage – no women allowed”. Ah, so now I get it, this was one of those places where Bangkok has earned its reputation as a steaming sex pot! No problem, we walked out and walked right into another place just across the street where we all had our therapeutic (but not sexy) massages.
On Day 3, we took a walk through a local park and then went looking for another temple, this one called Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn – on the banks of the Chao Phraya River that snakes its way through the centre of Bangkok. The Temple of Dawn is amongst the best known tourist attractions in Bangkok and has existed since the seventeenth century.
I figured it should more likely have been called the Temple of the Nearly Dead because my feet and knees were killing me after following Larry on this never ending route march of a thousand turns zig-zagging across the city of Bangkok!
The architecture and design was just breathtaking. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Only one comes to mind when I look up these stairs …..
I found this “split” statue pretty interesting, a mixture of the old and new culture.
In areas where there has been substantial growth, the aerial communications wires in Thailand are a sight to behold, Somebody has a legend for all those wires? Alternatively, the power lines seem much more straightforward, but these communication lines are really jumbled. This is a pretty normal sight.
When we went to Chiang Mai, North of Bangkok and higher in elevation, we found the air temperature and sunny days to be nearly the same, but the lower humidity was refreshing. Our first stop was to visit the Doi Suthep Temple, a highly revered temple on top of the Doi Suthep mountain, some 15 kilometres out of Chiang Mai. This temple and its growth started in the 1300’s.
From the car park there are two ways to reach the temple. The first is a 309 step pretty vertical climb up the mountain. The stairs are flanked by huge Naga creatures. The Naga is an underwater creature from Buddhist mythology in the form of a large snake.
If you don’t feel like climbing, there is also a cable car to take you up in comfort. For the record, we took the cable car UP and the stairs DOWN.
Here’s something we learned by hiring a real guide. Certain events in the Life of the Buddha are thought to have occurred on certain days. The Buddha images representing these events, are thus also associated with the days on which they occurred. Consequently, people who were born on a certain day of the week may be most interested in the Buddha Image corresponding to that day (like when commissioning a Buddha image). These statues had collection plates in front of them, so that you can make your donation to the appropriate statue.
We also went to see the 8 Meter High straw sculptures of King Kong “and others” at Huay Tung Tao Lake. The construction of these sculptures has used straw left over from rice harvesting, with steel serving as the internal structure. The King Kong family is complete with father, mother, and child sculptures. The latest sculpture, which is the biggest of the three, has steps and a platform where visitors can go up and take pictures from the inside of King Kong – or stand in the grip of his hand.
At this little park/tourist attraction, they also had little huts that you could rent for 400 baht ($18 CDN) per night, based on double occupancy. It was very rudimentary accommodations, but there was an electrical plug-in, a light bulb and even two USB plug-ins. No thanks.
We also went to the Bai Orchid And Butterfly Farm – which was mostly about the tourist trap gift shop. However, they had probably the BEST buffet lunch that we’ve had in a long time. The choices and freshness were something to behold. Personally, I’m always a fan of the buffet – largely because I can see and smell what I’m putting on my plate! But, here are a couple of photos of a butterfly and some orchids – who wants to talk about the buffet?
In the afternoon, we went to the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls. Located about an hour and a half drive north of Chiang Mai’s Old City. These waterfalls are not only impressive and gorgeous, but a special natural feature allows you to climb directly up the rocks into the oncoming cascading water. The path is not slippery and slimy as you would expect. The Sticky Waterfalls get their name from a mineral deposit that is incredibly grippy. In fact, the rocks feel like a hardened sponge. They are callous and even slightly prickly to the touch but surprisingly give a bit under pressure. Since no algae or slime adheres to the rocks, they are the perfect ground to climb up the waterfall. It is impressively steep in some places, but with the aid of the limestone deposits on the stones, even Ron felt like Spider-Man!
When I was in Chiang Mai 28 years ago, elephants were working for a living. They were used in the logging industry and elsewhere. I paid to ride an elephant and learned about these amazing creatures. Nowadays, elephants are very protected and mostly live in a sheltered environment. I’m not certain if there are really any elephants in “the wild” in Thailand. There is clearly no work for them anymore. Consequently, there are hardly any places where you can ride an elephant, but if you’re lucky – you’ll find an elephant sanctuary where you can feed and wash these creatures. Here it is, proof positive that “shit rolls downhill”.
We got pretty close to several of these elephants.
We first fed them whole bananas, initially one at a time but the elephants wanted us to “load up their trunk” where they would pitch them in 6 at a time. Sharon shows good technique with one banana at a time, popping it right into this guys mouth.
Ron tests just how strong that trunk is.
Then we went back to the “kitchen” and prepared sugar cane (chopping them up) into pieces for the elephants to eat.
I can’t recall the name of this place, but it was pretty special. They outfitted us in special shirts that more resembled a Mexican poncho than anything I’d seen in Thailand – but at least they were clean.
After lunch, we took one elephant over to the mud pit and had a bit of fun slathering the mud on the elephant and each other. I noticed a few turds popping out of the elephant’s butt but his handler promptly scooped them up and tossed them out of the mud pit. After all, what tourists would want to be in a mud pit with fresh, still steaming turds?
After the mud pit came the refreshing dip in the cold mountain stream. Our group then used the opportunity to clean not only the elephant but ourselves as well. It was all in good fun for the elephant and tourists.
After Chiang Mai, we all flew back to Phuket where the four Toonders went on to the next phase of their holiday with the beaches, malls and tourist traps of Phuket. Diane and I returned to our own bed, where we made some progress with boat repairs and have started to plan for our exit from Thailand.