Sunday 4 November 2012

Sunday Part 2: Markets

Despite being worn out from Elephant riding there was still more to do in Chiang Mai that afternoon. On Sundays they close some streets to traffic and have a large Market. This is mainly a bric a brac market with handicrafts and trinkets and clothes and such. You see similar in many parts of the world but this was huge in scale. In fact if you frequent these types of markets, certainly in Australia, what is on sale is very familiar, but also very cheap.
There are also plenty of food stalls and massage beds set up.
Thai food stalls - without crowds!

Lady's clothing stall. I wanted to buy one cos they just looked so nice.

Musicians - buskers
So I hobbled up to the markets as I now had sore thighs from Elephant riding and a broken toe.
I wandered around and had some nibbles and took in the sights. I didn't buy anything, but if ever you are in Thailand and Chiang Mai is at the end of your trip it is the place to spend the last of your Thai Baht on goodies to take home. Note: Sunday walking street in Chiang Mai.
The rain came down and the streets magically cleared.
Time for a beer I thought but everyone else had the same idea and instead I explored Wat Phantao which has relics of the Lord Buddha. It is a fabulous temple, visually appealing and I am sure a religious experience to Buddhists.

The Bludger did go out after that and have a massage but for me the day was basically ended.

Sunday Part 1: In which I get to ride a "Nelephant"

During my travels on Saturday I had booked myself into a days Mahmout training and Elephant riding. Supposedly a full days tour. A Mahmout is an Elephant handler.
I was picked up on time from my Hotel and we drove around picking up other people for the tour group. For two people we had to wait for 30 minutes as they were not awake when the tour bus arrived. I got angrier and angrier and was on the point of rioting when two "lads" turned up. They both looked the worse for wear, were obviously hungover and as they talked I learned that they had been partying all night. The Bludger is not a patient person and has a low tolerance to waiting.
Our first stop was an Orchid Farm. I paid attention for a little while, but shortly gave up on Orchids and used the loo (never let an opportunity go by when on a bus) and had a coffee in the cafe. I chatted with our tour guide who after 5 minutes was wanting to set me up with one of his female relatives. Maybe that would have been OK but it never eventuated.
An Orchid. Purpulus peopleus eaterus from memory
Then it was back on the road and we headed to the Elephant Park. We had a short walk through rice paddies to the Elephants and then were asked to change into our Mahmout gear. This comprised of Thai "fisherman" style trousers and a loose fitting top and a sash belt. I felt more like a Pirate than an Elephant rider and the get up would be ridiculous pretty much anywhere else.
In full Mahmout gear
We were given a short briefing on how to control the elephants. This involved the use of words for forward, back left, right and stop plus the use of a cane with a hook on the end held in particular ways to reinforce the commands all accompanied by kicking the ears. Later when I got onto the elephant I discovered that the barb leaves a scar on the elephant as it can penetrate the skin. I have mixed feelings about this, but I will say that the elephant barely noticed and they would be dead if not kept by the park.
After the briefing it was time to get acquainted with the elephants, this involved feeding the beasties Bananas and getting up close and personal. Then all of a sudden it was time to get up onto the Elephant.
Mahmout's do not ride on the Elephants back they sit astride its neck behind the ears. This is quite an experience as the elephants do not have a lot to hang on to in that position. You ride bareback or more specifically "bare neck", only tourists get the saddles that you see in pictures.
Stage 1 of our training was to make the Elephant walk back and forth and practice the basic commands. A real Mahmout walked beside the Elephant and I gained the impression that the Elephant would have gone through the same routine if I had sat there and not given any commands at all.
That's a Banana that the Elephant is taking from my mouth
After we all had a turn it was time for a lunch of Chicken and Rice with a sauce of some sort and fruit. Simple but nice. By now I had warmed to the "lads" they were actually quite nice guys, young, impressionable and seeing the world for the first time. I was like that once, now I am more mature and grumpy. What still pissed me off though was they both had the looks that girls fall for and judging by their conversation they were both far more "successful" than I ever was.
During lunch the Mahmouts began to assemble the Elephants and we were each assigned to an Elephant. By chance I ended up on the leader of the group. For the rest of the afternoon I was always in front, and often waiting for the others to catch up. My Mahmout was also the official photographer and so I was often left unattended. Just me and the elephant and whatever it found to eat.
A born leader. The Elephant not me.
Once lunch was finished and we were all assembled on our Elephants we commenced a trek. This took about 90 minutes and in reality we probably covered less than 2km in that time. The Mahmouts walked beside the Elephants and we "controlled" the direction. The trek took us up a nearby hill and back down one side in a circular path back to the camp. A reasonably fit person could probably have walked it in 30 minutes.
However the trip was hilarious and actually very tiring. At one stage I seriously considered getting off and walking the rest of the way as I was very worn out. The hilarity came because the Elephants do not go for a ride such as a Horse might do. They see the walk as an opportunity to eat. My Elephant, as for the others also, was continually pulling down bamboo as it walked. Often it would stop and dive into a thicket and just stand there chomping away. My ability to control it was not high and the guides just let this happen. I surmised that this was normal but I did wonder how Hannibal got all his Elephants across the Pyrenees and Alps mountains into Italy.
At one stage my Elephant decided to crash through a thicket of bamboo to find some tasty morsels. At this point it became a bit worrying as I was in danger of being swept off the Elephant by the Bamboo, I was already ducked down to pass under branches that would have been impossible to push out of the way. I was very proud of myself when I managed to stop the beast, engage reverse thrust and back out of the thicket.
The ride continued on in this fashion and I later learnt that this was about par for the course, in fact this was a good day as we kept on time and course.
The trek took us back to the camp and on to a water hole. Here we were supposed to wash the Elephants down. Something that we were told they enjoyed. All I can say is "WATER FIGHT". It was on for young and old! Not sure how it started. Was it the Elephants squirting their riders with their trunk? or the Mahmouts throwing buckets of water around with gay abandon? Who knows. Who cares. It was a hot day, we were dirty and sweaty, it was fun and no hardship.
The tour ended shortly after, we had an Elephant parade and then it was time to change and get back to the Minibus for the trip home. Part of the tour was seeing paper made from Elephant dung. Mercifully the factory was closed and I was dropped back at my accommodation.
The Bludger was tired and walking bow legged like I won't say that. But the day was not over.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Exploring Chiang Mai - Saturday

November 3
No photos in this posting, I have "misplaced" the SD Card that they were saved on.
Today I basically just walked around the city and explored the environment. Directly in front of my hotel was a main road and the other side of that a moat with some remains of the ancient walls that guarded the city. The old town is (was) bounded by the moats and walls in a square pattern. The moats still exist and provide footpaths but are not as aesthetically pleasing as you may expect.
After exploring the nearby moat I made my way to Chiang Mai Plaza which has a good IT and electronics outlets. Here I was able to replace my USB charger which was accidentally packed in a box and left in Darwin. At last I could recharge the plethora of devices that are "essential" for modern travel.
I also passed the area where the night markets are held, closed at that time. And I spent some time exploring some pretty bridges which spanned the river. It was a hot day and I was almost continually thirsty and found it difficult to quench my thirst. So I was drinking a lot and shortly after in need of a toilet to release the bladder. Overall the walk was maybe not as enjoyable as it may have been.
I persevered and came to a temple (I will look up the name later, and edit this post). This is a pretty little temple and worth the visit. While there I was approached by a person who claimed to be a Muay Thai boxer and had been training in Melbourne. He had just popped in for a bit of prayer and was now about to head of to a shopping centre. He kindly offered to drop me off at the shops, no strings attached. This is a well known scam where he takes you to stores and you are pressured into buying things and he receives a commission. He was persistent but eventually left me. Some time later I found him trying the same line on a group of girls, I decided to get my own back and interrupted his spiel, saying that he was meant to have left some time ago and that he was late for his appointment. He didn't like that for some reason. The girls walked off and he went on to his next victim.
It was petty of me and I moved on from there.
I wandered into the old town but did not stay long as I planned to visit later. What I did note was that it was nicer than the red light district where I was staying, with a number of temples, cafe's, nice bars and accommodation. I decided to move there later in the week.
My impressions of Chiang Mai are that it is a very interesting city and that there are many things to do for tourists. Also that there are many good restaurants outside the more seedy bar areas the city.
During the course of the day The Bludger booked some trips and these will be the subject of successive posts.

Friday 2 November 2012

November 2 - Travel to Chiang Mai

I had breakfast in the market again. This time I chose a different vendor and ended up with chicken, a sauce and rice, very filling.
After that I checked out of my hotel and then made my way to the bus station to buy a ticket on the next bus to Chiang Mai. Another hot and humid day and it was quite a relief when the bus arrived to get inside and have some semblance of air conditioning. The bus trip was long and uneventful and got me into Chiang Mai late in the afternoon.
I had not booked any accommodation so allowed my taxi driver to recommend a place. She showed me a brochure of a reasonable looking place with a pool and I was happy with that. The taxi driver was a middle aged lady and by the end of the trip I had her life story she was "divorced, making ends meet on her own, needs a good man (hint hint), is available for any transport needs that I had, here is my number please give me a call." She had also established very quickly that I was on my own, not married, no dependents etcetera.
I got out at the hotel and thanked her.
I had been taken to the Lai Thai Guesthouse  which was certainly pleasant and well located and a reasonable price, so I booked in for three nights. I was later to find out that this guest house was infamous and in the news having recently had a murder in one of the rooms. The gist of the story is that a Pakistani man had taken a local Bar Manager back to his room. During the course of the night he brutally murdered her and then went on the run. He was later detained at the Bangkok airport trying to flee the country.
There was much rumour and speculation about why this occurred, I never found out the full details.
Anyway from my point of view the hotel was warm and comfortable and the pool was nice.
I went out that evening for a quiet meal and had a reasonable massage and a beer. The whole town was quiet, almost all of the bars were empty, and the bar girls desperate to call me in. I smiled and passed by.
Old fashioned phone in my room

The Bludger was ready to explore a new City.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Si Satchanalai Historical Park

This morning I braved the local produce market for breakfast. I had noticed the market the previous day, I wanted to try some real local food. I guessed (correctly) that the food vendors would not speak English, so I took the simple step of waiting till some one ordered and pointing at what they had.
I ended up with a lovely bowl of noodles, with what I think was a tomato/tamarind based sauce, various bits of meat and accompaniments. It was very nice also cheap and filling and spicy and I did not get a photo to display.
After that it was time to explore Si Satchanalai Historical Park.The park is about an hours drive from Sukhothai, so for this trip I engaged a driver with a car for the day. This turned out to be a good thing as the driver had some knowledge of the park and he was able to optimise my visit.
First stop was Wah Khao Phanom Phloeng. This is an ancient temple complex built on a hill called Phanom Phloeng with a nearby hill Suwankhiri also accessible via a short walk. Apparently there are 144 stairs to the top of the hill. I was hot and sweaty by the time I had climbed them.
Looking up those steps
 At the top is a large ruined temple which contains a huge Bhudda. The complex consists of other buildings too and I spent a solid hour walking around and discovering. It is a bit Indiana Jones territory with ruins partially hidden by vegetation and the whole area has a quiet and contemplative feel to it.

I descended from the hill temples and ended up at another complex which I also explored. I think that I may have taken the wrong path down the hill as I had to do some bush bashing and jump a wall to get into the temple area.
The outer wall

View of the temple complex

After this I reconnected with my driver and we drove a short distance to explore the Wat Chedi Chet Thoeo complex.

After that we took a ride to a more better preserved area of the park. Already I was beginning to get a bit "Wat"ed out. I should mention that there were informative displays at various locations, some of which showed reconstructions of how the temples may have looked. These were very useful as you could see the existing ruins and put it all into context.

Interpretative Panel

The ruins corresponding to the panel above.
Despite being in ruins many of these temples are still used for worship and I was intrigued to find some offerings in one place that included a whole roast chicken. It was fresh, the ants had barely had time to find it. I was very tempted to be naughty and try a piece, but I refrained.
Mmm that Chicken looked finger licking good

After a few more buildings and temples I decided that it was time for a change and asked the driver to show me the kilns. The kilns had been used to make pottery, and remember we are talking hundreds of years ago, so I was intrigued to see the technology. Unfortunately the main site was closed to visitors that day, but we spotted a signpost to a kiln along the roadside and I was able to look at that.
It was quite interesting, consisting of three distinct chambers. The first was a furnace where wood was burnt. The second was a chamber where the pottery was placed. I am not sure how that was loaded up. The third and final chamber was a huge chimney. It was fairly obvious that the hot gases from the furnace where drawn through the pottery chamber and out the chimney. To me it was ingenious.
The roof has collapsed, the furnace in the foreground, the other chambers just visible behind.

Detail of the brickwork that the kiln was made of.
By now it was well into the afternoon. I was tired hot and thirsty and had not stopped for lunch. My driver let me know that he had kept the best until last and we made our way to Wat Phra Si Rattana Maha That Chaliang. Technically outside the Si Satchanalai Historical Park but close enough to be considered part of it.

The driver was right as these temples had been restored in the 1700's and are in a much better condition than what I had seen to date.

Once I had visited this, I was all finished for the day. I could not see anymore temples. I asked the driver to return to my accommodation. He was happy to do so.
That evening I had my final meal in a slightly up market restaurant. Unfortunately it was fairly forgettable. Street food was more tasty.
The Bludger could not fit another Wat into his tiny brain.