We left the smog and heat of Bangkok to travel north to Chiang Mai, which is in the mountains. They call themselves the cultural center of Thailand, and it's one of the most popular places to visit as well, with treks, waterfalls, hiking, elephant training camps, cooking schools and all sorts of other fun things.
The first day we were in town we ended up going to the 'monkey school' where folks have been training monkeys for the past few years, and lure in tourists to pay a ridiculous admission fee...so of course we were there. The show was actually kind of cute, but the monkeys all were chained up and that wasn't so cool. we did hang out with some of the monkeys who would reach through their cages and hold your hand. Josh had several new friends.
Say cheese! Or banana!
And then we went to Tiger Kingdom, where you get to pet tigers. Seriously. And unlike the monkeys, there were no chains to be found. The tigers were in enclosures, but they were quite large, with pools and things to play and jump and sleep on. There are all kinds of different packages that you can pay for--seeing baby tigers (the 3 mo old ones were the most expensive to see) up to the big old full grown guys. We decided to see the Small Tigers (6mo old, not to be confused with teh more expensive Smallest Tigers) and the Big Cats.
Tigers just want to have their bellies rubbed, just like the rest of us!
Things we learned about tigers:
--they sleep up to 18 hours a day
--a group of tigers is called a streak
--their stripes are like fingerprints, all unique
Mmm. Tasty morsel with a camera.
So you go into these big enclosures with a guide, who has nothing but a small stick to protect you from the tigers in case they decide to eat you. But the tigers were too busy lounging to be worried about us. The guides were funny, though...even though I did see one sign that told us that the guides were not supposed to take pictures, they all offered... in some cases were quite insistent. Like in this shot, the guy kept telling Josh to "lay on the tiger! lay right on top!" Pretty soon Josh was kind of like the girls laying over cars in the calendars in auto shops.
Getting ready to pounce. Not on me, thank goodness. Gorgeous, though, huh? All the tigers seemed to be quite healthy and well fed. And as happy as one can be in a confined space.
That night we wandered to the night market for a bit, and on our way home it started to pour. Not just rain. It was coming down in sheets. We took cover in a hotel doorway, and got a tuk tuk to bring us to our guesthouse!
The next day we headed out on a 3 day trek, with hiking and elephants and waterfalls and all sorts of good stuff. It's a huge industry, and just about all the guesthouses have trekking companies. We had 3 others in our group, all from England...Gemma, Farrell and Mike. You'll see pictures of them later. Lovely folks. First we stopped at a local market, where Josh is displaying the dragonfruit we bought (it's usually white with black seeds, I'm not sure where the fuchsia color came from).
Bought more mangosteens, and tried some rambutans too! Those are the pink and green spiky ones. I love tropical fruit!
All the elephant handlers (called Mahouts) at lunch...
So Josh and I did quite a bit of hiking in NZ, and we figured we'd be just fine on the 2-5 hours of hiking that we were going to be doing in Thailand. Now, the trails weren't bad, but the humidity and heat made it a lot more difficult! Needless to say, when we came across waterfalls (at least once a day!) we all jumped in.
Behind the waterfall.
Walking into the Karen village where we stayed the night.
Rainbow over the hills.
Here piggy piggy piggy...
Skinny cow and laundry.
The villages were interesting...while they still don't have all the comforts of the western world, we did see lots of cell phones, motorbikes, and some places even had solar powered lights!
Family 'o shrooms on the trail.
We got to walk by/on lots of rice fields as well. I think I took a million pictures of rice fields...but they're so pretty! And such a vibrant green!
Stopped for our lunch, conveniently wrapped up in big leaves.
Chilies! I think I might have to grow some when we get a house. Someday.
More waterfalls! This one had a nice deep part where you could jump in...
See Josh jump!
Our accommodation for the night...
And our entertainment, in the form of banana whiskey (stored in the water bottle) from our new friends, drunk out of a princess cup. We also got to hear some music played on a homemade instrument, and played silly games that included lots of shouting and throwing up your arms. Good times had by all!
The next morning...Josh and Mike on the left, with Gemma and Farrell on the right. A fun bunch!
Good view of the falls.
Here's our new friend (the provider of the banana whiskey as well) demonstrating his musical prowess.
We left that morning for more hiking. Lots of pretty scenery on the way. These plants caught my attention as well...even in midday, they will still have water drops on the leaves...how does that work?
More rice fields!
Climbing very carefully over the river and this rickety looking log bridge...which then our guide just skipped across, not even bothering with the 'railing.'
And bamboo rafting.
After three days of loving nature, I was ready for a shower! First was the 2 hour drive back to Chiang Mai. More mountains and rice on the way!
That night we met our lovely trekking group for a drink/pool/wandering in the nightlife of Chiang Mai.
The next day we decided to do a bit of sightseeing around Chiang Mai, including more temples (and cute monks!)...
And some handicrafts. We saw silver working...
And the workings of silk worms, and how to get the silk strands out of the cocoons that the slikworms build. So in the pot of warm water are the cocoons, and to get out a stand of silk, all this lovely lady does is stir the pot with a stick. It's AMAZING! I was enthralled.
I've always wanted some of the fun furniture ever since I was in Thailand the first time...so when I saw this fun bench I decided we should own it. Josh doesn't think it's practical. He's completely right. Can't furniture be an art/conversation piece? :) Don't know if it will actually get home, though, as in the time that it took for me to get this up, I've had many emails back and forth with customs/shipping people who are adding more fees (not even including the customs tax charge!) and more paperwork, so I might just be telling them to keep their MFing bench.
So many cute children. Tried to get a few to come home with me, but so far it hasn't worked.
We took a half day cooking course with Mr Soot (of course, that can't be how he spells his name, but it is how it sounds!), who was hilarious and awesome and super fun! I can't wait to try these at home!
Josh LOVING cooking. For real.
Then we went wat hunting again. Good thing there are a million of them, cause we didn't have a problem finding any. This one is Wat Chedi Luang. Remember the story about the Emerald Buddha? Well, this temple actually housed the Emerald Buddha from 1468 to 1551.
The donation boxes scattered about the temple are big ole safes!
Hello pretty dragon.
When you walk into the temple grounds, first you see lots of pretty, normal looking temple buildings--lots of colors and shiny. As you go around to the back of the temple, you see the old temple. It's quite impressive in person! The construction of the temple started in the 14th century. It took until mid-15th century to be finished during the reign of king Tilokaraj. It was then 82 m high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of all Lanna (the old kingdom of northern Thailand). In 1545, the upper 30 m of the structure collapsed after an earthquake. It wasn't till the early 1990s that the chedi was reconstructed, financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. Why the Japanese government, I don't know...
Our last night in Chiang Mai--we ate at a little street restaurant with this awesome little cook. Pad Thai for a dollar!
The lovely mountains from the plane. Bye Chiang Mai!