Chiang Mai — The Rose Of The North
Flying into Chiang Mai from Myan-mar/Burma was a breath of fresh air, literally.
To get to our Burmese plane we took a packed, squashed un-air-conditioned bus from the un-air-conditioned terminal to the almost un-air-conditioned plane. All reflected the third-world nature of Myan-mar/Burma.
Few western amenities exist. Contrastingly our arrival in Thailand was to an air-conditioned bus and sparkling cool terminal. Two dramatically different worlds.
Stu had been to Chiang Mai before and felt confident we could navigate the city’s wonders on our own with the local guide.
At the airport we got “picked-up” by a taxi driver whose sister became our driver throughout our three-day visit. We paid her $60 for the day and she took us about one-and-a-half hours out of the city through well-paved, bustling, traffic-filled roads to an elephant camp — a highlight of our two-week trip.
Yes, we rode an elephant and an oxen cart and then went down the river on a raft! What fun! Stu had his dream fulfilled by riding in the mahout (driver’s) position sitting behind the ears of the elephant while holding tightly to the elephant’s short hairs. (I wonder if this is where the expression “I’ve got you by the short hairs” was born.) He survived! The elephant climbed gingerly through the mud and the deep, narrow slopes by stepping over rocks and through the jungle. Stu withstood my screams and pleas — “Don’t you want to get back into our seat?”, I pleaded as we very “bumpily” traversed the path. I couldn’t believe my eyes as we were taken through a river that was deep enough to be up to the elephant’s knees! I was exhilarated, terrified and in sheer wonderment that here I was on the back of this mammoth beast who thankfully became timid and responsive to his trainer’s vocal commands and pole prodding.
Stu had reassured me that these elephants were trained in camps from birth on how to use their bulk for both moving tree trunks to carrying people. The elephant has one regular mahout (driver) and they bond together. Here I am to tell the story, so whatever these trainers are doing works!
After our elephant ride we visited a small tribe of long-necked people. It was a remarkable sight to see the girls as young as 9 with three brass bands around their neck. They have more added until they are 20 years old. The girls I met were friendly and willing to have their photo taken. But it was sad to me to see their living conditions — primitive two-room huts on stilts with thatched roofs. Their lifestyle hasn’t changed in 300 years. A rare sight!
Fortunately for us, Bayside’s Erawan Restaurant owners, Paul and his beautiful wife Oi, had an employee from Chiang Mai. She is studying in America and waitressing. She suggested we contact her brother, and we did.
Her family members are traders and importers of Southeast Asian antiques. We met her brother Sakol Limsakdakul who has a huge store, Tarin Art. It houses a collection of objects from the 10th Century through the 19th Century. In a city filled with endless antique and handicraft stores it’s buyer beware, so we felt fortunate to have a personal connection.
Thanks to the computer era, Sakol photographed and e-mailed the Buddhas I wanted to buy for my son, Josh. There is a 12-hour time difference so that evening I called Josh and he was able to make a selection. What a world - you can e-mail Sakol Limsakdakul at email@example.com. The family-owned business is a wholesaler to stores in Thailand and around the world.
He and his beautiful girlfriend, Tip, took us to the famous “Night Market.” It’s really designed for tourists and most of the shoppers were Caucasian. But it was fun to bargain for a suitcase that we needed. Stu began the negotiation and I found a good technique. The storeowner wanted 1,200 baht and I wanted to spend 1,000. I took the bill out of my purse and offered it to her. When she said no, I walked away with the money in my hand. It only took three steps from the shop and she accepted the offer. I did the “Vicki Walk.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the negotiation was part of the fun.
Next week, more on Thailand.