We have just returned from what is now becoming our annual trip to Thailand as a welcome break from the Beijing winter weather,this year after 3 days in Bangkok we travelled to the north of the country.During the time in Bangkok we spent one day travelling by local train and ferry to the sea port of maha chai to visit the famous market that is on the actual railway track as you arrive,the stall holders have to move their goods back with the train passing with just inches to spare on both sides they have to do this 8 times a day.We then caught another train to visit a floating food market another further hour up the coast the trains were real boneshakers but very cheap.Another day we again booked an excursion train put on at the weekend for local people that stopped at various places where you could get off and wander around for 30 minutes,1 hour or even 2 hours at the last place, we set off at 6.00am returning at 9pm visiting a couple of towns with temples then onto the bridge over the river kwai before crossing that and going further to the end of the line at a famous waterfall and hiking area called nam tok.The train was again a real old boneshaker with people walking up and down selling food all day and the guard going from carriage to carriage with his megaphone to let everyone know where we were and why we were running late or had to stop to let another train get further ahead etc lol.
On the last day in Bangkok we took the water taxis up river to the reclining Buddha temple and visited a famous massage centre affiliated to the temple,which was the best massage yet (and most painful),we had packed our bags and left them at the guest house and thinking we were booked onto the 10pm night sleeper train we were sat in the local temple grounds at 6pm and decided to double check the tickets and realized the train was leaving at 6.10.We raced back grabbed our bags and grabbed a taxi to take us to the next sceduled stop of the train which was at Bangkoks second airport it was due there at 6.50 anyway we got stuck in the rush hour traffic then got onto the toll roads but not much better we told him to take us to the train station but he dropped us off at the edge of the airport by which time it was 7.20 so we raced on foot for a further 15 minutes hoping to get a later train arriving at the station at 7.35 to find that in the tradition of Thai Railways our train had still not arrived lol,we finally left at 8pm arriving in Chang Mai at 9.00am.
Chang Mai was a beautiful place full of antique,gift,craft shops very laid back hippy feel to it,we stayed in a lovely guest house everything was made of wood in the traditional Thai way the owner even had a antique shop full of wooden objects.On the first afternoon we visited the womans prison in the old quarter of the town as we had heard that the prisoners as part of their rehabilitation were taught Thai massage and they practised on people for a small fee that was very interesting the girl who gave me my massage had 2 months training to complete with 3 months left to serve of her sentence.Such a lot to see in Chang Mai with night markets,weekend markets open air shows stunning temples etc.Our second day there we hired a scooter and set off to the hills and valleys of Mai Rim visiting botanical gardens,butterfly farm,found some old abandoned pick up trucks in the fields with the jungle growing through them also crossed a old bamboo swing bridge that locals used to get across a gorge with a box on a pulley line next to it for heavier objects.We also visited a large rock that was called the Buddhas Handprint as it had the shape and indentation of a palm and fingers in it.
Each night there was usually a thunder storm and on our second night it was so severe it broke off a large section of a tree in the grounds with it falling away from our chalet and crashing through the roof of the owners house going right through the roof,if it had hit our roof it would have landed on us as we where in bed at the time,first lucky escape of our trip.
The next day we visited some ancient Buddhist sites before driving on to the McKewan Leper Colony which i had read about, Mr McKewan was a doctor and Methodist Preacher who at the end of the 19th century founded the Leper Colony on an island,we visited the old huts where they lived as well as seeing the new hospital wings and modern bungalows where they now live.It was very touching to drive down past the bungalows and have people including two children wave at you or smile all with terrible deformities,as you can imagine this was not on the tourist itinerary of places to visit.On the way back we visited Bosang village which is famous for its handmade umberellas,very interesting to see how its all done by the villagers using old traditional methods.
The next day we headed off into the mountains to visit a famous temple called Wat Prathet Suthep Doi with a 300 step climb up to it,very beautiful but also very touristy, Jun and I had a water blessing from one of the monks while there, then we drove onto Phuping Palace which had amazing architecture and beautiful gardens.After this we continued up into the mountains to visit the village of Doi Pu and saw the Opium flowers being grown and cultivated in a local valley and cannabis one villager offered us some then tried to sell us uncut rubies and diamonds he claimed he brought from over the border in Burma while at the same time asking us both what jobs we did he quickly put them away when i mentioned Jun was a Customs Officer lol. Realized later we did not have much petrol left but managed to find a local cafe that sold petrol in what looked like old whisky bottles which got us back ok.
We went for another massage that night in a local temple and there was a french guy having his feet done while at the same time playing his guitar and singing, the woman doing the massage were joining in with the chorus while working on the rest of us great fun.
We went into town early on the Saturday to watch the annual flower parade all the floats were made from flowers and there was bands, local groups etc it was amazing in all it took over 3 hours to pass never seen so many happy smiling/laughing faces,needless to say i took loads of photos.
We then hired a car in order to drive further north upto the Thai,Burma,Laos border a very beautiful scenic route the first place we visited just before Chang Mi was the famous White Temple Wat Rong Khun a local famous artist Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat started it about 16 years ago wanting to build the most beautiful Buddhist Temple in the world and it will take another 20 years to complete.It is simply breathtaking to see it as well as being completely white it has small pieces of mirror glass inlaid in to it that reflect all the light,it's one of the most beautiful things i have seen.
We then drove up to visit three local villages of different ethnic groups including the tribe called Karen or as they are usually called "the longnecks" where the woman wear very heavy metal rings around their necks and eventually they cant take them off or they would die of asphyxiation,it was strange to walk around the village seeing how they still live i asked permission from them to take every photo and not once did any refuse i visited the school a one roomed hut which the teacher told me she taught 12 children in.
There were lots of road blocks we had to go through on the way up and back as it is still a area for smugglers being close to the once infamous golden triangle but we were usually just waved through once they saw us.
We left Chang Mai on the last day to fly to Bangkok airport to transfer to the second airport for the night flight back and as we were on the plane being pushed out onto the runway i watched the ground crew disengage the tractor then walk away and turning to put their thumbs up to the crew to signal they were clear then they all in unison put their hands together and bowed to the plane,I said to Jun isn't that beautiful then we set off down the runway as the plane thundered down just before lifting up there was a loud noise from the engines being presumably put in reverse and severe breaking and shuddering as the plane stopped at the end of the runway we then returned to the airport with the pilot telling us there was a mechanical fault and they would repair it then we would be on our way at which point two men jumped up and said they wanted to get off,which they then did.Eventually happy to say after 45 minutes they fixed it and we took off but with a lot of very anxious people on board,second lucky escape lol.