This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thailand Adventure--Day 13-14

Day 13:

We set out our luggage at 7:30 this morning, ready to be loaded on the bus for our ride to the Chiang Mai airport and our flight back to Bangkok. Our usual fantastic buffet hotel breakfast, then, farewell to northern Thailand as we boarded our flight.

I think, of what I saw of Chiang Mai, that it was my favorite city during this adventure. The city was bedecked with flowers that lined the boulevards, surrounded by a moat in front of the remnants of the 13th century city wall. The markets, the attractions, the more temperate climate all made Chiang Mai a very special place.

After a quick ride to the airport we boarded our Bangkok Airlines flight which lasted all of 55 minutes. It was long enough for a Thai-style lunch service. Stepping out of the airport we were quickly reminded what we hadn't been missing about Bangkok. The heat and humidity hit us over the head like a ton of bricks. Welcome back!

The ride back to the hotel took longer than the flight. It was kind of comforting to be back in the same hotel where our adventure had begun two weeks ago. Our group gathered around Anil one last time as we each received our room keys from him for the final time. Each couple handed him an envelope with his tip in it and he thanked us placing his hands together and touching them to his head, in the Thai way of saying thank you. We were all effusive in our praise to him with regards to his performance as our guide. I assured him he was THEE best guide we had ever had. The moment was kind of anticlimactic really. He was grateful but there was no group hug thing or kisses on both cheeks like the French would do. We all just said thank you and then went our separate ways.

Leslie and I headed off to visit the home of Jim Thompson, the American ex-pat who fell in love with this country and it's people after World War II and decided not only to stay but to make it a better place. He was instrumental in restarting the Thai silk industry that had almost disappeared. He gathered several old traditional Thai-style buildings on property he had purchased and then after lovingly restoring them, filled them with stunning antiquities from all over Asia. He finished it by landscaping the grounds with lush plants and trees and placed cooling ponds around the grounds stocked with exotic fish. Sadly, Mr. Thompson mysteriously disappeared in 1967 without a trace. But he left behind a beautiful legacy.

Back at the hotel, I headed for the pool in the 8th floor outdoor garden. It felt great to feel the heat of Bangkok just slip away.

We had our final Thai dinner at the same little hole-in-the-wall restaurant next door to the hotel we had gone to earlier in the trip. We loved the food and it didn't disappoint this time either. We ordered our usual curry along with a salad and a bottle of water. Then we headed upstairs to pack for the trip home and head to bed.

Day 14:

It has come down to the final day of our Thailand Adventure and I must admit to feeling a bit melancholy. We'd said our goodbyes yesterday afternoon, but when we went down to breakfast this morning, there sat Anil and a few other hangers on. So goodbyes had to be expressed all over again. It might have been better to have just been dropped off at the airport when we arrived back in Bangkok yesterday, boarded our flight home and been done with it. Sigh.

We look forward to sharing photos with the folks on our tour. We passed around a copy of all our e-mail addresses so we could do that.

Our last day in Bangkok before heading off to the airport in the afternoon was all just about repacking our suitcases as efficiently as when we prepared to leave on the trip, taking a final swim in the hotel pool and then sitting around waiting for the appointed hour to head to the lobby and catch our shuttle to the airport.

So, let me finish with a few thoughts about this trip.

My initial feeling about Bangkok hasn't changed much since my arrival. It is big, very hot and humid, the traffic is an absolute nightmare most of the day. It is a pedestrian  beware city. The sidewalks are uneven and difficult to walk on in many places, made even more difficult since pedestrians are fair game to any motor scooter driver that finds it an easier route to get where they want to go. Seldom does anyone stop for a pedestrian, unless they are lying in the street.

We finally found out that, at least in the area where our hotel was located and where most tourists stay, that keeping above the traffic is the best way to get around. Heads up! The Sky Train will whisk you along to most of the tourist hot spots in air conditioned, if not crowded, comfort. And the elevated walkways adjacent to the stations allow you to stay above the traffic and walk right into most of the major shopping centers. Come down from the elevated Sky Train walkways when you need to go to a street level shop or up a side street to your hotel or a restaurant.

Do your outside activities early in the day or as late in the day as you can. The earlier morning hours can be comfortable but by around noon it gets pretty intolerable. By early evening though, when the sun has set, the temperature begins to drop a bit, the sun is no longer bearing down and, if you're lucky, a soft breeze will come up. Then eating al fresco or walking the night markets becomes fun. There is a practical reason for these night markets being--at night!

Please keep in mind that I am not a lover of heat or especially heat when accompanied by high humidity. If you don't mind those conditions, then you'll love Bangkok.

My only other criticism of Bangkok is the noise. Traffic, hordes of people, I am just not a big fan.

Now, having said all that, Bangkok is a hopping, happening place. If you want an exotic, lively, urban vacation spot you should see Bangkok. Like most capital cities, Bangkok is the place to go to see the country's culture concentrated. It's music, dance, art, politics, night life are all at a fine focus here. It is also a safe (at least we felt that way) place. We never once felt uncomfortable anywhere we went. While people occasionally did want to sell or offer you something to buy (nothing illegal although I'm sure it can be found easily enough) we never felt harassed. The Thai people are warm and friendly, quick to smile and so polite.
 
Personally, I found the countryside the best place to find the real Thailand. Staying in a thatched roof cottage on the Kwai River, cruising the Mekong in a long tailed boat, the Floating Market and the Train Market, visiting the hill tribe villages, the elephant camp, were the high points of the trip for me. Don't come to Thailand without a visit to these places. And as you travel further north the temperature falls to a much more tolerable level.

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai were both much more comfortable places than Bangkok even during the hottest times of the day.

I am glad we traveled here on a guided tour though people do it all the time on their own. College students and young adults back packing their way across Southeast Asia is a common sight.  But we found few with english language skills enough to be able to answer our questions or give directions. Even in the bigger hotels it was often a challenge. I am sure it is our demographic that drives these tour companies to a great extent. We like our creature comforts and it was nice not to have to haul our luggage through the hot streets of Bangkok trying to locate our hotel.

The success of our trip was helped immensely by the fact that we had a small group that got along well. It was especially great because our guide, Anil, was so amazingly competent. I can't say enough about the fantastic job he did. He understood, not only the Thai culture, had flawless english down to the correct use of idioms, had a great sense of humor, and used his knowledge of our culture to help us understand his.  He went over and above the call in finding little experiences, not on the itinerary to add even more special moments to our trip. Stops at the bamboo rice hut and the star (rats) meat hut, the temple celebration and parade, the rice paddies, the salt processing fields, even the little exotic candies he'd pass around the bus, sharing his family photos, all added to the specialness of our Thailand adventure.

Oh, one more thing. About our flight. We traveled to Thailand in two legs as I mentioned early in this series. LAX to Taipei and Taipei to Bangkok. The first leg took us 13 hours aboard a 747. The second required a transfer to another 747 and took about 2 hours. I was genuinely hopping for even a modicum of civility with China Airlines. I must say I was very disappointed. The seating, which should have been a little roomier considering the duration of the flight, was no better than any American domestic airline and I believe I have mentioned my disdain for American airlines many times in blogs past.

The food? Well, drum roll please! We have a new winner for thee worst airline food in the industry. The award goes to......China Airlines. Awful! Inedible! If this Chinese airline were owned by the People's Republic of China, the chef in charge of the cuisine would be tried and then shot! Unfortunately it is not and we are the sad beneficiaries of it.

So, My suggestion is to choose another air carrier when traveling in Asia. Do I have any suggestions? Sorry, no. The current state of affairs in the airline industry where economy travel is concerned is abysmal.  It is little more than a Greyhound bus with wings. So, pick your poison. Good luck.

I hope my Thai Adventure blog entries have been helpful whether you are planning a trip to Thailand or living it vicariously by reading my blog and viewing my trip slideshow. This was an amazing adventure and Thailand is a special place.

For now, with apologies to my Thai speaking friends--
Tieow hai sa nuk, good bye for now.
 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Watch for my upcoming  blog series when I travel to Spain and Portugal. A little later I will write about our adventure in traveling to the major eastern Canadian cities or Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa. Then we will swing down into Vermont and upstate New York. Lots more exciting travel adventures in the weeks ahead.

I look forward to your comments about any of my blog entries and if you'd like to receive my blog automatically, sign up for it on the side bar on the right.

Bon voyage!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Thailand Adventure--Day 12

This morning we were able to actually sleep in. We boarded the bus at 8:30 for an excursion to two temples. Tradition says that the King sent his soldiers out to find relics of Lord Buddha. They brought back two. This was considered a sign by the King to build his city here. Thus began the city of Chiang Mai. One of these holy relics resides in the first temple we visited here in the city. The King placed the other on the back of an elephant which wandered to the top of the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. When the elephant reached the top, it trumpeted three times and fell dead. This was then considered the place to build a temple for the second relic.
Pilgrims receiving a blessing from a monk

This second temple, on a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai, was one of my favorite temples. We took a funicular to the very top where the temple was built. It and the entire grounds were beautiful and relaxing even though it's popularity made it a bit crowded for my taste. Still it was a stunning place. The spire housing the relic was covered in 29 kilos of gold. Monks offered blessings, sprinkling you with holy water and giving away white bits of yarn to tie around your wrist as a sign that you have received their blessing.

Us in front of the reliquary at the temple
Lines of temple bells were rung by pilgrims as they passed. Shrines were covered in marigold offerings and incense wafted into the air. These shrines were prayed before by young and old alike. Another shrine had a line of pilgrims who walked contemplatively three times around its perimeter holding prayers, incense and more marigolds. It was a truly beautiful site.

The funicular shaft looking toward the top
Some of us walked back down from the hilltop. I chose to use the funicular to go back down saving my knees. From there we all met up at the jade factory where we learned about the gem and how they carve it. It was all very beautiful and pricey. Our group weren't big spenders so the spiel was really wasted on us. Anil did take us to a terrific coffee bar right out the front door of the jade factory where we had the best coffee of the trip. We thought of bringing some home but it was not vacuum packed and was about $15 a pound. So we enjoyed our 30 Baht cup and went on our way.

Back on the bus and down the hair raising, winding road to Chiang Mai where we were back at our hotel by 1:30. Being the hottest time of the day, we elected to nap, read or go to the pool.

The late afternoon was spent repacking our bags and finding space for some of the purchases we had made. About 5, Leslie decided to go out to see a bit more of the city, especially the pedestrian walking areas and the markets that lined it. I decided to stay in to read and finish my packing. Plus, I was getting to that point that I often do towards the end of a trip, where I am just ready for it to be over. I didn't used to be this way. I was the last one to board the plane, dragging my heels to the last. But I'm ready to sleep in my own bed. I've thoroughly enjoyed our time here, but we can head home anytime now. And we will soon. In the morning we will put out our bags about 7:30, go down for breakfast and then board the bus for the airport where we will fly back to Bangkok. There we will spend one more night before heading to the airport again for the flight to L.A. A couple of days there and on to home. So I can see the light at the end of the travel tunnel so to speak and I guess that just takes the wind out of my wanderlust sails. Leslie's approach is just the opposite. She doesn't want it to end.  No worries. 3 weeks at home and we'll be off for an even longer adventure!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thailand Adventure--Day 11

Up and out by 7 this morning. We headed for the Maesa Elephant Camp in the forest above Chiang Mai. This was a place I had really been looking forward to visiting as it was to be an up close and personal interaction with Asian Elephants which are native to this area.

The grounds were beautifully maintained, lush forest with a lively stream running through it. If it were in the U.S. I would have thought the stream would have been full of trout, but when I mentioned it to Anil he said there are no trout in Thailand and that trout are a real delicacy here.

We walked down the hill from the entrance along the stream. At the bottom of the hill was our first encounter with the elephants where a small group of four were bathing in the stream. A baby one was rolling around in the deep hole in the stream. Their keepers hollered commands to their elephants and the elephants seemed to obey them happily while still playing and getting cooled and cleaned.

Our next stop was the elephant ride. We had paid for a half hour ride. Climbing the stairs to the level where we could mount the back of the elephant, a keeper, introduced himself as Sok. He rode his elephant up to us and we were helped on. A bar swung across our laps to secure us and we were off. Billy, our new elephant friend was slow but steady. He seemed more interested in munching away on the big bundle of bamboo he held in his mouth. Billy walked us through the forest.  Sok, who spoke English pretty well, explained he had been a keeper for 22 years, but his first elephant had died and so he had been with Billy for 15. 

At one point Sook got off the elephant with our camera and took several photos of us and walked along in front of Billy while we plodded along on our own. At another spot, Billy walked down into a stream where he tanked up on water and cooled his heels. Several of our tour group were on elephants with us so we all rode along together giggling and laughing like school children. It was a thrill of a lifetime.

We said our goodbyes to our new friends, especially Billy. Wandering the grounds, we also met  and feed several other elephants including a baby one who kept close to its mama. We bought bunches of bananas and sugar cane and when offered the elephants would reach out with their trunks, nimbly grasp the offering and stuff it into their mouths. One elephant followed us up a trail knowing we had food. I finally turned to face the elephant and he lifted his trunk towards me. He made quick work of the food I had left.

The elephant show began in a big open air theater. Some 20 elephants showcased their skills including playing soccer, bursting balloons by throwing darts and even painting pictures which were for sale in the gift shop.
 
For us it was an experience of a lifetime. At one point we each were able to sit on the knee of an elephant who posed for photos, We petted and scratched it. It even put a hat on our heads and gave us a kiss. In return, we offered a few Baht which the elephant took with its trunk and passed along to the keeper. We felt better for having had the experience and the money collected went to help maintain and support the camp. It seems to be a win win situation.

Later in the day, we had lunch at the orchid and butterfly gardens where we enjoyed another Thai meal and took lots of photos of the dozens of varieties of orchids on display. Lovely spot.

I was less than thrilled with the next two stops but others seemed to enjoy them. We toured first a silk factory and then stopped at a lacquer factory. I went into neither preferring to stay in the air conditioned bus and nap a bit. We'd seen both of these processes in China years ago and the idea of touring a place whose real intention was to sell me something I didn't want anyway, just didn't do it for me. To each his own.

I think Anil sensed that we had had enough and he drove us back to the hotel for an afternoon rest. Some of our group headed out to shop while others lounged at the pool. We decided to nap a while.

Rested, our evening was spent in the home of a local Thai family enjoying the hospitality and a home-cooked northern Thai meal. The hostess was a woman whose husband died a few years ago and she found herself in need of something to do. At some point she met a representative of the Gate 1 tour company and agreed to host a dinner for the group. It seems it has worked well for both her and Gate 1. She was very gracious, inviting us into her beautiful home, showing us how to cook a couple of the dishes served to us and showing us around her spacious, lovely home.
 
We sat down to dinner and the dishes came out and kept coming out. At least 6 different dishes arrived including the chicken curry she not only demonstrated earlier. She gave each of us a little gift bag with the recipe and some of the ingredients for making it. She also demonstrated cooking a soup for us that we all had as our first course.
 
As the evening came to a close our hostess walked us out to the driveway where little hot air balloons had been placed for each of us. Made of rice paper, these clever devices have a little wax burner in the bottom that, when lit, fills the balloon light and hot air. A wish is made by those holding the balloon and then it is released into the night air. The glowing bag of air rose into the night sky taking with it our wishes and concerns. We all released ours at the same time. 5 balloons rose higher and higher until they finally blended into the background of stars and then disappeared. Releasing these balloons is a common tradition in Asia with sometimes hundreds or even thousands being released at once. It must be a breath-taking site to behold. I know ours was truly a magical way to end our evening with this gracious lady.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thailand Adventure--Day 10

Up at 6 this morning. We needed to be on the bus by 7 for our excursion to visit two local hill tribe villages. We stopped at a gas station along the highway where we transferred to one of the light duty trucks that carry locals around like taxis. The truck bed has a canopy over the bed with two bench seats facing each other. It was about enough room to seat 8 adults. The trucks took us up into the hills where we visited the Akha and the Yao tribes. We met the locals who showed us around the village while wearing their traditional costumes. 

We danced with them, visited their homes and in return they did their best to sell us their crafts. It was a fascinating look inside the daily lives of the more primitive people of this part of the world and how the modern world is impacting their lives. Sadly their traditional rustic homes built of rough hewn wood with thatched roofs are disappearing as these people become more affluent. The new homes are built of cinder block and have electricity and running water. So our view into their lives is really one that will soon disappear entirely.

We got back to the hotel by 11:00 where we relaxed, showered, did a bit of e-mailing and then boarded the bus for our drive to Chiang Mai, the last stop on our Thai adventure.

Along the way we drove passed fields of strawberries, tobacco, dragon fruit, corn and much more. Worker rest huts, round shaped with a conical roof and made of straw appeared in the fields here and there. We also passed more rice paddies in various stages of planting. We stopped a couple of times to watch as workers harvested rice plants out of the rice nurseries, wrapping them in bundles. At another spot we watched workers bent over, planting the same baby plants in freshly prepared fields. For this back breaking work, the field workers are paid only about $5 per day.
 
We made a lunch stop at another in the chain of Cabbages and Condoms restaurants. We each had a single plate lunch with fresh veggies, pork or chicken and a big scoop of rice. With a bottle of water, our lunch was less than $5. It was delicious.

Food is, generally, so inexpensive here. Imported foods are usually expensive which is fine since I didn't come here to eat Italian food or munch on M & Ms. Our experience with foods bought on the street has been very positive. Often the street food has been better than that of our hotel. The hotels are lovely, air conditioned and there is art on the wall, but your dinner will go from 45 Baht to 150 Baht or more for the privilege. Plus you will be eating with other Americans at the hotel. On the street you eat local. Is there that great a difference in the quality or quantity? Not that I could tell. At triple the price you don't get triple the food or quality. So we suggest heading out on the street and have some fun. I'd say it is less risky to stop in a place that has a lot of customers and maybe a covered place to sit and eat. The walk up stands can be great as well. Just take a close look at their sanitation and the numbers of customers that surround the place. That'll be a good indicator.
  
We both did have some intestinal distress for a couple of days, but that happens to us wherever we've traveled. It is just a part of the adventure. Take along some Imodium, take it easy for a couple of days, keep hydrated and your system will settle back down. It isn't a big enough deal to stay at home and do nothing. Besides, who hasn't had intestinal distress right at home after a spicey Mexican dinner or too much pepperoni pizza?  It happens.

Our evening was spent at a Thai classic dance dinner show. Only about 5 of the group went. It was in a lovely open air venue with a stage in the middle and low tables, asian style, all around. I was happy to find out there were wells for your legs and feet under the tables. I know I wouldn't have lasted the evening sitting lotus style while attempting to eat and enjoy the show.

The dinner was served on trays which were covered with little bowls of different foods from Thai style fried chicken, to pork curry, eggplant dip, fresh vegetables, pineapple. Everything was refreshed as many times as you wanted. My favorite was the pork skins which were like the Mexican chicharones you can buy in the states.
 
The show was pretty good, hit and miss in quality really, but a fun evening. It included dances representative of the different regions throughout Thailand.

We were back at the hotel and in bed by about 10:30. A very big day. Another coming tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thailand Adventure--Day 9

This morning after our usual hotel buffet breakfast, we headed off to visit The Golden Triangle, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and to cruise the Mekong River.
 
We arrived in Maesai (may-sigh) a border village with Burma and the northern most point in Thailand. Here most of our group spent about an hour and a half on the Burmese side of the border. We elected not to after the hassle we went through planning to go.

Months before this trip we were told by the tour company that a visa would be required to cross into Burma. We took it upon ourselves to send our passports off to the Myanmar (Burmese) embassy to have the visa put in our passport. It cost us nearly $100 to have that done and when the passports finally (another long story) the visas were marked with an expiration date that was before  we would arrive. We tried everything we could to get them to change the date but they insisted we would have to resubmit the paperwork. Another $100! Sound like a racket? We thought so too. So we didn't do it.

Fast forward now to the day our group was to actually go into Burma. Our guide, Anil, tells us he will get us across the border, that we don't need any visas. Only the equivalent of about $40 each. That was to bribe the border guards to basically turn a blind eye. Sound like a racket? We thought so too. So we didn't go.

So while the rest of the group crossed the border and wandered the small town just across, we wandered the small town on the Thai side. Sad, but we just weren't willing to fill the pockets of these crooks. Especially for a one hour visit.  

The group finally back together, we traveled about a half hour along the still under construction Asian Super Highway. This highway is supposed to connect several of the countries in this region making transportation much easier and faster.  

We stopped at the Opium Museum. It chronicles the development of this drug in the Golden Triangle region of Thailand, Burma, Laos and Vietnam. It is an incredible building and some of the exhibits are interesting, but it is heavily propagandistic, praising the queen mother for her efforts to change the drug problems of Thailand and for building this museum. The building is way over the top in its construction including a tunnel through a mountain leading from the entry building to the museum itself. The tunnel must be 300 yards long and does nothing to further the story trying to be told.

Back on the bus we headed to small Mekong River town where we had lunch and then headed down to the river for a ride on a modified long tail. This boat was much more accessible to passengers than our experience at the Floating Market or the trip up the Kwai River. We ran up stream about 15 minutes where we crossed the Burmese side of the river. Hey, we made it into Burma after all! We sat off a sand bar watching Burmese fisherman net fishing, up to their waists in water and flinging the circular nets used the world over. 

Then we let the current turn us downstream and we accelerated toward the opposite bank. About a 10 minute run and we turned back upstream and came along side a dock on the opposite shore. Stepping out of the boat, we walked into the Laos village of Done Xao. Nothing much more than a tourist spot with lots of street vendors. There were no cars or traffic of any kind. A few very dirty children begged for Baht but a firm "no" would usually scatter them.

The funniest place was a shop Anil took us into where we were invited to taste flavored whiskies.  It was what they were flavored with that was so outrageous. Soaking in one of the jars was a cobra. Another held a tiger's penis, another frogs, you get the idea. Each is said to help a certain ailment. The men were encouraged to sample the booze marinating the tiger penis. I'll try pretty much anything so I tossed back a shot glass full of  that. It didn't taste bad, it just wasn't good whiskey and the added critter parts only added another odd layer of flavor that didn't improve it at all. It was a genuine novelty that's for sure. We did not buy a souvenir bottle.

A quick cruise across the Mekong, all of about a 1/4 mile across and we disembarked back in Thailand. We had a few minutes to wander through the shops in the riverside village and then re-boarded our bus for the drive back to the hotel. Along the way we drove past fields of tobacco, the number one source of income for the government which has a monopoly on this crop in Thailand.

We made an unexpected stop when Anil spotted a celebration going by on the other side of the road. We made a U-turn and pulled up beside a line of cars and trucks all of which were decorated with plastic trees covered with money, useful household items, all sorts of things. Very loud Thai music poured out of many vehicles which were also loaded with passengers all waving and celebrating. Neighbors were out on the street drinking and dancing. They shared their bottles of whiskey pouring a shot in a glass and encouraging even us to toss back a drink. When we did they all cheered and laughed. There were dozens of vehicles all headed to a local temple with their gifts.  Anil explained that this is a rare opportunity to see a part of Thai life few outsiders get to see. What a treat to be a part of it.

Back at the hotel we headed for the pool and then spent a quiet evening in our room.

We visit two hill tribes tomorrow, something I have been looking forward to. We also head to Chiang mai, our last base of operations before returning to Bangkok.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thailand Adventure--Day 8

Early to bed and early to rise. Our alarm went off at 6:15. We dressed


and headed to the hotel breakfast buffet. Back on the bus and away we went again. We were headed into the northern most regions of Thailand and as we did the landscape began to change dramatically. From the lowlands we began to climb into the mountains where thick groves of teak grew. Much of the Thai teak was deforested after years of unregulated logging. The wood was sent abroad and used in the furniture and boating industries. My own boat has a lot of teak embellishments which most likely came from these forests. Today Thailand is replanting its forests and prohibits the harvesting of teak. It takes about 70 years for a tree to mature, so eventually, with good forest management, the forest will be harvestable once again.
We stopped at a lakeside town where we had lunch. Anil stopped us at a street food spot where the vendor made

up a lunch dish of various herbs and spices and then, at the last moment, threw in a scoop of living, fresh water shrimp that hopped all around in the mixing bowl as they
were stirred into the mixture. Then it was passed around so people could try it. I had a spoonful that squirmed in my mouth before I chomped down and chewed it all up. Talk about fresh fish!
We also bought a latte at a really nice coffee shop.

When the cup arrived at our table it was a work of art! The top of the coffee had been decorated sort of like a piece of spin art. It was too beautiful to drink, but down it went, carefully so as to make the design last as long as possible.
We found most of our group sitting in a restaurant down the street. We didn't have time to sit down and order but the display the place had out front showed luscious chunks of pork that we couldn't resist. We had them slice off a styrofoam container full and we walked with it across the street to a park right on the lake and scarfed down the succulent morsels of BBQed pork.
Traveling a little further on our journey we visited a temple in progress of being built by an eccentric local artist with decidedly eccentric tastes. The temple is like no other we'd seen so far. It's builder is apparently quite arrogant and difficult to deal with. He takes only small donations of $300 or less which he believes saves him from the potential political influences on his work of larger donors. The temple buildings look like frosted wedding cakes. But the first look was not all there was to see. In one place a pond of hands reached upward as if attached

to unseen bodies below. Little adornments here and there caught the eye, some fanciful, others disturbing. Interesting.
A half hour on we arrived in the city of Chiang Rai and Le Meridian, a very posh hotel. Very upscale and modern in design with Asian influences in the decor. After another very long day on the bus, it was a welcome site.
We headed for the pool, showered, did laundry and, of course, I caught up on my journaling.
About 6:30 pm we all gathered in the big open air lobby to head out for the night
market. My night market experience was pretty disappointing. A vast market that only opens in the evening, it held small market stalls that sold local and distant crafts, tee-shirts, mostly junk. The market also contained food stalls.
Everything from Japanese food,
Chinese, Thai, even unusual treats like fried insects of every sort and
size. We ate at a large open-air space with dozens of tables served by a single restaurant. At one end of the table area a stage showcased talented (rather talentless) performers including a drag show with a half dozen beautifully dressed men who danced around and lip-synced to music. Their performance, while showing no real talent, did attract lots of attention from folks who stopped to gawk.