paulathai

adventures in Thailand


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Back in Pai and Chiang Mai, my old stomping grounds

It feels so good to be back in Pai where I lived for 18 months, starting July 2011. I walked into RELAX massage, which my dear friend Tiew owns, and the moment one of the masseuses saw me she came over and gave me a big, warm, heart-felt hug. Then we went to find May, my best friend from RELAX, and she, too, greeted me with the warmest of hugs. A great home coming.

fresh ginger and cassava along with bags of passion fruit.

fresh ginger and cassava along with bags of passion fruit.

mts. in the distance as we round one of the 762 curves on the road to Pai.

mts. in the distance as we round one of the 762 curves on the road to Pai.

view from the mini-van with pine trees in foreground.

view from the mini-van with pine trees in foreground.

On Sunday I’ll check into Bueng Pai Farm, the place I call Heaven on Earth. But to save a bit of money, I’m spending the weekend in town. Didn’t have a reservation but the place where I was hoping to stay had a bungalow available. It’s a double, not single, so it costs an outrageous $13 instead of $10 a night. The reason I chose Mr. Jan’s Guest house is that it’s a large property with dozens of tall trees providing shade and wonderful gardens throughout. Hard to believe I’m in the middle of town. I can hear a rooster crowing occasionally (hopefully not at 6 a.m.).  [Addendum next morning: No rooster woke me though I can hear it crowing in the distance now.]

The 3 hour drive here was as breathtaking as ever—-beautiful mountain vistas, soaring pine trees at the top elevations, and hair-raising curves. In town one can buy a t-shirt emblazoned with “Chiang Mai to Pai–762 curves.” Though I didn’t count, no doubt it’s true. Unfortunately there was a person in the mini-van who suffered from terrible car-sickness even before we started climbing the treacherous mountain road. Luckily I was in the front seat next to the driver and the vomiting took place a couple rows back. Still disturbing.  [I know, TMI.]

We made a rest stop at a place that features fresh produce where I enjoyed a strawberry shake. If I can figure out the technology, the blog will include a couple photos from there. [ADDENDUM: Figured out how to insert them but not in the proper spot. Oh well.]

an upper berth on the overnight train. mine was below.

an upper berth on the overnight train. mine was below.

fresh strawberries at our rest stop

fresh strawberries at our rest stop

Tonight I’ve been invited to Ing Doi Guesthouse for dinner. That’s where I stayed for my first 6 weeks in Pai in 2011. My friend Dianna’s son and daughter-in-law own it along with a larger, more basic Yawning Fields bungalow colony. Mink, her daughter-in-law, is a terrific cook so I’m looking forward to dinner and our reunion. If I have the energy, I’ll go hear live music at a coffee house in town that’s about 5 minutes from my guest house.

ADDENDUM, Next morning: Dinner was fantastic and it was great seeing Dianna, her family and two guys I know who come to Ing Doi every winter, one from the UK and the other from Wisconsin. On the walk home I decided to forego music in favor of a massage. I was going to wait until Saturday but my back and shoulders cried out to stop at RELAX massage. May gave me the best massage I’ve had so far. Decided on an oil back massage and she soothed my sore muscles from my feet to my neck. May has incredibly large and strong hands–perfect for a deep massage. An oil massage is similar to a Swedish massage. Today I’ll get a Thai massage–no oil and wearing loose clothing that they provide. FYI, an hour oil massage costs $7 (plus a $3 tip since she gave me extra time) and a Thai massage costs $5.

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Backtracking to my stay in Chiang Mai….

After the group tour left for Bangkok, I took the overnight train on Tuesday to Chiang Mai. I love traveling that way—it was my 4th time, twice in first class (when a lower berth was unavailable) and twice in second class. To my surprise, the car had individual berths on either side of an aisle with red satin privacy curtains. I had expected a small compartment with 4 berths (first class has only 2). Despite the set-up I slept well and arrived in CM at 8:15 a.m., right on schedule.

My two nights in CM were spent at my favorite guest house, TriGong. Adam makes me feel like part of his family. Didn’t do much in CM except spend an hour-and-a-half in the dentist’s chair while he worked on my new crown and enjoy a fabulous two-hour massage. I did buy a new top upon arrival since I needed something to wear while my dirty laundry was washed and folded. Sure wish I could find someone to do a load of wash for $1.50 in Woodstock!

NEXT MORNING:

Today I plan to see a couple more friends and then meet Dianna for lunch. It’s in the mid–80s during the day but chilly overnight. I’m waiting for the room to warm up a bit before taking a shower and washing my hair.

Oh yes, other activities in Chiang Mai included going to my favorite hairdresser for self-care (or self-indulgence?) The shampoo person washed/massaged my head for a full 15 minutes and then took another 5 to add conditioner and rinse. What luxury! While she worked on my head, another young woman started my no-polish manicure. Though I skipped a pedicure at my first visit, the next day I returned and now have red toenails (necessary here in Thailand with my sandals).

One more thing about staying at Mr. Jan’s Guesthouse. The mattress is the typical Thai one—-made from the fibers of coconut husks. Thus it’s extremely firm. Some would say hard. Fortunately, I like a firm mattress but it did take 10-15 minutes to get used to last night. Slept great until 8:30 a.m.

As always, your comments are always appreciated. Love hearing from my friends.

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THAILAND – Group Tour

The tour group left at 9 a.m. and I have a leisurely day at the hotel in Ayutthaya so it’s the first time for a blog post. Too tired at night to write. Refreshed today after sleeping until 8:30 a.m. (instead of waking up at 5:30 a.m. as has happened most mornings).

HOTELS – This was my first group tour—nice people, great guide and no “squeaky wheels” (or pain in the #@!%) in the group.

garden where this blog was written.

garden where this blog was written.

long boat

long boat

Hotels have been fantastic — 5 star here in the ancient capital and though only 4 star in Bangkok, my room was spectacular there. Will post some interior shots of it when my bus seat partner sends them to me. We had the same corner room—on different floors, of course. Two walls were floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking BKK’s many skyscrapers.

Our two nights on the River Kwai were in a bungalow resort in the middle of the jungle. Only way to reach it was by long boat—no roads there. Again, a lovely big room with amazing stone bathroom consisting of 3 separate rooms–toilet, shower, and large mirrored vanity area with sink.

Here in Ayutthaya (have you noticed I spell it differently nearly every time?), the hotel if quite nice, especially its location on the River where a big barge just passed by. It’s quite near the train station which will be convenient later when I catch my 7:45 p.m. overnight train (with berth) to Chiang Mai where I arrive at 8:15 a.m.

SIGHTSEEING – Each day in BKK I took a guided tour. The first day we visited two temples (wats) and drove through Chinatown and past the Flower Market. The next day was an optional tour to the Grand Palace and to see the Reclining Buddha. Regret not having my phone with me for photos at the Grand Palace. The Thai architecture was breathtaking….gold everywhere, imposing statues to scare away the evil spirits, Buddhas in every size imaginable and in many different poses, and the most incredible 108 panel mural depicting an ancient legend.

After our sightseeing in BKK, I had my first massage (one-hour foot massage) and then went to the city’s largest park for a Tourism Festival. Lumpini Park was only a tenth of a mile or so away from our hotel. Of course, if I’d planned it correctly the foot massage would have come AFTER the couple of  hours spent walking to/from/throughout the park. I was one of the few “farang” (foreigners) there, an experience I really like. I enjoyed traditional native dancing on two stages and ate pad thai from one of the numerous food booths. Hundreds of vendors sold food, personal care items, crafts and so forth throughout the park.

I hadn’t done sightseeing in Bangkok since my first trip to SE Asia in 1999 so I really enjoyed these excursions, especially with the added attraction of an informative guide.

On the River Kwai I signed up for an optional all-day tour to Hellfire Pass, the most difficult place to build on the Japanese railroad from Burma to BKK during World War II. Over 90,000 conscripted SE Asians and nearly 13,000 British and Australian POW soldiers died during its construction.  The museum there was one of the best I’ve seen in SE Asia—very well done, informative and filled with interesting objects and photographs. The photographed prisoners reminded me of concentration camp victims—skin and bones. Very sobering.

Prior to the museum visit our small group of 11 walked the trail to the Hellfire Pass which was carved out of solid rock, mostly by hand. What grueling work! The path down had hundreds of steps—as did the path up, naturally. Good exercise though I could have used a shower at the end of the hike. Green hills on the other side of the Kwai River greeted us as we navigated the stone-lined path. Occasionally we’d come across original railroad ties. In one place we encountered a small section of re-laid original track, placed there by an Australian regiment in the late 1990s in honor of their lost comrades. Additionally, there were small memorials along the way, each featuring the name of a fallen soldier and often accompanied by a red poppy.

As a surprise on the way back our guide brought us to a spot where monkeys gather to be fed by visiting tourists. A couple dozen tame monkeys came near us to enjoy pieces of corn of the cob that we purchased there. One alpha male (THE alpha male, I suppose) sat alone with about 8 pieces of corn surrounding him—if another monkey approached he chased it away. The best part for me was seeing two mothers with their babies clinging to their underbellies. Quite a touching sight.

AYUTTHAYA – Our stop here to visit the monuments was a bit disappointing. I’d been here once before and expected the tour guide to tell us more than he did. We had time to photograph and climb the ancient brick structures but it was hot and very bright in the afternoon sun. I had a better time here in 2009 when I met Antonio, my dear Italian photographer friend. I accompanied him to a famous ancient temple so he could capture its beauty at sunset. (Check out his website by googling Antonio Busiello to see the photos as well as his amazing award-winning African and underwater photographs.)

Well, that’s all for now. Off to the swimming pool. More from Chiang Mai or Pai.