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jcasale Aug 19th, 2008 11:56 AM

Trip Report Part 1 - Bangkok
Hi Everyone,
First, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped us with our recent trip to Thailand and Cambodia. Second, an apology for not posting when we got back. As rhkkmk knows, we headed right off to rural Maine and I had very limited access to the internet. Now that I am back at work, I can get back to fodors :-)!

We spent 3 weeks total in Thailand and Cambodia with most of the time spent in Thailand. For those of you considering a trip to this part of the world - do it!!!! The dollar still goes a long way and the people are unbelievably friendly and helpful. I got really used to hour long $7 massages and only wish we could have brought one of them back with us ;-).

We flew to BKK on Japan Airlines using miles from AA. The flight left right on time and was totally uneventful. Of course it is a long one, but I started reading Bangkok 8 on the flight and watched severl movies. We arrived in BKK at 11:30pm to a rainy night and were met by the limo I had reserved (we used AAC limos which had been mentioned here - they were there with a sign and we were wisked off to our hotel). We decided to stay at the Center Point Silom and it was an excellent decision. The room was enormous, the breakfast was great and I have never been saluted that much in my life! Plus the price was great. I booked through Sawadee and got a studio for about $80US per night. We crashed immediately and got a good night's sleep.

We got up at about 9 and leisurely headed off to breakfast. There were lots of choices (western and Asian) and everything was very good. As the days progressed I got more adventurous with trying Asian breakfast items, but I have to say that much as I love spicy noodles and such, I still can't face them for breakfast. But some of the items were quite tasty (espcially the dumplings).

Day 1:
We decided to keep it low key that day and took the Sky Train to the Jim Thompson House. It was a warm day, but to me it didn't feel all that overwhelming. However, about 10 minutes into our tour of the house I started feeling really dizzy. I finally had to sit down and the wonderful guide took me into an airconditioned room and had another guide bring me a cold cloth and a glass of water. I immediately felt better and realized that I would have to be careful about getting overheated and dehydrated. Good lesson. From that point on I was constantly buying bottles of water (which are incredibly cheap by the way - about 30 cents in most stores).

After we went to the Jim Thompson House (which is beautiful, by the way, and well worth a visit) we went back to our hotel. We were a bit hungry and ended up getting a bowl of noodle soup on the street outside. We paid basically a dollar for it and couldn't finish it all. Very yummy! We then splurged by having a Thai massage in our room. I loved it - especially all of the stretching of muscles. DH was not as thrilled with it since some of the stretches hurt his knees a bit, but we definitely both felt invigorated after. We rested a bit more and then heading off to the Patpong area to see what all of the fuss was about and to get some dinner.

We were there early in the evening so it probably wasn't in full swing, but we had our share of invitations to the ping pong shows. Of course we declined and just walked throught the market and glanced into some of the bars. Mostly what we saw were very bored women in skimpy bikinis, but I am sure that upstairs or later that changes.

For dinner we ended up going to the Mango Tree. It was wonderful. So good, in fact, that we went back there our last night of our trip before heading home. I had a pineapple boat with chicken and rice that was terrific and DH had prawns Pad Thai. We had our first sticky rice with mango for desert and felt quite satisfied.

On our way home we made our first mistake. I could chalk it up to jetlag, but it was more just not thinking. We decided to take a tuk-tuk and hopped in without negotiating first. Wrong choice. When we got to our hotel the driver dropped us off down from the lobby entrance and then asked for an exorbitant amount. We refused and DH started to go to the hotel to get one of the gentlemen there to come explain the facts of life to the driver. He relented for a smaller amount, but it was still way too much. But a good lesson (and the end result was we probably got scalped about $15 which won't change our lives in the long run and did teach us the importance of getting the price settled before getting in). All in all a fabulous first day.

Day 2:
This was our day to see the temples and the Grand Palace. We had hired one of Tong's associates as she was already booked when we contacted her. Nui was a terrific choice. She is charming, fun to be with, and her English is quite good. She had called us the day before to confirm and we decided to take public transport rather than have her rent a car. So our first stop was the water taxi. It was great to see the city from the water and our first view of Wat Arun was just as impressive as I had thought it would be. We went first to Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Palace. We were blown away by the beauty of the buildings and the ornamentation. The only disappointment is that we weren't able to get a good picture of the Emerald Buddha and didn't realize it until we got home and looked at them. Oh well - I can still picture it in my mind.

After the Grand Palace we went for our canal tour and we ended up sharing a boat with a wonderful couple from Oregon who were touring with Charley. Kept the cost down and we had a good time with them. Feeding the fish was so much fun and seeing how people live long the canals (watching mail being delivered by boat) was so interesting. We ended up at Wat Arun which I would have climbed up but no one else wanted to do so I decided to take a pass. Then back across the river and we headed to lunch. I can't remember the name of the restaurant Nui took us to (Coconut something - I'll look it up), but it was great. And so inexpensive. After lunch we went to Wat Pho which was every bit as impressive as Wat Phra Kaeo. The Reclining Buddha was just amazing and we dropped coins in each of the little bowls making wishes as we went. Hopefully some of them will come true.

After we finished up at Wat Pho we went to the Vimanmek Mansion as a contrast to temples. We loved the architecture and the view into the life of the royal family. Then it was on to the Marble Temple which was very different from the other two but beautiful in a different way. After that, we decided we were ready to head back to the hotel and relax.

After a nap and rest, we decided to head to the Sky Bar which was right across the street from our hotel. I discovered something interesting there. I had on a very nice pair of flip flops and they told me that I was not dressed appropriately and needed to have on closed shoes. A little annoying and we debated not going back, but decided that we would like to see what it was like so we walked back to the hotel and I changed shoes and we went back. It was a pretty awesome experience. the drinks were VERY pricey, but the views were amazing. I have never liked heights all that well, but I found myself right up next to the plexiglass wall looking out at the lights of the city and the full moon coming up. Worth the hassle. Quick take-out pizza for dinner and then we collapsed.

Day 3:
Sunday - so we headed off to the weekend market for a couple of hours. We had our Nancy Chandler map in hand and that was well worth every penny we paid for it. We were able to find our way through the market pretty easily and could head straight to the areas we wanted to see and by-pass the others. We didn't do a lot of shopping there although we certainly could have. We bought a couple of blouses for my mom and debated buying a tie for my dad, but decided against it. Mostly we just experienced the crowds and the variety of merchandise (including cages of puppies and kittens). After a couple of hours we were done and headed back to the Skytrain. I wanted to see the Erewan Shrine so we headed over there. it was pretty interesting. I was a bit taken aback by the amount of flowers that get put at the shrine and then shoveled into the garbage. It sort of seemed a waste to me, but it is obvious that this is a big part of Thai life here.

We had lunch at a little restaurant near the train and then went back to our hotel. DH took a nap and I went for a swim in the pool. Then at 4 we headed down to the river to catch the shuttle boat to the Marriott where we were meeting Bob and Karen for drinks and a swim (rhkkmk). We had been communicating so much via e-mail and fodors that it was fun to meet them in person. They were loads of fun and we had a wonderful drink and a great dip in the pool. Then they invited us to join them for dinner at Tongue Thai (Bob's favorite) which we accepted. We had a great dinner and laughed and talked a lot. We certainly have travel in common, but also a love of New England. After dinner we headed home to rest up for our long day with Tong.

I will finish up the last day in Bangkok later - I'd better try to actually get some work done :-P! Thanks for your patience!

marya_ Aug 19th, 2008 12:13 PM

Delightful reading -- thank you!

I am jealous that you got over to the Vimanmek Mansion because I wanted to go there on our recent trip but never got there once again. We had a similar experience at the Chatuchak Market and were grateful for the new Nancy Chandler map.

That is an awfully good rate at Center Point Silom. Since you saw the Marriott as well, how would you compare the two aside from river frontage issue? (CPS is just beyond the Taksin Bridge/Skytrain stop, no?)


jcasale Aug 19th, 2008 12:44 PM

I think that the Marriott is definitely prettier and more quiet, but for me I would not like to have to take the water shuttle or a taxi evertime I wanted to go somewhere. I liked being in the hustle a bustle a little bit (even if it was a bit overwhelming at first). Yes, the CPS is right near the Taksin stop and so the Skytrain was incredibly convenient for us.

One thing I forgot to mention with out Skytrain tavels was finding the wonderful little stands with hot waffles at the various stops. The chocolate ones were to die for! I'm surprised I didn't gain any weight with all of the eating we did :-P!

jcasale Aug 20th, 2008 09:31 AM

OK, I'm back to finish up a bit here. I found the name of the restaurant the Nui took us to - Coconut Palm. It was very good and very reasonable (as are all of the restaurants in Thailand compared to Chicago). Seemed to have a lot of locals eating there and not too many farangs.

Day 4:
Tong picked us up at 8am on the dot. She had a bit of a cold so was maybe not as energetic as she usually is, but boy she kept us moving :-)! We drove through the railroad market, but decided not to wait to see the traincome because we wanted to get to the Tiger Temple early. She did, however, buy us some Thai pancakes out the window. I had seen them on the street before but didn't know what they were. One bite and I was hooked! We made a quick stop at a place where they make and paint the porcelein dishes for the royal family (beautiful) and have fabulous orchids. They also have a wonderful "happy room" (those of you who have traveled with Tong know that's her name for the toilet). Then we stopped at a lovely loval temple with amazing wood carvings on the walls and cielings before getting to the floating market. Tong told us to eat up since we would be skipping lunch and she kept handing us these plates and skewers of food. Everything was fabulous! And the experience of the floating market was amazing. We were in a boat that was paddled rather than having a motor and I liked that better. We also went farther afield and went into some of the residential areas which were quiet and relaxing and beautiful. After the floating market we stooped at a place that does wood carving (and has a clean happy room). They don't do little art ojects there - they do tables, chairs, wall hangings, room dividers, etc. The detail and craftsmanship was unbelievable.

Finally we arrived at the Tiger Temple. We were very excited about going there and seeing for ourself whether it was a good thing or a not so good thing. I saw no evidence of mistreatment of the animals or drugging of the tigers. In some of the pictures you can see the eyes very clearly and they were not the eyes of a drugged cat. Having been in Africa and sat next to a sleeping lion who had just eaten (and could care less that we were there), what I saw was normal cat behavior after a nice meal. Lie in the sun and ignore the world.

Our first glimpse of the tigers was so great. They brought out some of the adults first and Tong had brought along some skewers of beef and chicken to feed them. Then they brought out some of the younger ones and finally four cubs who were only 4 weeks old. They were so adorable. At one point Tong was trying to get a picture of one little guy and he kept chasing her so she was having to keep moving backwords to keep him in focus. We got to hold several of the babies (and got a little bit of tiger poop on us to prove it :-P!) and pet some of the older ones. Then it was time to walk into the canyon and Tong got us right up front so we were first. If you decide to go to the Tiger Temple you really need to go with Tong. She will make sure you have a fabulous time.

After we got down to the canyon we waited to have our individual time with the tigers. We decided to both pay the additional 1000 baht to have our picture with a tiger's head in our lap. What I didn't realize was how many tigers we would be able to sit with and how many pictures we would end up with. It was fabulous. We had expected to have Tong get us in there first again, but she knew who the best photographers were among the staff and since they take your camera she set it up so that we had the best. Towards the end, one of the big males turned onto his back and (again due to Tong) we were pulled out to go lie down with him. The abbott was at the head of the tiger and they had us lie down next to him with our head on his one paw. Then they took the other paw and layed it on top of our head. I could feel and hear his heart beating and feel his warmth. It was one of the most amazing animal experiences I've had. It beat swiming with and touching a great white shark (yes - we are insane when it comes to animals).

After we were done with the tigers we walked back and saw some of the other animals, the boars and water buffalo. And we paid a visit to Bam Bam, Tong's favorite Asiatic bear. We got to sit with and pet Bam Bam and fed her some bottles of milk and some milk tablets and fruit. Tong put one of the tablets between her lips and Bam Bam actually took it from her so it looked like they were kissing. She gave DH one to try, but Bam Bam refused to take it from him. Then I tried and Bam Bam was happy to take it. I think she doesn't like beards. She was thrilled to sit with him and take food from his hand, but didn't like his mouth.

Affter that terrific experience at the Tiger Temple, it was time for a late lunch. Tong took us to a local restaurant with these little individual outdoor tables under a thatched roof. I don't know it's name, she said it really doesn't have a name that can translate into English. She ordered for us and the food was fabulous. Bob - sorry to say that the chicken with cashew there was better than Tongue Thai. We also had two different kinds of fried rice, coconut prawns, and a soup with prawns and coconut milk. We couldn't eat it all and took some home with us for later. The whole bill ended up being about 350 baht (the equivalent of $10 for both of us!).

After lunch it was off to the River Kwai to walk across the famous bridge. it was neat to see it and stand on it. Now I need to watch the movie I guess.

By this point we were pretty tired and Tong was fading fast with her cold. So it was back to Bangkok to pack for the next part of our trip. We said goodbye to Tong and went upstairs only to discover that I had left our food in her car. I ran down to try to catch her but she was just turning the corner. I called her to see if I could catch her before she got too far and got her voice mail. What was amazing was that she called me back a few minutes later and said she would bring the food back. Then she called me a bit later and said that traffic had been bad so she had sent my food with a motorcycle taxi. Now that's service!

After a dinner of leftovers (we were still so full from all the eating we did during the day) we did some laundry in our room (one of the reasons for staying at the Center Point was that it had a washer in the room) and packed to leave the next morning for Chiang Mai.

All in all Bangkok was terrific. Some of the things we learned:

1. Always, always negotiate. I think we also paid too much in the weekend market, but things were so inexpensive that we didn't think of bargaining.

2. Make sure you have lots of water. Even if you don't think your are getting hot and dehydrated, you may very well be.

3. Pack very light in terms of clothing and plan to pick up things there. I wished I had more room in my suitcase to bring back more clothes (and I brought quite a few home as it was). I could have gone with the clothes on my back and picked up a whole new wardrobe!

4. Be adventurous in your eating. I wasn't sure what all Tong was handing me, but it was all good. And I know people get concerned about eating from street vendors, but everything we had was terrific and we didn't get sick at all. The only day I had even the slightest bit of "traveler's tummy" was the day we took the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and I think that the lunch they served us didn't agree with me. But it was quickly cured with Imodium. The food in Thailand is wonderful and inexpensive. Some was bit on the spicy side, but mostly we like spicy so we were content.

5. Stay in a hotel near the Skytrain or the subway. We never actually used the subway but my brother-in-law did when they were there and said it was great. The Skytrain was very easy to use and it was cool to see the city from above a bit. We really got familiar with the way things were laid out in the main part of the city and it was fun to fly over the stuck traffic.

So, next look for a trip report to Chiang Mai. I figured I'd separate them out in case people are interested in just one area that we visited.

rhkkmk Aug 20th, 2008 10:56 AM

great report....

we loved out time with you and hope we can connect in maine some time or in boston...

so have you booked your return trip yet??


rhkkmk Aug 20th, 2008 10:57 AM

jen post all subsequent part here so that it is easy for people to follow

travelduo Aug 20th, 2008 04:02 PM

We loved your trip report! I think that with the limited internet access, andy will wave the penalty!

Glad you like Tong! It was fun to re-live our time with her thru your report! It was fun to have her say"eat this,don't ask,just eat!".

Hope you took tons of pics!

Jeffrey and April

jcasale Aug 20th, 2008 05:14 PM

Ahh, the pictures. Given that DH's camera took a swim with him our first day in Phuket and we were down to just one camera, I'd say we did OK. We came home with 2200 pictures! I'll post the best of them on Kodak and then post the link for anyone who wants to see them. It's just taking me some time to get organized :-)! Glad I'm given a free pass on my delay with the trip report! Usually I get it posted right after the trip.

Gpanda Aug 20th, 2008 05:19 PM

Super report. Tong and her team can really add to a good time. It's hard to imagine Tong with boatloads of energy.

Sorry you had to eat dinner with Bob. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Kathie Aug 20th, 2008 06:13 PM

Thanks for your report. I always love reading about others' experiences in my favorite city!

jcasale Aug 20th, 2008 07:01 PM

It was fun meeting a few of the people who post here. And dinner with Bob was lovely, especially since Karen was there :-)! We also ran into Alison in Angkor Wat and had dinner with Terry and Lori in Siem Reap. But more on that later.

Day 5:
This was the day we headed to Chiang Mai. We had debated a bit about whether to fly or take the train and once we had decided on the train (we love train travel) whether to go overnight or during the day. We decided on daytime travel so we could see the countryside and even though it took the entire day I was SO glad we did. The train was relatively comfortable (a bit old and worn, but air conditioned and clean) and they did feed us several times. The one thing I would recommend is to make sure you have your own food along too since it is a long trip and the amounts they give you are small. Fortunately we had some of our leftovers from lunch the day before to supplement.

Once we left the city of Bangkok we were in a flat area with lots of rice fields. We saw several rice farmers out plowing and it was interesting to see the different implements they used. We also went through Thonburi where there is a huge golden monkey statue near an old ruin. We were so excited to see that since we had caught part of a show on cable that was Romeo and Juliet with the monkeys of that town. The star crossed lovers were from the temple monkeys and the market monkeys and ended up jumping on the train to Chiang Mai in order to be together. We even saw some monkeys running through the temple as we passed by.

By late afternoon we were climbing into the mountains of northern Thailand and the scenery was fabulous. I hung myself out the window of one of the bathrooms so I could get some pictures of the mountains without the glare from the window. Well worth it :-)! We arrived in Chiang Mai right on time and negotiated a taxi to our hotel.

We were staying at the Riverview Lodge based on guide book recommendations. It was wonderful! The room was large and comfortable and our balcony looked out over the river. It was also tucked away off the main streets so it was a quiet oasis at the end of a busy day. And the gardens and pool area were incredible. The owners and staff couldn't have been nicer. We were even able to leave some of our luggage there for several days when we took a tour into the Golden Triangle. Since many people use Chiang Mai as a base for trekking they are quite used to doing that.

After checking in we went to find something to eat. We wandered through the night market a bit but didn't find anything appealing. We ended up eating at the Antique House which was on the Nancy Chandler map we had and very close to our hotel. It was charming and the food was great. Plus there was a musician playing while we ate. It was a bit strange to hear him playing western songs, but it was nice. By then we were beat and it was off to bed.

The next day we slept in a bit (a luxury we don't often allow ourselves on vacation but that we managed to build in this time) and had a leisurely breakfast (cooked to order eggs, toast, fruit, ham or bacon, and tea or coffee). Then we walked out to the road and flagged down a tuk-tuk (which in Chiang Mai are the covered trucks called songtaos in Bangkok) and had him take us to Wat Phra Singh to start our exploration of the old city. We had planned to walk to several sights, but ended up talking with a driver at the first wat and decided to hire him for a few hours. it was a good choice since the various wats are farther apart than they look on the map.

He took us to many of the wats that we wanted to see and some that we didn't know about. I know we saw Wat Chiang Man, Wat Chet Yot and Wat Suan Dok. The others I can't recall their names, but each one was more beautiful than the last. One of them had a buddha way up in the top of a chedi and it was connected by a wire to one down on the ground. It was a really interesting visual. Unfortunately the driver just drove us around and didn't really tell us much about any of the things we were seeing, but I'm not sure I would have remembered anyway.

Toward the end of the drive it was obvious that he was going to take us "shopping" even though we really just wanted ot see the wats. But he gets gas coupons for bringing people to the various silk and gem places. Actually, as it turned out seeing how they make silk was really interesting. The gem place was also fascinating - we got to watch them carving jade. We ended up buying a few cheap costume items. Then we went to a place that took me by surprise since it was run by Turks. They had beautiful scarves and shirts. We ended up buying a blouse for me and resisted the carpets. Then we said we were done and wanted to go to lunch and got no argument. We had lunch at a place DH had seen on the Nancy Chandler map - Girasol. It was a wonderful Italian restaurant. I think he had reacher his fill of noodles and needed an injection of tomato sauce. After lunch we caught another tuk-tuk and went to one of the places to take a boat trip on the Mae Ping River and found that the times had changed from what was on the map and we had missed the last one. So another driver took us to the Chai Mongkol from which another boat company runs trips. We took a wonderful hour and half ride on the river and went to an herb farm where we had some fruit and juice. When we got back to the landing it was 6pm and one of the monks was heading over to a big bell and rang it several times. It turned out to be calling the monks to evening prayers and we got to watch them gather and begin their chants. Fascinating. Then another tuk-tuk back to our hotel and a nap.

I had read a lot about the Riverside and really wanted to go there. Someone had posted here that they had the best kao soi in the area and since I love that I wanted to try it. They did not lie. It was fabulous and the evening was perfect for eating out by the water. We then walked back to our hotel and headed to bed. We were being picked up at 8 the next morning for our four day tour of the Golden Triangle and wanted to be well rested. I'll give all of the details on that in my next post (I am going to take Bob's advice and post everything here).

My understanding is that some people love Bangkok and some people love Chiang Mai better. Although Bangkok really grew on me, I think I preferred Chiang Mai. In part it may have been because the air seemed cleaner and we were right on the river rather than being a block or so from it. I'm not sure, but it really felt like a place I could spend lots of time in. Then again, I think it was easier to get around Bangkok due to the Skytrain. Either way, by now I was totally hooked on Thailand (although to answer your question about returning, Bob, there are too many other places I still need to get to before I start to repeat).

rhkkmk Aug 20th, 2008 09:38 PM

i'm loving your descriptions and i have read here of so many places and stops that others have never did a thorough tour it seems...

but you still need to return and really see how it grows on you AND you need to go to all those other places too...

mr_go Aug 21st, 2008 07:46 AM

Am I bookmarking this thread? Why, yes. Yes I am.

Thanks a lot, Jen. This is a genuinely helpful report.

jcasale Aug 21st, 2008 11:06 AM

I'm glad everyone is finding this report helpful. I got so much help from this board that I really want to "give back" and "pay it forward". As for returning, I was talking with one of my students today who was also in Thailand this summer and went to Laos rather than Cambodia. I plan to get to Vietnam at some point in the near future and might combine Loas with that. Who knows - maybe a day or two in Bangkok on the way there and some unwinding in Phuket at the end.

Day 7:
I was a little nervous about this part of the trip because I used a tour company I found on-line and no one on this board had ever used them. But they turned out to be great. We had a private guide and driver for four days to tour the Golden Triangle. Our tour included both of them, hotels for three nights, breakfast and lunch every day and one dinner. it also included entrance to all of the sights as well as two boat rides. All this for about $600 each. It was worth every penny. I booked it through Asia Tours and it all went extremely smoothly. I would highly recommend them and the Golden Triangle tour.

Our guide, Winya, picked us up prmptly at 8 and we headed off. First stop was a market in a nearby town where she showed us all of the different foods (including crckets and such - we passed on those) and bought us several kinds of sticky rice bundles - YUM! We particularly liked the kind that had some custard with it. We then drove through some amazingly beautiful countryside - rice paddies and then mountains. We stopped at an Akha village that was obviously set up for tourists so I know it was not as authentic as it would be if it were more remote, but there was no way we could do any trekking (DH has bad knees) so it was the only way for us to see something of their culture.

We stopped at the Mekok River Resort for lunch. It was a lovely open air place with freshly made Pad Thai (DH's favorite Thai food). There was a grop of students staying there who were on a "drug-free trip" and we chatted with a couple of young ladies from Hong Kong.

Our next stop was a Yao village - again set up for tourists but it was interesting to note the differences between the two tribes. Then we drove through the mountains to Mae Salong where we were going to spend the night. We arrived in the village after school was already out, but we are both educators so we wanted to see it anyway. There were some girls jumping rope and some boys in a classroom having a great time sliding across the wood floor. In talking with them through Winya it became apparent that they were supposed to be practicing their reading and writing. We decided that in many ways kids are the same the world over :-)!

We checked into a lovely Chinese run hotel in the village (most of the people in this are are Chinese as the Koumantang army came to this region). I took a walk through the village and listened to the evening news being read over the loudspeakers throughout the town. We had a wonderful dinner at the hotel and watched short but intense storm come through and leave a rainbow. We had been a bit concerned that the hotel didn't have AC, but it cooled down nicely at night and with a fan we were quite comfortable.

Back to work - more later!

offwego Aug 21st, 2008 01:42 PM

hi Jen!

Thanks for taking time away from work to post your report. Looking forward to the rest.

Panda, please note the "Friends of Jen" petition for leniency during the punishment phase....especially considering she has already done time at dinner with Bob... :)


jcasale Aug 21st, 2008 02:07 PM

Day 8:
We started the morning with a wonderful breakfast on the terrace of the hotel and then piled into the van. Our first stop was a tea plantation where we got to see how the leaves are processed and tried several of their blends. I am a tea lover so I was in heaven. We bought some for ourselves and our neighbors. The next stop (after driving up and down through the mountains) was Doi Tung and the "princess mother's villa". This is the villa built by the King's mother who was as loved as he is (maybe more in some ways). She is not longer living, but going through the villa and hearing about her, I got the sense that I would really have liked her. She reminded me of my grandmother in a way. She supported the local people in many ways - taught crafts, promoted health care, and in general tried to make their lives better. Winya and I went through the royal gardens. DH took a pass due to the number of steps to get down there. The gardens were beautiful. Kind of a Buchart Gardens (Vancouver Island) on a smaller scale. Our next stop was lunch. It was a place that obviously catered to tour groups, but the buffet was quite good and the northern Thai curry was very spicy and very good!

We then traveled to the northernmost point in Thailand and the border with Myanmar. We could have gone across the border to get our passport stamped but we would have had to pay about $50 each and frankly we didn't want to pay that much money to the government of that country. So we wandered through the market on the Thailand side, took pictures of the border crossing, and chatted with a student from Emory University who was there as part of a medical mission trip providing immunizations and check ups to both the Thais and the Burmese.

After this stop we drove to Chiang Rai and checked in to the Wiang Inn. It was a very nice hotel. We had a little trouble getting a room that worked, but they were very accomodating. The first room we went to wasn't a double so we moved to another room. But they were doing rennovations near that one and there was an odor through the ventilation system that gave me a headache. So they moved us to another room that was again not a double, but we just pushed the beds together and were quite happy. After a rest and a swim in the pool we went for our first foot massage - divine! Then we had dinner at DaVinci's (the requisite infusion of Italian from time to time) and then wandered through the night market. We listened to some music for a while at one of the stages in the market and then headed to bed.

Day 9:
Our first stop today was at an old temple that is in ruins, but still has an active monastery. I don't recall it's name at this point, but it was nice and shaded. Then we drove to the Golden Triangle and got a view down to the river and the border of the three countries: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma). It actually reminded us of the "meeting of the waters" in Brazil where the darker waters of the Rio Negro meet the silty waters of the Rio Solimus (sp?). Then we went down to the river and there are two huge buddhas on a boat - one golden and one marble. We took a long-tail boat out into the Mekong River and actually headed toward the shore of Myanmar, so we figure we actually crossed the border wihtout paying! It started to rain a bit, but it was still nice to be on the water. We stopped in Laos in a little village designed for tourists. But it was neat to see all of the Mekong whisky with various snakes and scorpions in it. I even tried a little bit of one that had something non-animal in it. It was pretty potent.

We then went back across the river and headed for lunch. It must not have been too memorable since I didn't write it down and really can't remember where we ate.

After lunch we went to a Hmong Village. The adults were all off in the fields working and it was a Saturday so the kids were hanging out and playing. This was where we really got a sense of how fast things are changing for many of these tribes. Here you have a people who had no written language and who now have satellite dishes on their houses and computers - we saw 3 young boys in the one of the classrooms playing video games on the computer. It won't be long before their culture is entirely changed.

On the way back from that village we saw a really pretty temple and asked if we could stop. It turned out to be right on the river and the temple itself had paintings that loked very Indian in their style. We gave a donation and got two good luck medallions from the monk in the temple.

After our impromtu stop (the beauty of a private tour) w went back to the Wiang Inn. That night we decided to have dinner at one of the little restaurants in the night market. Fortunately we sat under a roof since it started to pour while we were there. We watched a dance performance and had a wonderful dinner and then went back to the hotel (it had stopped raining by then fortunately).

The next morning was our last morning in the Golden Triangle. It was looking a little threatening, but by the time we left the rain had stopped and it just stayed cloudy. We took a bicycle rickshaw through town a bit (DH felt sorry for his "driver" since he is a bit larger than most Thai people) and then went to the Mekok River for a boat ride. It started to rain again while we were on the boat, but not enough to spoil the trip. The scenery was beautiful along the river and we really enjoyed just relaxing. We ended at a Karen Village (not the long neck Karens) where they have elephants people can ride. We chose not to (we have ridden elephants in Africa and decided we didn't really need to do it again). It was Sunday and many of the Karen are Christian so they were at church. We walked through the town and had a chance to stop and listen to a children's choir practicing. it was lovely.

After the village we headed to a temple whose name I am blanking on (I'll try to look it up since it is well worth a stop). Our guide just called it the white temple because that's what it is. It is being built by a famous artist who grew up in the town. Again - I can't remember his name but his work is amazing. The temple is all white and mirrors and glitters in the sun (which fortunately came out a bit). There is a painting on the back wall of the temple of Buddha at the top over all of the "troubles of the world" sending them down. Interestingly in among the weapons, technology, diseases and such are likenesses of George W Bush and Osama bin Laden.

After the temple we went to lunch at a place that again catered to groups but was even better than the one a couple of days ago. They demonstrated how to make noodles and also had a woman making hundreds of our favorite Thai pancakes (I still don't know how I didn't gain 100 pounds with all the eating we did because I didn't skimp on anything).

After lunch we made a stop at the Cabbages and Condoms in that area (which also has the Condom Cottages) and then a hot spring where people were selling eggs for people to boil in them. Interesting, but too touristy for me. The best part of the afternoon was stopping in a couple of places to watch rice being planted. In one place I walked out on to the dirt mounds in between the paddies and our driver showed me the rice sprouts up close. I also got a really great close up picture of one of the women planting. She was teasing and saying I could take her picture if I sent it to her. I wish I had a way to do that since it is such a great expression. If I wasn't worried about geting mud all over the van I would have gone in and helped them.

So after driving through the mountains again, we arrived back at the Riverside. We debated hiring Winya for the next day to take us on a short tour outside of Chiang Mai but decided to keep it a down day instead. But we really enjoyed our time with her. She was knowledgable, funny, and her English was great. I don't think she can be hired directly, though, or I would put her information here. I am going to find out from her if there is a way I can steer people her direction and I'll let you know.

Day 11:
We slept late and had a leisurely breakfast. Then we went to the internet place right around the corner and checked our flight. Good thing because the time had changed by 5 hours! So we went back, went for a swim, then checked out at the last possible moment. We left our bags at the desk and went for a walk and had lunch at the White Lotus - great place. Then we relaxed by the pool. I read and DH played catch with a little boy from France.

Finally it was time for our flight to Phuket. We flew Thai Airways and there was little glitch because the credit card I had used to book the flight had been cancelled due to a possible fraud security breach and so we had to go to the office and get an extra document. it took a while to understand what they wanted, but we got it straight. We had fortunately agreed to work with one of the young women soliciting travelers for cab rides at their destination because she helped navigate the situation. Then we negotiated a fair price for our taxi in Phuket and got on the plane. Smooth flight but it was dark by the time we got there so we weren't able to see the islands we flew over :-(. After an hour drive (we were staying in Kata Beach which is a long way from the airport) we checked into the Kata Beach Resort which was recommended to me here. What a fabulous recommendation. It was a "slurge" at about $105 per night and it was worth every penny.

More about that later - time to go get some dinner!

FromDC Aug 21st, 2008 03:39 PM

Jen, this is a great report. Good sneak preview for us, as we have time coming up in the Golden Triangle. Do let us know if your guide can be contacted directly, she sounds wonderful.

Gpanda Aug 21st, 2008 04:03 PM

The "Friends of Jen " petition is duly noted. However it is counter-balanced by:

"dinner with Bob was lovely"?

Also, Bob was in BKK in May or June. The report is a little late, but jen did make several substantive posts in the interim. Consequently, the Board had decided that she has suffered enough and the penalty is waived.

jcasale Aug 21st, 2008 06:37 PM

Glad to hear that there will be no penalty :-). I will try to hold up my end of things so that I can remain in good stead here. This has actually been one of the most helpful of the boards that I have used on fodors, so kudos to all of the regulars.

FromDC - I will definitely check with Winya and find out how you might be able to book with her. She was absolutely wonderful. Every bit as good as Tong, Nui and Ponheary.

rhkkmk Aug 21st, 2008 06:43 PM

people stand in line to have dinner with me!!!

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