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Joy of Cruising
James Bond Island
Pam Lau
05/03/2013, Boat position: 08°16.49’N; 098°30.08’E

Picture: James Bond Island with the iconic "pinnacle" shaped rock in the middle of the picture. The Island is featured in the movie, "The Man with the Golden Finger".

The morning after leaving Boat Lagoon we sailed north to an enchanted place called Ao Phang Nga. According to Lonely Planet, its beauty is equal to Vietnam's world famous Ha Long Bay and China's scenic region around Guilin. As we sailed through the area, we felt like we were in a dreamland, especially before sunrise and sunset when the atmosphere was hazy. Odd shaped limestone rock/mountains loomed straight out of the water. According to the guidebooks, the bay was formed twelve thousand years ago when a sudden rise in sea level flooded a range of mountains leaving only the summits sticking out of the water. They had already been carved in the most enthralling shapes by millions of years of erosion. We anchored close to an island in the early morning and saw many kayaks congregating in a cove. It was dinghy adventure time for us, we were curious. Two kayaks were at the entrance to a cave, away from the group. They spoke some English and informed us that our dinghy would not fit through the narrow cave. It would cost $10 to take us through the cave by kayak. We secured our dinghy by tying it to a rope that was hanging from an overhanging cliff and climbed into one of the kayaks. We went through a short dark tunnel and then came out into a magnificent lagoon surrounded by almost vertical limestone cliffs at least 300 feet (about 100 metres) high. The water was crystal clear and reflected the surroundings so that it looked like the cliffs were on the bottom of the lagoon. Lush green vegetation grew on top of the cliffs, which themselves, had trees and bushes growing out of crevices in the cliff face. The place was peaceful, cool and serene - for a short time at least. Just as we were going back out, we saw lights illuminating the dark cave. A long line of kayaks emerged out of the cave into the lagoon. We felt lucky to steal a small piece of tranquility before the stampede.

On reaching James Bond Island, also known as Khao Phing Kan, numerous tourist boats were racing back and forth. "Shuang Yu" was anchored several hundred feet from the island because we did not want to compete with the horrendous amount of traffic coming in and out. The island is not any more special than other islands around the area except that part of the James Bond motion picture; "The Man With the Golden Finger" was filmed there. We took our dinghy to the small beach but there were already many boats and a considerable number of tourists there. Immediately rangers approached us and informed us that we would have to pay $400 Baht (about $US13) to set foot on the island. There were billboards pasted on the overhang of a cave that provided some geographical and geological information about the place. We climbed, along with hundreds of other tourists, up a narrow ledge on a hill to the other side of the island. People had to stand in line to wait for their turn to take pictures, especially of the famous and iconic pinnacle-shaped rock. We have never seen so many people in one spot! The island was quite small but it was not only jammed with tourists, it was also crowded with venders and their stalls, selling anything from trinkets to t-shirts, and cheap pearls to seashells. For a while we sat and watched "longtail" tour boats coming in and out of the dock. They carried 40 to 60 people each. At any one time there were at least four of them at the dock and three or four waiting to get in. They stayed at the dock only a minute or two while the passengers jumped on or off. As they were coming out, other boats quickly took their place. "Longtail" boats are interesting and a bit frightening. The driver stands up to maneuver the boat by moving a long handle that is directly attached to the engine and the propeller shaft. The engine is totally exposed, just a large diesel truck engine on the end of the long propeller shaft. Changing from forward to reverse is done either by hand or foot using a manual clutch. Each time the driver changes the boat's direction; he has to lift the propeller out of the water by lowering and swinging the large engine using the long handle. It looks tricky and very hard work especially in tight spaces. We found it entertaining to watch the boats coming and going, especially Ted of course. Also, I found it a bit contradictory to observe the "human and boat jam" on a small island surrounded by the exceptional beauty of Phang Nga Bay.

Out of Boat Lagoon!
Pam Lau
03/30/2013, Boat position at “Boat Lagoon”, Thailand: 07°57.72’N; 98°23.20’E.

Picture: Replacing the rudder bearings was a huge endeavor, especially putting it back in place. They had to lift "Shuang Yu" up far enough so the rudder could be inserted back into the shaft. It required a team of workers from Boat Lagoon (men in blue shirts) to lift the boat and Mr. San's crew (men in orange shirts) to help put the rudder in place. And of course Captain Ted was directing the operation.

We could not believe that we were leaving Boat Lagoon after six weeks. We filled the tank and a few jerry cans with diesel before leaving the premises because we probably would not be that close to a diesel dock for a long time. After we navigated through the narrow, shallow channel from the marina, we anchored just outside, in the bay, to let the thought sink in that we really were out of the confinement of the Boat Lagoon! The anchorage was not ideal as we were rocked every few minutes by hundreds of day tour boats but it was worth stopping to humbly say a prayer of "Thank you, we are free!"

Phuket 2
Pam Lau
03/09/2013, Boat position at "Boat Lagoon", Thailand: 07°57.72'N; 98°23.20'E.

Picture: Bo, the lady from the Hardstand Café, was teaching me how to make spring rolls.

We left Sukhothai for Pitsanulok on a local bus, hardly anybody spoke English although there were two young men on the seat in front of us who spoke a little. They directed us where to get off the bus and catch a "tuk-tuk", a three wheeled motorcycle with the backseat, to the train station. There were no second-class seats left and no first-class carriage so we purchased third-class seats on a slow train. It was one of most uncomfortable long distance rides we have experienced. It was hot, with no air-conditioning, so all the windows were open and hot, humid air and dust poured in the freely. One positive thing though, at each station, food vendors boarded the train so there was plenty of food and we fed ourselves well on fresh steamed corn and barbecue chicken for a few dollars. The ride lasted eight hours and the hard wooden seats were becoming harder as the hours passed. We saw some lean-to shacks next to the railroad track just before the Bangkok station. Can you imagine the noise the dust they would endure every single day? After seeing that, we felt we did not have anything to complain about.

We arrived at Bangkok train station around six o'clock in the evening. The next part of the journey back to Phuket involved a twelve-hour train ride and a four-hour bus trip. The ticket to Phuket included both the train and the bus fares. We went to the ticket counter and they informed all the sleeper tickets were sold out; only the third-class tickets were left. I could not see us enduring another twelve hours of third-class train travel, especially overnight. We were contemplating going to the bus station to get a bus straight to Phuket when a young man approached us. We asked him where the bus station was and he said, "Its right across town and will take too long in this rush-hour traffic, you will miss the bus, why don't you want to take the train?" We replied, "We couldn't get sleeper tickets." He said, "Follow me and we might be able to get you some sleeper tickets." It turned out that a travel agency upstairs had bought up blocks of sleeper tickets to resell them at three times the price. They also used the high pressure techniques like, "You only have a few minutes to decide if you want the tickets because other people will beat you to it", indicating people talking to another agent. We bought the tickets but we were quite upset about it. The sleepers on the train were very ordinary, functional but not fancy. The toilets were dirty and the waste dropped straight down onto the railroad track. Yuck! Taking a stroll around the railroad tracks in Thailand will not be on our agenda. The cabins had air-conditioning so temperature was comfortable. All the sleeper berths were occupied by foreigners and all that we spoke to paid the same price as we did. The food and drink were also triple the price they were in the third class cabins. Surprisingly, we had a good night's rest.

We were transferred to an old dilapidated bus as soon as we got off the train. We assumed that most tourists on the train had purchased the bus ticket along with the train ticket just like we did. The duration of the trip was about four hours and the bus dropped us at Boat Lagoon before heading to the bus station.

We slipped back into our old routine as soon as we were back in Phuket. The woodwork inside the boat was beautifully finished. Like before, we had to deal with the different contractors to complete the work on the boat. I went to Yoga at the gym (walking distance from our boat) a few times and Yoga teacher gave a couple lessons on Thai boxing. I wished I had more time to learn the art; it was physically challenging.

The same yachties were still there, like Larry and Ron. Larry, an American, had been in Boat Lagoon for about four years working on his boat and Ron, a US citizen from England, had been coming to Thailand for three years to help him. They were still there when we left. Cruisers form a temporary community in Boat Lagoon and like have lunch at the cheap (and good) Thai restaurant every day to socialize and exchange information. Every evening, they gather on the edge of the marina to have a beer or two to recollect events of the day or to share sailing stories. I usually excuse myself from that gathering to attend Yoga classes or swimming. Listening to men talk about engines and sailing parts is not exactly my type of entertainment. I did make friends with the ladies who run the "Hardstand Café". Ted and I had our morning latté with them sometimes and attended their barbecue on Fridays. We liked the Friday barbecues, the food and company. Boat Lagoon was not the most interesting part of our experience in Thailand, certainly we spent the majority of our time there. But, as Ted always says, we "musn't grumble", we "can't complain", we had a lot of good work done and the boat is now as good as new.

Pam Lau
03/07/2013, Boat position at "Boat Lagoon", Thailand: 07°57.72'N; 98°23.20'E.

Picture: The historical park in Sukhothai.

On the day before we left Chiang Mai, we were sitting at our favorite café having breakfast when we started a conversation with a couple at the next table who were from Seattle, Washington. They said there are more than 12,000 expats living in Thailand and that they themselves lived in Chiang Mai during the winter and Seattle during the summer. They suggested some places we should visit on our way back south to our boat in Phuket. One of the places was Sukhothai and other one was Ayutthaya. Since we had limited time, we chose Sukhothai.

Sukhothai has a fascinating history. It was the first kingdom that the Thais established after breaking away from the Khmer Empire in Angkor (present-day Northern Cambodia). In the beginning, the autonomous power remained local until King Ramkhamhaeng, "Rama the Bold", was enthroned in 1278. He expanded his territory in all directions by increasing his alliance through kinships and creating a system of tribute-giving and protection. Rama ruled based on the Theravada Buddhist doctrines of kindness and justice. The Sukhothai kingdom flourished for the next twenty-one years with abundant of fish in their ponds and rice in their fields. He also encouraged the growth of the ceramics industry with the help of Chinese potters. Religious architecture, art and sculpture were also encouraged through elaborate and lavish temples and images of Buddha. After the death of Rama, Sukhothai regressed back to the local significance because his successors were purely interested in the development of the religion rather than state and economic affairs. Some of the ruins of the temples and sculptures are preserved (with the help of UNESCO) in the Historical Park (Muang Kao) at Sukhothai.

We purchased bus tickets to Sukhothai from our guesthouse in Chiang Mai (the 4th and the best guesthouse we stayed at). The trip only took about five hours. I also made reservations to stay at a resort in the new part of town. Even though the room was small and we had to share a bathroom down the hall, it was tastefully designed and decorated. Most importantly however, it had air-conditioning and it was only US$20 a night. Meals there were quite cheap as well. The hotel complimentary van took us to a bus stop, where we hopped onto a long truck bed with benches down the sides. We were advised by the hotel staff to hire a bicycle for a dollar per day because the historical park covers about seventy square kilometers (thirty or so square miles). It was so hot - bicycles were great so we did not have to walk in the scorching sun. We paid the entrance fee plus we rented an audio self-guided tour device.

When we entered the main gate, a wide paved road led us to the different groups of ruins. One of the most interesting sites was a giant statue of King Ramkhamhaeng, short distance to the right of the entrance. The bronze statue of the monarch sat on an altar-like throne with the right hand holding a palm-leaf book, representing his contribution as a founder of the modern Thai alphabet. A large bronze bell stood near the king's monument as a symbol of the justness of his rule. It was told that he placed a bell in front of his palace as a service to his people. Citizens could strike bell if there were grievances and the king would emerge to investigate the problems. If this were true I think it would keep King Ramkhamhaeng quite busy being a judge. While we were there two ladies placed some large pieces of meat at the foot of the altar. They said a few words which appeared to be a prayer and then put the meat back in plastic bags and took it away - interesting!

There were forty separate temple complexes within the city walls and also for several miles outside the walls in all directions. We were grateful to have the audio tour to give us direction. Each site was numbered so we followed it in numerical order so we would not miss anything. It was interesting to hear the historical information and description of the sites.

When we entered some ancient temples, in our imagination, we could almost hear the bells ringing and monks chanting. It was like going back in time - we could see the outline of the different sections of the palace and temples with the help of the ruins of the brick and stone walls. The stone columns and pillars stood rigidly and defiantly against time. Throughout the historical park, giant sculptures of Buddha sat or stood peacefully amidst the ruins. They seemed to have stood up to the test of time much better than the buildings and looked to be in very good condition. Some of the roof architecture is bell-shaped with a pointed top like the traditional hats the Thai ladies wear. I notice that present-day Thai artwork, as in textiles, woodcarvings; etching on cookware etc., still uses the same style we see in the ancient stone carvings and architecture.

We would have spent more time exploring the place except it was excruciatingly hot! We were going from one shady spot to another. We did not see all the outlying sites of the park but we did visit the Wat (temple) next to the historical park, which was surrounded by a beautiful lake and trees. Again, we found refuge from heat inside the temple where a large statute of Buddha was housed. Because of the tall ceiling and fans, the stone structure was quite cool and we found it comforting and peaceful just sitting on the marble floor inside. After recuperating from heat exhaustion, we came back out and resumed our activities. There were monks on the premises sweeping leaves and doing other work outside. As we sat in the shade and watched other people come and go, a well-dressed Thai lady who looked about 60 years old, escorted by two uniformed personnel and a senior person, approached us. One of the guards spoke (or rather, barked) at me in Thai and when I did not answer the lady also spoke to me. I asked her if she spoke English and she replied in flawless, cultured, "Queen's" English. She told us she was from Bangkok and that this temple was one of the most important in Thailand. After wishing us a pleasant stay in Thailand, they moved on. We think she must have been a very important lady and can't help wondering who she was. Later, we saw a mother and child by the lake feeding the fish; so we bought some fish food on an "honor" system. There was nobody taking the money, they just trust you to put the correct amount in a nearby box. As soon as we threw some fish food in the lake, hundreds of huge catfish leapt up to fight for it. We have never seen so many fish in one place! We considered Sukhothai a worthwhile stop and a great place to spend Ted's 70th birthday!

Chaing Mai 2
Pam Lau
03/04/2013, Boat position at "Boat Lagoon", Thailand: 07°57.72'N; 98°23.20'E.

Picture: Our traveling companions, Ineke and Jeanine in the front and Samuel in the background.

One of our fondest memories in Chiang Mai was a bush trek lasting two days and one night. I envisioned our vehicle would be an air-conditioned tour van like the ones we saw around town, since it was more than an hour and half to the mountains, north of Chaing Mai. To my disappointment, we were picked up by an old pickup with a canopy and wooden benches. On a positive note, our guide, in his twenties, spoke good English. We stopped at a guesthouse and picked up three more people, two young ladies and a young man. The young ladies were from Holland, named Ineke and Jeanine. Ineke is a professional photographer and Jeanine is a nutritionist just out of university. The young man, Samuel, from Uganda, is at university in his final semester as an information technology undergraduate. For the next two days and one night we became an instant family.

Before our trek, we made several stops. First stop was an orchid farm. There were rows and rows of beautiful orchids of various colors, shapes and sizes hanging from pots. I thought about my father in California who has been growing orchids for years and still has at least forty or fifty plants in his backyard. I could have stayed at the orchid farm longer but we were only allowed twenty minutes, including a bathroom break.

Next stop was a snake pit. There was a large crowd of people and the show started as soon as we arrived. It was quite entertaining. The snake handler did some amazing things. For example, he appeared to hypnotize a cobra to make it "fall asleep" and then he asked it to make itself stiffen like a stick. Next, a large python was flung into a pool and the performer jumped in and looked like he was thrashing about with the big snake. In a flash, he came out of the water with the snake wrapped around his neck. Another act involved a man who kissed a snake on the mouth and then offered free snake "smooches" to members of the audience. As if that was not enough another man stuffed a whole snake's head in his mouth! The announcer, who spoke excellent English, made the show even livelier with his comments and sound effects. It was an excellent show!

Our next stop was an artificial village created especially for tourists. There are many native tribes in the mountain regions of Thailand (and Burma) and it would take months to see them all even if it is possible. Most of them live in very remote mountain villages. The Thai government created the "village" and invited representatives of various tribes to dress in traditional clothes and sell souvenirs to tourists. They also do weaving and other activities. It was interesting to see, especially the "longneck" ladies who had numerous gold rings around their necks to make them longer. The rings looked painfully uncomfortable. It was also sad as we were told that they weaken their neck muscles after years of support by the rings. It chills me to imagine a head, on an elongated neck, flopping onto the person's shoulders! Ted and I also felt uncomfortable looking at these people as if they were on display. We think there is an ethical question involved in putting people on show like that, even if they are selling items to tourists. We did not see any men, only ladies.

We finally arrived at our destination at the foot of a mountain range and sat down to a meager lunch of fried rice with a small amount of vegetables and eggs. For dessert, we had fresh pineapple and watermelon. Before our food had time to settle we started walking down a paved road which soon turned into a dirt road. After a short distance we turned abruptly onto a path up the side of a mountain. We started to climb almost straight up. Our guide stopped and cut a bamboo pole for each of us as a walking stick. He smiled and said, "You will need this tomorrow." I thought, "How could it be worse...? We continued to climb up some very steep hills and cross marshland areas while dodging fresh elephant dung. There were many slippery rocks and creeks. We were thankful to have a guide otherwise we would never find the trail; this was truly jungle trekking. I was grateful that it was cloudy so we did not have the blazing hot sun boring down on us. About every 15 minutes, or every time the guide thought we needed a rest, we had one. Jeanine had stomach flu the day before so she did not eat anything for a day. She was feeling dizzy toward the end of the last climb. Ted injured his leg doing yoga so he was compensating with his walking stick and his other leg. At one point our guide saw some banana trees on the hillside so he stepped off the trail and brought a banana back for each of us, which was perfect timing because we needed the energy boost to do the last long climb to our camp site.

The bamboo structure which was our lodge for the night was a welcome sight after five hours of vigorous exercise. It was situated in a village consisting of leaf and bamboo houses almost at the top of a mountain. The building was on stilts, at least eight feet (2.6 metres) in the air. There were no beds in the sleeping quarters, just grass mats on bamboo slats with mosquito netting over each pad. The five of us occupied a sleeping area that would accommodate about thirty people. In front of the sleeping quarters was a sitting room, again without furniture except for mats on bamboo planks. There was a small kitchen off the sitting room and a large veranda outside overlooking the mountain range.

We forced ourselves to take a shower because the mountain air was already cold and there was no hot water. Nevertheless, it was refreshing. A delicious smell came from the kitchen and our guide brought out some chicken and vegetable curry and steamed rice. We sat around the bamboo mat in the candlelight and listened to the music of the cicadas while we dined. The company was great and the setting was perfect!

One family in the village owned three lodges similar to the one we were in. They had satellite TV and solar panels for power, piped water and some parts of their house were made from modern materials, such as the roof and windows. He also owned the only vehicle in the village, a Toyota pickup truck with chains on its wheels to help it climb the rough terrain (there was a rough track to the village that was probably just passable for good four-wheel-drive vehicles). Most of the other houses were made from local materials and looked run down; their vegetable gardens also needed attention. When we asked the guide why there was such a difference between the living conditions of the villagers he replied with one word, "opium". After all, this is the "Golden Triangle". He said there is still a lot of trafficking going on across the Burmese/Thai border and villagers fall victim. When they are taking drugs they do not work. He said there is money to be made in regular crops and tourism but when they get money, most of the men buy drugs. Maybe the women too, he did not say!

I rose before sunrise and was able to capture some pictures as the sun ascended from behind the mountains. The crowing of roosters shattered the morning tranquility. They were so loud and so close that soon everybody was up including our cook. He served hot tea and French toast with fresh fruit. Within thirty minutes, we were back on the trail again. The trail was camouflaged amongst the trees and bushes so that it would easily be missed if we did not have a local guide. And yes, he was right - we needed our walking sticks because the trail was straight down the mountain and was quite slippery in some places. The trekking was definitely more difficult than yesterday because we constantly had to brace ourselves from falling down or going too fast - it was steep! After about two or three hours of descent from the mountain, we came to a beautiful waterfall. There were several groups of trekkers already there. We all jumped in pool because we were muddy, sweaty and smelly.

After about twenty minutes of resting and cooling off in the water our group hiked downstream along the river. It was not as strenuous as before but we had to be careful when stepping on slippery rocks and rickety, narrow, wooden and rope bridges. Several small groups were hiking upstream to the waterfall but their hike was nothing in comparison to what we did. We finally came to a dirt road that led to the elephant camp. After a lunch of fried rice, pineapple and watermelon, we climbed on elephants. Ineke and Jeanine were on the elephant in front of us and Samuel was by himself on the elephant behind us. He looked like he was holding on for dear life! It was a bit scary at first because we were on a moving animal high up in the air. It was especially scary when ascending or descending a hill. After we became used to the movement of the elephant, the ride was quite enjoyable.

Our last adventure of the trek was whitewater rafting. That was fun! It was not as dangerous as some river rafting because the rapids were not high or fast. Sometimes we had to create the momentum in order to make the raft cross over rocks swiftly. We got completely soaked, not so much from the rapids as from splashing water at people in other rafts and having water splashed back at us. We laughed and had a great time. Very few people on the trekking tours looked like they were over thirty years old except us! Our leg muscles were sore for the next three days, especially when walking downhill or downstairs but we felt proud that we were still able to perform strenuous physical exercises and we had a marvelous time. Ted had his 70th birthday around this time.

Chaing Mai 1
Pam Lau
03/01/2013, Boat position at "Boat Lagoon", Thailand: 07°57.72'N; 98°23.20'E.

Picture: Cheri of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (name of the temple and gold leaf covered Buddhist shrine containing sacred relics).

The minibus from Kanchanaburi to Bangok was another uncomfortable ride. About twelve people plus luggage were crammed into the van and it was way overloaded. The seats were small and we could feel every bump in the road. It was very hot and the air conditioning did not cool the van but the driver still kept the windows closed. Fortunately the trip was only two hours. As soon as we arrived at the Bangkok bus station we boarded a bus leaving for Chaing Mai. It was another eight-hour ride. We were exhausted by the time we arrived in Chaing Mai at 02:00 in the morning. A tuk-tuk taxi, a three-wheeled motorcycle with a covered back seat, took us to a guesthouse. Since the streets were almost empty at that hour of the morning, he was practically flying, it seemed like he was taking corners on two wheels. We arrived at the guesthouse in no time at all and were pleased that it was still open. The clerk asked if we wanted the ground floor or the fourth floor. Without hesitation, Ted and I both said, "Fourth floor". We were thinking that it might have a good view. We were wrong! There was a small window but it was completely filled with an air conditioner, so there was no view. Worse yet, we had to climb four flights of stairs with our gear because there was no elevator. Despite everything, the room was clean, cool, and cheap ($US 22/night). We passed out as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

There are two districts in the city of Chaing Mai, the old and the new. The old city is surrounded with a major road and a well-maintained moat. The moat, flanked by lawns and trees on both sides, gives the place a unique characteristic. It was like a continuous park strip through the city amongst the chaotic traffic madness. The ancient gates and remainder of the 3-meter thick (9 feet) red brick city wall, alongside the moat, still exists in some places. The moat also provides a sanctuary for wildlife like birds and rats. Yes, rats! One evening Ted and I were walking along the moat and all of sudden we saw something dart across in the darkness to a nearby garbage pile next to a bench. We followed our glance to find ten or twelve large rats leaping in and out of the black plastic bags like Mexican jumping beans. It was freaky. We quickly moved across the street but our eyes were fixed on the rat activities. It was fascinating but scary. Next morning when we went out, city cleaning crews had already picked up the garbage but we saw the well-worn pathways of rats along the side of the moat and down under the water. We no longer think of the moat as a romantic area where one would go for a stroll in the cool night air.

Chiang Mai is a backpackers' paradise, where room and board are exceptionally reasonable. It has a blend of Thai and alternative western cultures, where one can find many beautiful Buddhist temples, meditation centers, Thai-massage and Thai-cooking schools, and vegetarian/organic restaurants. Also there are number of open markets, including a famous night market on weekends. We moved to another guesthouse the second night called, "Dixie Pig". It was more centrally located, next to many other guesthouses and restaurants and travel agencies. The room was clean, with a fan but no air-conditioning, and we were on the ground floor. We had a window but the view was of a brick wall. The room was cheaper, only $13US/night. We found an awesome cafe, which served good latte, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, homegrown sprouts and delicious food with a perfect blend of herbs and spices! After we found the restaurant, we did not go anywhere else for breakfast and dinner because a tasty, health-conscious, restaurant is exceptionally difficult to find.

Naturally we couldn't participate in all the available activities that Chaing Mai has to offer, but the activities we had chosen were quite intriguing. First we took a "longtail" boat ride on the Ping River. The river runs through Chaing Mai so we had a tour of the city from the river perspective. The tour guide/owner is a third generation Chinese, who spoke English very well. As we traveled down the Ping River, he pointed out various sites and interesting historical facts about the places. He said it used to take two months to travel from Bangkok to Chaing Mai and we were complaining about the short eight-hour ride on the bus. The mail would take even longer because the mailman only traveled in the daylight hours for fear of tigers. The guide said there were instances where mailmen were consumed by tigers and the mail was lost forever. The water in river was muddy and looked dirty; however, there were fisherman in the water fishing and some men practically had their entire bodies in it. We asked about their activities; it turned out that they were harvesting snails from the bottom of the river for food...hmm, yum... escargot! As part of the tour, we stopped at a small farm and learned about local plants and herbs and were offered small cups of fruit juice and a taste of mango and sticky rice. Based on what I read in the tour "comment log", the refreshment contributed to the pleasantness of the tour. We enjoyed the refreshment too.

We were surrounded with Buddhist temples in Chaing Mai. The most impressive one is called Wat (temple) Phra That Doi (mountain) Suthep. The temple is built at the top of a steep mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. Wat Phra has one of the holiest shines in Northern Thailand because its pre-eminence is derived from a magic relic enshrined in its chedi, which, in turn, is derived from the original chedi built by King Ku Na at the end of the fourteenth century. A Chedi is a reliquary tower in a Buddhist temple ("reliquary" means a container or shrine where holy relics are kept). According to legend, King Ku Na put the shrine on the back of a white elephant and waited to see where the sacred beast would lead. It traveled a long distance and eventually climbed Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, turned round three times, knelt down and died. There was no question that that very spot would house the holy shine so a temple was built. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is considered one of most important pilgrimage sites, especially around the time of the festivals of Makha Puja, the anniversary of the sermon to the disciples of Buddha, and Viskha Puja, the anniversary of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. During these times thousands of people climb the hill from Chaing Mai to Doi Suthep at night in a long candlelit procession. I should imagine it is a magnificent sight.

We hired a "taxi", a pickup with benches along the sides of the bed, to go up to Doi Suthep. It took at least an hour to drive up there and the road was excellent. The driver was willing to wait for us and the fare was less than twenty dollars for the round trip. We could have climbed up the 300 steps to the top of the temple but we still suffered from soreness from our hiking trip so we cheated and took the cable car. Unlike most cable trams this one traveled it its own tube, like an elevator tilted 45 degrees, so we could not see the scenery. We stepped into a tube and then came out at the top. Despite the hundreds of tourists, there was a feeling of tranquility as soon as we stepped out and into the temple area. We sat down in the shade of a bougainvillea bush and watched people strike a line of gongs producing various tones. The golden cheri, the reliquary tower, drew our attention like a magnet as soon as we entered the main hall. It was magnificent and shimmered brightly in the sunlight. A man pointed to my skirt and indicated that I should cover my legs. There was only one piece of a cloth (more like an old rag) near the door, so Ted helped me put it on. That would teach me a lesson for wearing a skirt to a Buddhist temple! There were many Buddhists praying as well as tourists taking pictures. It was extremely hot so Ted and I went into one of rooms where a large Buddha was enthroned at the center of the altar. There were two monks blessing people and the older monk waved us to him. He tied a piece of white string on our wrists and blessed us. We felt honored.

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