Bangkok Sep 8 - Sep 23
Islands Sep 24 - Oct 10
Chiang Mai Oct 12 - Oct 25
Krabi Dec 19 - Jan 8
Sukhothai/Ayutthaya Jan 9 - Jan 12
Chiang Mai, Oct 12 - Oct ?

After 32 hours of taxi, ferry, bus, and train, we finally arrived in Chiang Mai!! We found things to be even cheaper here than in Bangkok. The old part of the city of Chiang Mai was surronded by a city wall and a moat. The gates in the wall and the moat still survive (they've been rebuilt a few times). Chiang Mai has a cosmopolitan feel to it, but is much smaller than Bangkok.

I took 2 more Thai Cooking classes at the Chiang Mai Cookery School. These classes included a walk through the local food market with an explanation of the various Thai ingredients and how to pick fresh produce. I think I've learned the basics of Thai cooking, hopefully, I'll be able to apply my learnings when we return back home.

Lon and I did a 3 day trekking tour in the mountains/jungle of the Maejam and Inthanon areas. There were 7 of us on the tour ... Lenka and Zuzana (from Czech Rep.), Rotem (from Isreal), and Rachel and Aaron (from U.S.). Our guides were Mr. Green and "M". The trek allowed us to stay overnight at 2 villages (different groups of the Karen hill tribes). The Karen hill tribes are the largest of all the hill tribes in Thailand. They originated from Myanmar (Burma). They also have their own language.

We began our trek with an elephant ride. Our elephant must have blown snot on us at least 6 times during the ride. I knew we were going to get filthy on this trek, but I didn't think it would happen within the first hour of our journey. When we started our trek, the weather was beautiful ...but as we climbed higher and deeper into the mountain, the weather changed. We experienced a torrential down-pour! We were all VERY wet by the time we reached the first Karen village.

This village had approximately 150 people. We stayed overnight in a house that had 2 families (14 people) living in it. There was an outhouse nearby and a water spigot in the center of the village. You had to be careful where you walked because there was water buffalo ca-ca everywhere. We could see that this village had a lot of influence from the outside world ...many people had abonded their traditional hand-woven clothes for T-shirts and western style clothes. However, most of the women still wore their brightly colored skirts (indicating they were married) or white tunics (indicating they were single). The homes were built on stilts and many had metal roof tops (instead of thatch). They had no electricity, but they did have a battery operated radio - and most people understood some Thai. The most beautiful thing about the village was it's people.

We hung our things up to dry, then sat in the kitchen and watched as Mr. Green prepared our dinner. All the cooking was done inside the house ...there was no chimney or hood to divert the smoke, it just filled up the house and seeped through the side of the roof. They used pine wood from the local surrounding trees.

We slept like the village people - right on the hard wood floor. It wasn't the most comfortable way to sleep, but it wasn't so bad ...until the roosters started crowing at 4 a.m. (and wouldn't stop). That seemed to set off a chain reaction ...the pigs started up, then the hens, then the dogs, then people started pounding the rice (more on that later). All this way before the sun ever came up!

When the sun finally did come up, we had some beautiful views of the surrounding hills. Mr. Green cooked us a wonderful breakfast and we were off again! We hiked through some beautiful forest and jungle areas. The higher elevations looked like a regular forest with pine wood trees. The lower elevations were jungle ...lots of green, lush vegetation. The views from each were very nice! We hiked along some very narrow and muddy ledges ...just another reminder of how people take responsibility for their own safety out here. We heard a good saying about safety in Thailand ... "safety just isn't an issue in Thailand. Since they are all Buddhists, they believe you'll come back as something better in the next life anyway!".

We had Thai-style fast food for lunch... fried rice wrapped in banana leaves. Mr. Green even made us chop stix out of bamboo. When we were finished eatting, we just left it on the ground (the ultimate disposable dishware)!

We had good weather, but a lot of mud from the rain the day before. On every trek, there is always something to contend with ... on this trek it was the leeches. We stopped periodically for leech checks. As we started climbing down a hill, the next village came into view. There were rice paddies in the valley below the village. It was a beautiful setting and the area was much more remote.

There are approximately 54 people in this village. All of the homes were built on the side of a hill and all but two had thatched roofs. There was no toilet (not even an outhouse), no running water (they used a stream about 1/4 mile away), no electricity, and no roads. This village was primitive (and I don't say this in a derogatory manner). These people were amazing!

They grew their own rice, then pounded it with a man-made, wooden contraption to get the outter husk off. They grew cabbage, egg plant, guava, and other fruits and vegetables. They even made their own fabric! They were about as self sufficient as you can get. Most of the animals (chickens, pigs, dogs) lived under the houses. The sanitation conditions were not very good, but everyone seemed pretty healthy.

Lon and I think we were lucky to see this village now ...because in 5-10 years, it probably won't be the same. As they get contact with more tourists, and as more of their children leave the village to be educated -it's easy to see how they could abondon their traditional ways.

We enjoyed watching the goings-on around the village that afternoon ...the animals dozing, the piglets feeding, the people weaving fabric or baskets, etc.. That evening, we joined a small group of villagers during their prayer sing-a-long. The religions of the Karen tribe are animism, Buddhism, and Christianity. We could see the work of the missionaries here. This group had small booklet bibles (written in their native language) with pictures.

It was another difficult night of sleep (or lack of) on those hard wood floors! However, when morning came, we were all excited for the hike and bamboo rafting! I think all of us left the village with a better appreciation for the hard work and simplicity of the Karen village lifestyle. I don't think any of us will ever open a bag of rice again without thinking about those women working the rice-pounder!

We ended our trek in a corn field...where a truck was waiting to pick us up. On the drive back to Chiang Mai, we visited the Inthanon National Park monument. It was a wonderful experience and our tour guides, Mr. Green and "M", were fantastic! By the time we arrived in Chiang Mai, we (at least Lon and I) were ready for some serious "recovery" time.

We spent a few more days in Chiang Mai ...mostly preparing for our trip to Laos (getting visas, last minute tampon run - don't think you can find those in Laos). I also went on an major shopping spree, if you look at our expenses for Thailand, they'll be a lot higher than expected - but we got some cool stuff and nice gifts (and we're still under budget)! I especially fell in love with these Burmese cow bells ...yup, I ended up buying one.

We rented a motor bike one day and rode up to Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep is a beautiful buddhist temple located on the very top of a mountain overlooking the city of Chiang Mai. We climbed up the long flight of stairs leading up to the temple (boy, are we out of shape!). There were many large bells and gongs all around the temple ...and the tourists and kids were constantly banging on them. This temple was very ornate!