January 2011
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After about 34 hours of travel from Dallas to Bangkok by way of London, we arrive in Thailand on New Years Eve.  That included a 14 hour layover in London where we ran around seeing everything we could.  There is a separate trip report for that day.  Once we checked in to our hotel and changed into some cooler clothes we headed down to Khao San Road.  Our intent was to bring in the new year and watch the fireworks while enjoying some 'real' Thai food. 

Things didn't really pan out that way.  After a big plate of Pad Thai and a couple of  beers I was done for.  By 11pm I couldn't stay awake.  So we headed back to the hotel in a tuk tuk and Bill watched fireworks from the balcony while I crashed.  I guess my hard partying days are behind me.

Revived by sleep, we were out early the next day to see the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) which resides within the Palace grounds.  Turns out the Palace was closed for the new year and the Temple grounds were free and open and VERY crowded.  We spent the entire morning seeing every inch of the opulent and beautiful Temple grounds.



We took a taxi back to Khao San Road to get some late lunch and window shop before our 6pm GAP Adventure meeting at the hotel.  We met the first group that would be with us through Thailand and Laos and into Hanoi, Vietnam.  There would be ten of us on this portion of the trip, including Lek our guide.  Two Irish girls, Norrette and Ciara; an English couple living in Canada, Derek and Jackie; and English couple from Manchester, Peter and Irene; and an Austrailian girl, Kate, whom we would hang out with throughout the whole trip.  The group headed out to dinner to get to know one another a bit.

We started the next day with a long tail boat tour of the Bangkok Klongs (canals).  Many people live on the water, travel by boat and use the waterways for everything from bathing to cooking to doing laundry.  The canals are full of catfish and we stopped at one point to feed them some bread.  We ended our boat tour at a ferry dock across from the Wat Arun.  We were just getting started on what would be a temple heavy tour of Southeast Asia.



Afterwards we headed over to Wat Pho the home of the Reclining Buddha.  Prior to the temple's founding, the site was a center of education for traditional Thai medicine and is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage.  There are fascinating medical drawings all around the temple grounds so even those that could not read would be able to learn.  Many of the Stupas and Chapels are covered in detailed mosaics of broken pieces of porcelain.  Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest wats in Bangkok.  We were entertained at one point by some young students doing some traditional Thai dancing.

Bill and I, along with Peter, Irene and Kate walked back to hotel by way of Khao San Road.  It was a long walk with so much interesting daily Thai life to witness along the way.  Lek walked part way with us to make sure we didn't get lost.  We arrived back at the hotel in time to have a beer before heading off to our overnight train that would take us to Chaing Mai.



Thailand's overnight train from Bangkok to Chaing Mai is quite nice and a distinct step up to the trains we traveled on in China.  You start out in seats, kick back with beer and snacks and later an attendant comes by to make up your bunk.  Nice privacy curtains and big bunks.  Bill crashed out and slept like a baby, but I haven't mastered the art of sleeping on a train and mostly read my book.

We checked in to our hotel and headed out early in Chaing Mai for a day of Elephant Adventure.  Bill and I, Ciara and Norrette, Irene and Peter and Kate and even Lek were off to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center and The Elephant Hospital.  It was a bit of a drive out of town, so we employed a driver and van. 

Elephant rides in Thailand are mandatory, like taking pictures with llamas in Peru.  (HAH) So Bill and I on one elephant and Irene on another headed off for an elephant ride that started by the elephants walking directly into a pond of elephant high water, and then climbing through the mud on the other side.  The thirty minute ride took us though the jungle trail and past the elephant nursery where Norrette and Ciara were giving treats to the young ones.  It was great fun.  We had lunch at the Center and checked out the elephant dung paper making process, though not at the same time.....



We watched the elephants get bathed by their Mahouts, (trainers), had a chance to get up close and personal with a bunch of them and then grabbed a seat for the elephant show.  The show consists of several elephants demonstrating their strength, agility and intelligence as they moved and stacked logs, played instruments, performed numerous tricks and even painted pictures.  The painting of the pictures was so interesting to watch we ended up purchasing one of their paintings.  All the funds go back into the Conservation Center.

We followed with a trip over to the FAE (Friends Of Asian Elephants) Elephant Hospital.  They provide general care for sick elephants but also work with elephants that need artificial limbs from stepping on land mines.  Very sad to see these elephants try to adjust.  The bright side was the baby elephant that we were able to get close to.    



After a full day of elephant watching and riding we were to meet up with Derek and Jackie back at the hotel for a late afternoon temple viewing.  We headed back toward Chaing Mai only to be immediately involved in an automobile accident.  Our driver took a chance crossing several lanes of traffic and we were hit by a small car.  The van didn't sustain much damage but we were all thrown around a bit and Ciara managed to hit her head on the window.  Thank goodness Lek was with us as she took charge and eventually got another van to pick us up on the side of the road and get us back to Chaing Mai. 

We were desperately late in meeting up with Derek and Jackie as we waited hours at the accident scene before we could get our ride back.  Finally picking them up we headed out for a nighttime visit to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the Temple on the top of the mountain.  The plus side of arriving to the Temple so late was there were almost no other visitors and the temple is resplendent in gold and bells and the view against the night sky was amazing.  Several of us were blessed by a local monk at the temple which, after the accident, just seemed the right thing to do.



Bill and I, Peter and Irene, Ciara and Norrette and Lek headed out to Chaing Mai's night market for a look around and some dinner.  We exchanged some money had a relaxing time checking out the huge indoor and outdoor market and headed back to the hotel for some sleep. 

The next morning we met up with Kate for a walk around Chaing Mai's old city.  It was a great time trying to find things on the map and uncovering some amazing temples; like the wooden structure of Wat Pan Tao and its large gilded peacock adorning the main entry door and the totally impressive Wat Chedi Luang, which is over 600 years old.    



After lunch at the "Chaing Mai Kungfu for Self Defense and Health Center" we headed back to meet everyone for our six hour ride to Chaing Kong where we would cross over to Laos.  We picked up an addition to our group, Nicki, a GAP employee, along for the ride. 

Along the way we stopped at the Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple.   This temple is unique as it is a result of an artistic endeavor by Chalermchai Kositpipat,  a renown Thai artist and has been constructed in all white with mirrored glass mosaics.  It is a work in progress and many new buildings are being added.  The artist considers this work his offering to Buddha.  He has painted modern items in the murals inside the main chapel to tell the story of Buddhist teachings.  There are images of space ships, Spiderman, Rolex watches and even Keanu Reeves as Neo from the Matrix.  Its quite odd.  Many of the sculptures around the temple are meant to represent hell and suffering from bad karma.  The outstretched hands and skull like faces reaching out of a pit is awesomely frightening.



We spent the night in Chaing Kong where Lek surprised us at dinner with a tasty snack of stir fried silk worms.  A first for many of us.  Not much taste, kind of cardboard-like.  After dinner we were surprised again by Lek with Lanterns that we were able to light and send off into the night sky over the river for luck.  There was some wind and a few of the lanterns didn't want to cooperate, crashing into the hotel behind us or down on the shoreline of the river.   We did manage, however, to get several up without starting any fires.

Click on the photo below for a short video of a lantern launching.



The next morning we were up early for our border crossing into Laos.  This proved to be an experience in and of itself. 

Click on the link below to see photos from our time in Thailand.  Be sure to click the tab for Laos above to read about our adventures down the Mekong River and beyond.