Chiang Mai was a welcome change of pace from the over sexed frenetic pace of Patong Beach. There were still plenty of offers for massages and Boom Boom on Pub Streets off the Night Bazaar but they were much less aggressive.
I spent my first day in Chiang Mai outside of Chiang Mai. I rented a car and driver and headed about 30 minutes out of town to the Huay Keaw Waterfall. Turns out the Huay Keaw is not actually a single waterfall but a series of small cascades climbing 5 or 6 hundred feet with shelves and small pools connecting the blue threads of crashing water.
The climb up the scree trail alongside the series of falls was strenuous and made even harder by the heat and humidity but the views were spectacular. And as I would reach each new pool I would find yellow and red rough spun cloth hanging on the lower branches of trees. Then no sooner than my mind register the robes of monks I would hear the laughter and shouts of boys and young men from behind the boulders. A few steps further and I could see the secluded pool was the swimming hole for novice Buddhist monks.
And as I climbed higher up the cascades I found every pool occupied by young happy monks and acolytes. I guess being a monk is not all work and no play! Even a monk would let their hair down once in a while if they had any.
After my climb up the Huay Keaw and back I found my driver and we drove on to Bhubling Palace (Thailand’s Royal Retreat from the heat of Bangkok). The property is designed a lot like how I would imagine our Camp David is laid out. Bhubling Palace occupies the entire top of a mountain and despite the presence of heavy security much of the grounds are open to guests as a tourist attraction. The retreat is beautifully landscaped with a mixture of exotic plantings of flowers and annuals beside natural old growth trees. In addition to the King’s Residence the compound contains housing for visiting dignitaries (Clinton was the last American President to stay here), banquet hall, something called the log house, housing for the troops and security force, and assorted green houses and Buddhist temples.
I seemed to be the only non-Asian visitor and I guess that fact was noticed because everywhere I went there seemed to be gardeners working about but not doing much. It was only on my way out that I noticed the gardeners were carrying side arms and radio sets in addition to their rakes and hedge clippers. I’m not sure what they thought I was up to but they were not taking any chances.
After my visit to the Bhubing Palace and a nice refreshing lunch of fried rice and shrimp, we drove on to visit the Doi Pui Hmong Hill Tribe Village. The Doi Pui Hmong are one of Thailand’s many ethnic hill-tribes and their village is basically a living museum. Up until recently the villagers made their living growing and selling opium poppies but the king’s sustainability project has redirected the village’s efforts to agricultural farms and making and selling tribal souvenirs to tourists.
These villagers live very simple lives much as their forefathers except of course for the iPhones, Motorbikes, and satellite dishes. Lol But their homes and culture remains the same. And many of the older women continue to dress in the traditional way.
The villagers still leave the village to tend the rice crop in the forest during the day returning at night to grind the rice in the traditional way. I’ve included photos of their milling process as well as village life and street scenes.
Two final things I found interesting in the village – first at the very top of the village is a small coffee plantation with a small café where you can sample their locally grown coffee while taking in a spectacular view of the valley below. I don’t drink coffee but fortunately they also make a great glass of very strong ice tea.
The second thing I learned while in the village is that the women that you see in the old National Geographic Magazines with the silver rings around their long-stretched necks are from Southeast Asia and are native ethnic hill-tribe women. For some reason, I always assumed they were African women.
And, I was fascinated to learn that the stretched neck is an optical illusion. The length of the neck is not affected by the heavy silver rings. Rather, the heavy rings force the bones in the shoulder down over time along with the woman’s ribs. An X-ray of one of the women showed her shoulder bones and ribs were permanently set at a 45 degree angle down instead of 90 degree angle that is normal for the rest of the world.
And with that worthless piece of trivia firmly cemented in my brain I headed back to Chiang Mai for a quick shower and night out on the Night Bazaar Street. Dinner at the Chiang Mai Hard Rock Café then a night of blues and beer at the Boys Blues Bar.