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Thailand December 2016/ January 2017 Part 6 - Fishing for Mekong Catfish & Closing Thoughts

See Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

The first week we spent in Chiang Mai were the most structured, and where we completed most of our pre booked tours. The second week we spent in Chiang Mai were completely unstructured. We had the time to explore, to taste the most amazing food, and for Kevin to find opportunities to play table tennis. We were hampered somewhat by our limited Thai. But everywhere we went we found people to be amazingly kind, and friendly.

 We did, unexpectedly, have the chance to experience Thailand hospitals. Kevin needed to visit the emergency room. We were most fortunate that our hotel was opposite a hospital. We walked to the ER, and were admitted and seen to very promptly. Kevin received some drugs intravenously, was advised to be admitted overnight (which we politely declined.) And we were given a prescription for a number of drugs which was filled at the hospital. When we came to be discharged and pay our bill we were ASTONISHED to find that the total bill came to $26!

After Kevin started to recover and feel better, Kevin decided that he wanted to go fishing. He found the Bo Sang Fishing Lake which is a private lake where for a set price you can go fishing with a guide. We selected the half day program. The price included transport to and from our hotel. Our guide Ep, helped us set up - he put bait on the lines, and set everything up. Our quarry - the noble Mekong Catfish!

Here's Kevin battling the fish...


Caught! What a catch! After a quick photo, all fish were released back into their lake.


The fish were very strong and feisty! I am so glad we only had booked half a day. Towards the end of it all, my arms were hurting!

Here's a photo of one that I caught after quite an amazing battle...


 We really liked Chiang Mai, and how easy it was to get around. The markets are quite amazing - great subject matter for photographs!


Here is Kevin posing before the Table Tennis Club he found (and later played at.)


Here are some people having a fish spa at the Night Market...


 The most popular mode of transport seemed to be motorcycles. We were amazed to see the number of passengers and loads that intrepid, adventurous drivers had!


We would amble down streets just for the fun of it, and find the most interesting pictures.


We even visited a cat cafe, called "Catmosphere"!


Here's a typical street scene...


And another...


We played around at the Art In Paradise 3D museum...


Here's Kevin... (Will he jump?)


This photo was taken on the last evening we had. We had found this amazing mom and pop restaurant. We kept returning night after night. We had the most delicious chicken noodle broth, 50 baht ($1.43) for a bowl. We could not get enough of it.


Closing thoughts: This was an amazing trip. I would love to return. I could quite easily see spending a couple of months in this area. I had read about how amazing the street food is. And it is! When I first arrived I was super cautious, but there was no need to be. All the food is fresh and delicious. The worst part of this trip is getting there. The flights are long, and there is no way one can get comfortable. But it is worth it.

Can't wait to return!








Thailand December 2016/ January 2017 Part 5 - Maesa Elephant Camp & Long Neck Hilltribe

See part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

The adventure continues...

 This tour to visit the Maesa Elephant Camp and the Long Neck Hilltribe was booked prior to departure as part of the package. As luck would have it the tour was with the same company that had guided us for our prior tours. So we were delighted to see our guide, Nan again. We were collected from our hotel, and driven to the Maesa Elephant Camp. There for 40 Baht we bought a bundle of sugar cane and bananas to feed the elephants. Even the youngsters are big and strong - and very hungry!

Elephants are surprisingly hairy, and being kissed and hugged by one was quite ticklish.


And here's Kevin...


Then after we had given the elephants their snacks we made our way to the river to watch them being bathed.


Then it was time for the "show". The best part of the show was the elephant painting...


Which were available for sale, after the show...


Then it was time for our elephant trek to the Hill Tribes.

I have very mixed feelings about this part of the experience. Since booking this tour, I had done some reading about humane treatment, and training of elephants. There is a very strong demand for "no ride" experiences. There is a lot of information on the web. You be the judge.

Here is a photo of Kevin and I ....


And another one...


Then we "disembarked" from our elephant ride, and made our way to the Karen Hill Tribe encampment. We watched women weave, and make handicrafts that they sold to tourists like us.


We wandered through rice paddies that the hill tribes plant for their own consumption.


After visiting the Hill Tribes, and purchasing a beautiful hand woven scarf, we were taken to have a lunch nearby. After lunch we visited an Orchid & Butterfly Farm.


After some unexpected shopping, we ended a wonderful day.

The Maesa Elephant Camp was surprisingly enjoyable. The individual elephants looked to be well cared for, and in excellent spirits. The Hill Tribe visit was interesting. It certainly was a tourist oriented display. There was not much to do but to take photographs (excellent portrait shots) and to buy some of the amazing handiwork.





Thailand December 2016/ January 2017 Part 4 - Chiang Rai, White Temple & Golden Triangle

See Part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I had read about the incredibly beautiful White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) at Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is a small town located north of Chiang Mai. I decided to book a tour. The tour that I found included the White Temple, but also included a visit to the Golden Triangle.

Our guide Nan collected us from our hotel, and we drove through the countryside to Chiang Rai. It was interesting seeing the countryside - rolling hills, farm lands (rice paddies) and golden Buddha statues gazing over fields. 

Our van stopped off at the Chiang Rai Hot Springs. This is really a bit of a tourist trap. But it was a nice stop to get out and stretch one's legs.


I watched a woman roasting peanuts for sale. 


I watched quail eggs being boiled in bamboo baskets in the hot springs.  It was fun to potter around and do some people watching. But before long the tourist buses started to arrive, and it started to get crowded. 

So we took off, and drove to Wat Rong Khun. There we did come across the crowds. Clearly, this is a very popular spot with the tourists. 

The story behind the White Temple, as we westerners call it, is that its artist decided to create this temple, and make it open to all Thai people. (Thai nationals have free access, foreigners are charged.) The artist clearly has a sense of humor. There are amusingly strange and interesting art pieces scattered throughout the complex. Visitors are encouraged to pose with the art work.


The complex is a fascinating


and fantastical place...


We walked across a bridge to get to the inner chamber. This closeup represents the souls that are in hell...


We did have to remove our shoes to enter the inner temple. No cameras were allowed, which is a pity. We spotted characters from the Matrix, and even Kung Fu Panda included in the fantastical murals in the inner chamber. There are no monks assigned to the Temple.

The complex boasts the fanciest public toilets I've ever seen. So fancy we had to have our photos taken outside the facility...


 The White Temple is well worth a visit, even with the crowds and the tourists.

We headed off towards the Golden Triangle for some lunch. Then we were guided to the overlook, where a golden Buddha gazes calmly over the waters...


 The Golden Triangle is where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) meet.


 This area has long since been the focal point of the world's opium production. We even visited the Opium Museum.


But soon it was time to get back into our van and head back to Chiang Mai. This is what the countryside looked like...


We were amazed with the large loads of rice stalks (very light, to be used as mulch to grow garlic) that we saw on the backs of trucks.













Thailand December 2016/ January 2017 Part 3 - Chiang Mai & Thai Farm Cooking School

See Part 1, Part 2.

I had wanted to learn to cook Thai food. I had found the Thai Farm Cooking School on TripAdvisor.

I made this booking prior to leaving for Thailand. I booked direct with the school. I found the cooking school to be very responsive. I paid in advance through Paypal. We were collected from our hotel lobby promptly. We were then taken to the Ruamchok Market where our teacher, Wass showed us different types of rice, explained about coconut milk, and talked about how to use about the different sauces that are the foundations of Thai cooking - fish, oyster, and soy sauce. We then had a little bit of time to browse and take in the colorful sights of a food market. I was very impressed at how fresh everything looked.  I saw the biggest carrots I have ever seen!


Here is Wass showing us the different types of rice. She explained about short vs long rice, and explained about sticky rice (which is used in Thai desserts.)


And here Wass explains that we are going to be taught to make our own curry paste from scratch. (In this photo she is showing us pre made green, yellow and red curry pastes.)


 I found the markets in Thailand fascinating. This market is a food market. It was truly incredible to see the variety of ( to my eyes) the most exotic foods...


After a little bit, we went back to our van, and headed off to the farm. When we arrived, we had some tasty tea. We were each given a bright red apron, and a blue dish cloth. Then the cooking lesson began. First off, we were shown the different ways to prepare rice. Firstly, you must wash the rice. For jasmine rice, the rice was cooked in a rice cooker. For sticky rice, the rice must be soaked for 4 hours, or overnight. For rinsing do not use your hands. Rather, instead rinse using a bamboo basket. Sticky rice is steamed.

Then we were shown the garden and the different plants and herbs that are used in Thai cooking. We were encouraged to try, experiment and taste; to not be too afraid to try things. I loved our teacher, Wass. She had such a positive, fun approach to teaching.


Next we went back to our class room. We had to prepare our curry pastes. We had a choice of either green, yellow or red curry. I had chosen green curry, and Kevin red.

We were given our ingredients and shown how to chop them up. Next we had to pound the ingredients using a mortar and pestle into a paste.

Here are ingredients used for the curry pastes..


Here Wass demonstrates how to chop them up...


It felt very satisfying pounding the ingredients into a paste.

Next we had to make the soup. We each had our own cooking stations. 


I made the most tasty coconut soup. 


I can't wait to try this at home.

Here's Kevin working at his cooking station... (he's taking a photo!)


Here Wass is demonstrating how to make spring rolls.


And here is Kevin's finished spring rolls...


By this time we had already eaten our soup, and our spring rolls. I was starting to feel full.

Next, we had to make our curry, and we made our cashew stir fry.

This is a photo of my green curry.


It was delicious. But by now I was so full, I am afraid I did not do it justice!

We had a bit of a break to wander around the farm. One of our classmates was a keen birder - much better than me. He spotted green bee eaters, and olive backed sun birds.

Then we finished up with making dessert - mango and sticky rice.

I had fun being a little creative.


I couldn't believe I had space to eat another bite.

Then it was time to get in our vans, and head back into town, and to our hotels.

What an amazing day. Highly, highly recommend this. Thank you Wass! And thank you Thai Farm Cooking School!







Thailand December 2016/ January 2017 Part 2 - Chiang Mai & Temples

Part One.

We could have spent longer in Bangkok. After 3 nights in Bangkok, it was time to make our way to Chiang Mai. For this trip I decided to do something a little different. It is often quite tempting to try and load the itinerary with as many cities, and sites as possible. I decided not to do that. I wanted a vacation where we had the time to really experience what we could in the time we had available. 

We had flights pre-booked from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I had also arranged to be fetched from our hotel and taken to the Suvarnabhumi Airport. We had a little bit of a wait at the airport. Enough time to grab a snack and a cup of coffee.

The flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is approximately 55 minutes. We flew Thai Airways. We were impressed with the service and the very new aircraft we flew in. I had arranged to be met at airport in Chiang Mai and taken to our hotel - Holiday Inn. I am glad for our first visit we did this. However, Chiang Mai is a very easy city to navigate so I think next time catching a taxi, or arranging with the hotel to fetch us would be perfectly acceptable. Check in time at our hotel was 3pm. We arrived early (our flights were in the morning) so our rooms were not ready. However, we wandered around the hotel taking photos, and before long they had advised us that our room was ready. We had received an upgrade to a spacious suite on the 10th floor which included an enormous living room. The bed was king size with a fabulous mattress. Our suite was part of a number of reconditioned suites that the Holiday Inn were offering. Included in our package was free wifi, 2 pieces of free laundry per day, and access to the Executive Lounge on the 25th floor (that's where we had breakfast.) The hotel's reception, and some of its passage ways have a little of a retro or dated feel. But we had a very comfortable 10 nights.


This is a photo of the hotel gardens along the Ping River.


This is a photo of the hotel itself.

I had pre-booked a half day Chiang Mai City and Temple Tour on the same day that we arrived from Bangkok. I booked an afternoon tour because our flights to Chiang Mai arrived in the morning. I was glad that our rooms were ready. At least we could freshen up before our next tour.

We were collected at our hotel. I did not quite realize how crowded it would be. But it was a holiday weekend, and in Thailand Monday and Tuesday were also public holidays. This meant that it took forever to get to the Temple at Doi Suthep (Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.) The traffic that wound up the mountain road to the temple was almost a parking lot.


We stood in long lines to catch the elevators to the top. We had to take off our shoes, and leave them with the hordes and hordes of people who were also visiting. It was the most beautiful Temple. It was amazing see visitors, tourists and believers. 


 And... This photo is a picture of believers who are walking around the Chedi three times, praying.


We received a monk's blessing similar to what is these folks are receiving. 


Our guide, Nan explained to us that the temple was really different without people. We quickly organized with him a private tour to come to the Temple at Sunrise in a couple of days time (on Thursday, January 5, 2017.)

The difference was quite remarkable. We got some incredible shots of the temple at sunrise. We had foggy, misty weather. We got some really incredible atmospheric photos.


It was so different without the crowds.


We had time to pay attention to the details.. Nan our tour guide explained that every Thai male will come to a temple twice in their lives. Once when they are children - around 7 - 9 years old, for about a month. At that time they learn the history of Buddhism. Later from about 18 onwards, young men become monks for additional study. They will wear the orange/ saffron robes. They will sleep and study in the temple. Each morning they will take alms - food from the community. Nan explained that according to Buddha's teachings one must take only what one needs. No more. This period of learning usually is around 3 months. The young man's family may visit, and bring food. Different temples will specialize in different types of teachings. Some temples will specialize in meditation, for example. Nan also explained to us about learning how to pray. The flowers are the offering. The candles and smoke are significant, as smoke is the bridge from our world to the other.


 This photo above is a close up, and shows one of the flower offerings. The fog made for some atmospheric photos...




Over the 10 nights that we stayed in Chiang Mai we had the time to explore, and relax. We found the food to be amazing. Especially the street food, and the little "mom and pop" places that magically would appear, and would have the most magical food. We found many laundry places that charge by the kilogram. Prices varied from 40 to 80 baht per kg. Chiang Mai itself is very walkable. Tuk tuks are mostly found around the old city, night market, night bazaar and the Saturday walking market. Strangely when we really really wanted a tuk tuk, they would vanish.

The Old City is clearly defined by a moat.


There are occasional pedestrian bridges, that I found to be quite pretty.


The Old City Moat walls are still around, but are in ruins.


For many days that we were in Chiang Mai it was overcast, and rainy. The locals assured us that this was not seasonal. It is not the rainy season. We did not mind the overcast, nor slightly drizzly weather. It made for great photos.

Wandering around Chiang Mai was fascinating. We really didn't go into any museums, or visit any other temples (and there are a lot of temples to see.) Instead we wandered, people watched, took photos, and found wonderful tasty surprises.


Chiang Mai has many many temples. These photos are of Wat Suandok. 


 It was beautiful. 


While we were there women were starting to arrive. We asked Nan what this was about. He explained that the women were coming to the temple to pray for a good 2017. (We visited this temple December 31, 2016.) 

We found the monks in their orange robes very photogenic. 













Thailand December 2016/ January 2017 Part 1 - Bangkok & Floating Markets of Damnoen Saduak

I have always wanted to go to Thailand. After what seemed to be months and months of dreaming and planning it finally came true. This was our first trip to Asia, and our first to Thailand. I had used Tripmasters for our Costa Rica trip, and so I decided to use Tripmasters again. The site also allows you to pay off your package in installments. We left Denver December 27th, 2016, and returned Friday January 13th, 2017.

Our itinerary: Flights via Tokyo (Narita) to Bangkok. Three nights in Bangkok, and then a short flight to Chiang Mai, and 10 nights in Chiang Mai.

Part 1 - Bangkok, & Floating Markets of Damnoen Saduak.

Part 2 - Chiang Mai & Temples

Part 3 - Chiang Mai & Thai Farm Cooking School

Part 4 - Chiang Rai, White Temple and Golden Triangle

Part 5 Chiang Mai - Maesa Elephant Camp, & Long Necked Hill Tribes

Part 6 Thailand - Fishing for Mekong Catfish & Closing thoughts.

We flew All Nippon Airways (ANA) to Bangkok from Denver via Tokyo (Narita.) For some odd reason I did not quite realize the flying times. The Denver to Narita flight is about 12 hours. The flight from Narita to Bangkok is about a 5 - 6 hour flight. We arrived late - at midnight. I had arranged to be met at the airport by a driver, and taken to our hotel, Triple Two Silom. In Bangkok the BTS Skytrain closes around midnight. Due to our late arrival we would not be able to use the Skytrain.



Photo: Triple Two Silom Boutique Hotel.

This hotel is a modern, very comfortable hotel located in Bangkok's Silom district. All electrical outlets were international, so there is no need to bring adapters. We had a large comfortable room with a king size bed. The mattress was firm and comfortable. The hotel is not far away from the BTS Skytrain station (Chong Nonsi.) Superrich money exchange is located nearby. Restaurants are plentiful. Soi 20 has numerous tasty street food alternatives.


 Our first day in Bangkok we decided not to schedule anything, but to just have time to explore. Firstly we needed to buy a tourist sim card for my cell phone. This was very easy to do. We found a 7- Eleven and asked to purchase the tourist sim (for 299 Baht.) The very nice ladies helped me load it onto my unlocked phone. It worked beautifully while we were there. (For an extra 100 Baht you can buy "top-ups" at any 7-Eleven.) Really easy, cheap and convenient. This option is much better than having to pay for expensive international data roaming charges on US providers.

We decided to walk to the BTS Skytrain station, and catch it towards the Chao Phraya River. I had done some reading that the best way to see Bangkok is by river. I also wanted to be outside after being cooped up indoors for 30 hours. After we got our bearings we found the very impressive Skytrain. BTS is very new, impressive and easy to navigate. All announcements and signs are in both English and Thai. If you don't have exact change go first to the ticket booth. There they will confirm the pricing and give you coins. Then to get tickets go to the ticket kiosks to get tickets. The charges seem to be by station/ stop. We went from Chong Nonsi station (closest to our hotel) to Staphan Taksin Station, the station closest to the Central Pier.

As you exit the station, you need to go under the station towards the river to locate the Central Pier.

Beware of the Bangkok scams. While wandering around trying to get our bearings, we were approached on two separate occasions by well dressed, English speaking persons who were very friendly and extraordinarily helpful. Before long they were suggesting a tuk tuk ride to help us out. Avoid! This is a scam. The idea is to get you into a tuk tuk which eventually takes you to a tailor or a gem store or something like that, where you will be forced into purchasing stuff you do not want or need.  For both occasions, we politely thanked the individual and went on our way.

At the Central Pier we decided to purchase tickets for the tourist express boat. For 150 Baht each, this allows you to get on or off a variety of tourist spots up and down the river. This ticket is valid for one day. The other option, which we did not do is simply purchase tickets on the various boats (by color flag) or catch the ferries to cross the river.

I highly recommend this way of seeing the Bangkok sites. We used this boat to go to the Grand Palace, but there were a number of different piers and sites that you have access to. Before each stop they do announce the stop and the tourist sites to visit at each site. Announcements seem to be in Thai, English and Chinese.


After a tiring flight we really didn't want to do more than simply watch Bangkok and life on the river. The ride to the Grand Palace took no more than 20 minutes.


The route from pier to Grand Palace is well sign posted. When we were there was already quite the crowd. Of course, many Thais were coming to the Palace to pay their respects to the late king.


We saw crowds and crowds of mourners dressed in black making their way to a special Thais only entrance. Security was tight. Tourists had to go through a security check point, where we had to show our passports.

Dress code is strict. Absolutely no shorts (for both men and women) or short skirts. If you don't have the correct clothing you will not be allowed into the palace. For a fee you can buy skirts or long pants to wear. Kevin ended up purchasing a pair of long pants that he wore over his shorts.


 We made our way into the courtyard/ gardens of the Grand Palace. You are not yet in the Grand Palace proper. There is an entry fee of 500 Baht per person to get into the Grand Palace itself. We opted not to go in. Instead we wandered the gardens and enjoyed the day. It was beautiful.




 It was such fun people watching. After a quick lunch we decided to amble back to our boat, back to our hotel.

The next day we had booked a tour of the Floating Markets of Damnoen Saduak. We caught a tour bus that collected us outside our hotel. It was about an hour~ drive, stopping at a coconut farming demo, orchid farm and market before catching our long boats that took us into the floating market.


For an additional 200 Baht each we hired a long boat to take us down into more of the market's narrower canals. This was well worth it. We got some very interesting photos.


It was fun shopping for fruit, or coconut ice cream!


It got quite crowded...


At some of the waterways I was amazed that there were not more collisions.


We even had time to share a bowl of broth and noodles - all cooked from a long boat.