Thursday, January 31, 2013
After a lunch of yellow curry with chicken, a Thai speciality, at a place recommended by our driver Yo we drove to look at the "Ancient Village". Looking for something to fill in the last part of our day, it was difficult to get a handle on what the Ancient Village was until we saw it. Apparently the original capital of Chiang Mai was located here hundreds of years ago. Continual flooding though saw the capital relocated to its present position. This left an area affected by regular flooding available for people to take over, so now there are a lot of properties. A small percentage quite new and obviously, by Thai standards, quite expensive. Others seeming to be homes for people with very little by way of money or household possessions. The unique thing about the Ancient Village though is that the entire village is build around half a dozen or more ancient ruins of brick temples and small palaces. These were obviously abandoned centuries ago and are in a state of disrepair, or have been excavated and reclaimed.
Following the temple visit we decided to look at some traditional Thai arts and crafts, so I dragged Frank around a jade showroom. Who knew jade came in "Imperial", "apple", "lavender", "blue", "white", "gold", "black". Not me, and I am a jade fan. Prices were up there, however all products did come with an authenticity certificate. Next we visited a silk factory, Jolie Femme, and saw the silk making process and again a gorgeous showroom, this time making a couple of purchases.
At the base of the temple, is a market. Predominantly set up for temple visitors and tourists it still provides a good feel for Thai markets and lifestyle. Full of food and the obligatory Chinese import souvenirs. That said, it is colourful and well worth a look around. I bought what I thought was 6 postcards for about the price you would pay for one in Australia, only to find when I got home they were little note books. Bonus! You can also see Red Taxis lined up waiting for passengers and donate to the food collection for the temple dogs.
Today's adventure was based on our decision to spend a day with a driver out and about exploring Chiang Mai. We booked Yo for the day, the driver who we had from the airport to the hotel. He speaks passable English, and has a sense of humour so we figured we would enjoy his company for the day. Being born in Chiang Mai he was bound to know some special points of interest. We had arranged to meet Yo at 9.00am and when we went up to reception we passed the water buffalo out for their morning constitutional. After reading about them in the hotel brochure it was nice to see them. After a quick pat and photo it was off in the car. We decided to visit the Doi Suthep area first. A large National Park at the top of a mountain it is popular for trekking, bird watching and as the site of a famous temple. With the torrential rain the night before we figured bird watching and trekking might be hard going so we settled on the temple.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Lunch was a traditional Thai picnic, with food wrapped in and served on banana leaves, in a bamboo hut down by the river. Quite beautiful, and very unique. A chance to talk and relax for a bit before getting back into it. 28.1.2013
A healthy elephant is a clean elephant so next on the agenda was to learn some basic elephant skin care. Apparently elephants don't sweat like humans, excluding sweat only at the point on their body that their toenails join their foot. If you look carefully you will see a sweat band at this point. An elephants skin is approximately two inches thick, except for behind the ears. Here it is half an inch thick carrying lots of blood vessels which are used by the elephant as a cooling system when it flaps it's ears. The breeze created helps to cool the blood before it circulates further. Pretty neat. Their skin, needs to be kept clean in order to more easily check the elephants health and condition. Another key cooling mechanism is to throw dust up and over their back from their trunks. This accumulation of dust, twigs and potential insects is easily removed via scrubbing. First off there is a manic slapping of a hand held "brush" made from bunches of leaves. slap, slap, slap, to cries of "harder, harder" from Benz. as far as brooms go though it worked a treat with dust and grime vanishing with each swoosh. Then off to the pond we went with bamboo bucket, scrubbing brush and swatch of tree bark which believe it or not makes a form of natural soap once wet and rubbed harshly across the elephants skin.
Next it was on to learning how to determine which elephant would be ours for the day. The trick to elephant allocation, according to our guide Benz, was to feed an elephant for five minutes. By this time, he would have a clear indication of whether "our" elephant would accept us - or not.
Today was our first visit to see the elephants that Chiang Mai is so famous for. Scheduled to visit Patara Elephant Farm, we were picked up by our driver at 7.30am with a trip of about an hour ahead of us. I am finding the view from a vehicle, out into the world, an entertaining one, so happily spent the trip peering out at the traffic chaos surrounding us. We arrived at Patara and the fun began. We were barely out of the car and the elephants being brought in to work with us for the day came past us and down the hill. These animals really are incredible. So huge, up close, but also exuding a calm presence. It was inspiring just to be near these animals, knowing that they would accept us as part of their world for the day. Other couples joining us for the day were from all over the world. In our group we had two couples from Bordeaux, France; one from New York and one from the UK. So, with Frank and I from Australia, a truly international bunch. The local Karen tribespeople from the mountains of Burma Thai border region of Chiang Mai are the traditional elephant keepers of the Mai Sim area. These people are also known for their beautiful woven fabrics, so it was no surprise to see we were allocated a cotton tunic each to wear for the day. The official reason give was that the elephants would "see" us as a Karen trainer. Somehow I think that the elephants were to smart to be caught out by this....apart from the fact that when we went swimming we all took our tunics off! So, we passed around the bundle of tunics, selecting whichever colour appealed to us. For some reason, although I am usually a red girl, I selected a green tunic, only to be told that "elephants like green, because they think of you as a banana leaf". I responded "Great - I'm dressed as elephant food!" Everyone laughed.