Part of our plan for traveling has always been to have some “down time” where we take a break from seeing the sights and just live in a place for a week, or even a month. We did exactly that in Thailand for most of February. We spent about three weeks in the northern city of Chiang Mai and then several days in a beach town called Hua Hin that is a couple hours south of Bangkok (thanks so much to Sarah’s Aunt and Uncle who live in Hua Hin and hosted us for a few days). Even though we did a lot of “just hanging out,” (which also meant catching up on schoolwork, dealing with personal finances, doing our 2017 taxes, etc. etc.) we had some time to see and learn a lot about Thailand.
Thailand is certainly the most “foreign” destination we have yet visited. All the signs are in Thai and you can’t even read the alphabet to try and sound out words. Although they do have many signs that include English as well, it can be impossible to even guess what some businesses/places are just by looking at them. Many Thai people speak some English, since studying it is mandatory in the schools, but they often have accents that make understanding challenging. Additionally, Thailand is still a developing nation. We did not really see evidence of severe poverty, but the “median income” or “middle class” Thai person, surely lives in far less luxury than her Western counterpart.
We stayed several kilometers outside of the city of Chiang Mai, at a very quiet but lovely property called Le Saichan Maejo. Thanks to the resort’s bikes, I had the chance to do a fair amount of biking around the area where we stayed. It was a somewhat rural area, but definitely right near the suburbs. These pictures are a sample of typical Thai life not too far from a decent sized city but certainly outside of the really developed areas.
The Old City part of Chiang Mai is more than 700 years old. It is a warren of narrow streets with all manner of local businesses, bars, restaurants, tourist oriented spots, Buddhist temples and many other things. Even the more modern streets just outside of the Old City have a typically Asian combination of crazy traffic, a plethora of storefront businesses, and a hodgepodge of Westerners, Asians, and a few other folks walking around. These pictures may give you a little bit of a sense, but you really have to see it to believe it!
Of course we had to visit at least one (actually several) local markets in Chiang Mai. Here are a few pictures.
We saw various sites of interest in Chiang Mai, but these pictures show two of the prominent Buddhist temples in the area (you can’t visit Southeast Asia without seeing lots of temples). The first is Wat Chedi Luang (an ancient temple alongside its modern counterpart, located in the center of town).
While at this temple, we had the opportunity for a “monk chat.” We spoke with a junior Buddhist monk who lives and studies at the temple. His English was very good, and he was wonderfully forthcoming with fascinating information about his life and his study of Buddhism (he became a monk at age 12 and is now 18).
We also visited Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple high up in the hills surrounding Chiang Mai. Here are some pictures of this temple. You can also see smog covering the city below, which is both from slash and burn agriculture and probably air pollution that comes down from China (according to several Thai people we spoke with).
After our time in Chiang Mai, we flew to Bangkok and immediately travelled south along the Gulf of Thailand to Hua Hin, a smaller beach town where many Thai people from Bangkok will vacation. We had the chance to eat a couple dinners on the beach and we spent a day on an elephant safari in a national park near the border with Myanmar. This was pretty awesome, and was very much like a traditional safari in Africa. We saw several elephants in the wild, which was great. Here is just one elephant picture since my i-phone camera has only so much telephoto capability (but you can sort of spot the elephant hidden in the bush). The other pictures show the landscape where the safari took place
After our stay in Hua Hin, we headed back to the airport in Bangkok to catch a flight to Cambodia to see the temples of Angkor Wat (spoilers, if Thailand was the most “foreign” place we visited yet, Cambodia was even more so, it’s a lovely country but definitely still a developing third world nation recovering from a very difficult recent history).