Wednesday, December 9, 2009

You'll find a god in every golden cloister...

We spent our days in Chiang Mai eating more and more Thai food, gleefully drinking Chang beers and other ridiculously inexpensive alcoholic concoctions at an outdoor pub we'd hunted down called "Gekko Garden." It was well worth the effort: the kids loved it for the fish and turtles swimming in the tableside pond, the wagon wheel chairs, and the fact that the expat owner dropped off a live crab on our table for their amusement. Later I think we ended up eating that lovely crab in a curry, for which I didn't even feel guilty, even though his shell and claws had been artfully rearranged for presentation; the tastiness factor overwhelmed any sort of crabby empathy I might have had.

We wandered around between sessions of getting blissfuly buffeted by the masseuses, (our other dining spot was the Irish pub next door to them where Thomas managed to stay healthy by eating nothing but french fries. We wove through streetside vendors hawking everything from silk to grilled meats to parasols and T-shirts printed up with pretty much any saying you can imagine, and did a lot of people watching. Our hotel was luxurious but most of the time we couldn't wait to get back outside to life.

Everybody was friendly and especially kind to our kids. There were sad, thin-looking women begging on the curbs with tiny black-haired babies, trucks driving by with loudspeakers blaring "REAL Thai boxing!!! REAL fighting, REAL blood, not show, tonight!!!!" to a background of appropriately loud Thai music, and of course, more temples.

We were intrigued by this statue of a passed-away monk, which wore his glasses, and saw many more like it during our travels, often with layers of gold leaf fluttering, the real glasses perched on their serene faces.

What was truly interesting was how in Thailand the lines between everyday and spiritual are blurred. Garden ornaments such as Donald Duck and pink flamingoes that I might have described as tacky under other circumstances decorated the garden of one Wat we visited. Most places had little spirit houses set up in their gardens, carefully placed where shadows from the main house wouldn't fall upon them.

Chiang Mai spirit house

The businesses, even, say, the 7-11, which were right on the street had placed tiny offerings of food and drink on the ground for the spirits, or sticks of incense to being good fortune. Jasmine, rose, and marigold garlands were sold everywhere to be draped over your rearview mirror, the prow of your boat, any place or one who needed luck or blessings.

Throughout our trip, while I learned to appreciate the architecture of the Wats, their bold colors and extremely elaborate decorations, I also found myself looking for things that were visually quiet, pale, the less ornate, and my photos reflect that.

Simple pleasures.

lotus and orchids

Regretfully, we said good-bye to Chiang Mai.

Thanks to someone who will remain unnamed but who had to have one last extended massage while I went and fetched the luggage, we really had to run for our train, the conductor giving us a look and tapping his watch at us.

The train was great. The railway company had delivered the tickets to our hotel, and that night we enjoyed more Chang beers in our two private compartments, the connecting door open between them to give us more space, kids watching DVDs happily, or the darkening countryside sweep by, and we each hunkered down in bunk beds as the train rolled with the soothing clacketty-clack along the tracks.

I need to work on my en route sleeping skills. Previously, on the plane from Bahrain to Bangkok, which admittedly was quite old and not so plush as far as planes go, neither Mike nor I could get comfortable despite the fact that it was very much time to sleep.

When I finally fell asleep the stewardess accidently dropped an icy cold glass of water on my lap. Horrified, she ran off and came back with fistfuls of flimsy napkins and tried, ineffectively but fervently to try and dry my pants. I finally fended her off with many assurances of my non-upsettedness but there was no sleeping after that. Now, on the train, the movement lulled us quickly to sleep, but with every stop Mike and I came awake again, then into sleep as the train hissed, chugged, and pulled back out of the station, the whole process starting over again.

However, morning, perhaps not rested but loving the views out our window, and the inherant romance of traveling through the Orient by train, we were ready to go again. Thomas played lovingly with his new tiny buddy, a gecko from the Night Market, hand-fashioned out of palm leaf, putting it carefully to bed in the suitably small hydraulic brakes part box the street seller had thoughtfully provided.

Outside, scenes of rice fields, green and knee deep with muddy water, majestic white and black cranes on their long legs, and the ubiquitous motocycles went by. We were sorry to have passed though some of the most beautiful country in the dark, but it couldn't be helped. As we neared Bangkok the rice fields and occasional Wat gave way to towns and more Wats.

The houses along the railway tracks were of the most impoverished kind, garbage piled everywhere, faded clothes hung out on wire fences and trees, rusted metal, dome-like bamboo cages holding bright fighting cocks, well, we pointed it all out to Bethy.

A time to be thankful and mindful of our own good luck and blessings.


dorothy said...

Wonderful reality break from my life Nat- blizzard conditions below zero temps...nothing like armchair travel to make it all seem less real.

Will & Cheyenne said...

Seriously. It was 7.3 degrees when I took my kids to school today!

I can't believe how much your baby has grown up. Ready for more! :)

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking to say that your vivid story lines make one so thankful for being a armchair traveler and there, Dorothy said it too. Hoping to see the East also via train, I have seen many travel tv programs, but nothing beats joining in with a whole family experience.
S from Seattle
Thanks for sharing!!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

Love the photos of these last 2 entries. It sounds like you all had a blast.
I agree with anonymous' comment!

Natalie said...

You all really make my day! I'm tickled to death you enjoy reading our stuff. Thank you!

Keanes in Dubai said...

Natalie - it's way past my bedtime but I just wanted to read more ...loving your trip...taking me back to Thailand with all your lovely words...fabulous!