Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

In Chiang Mai...

The excellent road from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai zig-zags through the jungle-covered mountains separating the two cities. To make it as comfortable as possible, I decided to take a "VIP" bus. The seats are as wide and spacious as are the seats in first class on a plane. There were two TVs up front showing "Rush Hour" and the attendants handed out sandwiches and water to the passengers. Very pleasant and worth the extra Baht. Although I had stayed four days in Chiang Mai in 1988, I was not prepared for the tremendous growth that the city has gone through in the last 18 years. As expected, there are lots of western tourists here...particularly hanging around the well-known Night Bazaar. As before, Chiang Mai still has a few streets that are lined with bars (often bathed in red lights) that house an over-abundance of "bar girls" whose main purpose is to encourage the tourists to buy more drinks and/or to arrange for extracurricular activites later in the night. (As they say, everything here is negotiable.) I've had informative conversations with several ex-pats (mostly Brits and Aussies) who would eagerly introduce me to their much younger Thai wives...mostly half their age. (e.g. 71 vs. 33) It seems that, in order to own property in Thailand as a foreigner, you have to route it through a Thai national. Oftentimes, these guys would marry some young Thai girl, purchase a bar/restaurant and change their whole lifestyle. Yesterday, I took a tour out to one of the local hill tribes to check out their wares. It's too bad that I'm not into shopping because you could purchase some amazing stuff there for a lot less money than you'd spend at the Night Bazaar. After the village, we went up to the famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Rajvoravihara. You had your choice of taking an incline elevator to the top of the hill or trudging up the 306 steps. The staircase to the top is flanked by two long Nagas (dragons) who undulate down both side railings from the top. With their mouths always open, they display powerful teeth and a blazing red tongue that sticks out. This Wat is certainly one of the most impressive that I've visited. With a commanding view of the city of Chiang Mai...some 4000 feet below...the Wat is a popular place with visitors and locals alike. The main Stupa Pagoda is inlaid with gold leaf, and the surrounding walkway boasts hundreds of golden statues of the Buddha in a variety of positions. (i.e. sitting, standing, reclining, etc.) Naturally, we all had to take off our shoes before entering the "sanctum-sanctorum." Since the Buddha evidently doesn't like to see kneecaps, any visitor wearing shorts had to also rent baggy pants to pull up over their spiritually-offensive cut-offs. Definitely not a photo opportunity: in pink baggy pants, I looked more like a demented MC Hammer. (Somewhere, I'm sure, the Buddha was laughing.)
Later that afternoon, after walking through the Saturday street market (which was much like the street markets in Luang Probang), I finally made contact with Tom and Barbara, my new friends that I had met on the boat going up the Mekong last weekend. T & B have been living in Chiang Mai for some time, and we plan to get together at 4 P.M. today (Sunday) The weather remains clear and warm. As it stands now, I'm planning to leave for Bangkok on Wednesday. More later...

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