March 20, 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Well, if you'd ask me 2 months ago what the hardest thing I'd have to do during this journey would be, I don't think I would have guessed correctly.
Turns out that the hardest thing to do was saying goodbye to Savath at the airport this morning as his little tuk tuk dropped us off. There were hugs all around, some photos, and wishes expressed for nothing but good fortune and happiness in at least the 6 languages that he and I have tried out on I've another over the past week.
While it would be easy to describe the contrasts in our lives, it's easier to focus on the things that are identical. Starting with our age.
And the fact that we both only have 1 wife (altho' he knows about the other one from the Bakong Temple a few days ago, he's gonna keep quiet about it, I'm pretty sure).
And the fact that our eldest children (also a son first & then a daughter) are the same ages.
And that we both put family first. He has just as many stories & photos of family on his iPhone as I do.
Mind you, many of the photos are of his 7 (count 'em, 7) grandchildren. So that would be different.
There could be no more profound difference, however, than the way we both spent our 18th year. In 1975, I bought my pen that I still use (it takes refills) on my first day of university.
When Savath was 18, the Khmer Rouge emptied his home town of Siem Reap of people, murdered his parents and all but one of his siblings, and moved him forcibly from village to village until he was finally ordered to haul cement for the construction of a dam in the northwest near the border with Thailand in order to try and control the annual flooding and increase the production of rice that was then sold to China for more arms and bullets in order for the Khmer Rouge to remain in control of the population through armed terror.
I still have my pen. He doesn't even have photos of his parents. And so, you'll understand that after a week spent getting to know Savath, it wasn't easy to say goodbye.
Our flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai this afternoon was populated mainly by young people from Brazil. One young lady was hot on the plane and so she took off her sweater. I really hope she is staying at our hotel. I’m guessing she’ll be just as hot there.
It is now time for me to learn to mangle Thai. I have a basic knowledge of the language, of course. It consists mostly of “Pad Thai and Tom Yum Soup, please”. I’m not certain that will be enough but at least I’ll eat well.
I tried out my newly acquired Thai language skills on the flight crew from Bangkok Airways as we were boarding our first flight today leaving Siem Reap for Bangkok. I was almost arrested. I will keep working on it.
Chiang Mai is the ancient capital of …. something. Let’s say Northern Thailand. Yeah, that’ll do. I see that ‘ancient capital’ gets thrown around a lot here in SE Asia and I’m thinking that maybe UNESCO and their “World Heritage Site’ designation team got into the act.
Anyway, without getting too technical, the Lanna people (from whom my niece Lani is descended, I’m figuring …. Or maybe it’s Faren’s sister Lana?) were the big kahunas in these parts. Their food, dress and customs are (or were) different from those of the other ethnic groups that collectively make up modern day Thailand. Tonight at dinner we tried an authentic Lanna dish. It was called ‘Pad Thai’. There was also something called ‘Larb’ which I was assured was not just a misspelling of ‘Lard’ (you would not BELIEVE how often words are spelt wrong in SE Asia!).
Chiang Mai is the name of the city as well as the province. There are two million people in the province. The number in the city is a moving target but our driver assures us that most of them live in the rural areas – although all of them seemed to be waiting at the same red light as us for a very long time, I think).
Chiang Mai is a city of temples (the entire population appears to be members of the Reform movement). At sunset we walked a few blocks from our hotel to see the last gold rays of the sun reflect off the HUMUNGOUS golden stupas at Wat Pra Singh. In 1935 the King of Thailand bestowed the honorific “Royal Temple of the First Grade” upon Wat Pra Singh.
I’m thinking this is kind of like the Q.C. honorific. I get to work for the Queen for free whenever she asks and the King of Thailand gets free seats for high holidays at Wat Pra Singh whenever he’s in town. So just who is getting the better of things here?
Aside from temples, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s thrill capital. It’s the jumping off point for all kinds of adventures, most of which involve itineraries that the brochures in our hotel almost all describe like this:
2-day trek to see the Hill Tribes!
Join our small group for a guided trek through real jungle to see authentic Hill Tribes of the Golden Triangle. Once upon a time, this is where most of the opium & heroin in the Western World came from. Nowadays we leave that all to Afghanistan.
Come see how the people in the mountainous terrain have learned to make a living by wearing traditional clothes for 3 hours a day while tourists under 25 years of age from Western Countries (and now Japan, Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China & Korea, too!) are in their village.
You’ll have a chance to buy stuff they make. You could get it in the Night Market in downtown Chiang Mai for about ½ the price but it’ll be more authentic when you buy it here.
And, most of all, you’ll have a chance to drown while we go white-water rafting down rivers with virtually no safety equipment. As a bonus, you’ll probably get malaria because you won’t BELIEVE the size of the mosquitoes in the jungle area we’re going to take you and the nets we supply for you when you sleep on the jungle floor overnight all have big holes in them so it’s not only the mosquitoes that are likely to join you in bed, if you know what we mean! Can you say ‘spiders’?
Sound like fun! You bet. But wait – it gets even better! To get you to the staging area where you’ll start your hike, we’ll first put you on the floor of a beat up old van that can barely move where you and 12 others can suffocate in the heat for 2 or 3 hours as we drive nauseatingly fast up, down and around the mountains.
We’ll charge you money for all this but, really, it’s a pittance and it’s way less than any one of the books that you’ll be buying at the Book Store for your Psych 301 class next September when you go back to university after your gap year adventure or whatever the hell they call dropping out of school for a year nowadays.
We are going to have fun in Chiang Mai, I can tell already!