Thailand and Laos 2017

Thailand and Laos – day nineteen (Chiang Mai, Monday) part one

So many photos taken on Monday!  I’ve decided to split this blog post into two parts or else it will never load.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

These artist’s impressions of Stella and Clare were done at the night market.  They are both postcard size, and it was delightful watching the artist at work with pen and ink then watercolour.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

This piece of handweaving is folded in half – what shall I make from it?  I love the bold colours and the graphic pattern.  It’s very different from many of the others I’d seen.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Adisak, the owner of Baanbooloo, and Dan in his local market clothes.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Clare in her new market clothes – shorts, sandals and necklace!  The top was made by me.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Mr Veera was taking us out in the car again for the day.  We’d decided it was time to see some more craft manufacturers, and to visit the local hot springs.  Yes, hot springs – in Thailand.  One of the last places that could ever need them.

We headed to the San Kamphaeng district along wide busy highways through built up areas, then turned off and a couple more turns down narrow roads in a small village arrived at Baan Jang Nak, the Elephant Carving Museum.  And it’s pretty much what the name says – full of woodcarvings of elephants, along with larger statues of elephants made from other materials.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

The artist Pech Viriya founded his woodcarving business and museum around forty years ago.  The museum part of the compound was absolutely full of elephants in all shapes, sizes and poses.  We sometimes kept the kids busy counting how many there were in each display.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Once we wandered outside we could see the craftsmen at work.  They were sitting in a beautiful quiet area, busily working away with a variety of hand woodworking tools.  There were a few machines around for sanding and similar, but it was quickly obvious that the carvings were all primarily done by hand without any machinery at all.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Good old Wikipedia tells me that the elephant has been an important figure in Thai society and a significant symbol for many centuries. It has a considerable amount of influences and impact on the Thai cultural system and the whole nation, and the Thai elephant (Thai: ช้างไทย, Chang Thai) is an official national symbol of Thailand. The type of elephant that can be found in Thailand are the Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus), a subspecies of the Asian elephant.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

The carvings were all beautifully proportioned with an incredible amount of detail.  The timber was very yellow when carved; it appears that the final product have an oil or stain applied to make them darker in colour.  The timber is from the cassod tree, a hardwood from a plant more often used for cooking.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Baan Jang Nak is renowned around Thailand (and further away) for the quality and detail of its sculptures.  They take an extremely long time to make.  The larger pieces are generally commissions by major Thai companies and are extremely expensive.  Baan Jang Nak has a fancy website – but it’s all in Thai.  Even the small elephant carvings, small enough to easily hold in your hands, were around 6000 baht (approx $225).

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

The larger sculptures had a wire frame made, then something like fabric or plaster strips put over that (there weren’t any in that stage of progress so I am making assumptions) then some type of cement or concrete over that.  We could see a couple of large sculptures being worked on having concrete added and smoothed, but then in other parts have skin texture added.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

We were the only people visiting while we were there.  There is very little signage in English, so we were able to enjoy wandering around the museum and watching the carvers without my usual imperative of “read all the information and learn all the things”.  It was a very calm environment, with buffalo grazing in the fields across the road.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Our next stop was Sankampaeng Hot Springs.  This is a natural hot spring, with water coming out at 105 degrees celcius.  Yes, boiling water – hot enough to boil an egg!

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

The springs are set in a lovely garden area, established in 1984.  There are options for swimming in a mineral pool, taking private spas, having massages, or just sitting and dunking your feet in the watercourse.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

As it turned out, the top end of the watercourse, closest to the water source, was very hot!  It was actually too hot for me to even put my feet in, although there were others who seemed quite comfortable.  A the watercourse winds down, the water cools.  You just need to find the right location for your preferred temperature.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

A fun element of the park is the ability to boil eggs in the water!  There are little baskets of eggs for sale, these pretty little speckled eggs or regular chook eggs.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Just buy your basket, then leave it on a hook in the hot water for the required period of time.  There is some sulphurous smell in the springs around these larger pools, but overall it’s a pretty pleasant environment.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

See those metal rails that the girls are leaning on in the below photo?  Dan realised why they were there when he stepped into the watercourse not holding on to anything and promptly slipped on the bottom and fell right in full clothed (and with camera).  There were lots of laughs from the people nearby.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

The girls enjoyed a swim in the mineral pool while our driver Mr Veera was getting a foot massage.

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

We eventually departed and went to a restaurant for lunch that also involved water – this time on platforms over a lake, with water running off the sides of the platform roof providing very effective evaporative air conditioning.  They were setting up the restaurant for a university graduation ceremony that evening.  Flowers were being brought in, and balloon archways set up.  Every now and then a balloon would pop in the warm air, making me jump with fright!

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

Day 19 Chiang Mai Monday

So, that’s half of Monday!  Back soon with more hopefully.

Thailand and Laos 2017

Thailand and Laos – day eighteen (Chiang Mai, Sunday)

There are squirrels leaping from tree to tree in front of me and skittering along the branches.  The trees bend and sway with their weight.  They are so fast, I have no hope of getting a photograph.  Their bodies are quite small and their tails long and fluffy.  When I look to my left I can see two sleek cats slowly pacing along the verandah edges.  I can see that they have some birds in sight, but of course the birds are too quick for them and quickly fly away well before the cats are in striking distance.  The roosters have almost finished crowing, the sun is now well and truly up, and I’d better get this blog post written quickly!

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Yesterday we slept in.  The kids didn’t make it to breakfast until after 10.00am.  I took the following series of photos on my way over to breakfast, to give you more of an idea of where we are staying and how it is set up.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Baanbooloo is a compound of buildings made of timber, on the owner’s family property.  It is essentially a series of two or three story buildings, all made from wood, and surprisingly they are all relatively reconfigurable.  Because it is a building for a hot climate many of the rooms don’t have full height walls or sometimes full roofs.  Much of it is open air, with balcony railings, and the floors are timber platforms.  Even structural elements are reclaimed and repurposed, using sets of doors and windows that were once part of other buildings.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

And of course, there is so much detail.  SO much!  This overwhelmed Stella the first time that we visited, as she ha a preference for “modern”, but this visit we have all settled in to it quite easily.  It is rustic, but unlike much of what is often termed rustic everything is clean and swept; the many leaves that fall each day are swept up, there are no cobwebs around the buildings, and everything is kept in good repair and working order.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

I find it interesting to read reviews on travel websites.  So much comes down to expectations.  Baanbooloo is definitely not cheap – especially in a country where you can get bargain rooms – but I think that it is definitely value for money!  I don’t come here expecting television – and there isn’t one but there is excellent wifi – and sometimes things don’t work quite as they should.  But if you let management know they will fix it!  This is Thailand – the plumbing is septic, not sewered, and the electricity and wiring isn’t at the same standard as many of us in the west are used to.  Most people who stay here at Baanbooloo give it a five star rating – and in my opinion it is absolutely worth every star and every baht.  The atmosphere and the attention from the staff is first class.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Dan took himself off for a midday massage while the kids and I continued to laze around.  Clare was on to a second novel in a series, and Stella was catching up with her favourite youtubers.  It’s a good thing they’d had a rest – because our next activity was a Muay Thai class for all three of them!  No, I didn’t participate – someone had to be available to take photographs and provide mum support if needed.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Wikipedia informs me that Muay Thai is a combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques.[1][2][3][4] This physical and mental discipline which includes combat on shins is known as “the art of eight limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins, being associated with a good physical preparation that makes a full-contact fighter very efficient.[5] Muay Thai became widespread internationally in the twentieth century, when practitioners defeated notable practitioners of other martial arts.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

So yes, I sent my kids off to a class to learn to fight.  Hmmmm.  As it turned out I knew many of the basic moves from when I used to attend Body Combat classes at the gym way back in the day.  It was a two hour class at Chiangmai Muay Thai Gym.  I was actually rather impressed with the setup and the instructors.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

They were all taught a variety of basic techniques.  Apparently you learn a defence move for every type of attack move.  There was boxing, striking with elbows, and a variety of kicking movements.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

It was a two hour class, and both kids conked out after an hour and a half.  They really gave it a great go though!  Clare said that she really enjoyed the feeling of strength as she punched and kicked.  However, after she hurt a toe she also realised that she definitely did not enjoy the feeling of being sweaty and stinky, and we headed back to Baanbooloo for a shower.  Dan stayed for the rest of the class, evening managing something resembling a bout in the ring.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

By last night he was EXTREMELY sore.  Can’t wait to see how he feels this morning once he wakes up!

I found a window of opportunity to go back to Lila massage for an oil massage and facial.  I really do find facials incredibly relaxing.  I don’t know precisely how many applications of different smelling lotions and unguents were applied to my face them removed again, some warm, some cool, some creamy, some smooth and watery.  But it was delightful.  When I emerged from the peace and quiet to meet the rest of the family outside I found myself right in the middle of the Sunday Walking Street Market.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Chiang Mai is famous for this market.  Every Sunday night a couple of main streets are blocked off and vendors set up stall selling all manner of things, both goods and food and drink.  It didn’t take long to become packed with people, but there was a terrific atmosphere.  Most things are fixed price with the prices on display, so it’s not stressful to shop, and there are definitely plenty of bargains to be had.  Staff at Baanbooloo confirmed that the locals shop there too.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Unlike the night market in Luang Prabang, where there were basically around ten types of stalls in multiple with a small number of buyers, there was a massive variety of product available.  On our last trip to Chiang Mai Dan had just been retrenched from his job, so we were rather frugal.  This time we enjoyed saying “yes” to the kids when they wanted something, and also enjoyed saying “yes” to ourselves!  Clare is finally large enough to fit into the smallest size of the women’s clothes that were available, so she bought a few bits and pieces, as did Dan and I.  Stella only chose one dress.  She’s not especially in to things but it more interested in experiences and fairy floss.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Hopefully these photos give you a good idea of the hum and the buzz of the market.  I normally hate crowds, but we just relaxed and went with the flow.  Dinner was a mixture of fruit shakes, buttered corn, nutella waffles, doughnuts, meat on sticks, fried gyoza, and fairy floss.  Excellent.  Each little food or drink stall just sells one thing – meaning it’s super fresh and prepared right in front of you as needed.

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos Day 18 Chiang Mai Sunday

Thailand and Laos 2017

Thailand and Laos – day seventeen (Chiang Mai, Saturday)

All of a sudden the days are flying past.  Although we’ve visited Chiang Mai before, there is plenty that we haven’t done – and still plenty that we won’t get to do this visit.  Oh well, we’ll just have to force ourselves to come back again one day!

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Adisak arranged for Mr Veera to take us out for the day to see some of the surrounding areas.  On our way out of the old city we passed all these gleaming new bicycles in rows in a central square.  There were also lots of kids there in uniform.  Mr Veera told us that it was the 100 day anniversary of the King’s death, so we put two and two together and came up with a theory that the new bikes were gifts for the children who were present, in honour and recognition of the King.  As it turned out there were also a number of ceremonies taking place in town last night as well.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

We headed out of town (in Mr Veera’s lovely air-conditioned twin cab ute) into the mountains toward the Mae On District.  The girls and I treated (?) everyone to improvised songs and harmonies on the way there as the car radio wasn’t working.  It was actually very special, singing together!  After a little over an hour of driving through what were eventually narrow, steep and winding roads we arrived at The Giant.  We were very grateful for our driver’s expertise!

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

The Giant is a cafe set in a massive tree.  You need to cross a bamboo and rope bridge to get to the elevated cafe platforms, and to get back off again!  From their website:

Formerly Baan Pok village was a cultivated area of coffee, tea leaves (Bai Miang) and persimmons. More than 10 years living in this area simultaneously with the village development project, the owner of this land decided to establish “the Giant” to support this campaign. It was built by the cooperation of the viilagers and formally opened on March 1, 2014.

The objectives are

1. To develop public utility in the village such as road and phone signal service
2. To support agricultural community by being the center to distribute and promote the coffee of the village
3. To create awareness of natural conservation (no deforestation, no hunting and no forest fire).

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

We enjoyed coffee and cake, but then quickly moved to what was the main attraction for the girls – the zipline!  There was just the one zipline, to a platform on a tree a little way across the valley, and then back again.  Perfect for a zipline introduction (although Clare has done these before).  Both girls were set up in harnesses and other safety equipment, then off they went!

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

I did manage to get a bit of video of them in action – Stella chose to fly with her hands in the air for quite a bit of the zip.  She’s our little adrenaline junkie!  Both girls loved it, and weren’t at all fazed by the height above the forest floor.  They said that they were all strapped in so there was nothing to worry about.  I suppose that they were right!  Loads of fun.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Our next destination was Maekampong Eco-Village and Waterfall.  We drove through the relatively busy lower village – it was Saturday, so there were plenty of tourists around (although we seemed to be the only Western looking ones) and parked further up the hill then walked to the waterfall.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

The waterfall actually goes over seven levels.  We walked up over 150 steps until we reached an area where the stairway had been blocked off.  The falls were impressive and beautiful now in the dry winter season – I imagine that they would absolutely roar down during the wet.  In areas the rocks were all smooth and funnel like, much like a water slide ride at a park – except much more dangerous!

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

At the base of the waterfall was a group of cyclists having a rest stop and coffee after working their calf and thigh muscles extremely hard to get up the extremely steep roads.  Nothing like a weekend ride with mates.  The river flowed over the road at that point but wasn’t very deep.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

A narrow path led alongside the river, and we followed it down into the village of Mae Kampong.  The vegetation altered as we lost altitude, and according to Clare it felt rather reminiscent of Queensland.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

It really was beautifully peaceful and tranquil.   The village is built around the stream, we walked between houses, so close that you could look inside windows.  This part of the village was actually rather quiet, unlike the lower part we’d driven through on the way up.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

The fenced area in the below photo was a little plant nursery.  I’d noticed many plant nurseries alongside the route when we travelled to the valley, selling plants of a variety of types and sizes.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

We are pretty certain that these are coffee beans, out to dry in the sun after picking, before being roasted.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

We ordered some soup for lunch from the menu above – yes, with a fair bit of pointing, although Mr Veera was able to assist us.  Across from the cafe was a vendor cooking the ubiquitous “meat on a stick” over hot coals.  In  this case she was cooking chicken’s intestines – they are on the left in the photo, nicely coiled onto a stick – parson’s noses (that were described as chicken bottoms) and chicken drumsticks.  The chicken here is super tasty, as it’s all extremely free range, but I still can’t quite come at eating the intestines.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

These crispy crackers were not only pretty but tasty – Stella had remembered them from our last visit and was very keen to eat more.  I’ll need to track some more down at the market later.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

According to this website : Originally hailing from the area of Doi Saket, the ancestors of today’s villagers came to the area in search of more fertile lands which would assist them with improving their native tea growing and cultivation practices.

Located just a short distance from the “Rose of the North” – the city of Chiang Mai – visitors to Mae Kampong will instantly feel like that have stepped back in time, with traditional teak homes dotting the nearby mountains and ranges, and where the local folk go about their daily lives just as their ancestors before them have done for hundreds of years.

Fruit, coffee and tea trees pepper the naturally green and fertile landscape, and these tasty treats not only serve to help to provide sustenance for the village people who reside in Mae Kampong, it is also a source of income for them as they choose to work on the land.

As a visitor to Mae Kampong you can witness the locals go about their lives as they bring in the seasonal harvest, and the native people of the area are only too happy to show you their farming skills and let you partake in a little bit yourself, should you wish to do so.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

This is a town that now specialises in eco-tourism and in home stays, in simple rooms like the one above.  There is a terrific review of the area and the home stay experience here.  We encouraged Clare to keep this in mind when she’s a backpacker in a few year’s time.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

That was actually enough activity for one day for us!  We headed back to Chiang Mai, despite the number of other attractions in the area.  We’ve found that life is better for all of us if we pace ourselves a little (although on reflection it seems like we’ve done loads of things this holiday).  We do have another drive out of town planned for Monday.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

As well as his car, Mr Veera has a lovely shiny new tuk tuk.  Tuk tuks are registered and Mr Veera has a commercial licence.  I figure this is much like the system we have for taxi drivers in Victoria.  He had his name and photo on display in it along with relevant numbers.  It’s a good way to weed out the dodgy drivers and operators.  There are also plenty of songtaews around to take people from place to place.  They are small red trucks with bench seats in the back that head in a general direction and drop off and pick up as required.  Apparently Uber recently came to Chiang Mai as well though!

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

I had a good long soak in the tub before dinner.  Perfect ambient temperature – the air and bath water pretty much matched!  And you can’t fault that view.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

The kids were very keen to return to Hanging Feet for dinner – this time to take advantage of a table where they could definitely hang their feet down!  I have to admit that it made me feel slightly nervous that I was going to either drop something down the foot area or else slide something off the raised table.

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Once again the food was great, and the total bill was around A$27.  Not bad for a family of four – although my girls don’t eat much, so don’t think that most groups of four people would get away with paying quite so little!

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

Day 15 Chiang Mai Saturday

We had another fish spa on our way back to Baanbooloo.  Stella was very keen to try it, yet also terrified to try it.  She gave it a red hot go, sitting beside me on the bench before dipping her feet into the water then pulling them out again straight away before the fish had a chance to latch on.  Poor little thing – there were lot of tears as she grappled with her desire to have a fish spa yet her fear of it at the same time.  I reassured her that it wouldn’t hurt but that she didn’t have to do it.  In the end she decided that she couldn’t do it – but still wants to try again later!  It’s hard to overcome our fears sometimes isn’t it!

Thailand and Laos 2017

Thailand and Laos – day sixteen (Chiang Mai, Friday)

Isn’t high speed internet a wonderful thing?  Once again, my sympathies go out to my friends who live in country areas of Australia where it isn’t as fast or as reliable as it should be.  After being in Laos I am really enjoying how fast it is for me to upload photos and write blog posts here in Chiang Mai.

So, my daily routine.  I get up somewhere around 6.00am, a couple of hours before the rest of the family, sit on the lounge cushions on the deck, and check emails etc.  I try to keep up with the sewing blogs that I read, scroll through instagram, then upload the previous day’s photos and start writing.  Hopefully I get it all finished before around 8.00am, when I wake up the rest of the family and encourage everyone to get ready for breakfast!  And breakfast is delicious – especially that coffee.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Apparently coffee culture has become a huge thing in Chiang Mai.  There is a whole website dedicated to reviews of local cafes.  Baristas and coffee art abounds.  I was pretty happy with the black coffee that the machine in the guesthouse made, using local beans.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

We’d decided to spend the day wandering the Old City.  As it was, we didn’t make it out the door until 11.00am.  Remember, this is meant to be the slow, relaxing part of the holiday!  It was significantly cooler here this visit than last time, when we visited in July and it was oppressively hot.  Although the afternoon sun is still quite warm, and it’s over 30 degrees, last visit we could barely walk a block before collapsing from the heat.  This time around we probably walked further in one afternoon than we’d walked in the entire previous trip.

As always, there are plenty of interesting sights to see as you walk along.  It’s just a matter of keeping an eye out, looking down laneways, across the roadway, and often simply just looking upwards!

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

We actually started our walk with a destination in mind.  Last visit the girls’ had bought these delightful crocheted dolls.  They wanted to get some more outfits for their dolls, and fortunately the little shop was still there!  It was creative heaven choosing the tops, skirts/shorts, accessories etc.  I tasked the girls with making a doll for me as well (I didn’t buy one last time and regretted it) so they chose a doll and outfitted her in a way that they though reflected me.  They did rather well!

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

The shop owner was a delightful man who giggled every time the girls bought yet another item over to the counter.  He also encouraged them to take a few postcards of the dolls.  We’re intending to do our own photoshoot with our dolls in an Australian setting and emailing him the photos once we’re home!  The shop is called Bantaktor.  Their Facebook page says: Bantaktor is an OTOP Group from Ampur Chiang Kum, Payao, a province in northern Thailand. We do handmade dolls from crochet and knitting works.

From Wikipedia:

One Tambon One Product (OTOP) is a local entrepreneurship stimulus program designed by Thailand‘s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during his 2001-2006 Thai Rak Thai government. The program aimed to support the locally made and marketed products of each Thai tambon (subdistrict). Drawing its inspiration from Japan‘s successful One Village One Product (OVOP) program,[1] the OTOP program encourages village communities to improve the local products’ quality and marketing, selecting one superior product from each tambon to receive formal branding as its “starred OTOP product”. It provides both a local and national stage to the promote these products. OTOP products include a large array of local products, including traditional handicrafts, cotton and silk garments, pottery, fashion accessories, household items and food. After a military junta overthrew Thaksin’s government in 2006 following an election cancelled for irregularities, the OTOP program was cancelled. However, it was soon revived and rebranded.

Kittiphun Khongsawatkiat stated that the One Tambon, One Product Movement” is a manner in self-help effort of a rural community to participate in a creation of product and service that the rural household can be adequately in life. The excess of production can be accumulated in terms of saving to finance investment an important determinant for sustainable economic growth with feasible debt service.[2] [3]

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Not far from there was this exquisite temple, Wat Phan Tao.  I remembered it well from our previous visit.  It’s a beautiful temple made from teak, and was formerly a palace.  The floor is tiled, and it’s a particularly cool and peaceful place to sit.  It’s quite a different architectural style to many of the other wats.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

As with all temples, visitors must dress in a manner that is deemed to be respectful.  Knees and shoulders should be covered, which is why Clare is wearing a sarong over her shorts and Stella has a cardigan.  The gentleman below had sarongs that could be loaned out to tourists who hadn’t come prepared (we had).

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Wat Phan Tao is right beside another famous wat, Wat Chedi Luang.  We’ll have to visit it on our next excursion into town, because by this stage we were on a mission to find our lunch location.  So it was onwards through the streets!

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

We noticed that lots of the wats have tourist information – including audio tours – available via QR codes that can be scanned with your mobile phone.  Chiang Mai is definitely moving with the times!  In fact, we noticed that considerable change had taken place in the two and a half years since our last visit.  This town is developing extremely quickly, yet retains considerable charm.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

We stepped off a dusty back laneway into the cool refreshing courtyard of The Faces, another restaurant recommendation from Louis.  The atmostphere was delightful.  Lush and leafy, filled with clay sculptures, and the food was delicious.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

And unsurprisingly, on our wander back toward our guesthouse we stopped off at Lila Massage for each of us to enjoy a neck, shoulder and back massage.  Well, Stella opted for a foot massage.  We had visited Lila Massage last time we were here.  At that stage they had around four outlets in the old city.  Now there are six.  From their website:

 The Lila Thai Massage was established by Naowarat Thanasrisutharat, former Director of Chiang Mai Woman’ Prison (2011-2008), to help support the lives of newly released inmates in society. She has dedicated the greater part of her 40 year career understanding and bridging the gap  between a non accepting public, and the problems released inmates encounter adapting to a new community. Prior to their release, these carefully screened inmates go through an extensive training program which allows them to make a living and contribute to society.

       Unfortunately these detainees often encounter discrimination from employers who refuse to hire these skilled therapists. Sadly, due to lack of employment opportunities some return to a cycle of crime, and find themselves back in prison. The Lila Thai Massage was established to help eliminate this pattern of crime and lack of apportunity.

The Chiang Mai Women’s Prison ang the Institute of Skill Development have designed a 180 hour massage training course for these inmates, which are endorsed and meet the requirements of the  Chiang Mai Public Health Department. Thus, we guarantee you will receive a fully trained professional massage therapist. It is our cherished hope that you will see these former inmates in a positive light, and your kind patronage will allow them to proudly start a new life and support themselves and their families.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

After our massages (which cost around A$40 total for a one hour massage for the whole family) we visited Wat Phra Singh.  This is the main temple within the old city and is a Royal Temple.  Construction began in 1345, and it has fallen into disrepair then been rebuilt and renovated a number of times throughout its history.  It’s stunning.  You have to see the main large Buddha figure in real life to really appreciate its presence.  This complex houses around 700 monks – it’s a significant building.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

There are a number of these fibreglass statues of monks who have been significant in the history of the temple.  They are uncannily lifelike – take a look at the photo below!  I swear he winked at me!

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Now this monk isn’t a statue!  People were making offerings to him and asking for blessings etc.  There is some more information about Buddhism in Thailand here and temple life here.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

The large gold chedi is said to contain relics of the Buddha, and has been recently gilded.  The reflections off the gold were almost blinding.

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

We were too tired to go out again for dinner, so Dan and Louis managed to rustle up a few things in the kitchen and to drink some of the local spirits.  I had an early night!

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Day 16 Chiang Mai

Thailand and Laos 2017

Thailand and Laos – day fifteen (Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai, Thursday)

There was just enough time for me to get up early to watch the monks pass by one last time.  I then took a wander to the end of the street to take another look at the Mekong River and the Viewpoint Cafe, where we’d been the night before.

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Then there was the “problem” of having a few more kip in my purse.  Time for that last minute shopping!  There was a small shop further up the road selling goods that were repurposed from Hmong clothing.  Clare and I chose a wall hanging and some cushions covers, each with fabric that combined indigo batik and embroidery.

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Then back to the airport!  It was weird saying goodbye to Luang Prabang, and to Laos.  We’ve had such a wonderful time.  It was also sad to say goodbye to our friend Peter, who had shared a number of terrific experiences with us.  Hopefully we’ll see him one day in either Chicago or Kyoto – and there’s always the internet to help keep in touch.

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The airport at Luang Prabang is so easy.  I really do enjoy a small airport, where things are straightforward and run smoothly.  We were in a slightly larger plane this time, maybe seating around 80 people.  Boarding and disembarking is easy with those numbers, even when it involves a walk across the tarmac and a climb up stairs that are closer to a ladder.

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I had the window seat, and noticed the differences between Luang Prabang and surrounding areas as compared to what I could see as we approached Chiang Mai.  It’s two and a half years since we were last here, and it really did feel like flying into a modern city.  Immigration and customs took a little longer, the roads were hectic – but our tuk tuk driver did a superb job of both strapping all our luggage to the back of the tuk tuk and in navigating to our accommodation.

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We stayed at Baan Boo Loo last time we were here, so it did feel rather a lot like coming home.  What was surprising to me was how much more construction had taken place over the intervening years and how rooms and suites in the accommodation section had been reconfigured.

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I really do think that the photos speak for themselves.  We are upstairs, with two bedrooms, two toilets/bathrooms, a deep claw footed bath on the balcony, lounging areas on the balcony, and a massive shower room.  The facilities are all incredibly natural and beautiful.  The owner, Adisak, has a passion for using reclaimed timber and for antiques, and he managed to incorporate them beautifully throughout the property.

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The main reception and common areas are now across the laneway in a lush jungle setting.  It’s really hard to believe we’re in the centre of the old city!  There is much to explore, and everywhere I turn there is another photo opportunity.

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Louis, a long-term guest of Baan Boo Loo, recommended a restaurant in the main street called Hanging Feet.  We headed there for dinner and enjoyed a range of Thai foods while sitting traditional Thai style on floor cushions.  This restaurant also has an area where there are cut outs for your feet to dangle through rather than having to fold them up cross legged – we’ll hopefully get one of those tables next time!  It was clear from the number of young people that it was primarily a local restaurant rather than one aimed at tourists, which was reflected in a very reasonable prices and the amount of spice in the food.

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On the way back from dinner Clare asked to try out a fish spa – she said she’d always been curious!  Stella was not keen, so Dan, Clare and I all took the opportunity to stick our feet in a tank of toothless garra rufa fish and have them suck off bits of dead skin.  It was a really strange feeling!  Definitely ticklish, but not unpleasant, and my feet felt amazing afterwards.  I think I might need to do it longer next time.  I think it’s more a fish pedicure than a fish spa!

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Today we plan to wander around town and refamiliarise ourselves.  It already looks as though progress has been moving apace in the last two and a half years.  Then I’ll start thinking about what else we’ll do while we are here…

Thailand and Laos 2017

Thailand and Laos – day fourteen (Luang Prabang, Wednesday)

Wifi defeated me this morning – I wasn’t able to upload photos for my daily blog post. But here in Chiang Mai we have cable internet/wifi, would you believe! So from now on I have no excuse. Anyway, back to yesterday.

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We really did need a bit of a rest day. The kids were feeling a bit of sensory overload, so Dan and I tag teamed and went out to wander the streets one after the other while the kids spent some time on the internet and playing games.

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Dan came back from his first foray saying that I really needed to go and pay the morning market a visit. It’s a food market, mostly frequented by locals although unsurprisingly there are a fair few tourists wandering up and down as well. Fortunately for us we’d bought a book from Big Brother Mouse that explained the foods we were likely to encounter in the market. Foods like fried buffalo hide….and a myriad of other things that I’m pretty sure I’ll never have the courage to taste. Fortunately there were plenty of familiar items to take a look at as well. As usual, I’m constantly stunned by the lack of refrigeration. The fish was super fresh however – often live and swimming in an esky until someone requested it.

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Luang Prabang is full of pretty little quiet side streets. They’re cool and lush, and are often full of galleries, cafes and interesting little shops. I could spend hours exploring, if only I had the time.

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We’d come across this paper goods shops, and the girls enjoyed choosing some lanterns. There were a few photos of President Obama in the shop on display, so we assume that we were in good company!

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And yes, we felt that we all deserved another massage.

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Dan went off to the local temple for some chanting. I finally took the opportunity to purchase a few textiles from both Ock Pop Tok and the TAEC shop. So many beautiful handicrafts!

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After an ice cream we met up with our American friend Peter, and headed up to the park alongside the Viewpoint Cafe, part of the Mekong Riverview complex. Peter was going to play his fiddle for the Riverview guests while they had wine by the river at 6.30pm, and we were privileged to attend as Peter’s friends. It was all highly civilised! Then we progressed to the Viewpoint Cafe for dinner. It was one of the most delicious meals we’ve had in Luang Prabang, made all the more delicious by the company and the sharing of stories.

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So that’s almost the last of Luang Prabang! I’m typing this from Chiang Mai – but that’s for the next instalment!

Thailand and Laos 2017

Thailand and Laos – day thirteen (Luang Prabang, Tuesday)

We had been enjoying the fiddle playing of one of our fellow travellers, Peter, over breakfast each morning.  Nothing like an Irish jig or a rendition of Waltzing Matilda when staying in Laos!

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Peter joined us in hiring a boat for the day to travel up the Mekong River to Pak Ou Caves.  The trip up the river took a couple of hours, against the current.  It gave us insight into life along the riverbank, and a great deal of beautiful scenery.

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We stopped along the way at Ban Xang Hai, also known as Whisky Village.  This was a small village that sold locally made whisky – many bottles containing critters of a variety of species – and plenty of textiles.  We were the only tourists there when we visited.  Many of the women were weaving the same scarves and skirts as they were selling, and others were doing cross stitch.  Some of the items in the stalls appeared to be factory mass-produced items, but plenty were also made by the vendors.  This time I couldn’t resist and bought four lengths of fabrics.  I’m not sure yet what they will become!

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The whisky – called lao Lao – is made in simple home stills from rice.  Apparently it’s around 40% alcohol.  The locals use it in ceremonies.  Unfortunately many of the additives that can be seen in found in the bottles are wildlife – illegal and unethical!

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I keep on wondering about life for young women in Laos.  We get information from the novice monks about life for young men, but it’s harder to get information on life for young women.  There aren’t as many girls at the English conversation sessions, and overall they seem to have less English.  It’s the same at the villa – the cleaning staff are women but don’t really speak English, whereas the serving and reception staff are all young men.  The women that we see at market stalls are often quite young and are breastfeeding infants.  I need to find out more.

20170117_175244 Once back in the boat we travelled for another fifteen minutes or so to Pak Ou Caves, located where the Nam Ou and Mekong Rivers meet. These are two very sacred caves, one of the most respected holy sites in Lao.  The caves are in a limestone cliff, with an upper cave that is dark and needs a torch to explore, and a lower cave where light filters in.  Both caves are packed with Buddha figures in their thousands.  There were a whole lot of stairs that needed to be climbed to get up to the top cave – we are getting fit!  The caves have a strong smell of wax – all those burning candles and incense over thousands of years. 20170117_135015

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We had late lunch at a restaurant across the river from the caves.  Yet another delicious meal!  We could see school kids running down to the river and filling up small boats to get home from school.

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Then it was back in the boat again to travel downstream back to Luang Prabang.  It took around half the time to get back, as the current was rather strong. We arrived back in time to watch the sunset over the river – much more peaceful than watching it from the top of Mount Phou Si!

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20170117_174036 We were back just in time to head down the road to the Gavarek storytelling theatre. They present traditional Lao myths and fairytales, accompanied with music from the traditional Lao folk instrument the Khene.  It is like a mouth organ, with bamboo reed pipes.  It was fascinating to watch the musician at work.  The storyteller was extremely animated and there were plenty of giggles involved in the story.  An added bonus was when Peter and the Khene player had a jam session prior to the storytelling. 20170117_181905

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What a superb day!

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