Less than an hour’s flight north of Bangkok is Chiang Mai, a wonderful city that has so much to offer. We taxied the short distance from the airport to the centre of town,

This wonderful small-brick wall and a moat used to surround the old city of Chiang Mai.

impressed with just how close the airport is. Our hotel, the Royal Mae Ping is named for the river that flows through the town. After stowing our gear we were out and about. It is a very nice town to walk around being nowhere near as crowded as Bangkok. If your destination is a bit far for a walk a tuk tuk is a good idea, and here there is no hassle with them wanting to divert to get their vouchers as the Bangkok chappies do! The local food is quite different from the Bangkok local fare being much less spicy, (although you can get as spicy as you like it). This, of course is because Chiang Mai is in the hills and so much cooler. Next day we would see where much of the town’s produce comes from, the hillside market gardens run by the hilltribes that live in the area (in our case we visited the Hmong people.) That evening we visited the night market,

Great food, lots to browse & buy and friendly vendors- the night market at Chiang Mai.

but on our way we saw a free exhibition of Thai boxing at the ‘mini mall’ next to the hotel. The fighters were paid by spectator donation, and seeing the effort and the punishment a good donation isn’t unreasonable! The night market is quite impressive with a wide range of goods available and many interesting activities happening. I was most impressed by the artists who ‘paint’ with charcoal dust. You can give them (say) five photos of different family members and they will create a beautifully accurate group portrait. Great skills. Next day we took a tour that took us into the hills north of the city where we were to visit an elephant campat Mae Sa and spend the night at the Hmong Lodge among the Hmong hilltribe. The elephant camp is mainly a tourist venture because teak is now a protected tree (all of the teak used for fine carvings and furniture now comes from Burma [Myanmar]). This being said, all of the elephants are still fully trained working animals as well as having other ‘skills’, not the least of which is painting. We saw four do a painting each and it was quite fascinating to see that each had a very distinctive style. It was pointed out that they developed the style themselves, and only painted in that style! Paintings are created on paper that is made locally from elephant droppings! We rode an elephant along bush paths and down a stream and what a great way to get around! It’s interesting to see the relationship the trainers have with their animals. They are teamed up for life from the elephant’s birth and develop a real bond and affection for each other. It was pointed out, however, that the elephants are known to attack their trainers if they really don’t want to do what they are told to (like being got out of bathing in the river, which they love, before they are ready to go!!) We left the camp and drove up the valley to a fabulous botanical garden that was started by Queen Sirikit. Beautiful trees and flowers abound and there’s a lovely restaurant that provides delicious meals and refreshment. It’s a nice way to spend a relaxing couple of hours. We moved on back down the valley to visit a snake farm. They had a juvenile rock python slithering around on the counter and to handle it was a nice experience. They are silky rather than slimy as people seem to think they are. Beautifully marked the snake was as inquisitive as I and was happy to ‘crawl’?/climb up an arm and investigate things. The show that is put on every hour is quite a different story. They work with venomous cobras and that is quite scary. The sense of hazard and surprise was heightened by a very clever commentator. They also show that the snakes aren’t ‘doctored’ by milking them after they have completed the show with them! The end of the show featured a huge (3.5m) python that spectators were invited to ‘interact’ with. They drape it around your neck, allow it to investigate where you may not really want a large reptile and even allow it to kiss you (on the pretext that you are kissing it!! No tongue, please!) We visited an orchid garden. Orchids are everywhere in Thailand and the range of shapes, sizes and colours in the garden was spectacular, to say the least. They are a magnificent flower and to see so many varieties was an experience indeed. We drove up into the mountains and soon came to the area where the Hmong have their gardens. The area is very steep hills and traditionally the Hmong people would clear a patch of forest and plant. Naturally after a few storms the rain would deposit all the fertile soil in the rivers at the bottom of the hills, so the Hmong would move to another patch and clear the bush and start again. King Phumiphol created a scheme that educated the Hmong in good practices- plant in rows across the hillside and the problem is solved. They did, and it is and now the hills are covered in row after row of a huge variety of vegetables for the city markets. That night was stayed at the Hmong Lodge at Baan Pang Hai. This was delightful with accommodation being in ‘traditional’ Hmong house-like lodges and a wonderful local barbeque dinner and traditional music and dance display to finish. This all happened on my birthday and to crown things I was presented with a birthday cake! What a wonderful day. Next morning we arrived at the local school

Ban Paang Hai School- children run their own morning 'assembly'. Greta!

down the valley at about 8:30am. Being a teacher I was interested in having a look around and so we wandered in and mixed with the children who were there. There were no teachers in sight but the kids were happily playing soccer, petanque, hopscotch, takraw and marbles. By 8:45 there were still no teachers in evidence but one of the senior children (13) blew a whistle and all the kids lined up in class groups in front of the flagpole. For the next quarter hour senior children took a range of activities- sing national anthem, recite prayer for the health of the King, general knowledge/ current events quiz, mental arithmetic and calisthenics (and even put a group onto cleaning chores as punishment for not doing their exercise properly!!!) The classes then filed off to their rooms- the time is about 9:05 and still not teachers! After visiting class-rooms and seeing children sitting quietly, waiting, we left and drove down the valley toward Mae Rim, the nearest town about 25km away. We passed two vehicles coming up the valley about 5-8 minutes later containing what were obviously the teachers!! Great resourcefulness shown by the kids at that school- I wished I could get my school to develop that! We visited a ‘museum’ of indigenous people- fascinating displays of the customs, crafts and history of all the diverse races that make up the northern part of Thailand, before stopping for lunch at a wonderful restaurant in town and afterwards visiting a couple of arts and crafts ‘factories’. It was fascinating to see silversmiths, teak carvers, fish-bone artists

These ornate carvings are made from fish-bone- I'm assuming ground and formed into blocks to carve.

and silk weavers working at producing a wonderful range of exquisite artifacts. After being delivered back to our hotel, we finished the day with a pleasant walk in the walled city visiting some wonderful ancient temples

This stupa would once have been enormous but has eroded to this magnificent ruin. Still used in stands in the grounds of a central-city temple. Note the person standing at the base of the steps.

and monuments, then a relaxing swim and a few Chang beers beside the hotel pool. A bugger of a way to spend the days, really! I recommend it!!


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