The next instalment is up.
Day eight – Fri – 12th June:
Up for a 9am departure. I paid for breakfast in the hotel with some of the group. We got a Songthaew to a view over the tea plantation in Doi Mae Salong and then down to the plantation itself which is called ‘101 Tea Plantation’. They have a ‘Hollywood’ style sign on the hill and there was some lovely colourful landscaping, (see pictures).
We saw where the tea was sorted by hand from the stalks. The women work 8.30am till 5pm which is very reasonable. So some facts about the tea; apparently the high grade tea is a younger leaf and it is picked by hand, then the rest is cut with a hedge cutter and this is the lower quality. The bushes are actually about seven years old but they never grow very large as they are being cut constantly. We also did tea tasting, we tried three teas, which I think are the same leaf that has been processed differently. The whole area where this tea is grown used to be used for growing poppies for the opium trade.
We stopped at the shop which was a few minutes drive and some of us bought ice creams. There was a pricing dispute between the Scottish guy (Scott) and a little Thai lady. It was so confusing, even with our guide translating and in the end Scott just paid extra to make her go away.
We had lunch at the Burma border and watched the traffic crossing the bridge that forms the border at this point. We had a quick walk around the market before driving off to another temple and the opium museum.
In the evening we were back in Chiang Mai and we went to an awesome night food market, which was like a large rectangle surrounded by food stalls and the centre was filled with metal tables and chairs. There was a massive choice of food and I had shell on prawns and thin French fries which they seem to call ‘frieds’ on the menus here.
There was free entertainment, traditional North Thailand dancing. Girls in flowery skirts and with their faces frozen into false smiles, almost like a grimace. Then there was a man playing guitar for a bit and then two Chinese girls about 12 years old came and sang a song. They were just customers of the market and introduced themselves first in Chinese and then in English. They said it was their first time leaving their home town and that they wanted to sing this song for their friends. After they sang our guide bought them some real flower necklaces and they were really pleased. Our table was directly opposite the stage so we had a good view.
I tried someone’s chicken wing skewer and also our guide James’s month old egg which was black and preserved but really just tasted like egg. I had coconut ice cream for pudding and then we all went to a bar and played pool.
Day nine – Sat – 13th June:
We were leaving at 9am so I walked out to 7-11 and bought myself breakfast. When I got back to the hotel it turned out that the hotel did free toast and coffee. I didn’t really mind but I think there was a bit of missed communication there because a few others went out and bought breakfast too and were surprised it was free (we had to pay at the last place).
We were driven to the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). Something I have been waiting to see since I got here. It is a modern art temple designed, made and payed for entirely by this one guy Chalermchai Kositpiat. James told us a story that he offered his wife a one off amount of money and she said 10 million baht and then he spent everything else he owned on the temple to the Buddha (40 million baht).
He is now 60 and the temples won’t be finished until 2070! There are plans for nine buildings in total, one being living quarters for monks so it will be a working temple.
He has ‘disciples’ and they make and paint the temple and there is a whole factory. It is all made by hand and our guide said that Chalermchai Kositpiat likes to take his disciples from bad ways of life (alcoholism etc) and rehabilitate them.
The temple is really easy to relate to as there is a half circle which is earth and then the hell (all men only one woman, her fingernail is red), with people’s arms stretching up. Then you walk through the teeth of hell into heaven. Inside the temple, over the doorway you have just come through is a giant skull (painted much like a day of the dead skull) with George Bush and Osama bin Laden in its two eyes. Then the walls around show people on clouds floating to heaven and then there is a giant Buddha statue at the back (in the traditional place, same as the other temples I’ve seen). You couldn’t take pictures inside the temple but the artist uses popular icons in the mural to repent good and evil. Like superman, the yellow minions, Darth vadar etc it is really awesome. I love the little bits of glass everywhere, they are really shiny and colourful, perfect for this sunny land.
The bridge proclaims that the way to happiness is by foregoing temptation, greed, and desire. After crossing the bridge, the visitor arrives at the ‘gate of heaven’, guarded by two creatures representing Death and Rahu, who decides the fate of the dead. The main building is called the ‘Ubosot’ which features elements from classic Thai architecture such as the three-tiered roof and Naga serpents.
I also bought a metal leaf (30 baht) and wrote my name on it, they get hung on these trees (see pictures) and then moved to the ceiling part when it gets full. We also visited the art gallery and I bought the book (100baht) because it had pictures of some of the stuff you were not allowed to photograph.
We then had to move on in time to catch the train back to Bangkok. It was a lovely sleeper train with wide seats like benches and they unfolded really neatly into beds. Everyone when to bed almost straight away which surprised us. I guess they just wanted to get there and it was a novelty to us. Pictures below (stolen from another group member). We played cards until about 10pm. When we wake up we should be in Bangkok the next day!
Next up: days ten and eleven.