Chapter 36: 2 Weeks in Thailand
Changmai and Bangkok
July 7th — July 21st, 2006
Michele and Joe take 1 1/2 hour Elephant Ride Through Tropical Rain Forest in Northern Thailand
Both Joe and I had been to Bangkok before — him in the late 60’s on an R & R break from a shipboard tour during one of his Vietnam tours, and I went there once in 1978 and again in 1987 — both also R & R get-a-ways from my Asian overseas duty stations (Korea as an Army nurse stationed at the 121st Evac hospital in Seoul and a 2nd time while stationed in the Philippines, as a Navy Nurse at Subic Bay-- respectively to those dates). For Joe, he only visited Bangkok and back in the 60’s it was mostly soldiers and sailors as the main “vacationers” with streets crowded with bars and brothels and massage parlors. It was a lot more modern for my visits, which seemed to focus on visiting temples and buying out souvenirs and in particular as many jewels and jewelry and as much silk as I could afford and carry! I do remember vividly the temples that seemed to be everywhere oozing with so much gold and glitter that it made you wonder how there could be so much squalor and so many poor in the world with all the gold in Thailand’s temples! I also visited, besides Bangkok, on my earliest visit 30 years ago, Changmai, and remembered it as a small mountain town. Mostly I remembered that Thailand was on my list of favorite places in the world and a place that I wanted to return to someday. For Joe and I the “someday” came in July when we flew there for a 2 week trip.
[From our previous chapters, you will recall that, of course, our plans had been to SAIL and cruise aboard our sailboat, Mi Gitana, TO Thailand, (to Phuket --a beach resort area on the south western side of Thailand) where we planned to stay for several months while getting our boat ready to cross the Indian Ocean in January 2007. In fact we should have been arriving in Phuket (after cruising amongst many of the small Thai islands in the Andaman Sea) right about the same time as we planned our vacation trip. Since our major cruising days are now over — we decided NOT to miss our planned hopes of re-visiting Thailand and to do it the easy way… i.e. to fly in and out and stay at 4-5 star resorts!]
Although this chapter, as the previous 2 take place on land, instead of our usual adventures at sea, I have decided to still write it in journal style with loads of photos in the photo gallery to share with those of you who are interested in our trips or perhaps even more importantly, interested in what there is to see, do, and experience in Thailand. Usually I include a several page history of a chapter we are visiting, but this time, mostly for brevity sake, I have decided not to. However below are a few facts and possibly a few things of interest to introduce you to Thailand and the Thai people:
· Thailand is located midway between India and China (see maps on the website) and is bordered by Malaysia on the South, Myanmar (previously Burma) on the West and North, Laos to the North and East, and Cambodia to the Southeast.
· Population: 65 million people;
· Religion: 95% Buddhist, 4% Muslim (mostly near the southern border next to it’s Muslim dominated Malaysian neighbor), and 1% Christian and “other;”
· The climate is governed by three seasons: rainy (roughly June to October), caused by the southwest monsoon; cool (November to February); and hot (March to May). The cool season is the pleasantest time to visit and the most popular. In the hot season, temperatures can rise to a very tropical and humid 104°F/40°C.
· The government: Thailand, once known as Siam, is the only nation in Southeast Asia to escape colonial rule, which adds to the uniqueness of Thai culture. Siam changed its name in 1939 to Thailand, meaning "land of the free." Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 in a bloodless revolution, and for 50 years, since 1946, the king of Thailand has been Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX. While the King may have little direct power, he is highly revered by the Thai people. This year while we were there, he was celebrating 50 years as being the King… and is the longest reigning king in the history of the world.
· The economy: Thailand enjoys one of the world's fastest-growing economies and one of the strongest economies in Southeast Asia, but faces the challenge of spreading the wealth to poorer regions–the infertile eastern plateau is the poorest. Opium production has been reduced, but heroin trafficking is still a problem. The long, mountainous border with Myanmar (Burma) brings refugees, illegal immigrants, and drugs into the country. Some 140,000 Burmese refugees live in Thailand.
· Industry: # 1 is tourism, followed by textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement. Agriculture: rice, cassava (tapioca), rubber, corn. Exports: computers, transistors, seafood, clothing, rice.
o Thailand has more visitors than any other country in Asia with over 6 million foreigners flying into the country each year. Later this year it will open its brand new international airport which will be the largest (and most modern) airport in Asia. The influx of tourist cash has played a significant part in the country's recent development, yet Thailand's cultural integrity remains largely undamaged.
o Over 90% of the Thai people still earn their living from the land living in traditional farming villages
· The movie, The King and I (one of my favorite all time!), and the newer version, Anna and the King, is still banned in the country as the Thai people were insulted by it’s story -- feeling that the movies were historically distorted and it made the reverred King of Siam look as if he was stupid and un-cultured. Fact: Two 19th-century kings of Siam, Mongkut (on whom the movie and book, Anna and the King, were based) and his son Chulalongkorn, were the first to introduce Western education, culture, and technology to Thailand, but they additionally were determined and succeeded in preserving the character of a devout Buddhist society.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR TRIP
July 7th — 14th: Changmai
We were able to get a direct flight from Singapore right to Thailand’s northern province, a mountainous region and home to the country's second-largest city, Chiang Mai, as well as numerous indigenous tribes whose people live very similar lives today as they did hundreds of years ago. We found Chiang Mai to be more relaxed than Bangkok. It is known for its diversity and international flavor. At the same time, it is clearly rooted in its past, made obvious from the remains of the moat and ancient wall that once encircled the entire city to its museums, temples, and lively night bazaar.
We were met at the airport by our tour guide (we had pre-selected for our upcoming tours) and whisked away in our “private” Mercedes van to our hotel: The Royal Princess. www.royalprincess.com , a 4 star small (“boutique”) hotel. The hotel was nice enough but the best part of it was its location, right in middle of town, and we were able to walk easily to many restaurants, temples, and best of all its location is right in the middle of the infamous Night Market. The Night Market takes place every night rain or shine, 365 days per week and consists of thousands of stalls. These tiny adjoining stalls (no wider than 5 -8 feet) line the busy main street on both sides of the sidewalk so just a narrow space is left to walk through. They sell everything a tourist could want and mostly things you don’t need… t-shirts, pirated DVDs and CDs, embroidery, purses (some hand made by village hill tribes as well as knock-off “designers”), jewelry, beadwork, table cloths, silk everything, laquerware, and wonderful local spices. I was in heaven!!! Nearly every night of our stay I carried back to our hotel sacks of “stuff” that were bargains too good to pass up. For the market you need to be a hard, merciless bargainer (which I’ve had lots of experience with!!) and there were plenty of good deals to be had. People tend to make an evening of it, browsing amongst the stalls, eating, drinking, etc. as there are also plenty of restaurants and street food vendors filling up the spaces between the stalls of merchandise.
But a lot of the charm I had remembered of Changmai 30 years ago was lost in the Western invasion of fast food. Within 2 blocks of our hotel were a Starbucks, a Baskin Robbins, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, KFC, and even a Hagen Daz. Joe seemed to gravitate to these places (as it had been a while since he had had any fast-food fixes) as I did my meandering, so we each found our “pleasures” in different ways!
Also crowding the streets next to our hotel were dozens of Thai massage parlors. And the prices could not be beat at around $3.00 an hour --so Joe with his bad back, and I, just for fun, took advantage of several of these special massages during our Changmai stay. Thai massage is not at all like a “Western” massage. First of all, when you go into your massage room, you are fully clothed (they provide some loose drawstring pants and top). Secondly the massage does not seek to relax the body with kneading with the palms and fingers, but instead the masseuse uses their entire body (hands, thumbs, elbows, forearms, knees and feet) and they apply traditional pressure points on the body. Your body is pulled, twisted and manipulated. It reminded me of a combination of an accupressurist, a chiropractor, and a very mean physical therapist. I wasn’t too sure Joe’s poor post surgical back would do well with this, but he liked it enough to go back for more than one treatment! The objective of this type of massage, I was told, is to distribute energies evenly throughout the nervous system so as to create a harmony of physical energy flows. Most of the time during the massage, I didn’t have too many harmonious thoughts, as I was mostly wondering whether they were leaving bruises and whether my “physical energy” would EVER flow again! But after the shock of the first experience, I did end up going back again also!
Dragon Entrance to Temple Near our Hotel in Changmai
During our 1 week stay in Changmai, we Booked 2 all-day tours via Wayfarers Travel www.wayfarersthailand.com. They are a travel company who specialize in Changmai, and other areas in Northern Thailand. Prior to our arrival we found them to be very helpful with all my questions and they were quick to answer emails and efficient in booking. We loved our English speaking tour guide “Jack,” who as above mentioned, met us at the airport and then was with us for the 2 full days we booked tours. Their company will do up a whole “set” package tour OR, as we requested, you can pick and choose your tours and the prices are the same, and, we felt, very reasonable. Again, as with our previous trip (see chapter 35) to Vietnam, we were impressed with their service and efficiency and the fact that we had our guide and drivers all to ourselves and were not with a big group tour.
The highlight of our first tour was a trip to the temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. High up in the mountains, it was first established in 1383, and is today considered one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples. Once we drove up the windy mountain road to get to the temple, there was a 300 step staircase to the top-- and for the physically challenged, a tram ride up for around 50 cents-- obviously we took the latter. From the temple, there were spectacular views looking down on Changmai. However upon entering the temple grounds–those views were soon forgotten as my breath was taken away at my first view of brilliantly gold and huge “stupa” —a conical shaped monument supposedly storing some of Buddha’s bones. We spent over an hour walking around the temple, and I couldn’t seem to get enough photographs of the splendor and the magnificent Thai temple architecture.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep-- and Large Golden Stupa
Afterwards we had lunch in peaceful country surroundings and had a 5 course Thai lunch. Joe is not too keen on burn-your-mouth-out foods (and Thai chilies are infamous!), so our guide ordered accordingly for us. Then we went to see some of the local handicrafts in the Sankamphaeng area. Changmai is Thailand’s main handicraft center and this place seemed to be where all the artesians were located. The town was surrounded by small cottage “factories” and workshops where you can watch crafts people at work (laquerware, silk weaving , making handmade umbrellas, wood carving, jewelry making). However, having already checked out prices at the night market, I found these handicraft centers to be more expensive than the street sellers. But I had fun watching them make the crafts and of course it provided more photo opportunities.
Our second all day tour we traveled for several hours to the Elephant Camp in Lampang area. Elephants have long been a symbol in Thailand of strength, and you see images of elephants carved in temples, beer labels with elephants, silk with embroidered elephant patterns and, for many years, the elephant was a symbol on the Thai national flag. Thais have worked side by side with elephants on their farms, in their logging camps, and the elephant was even considered the super weapon of SE Asian armies in its past history. In 1900, it was estimated that there were around 100,000 elephants in Thailand, but sadly today there are less than 3,000 in the wild and around 2,300 “domesticated.” Since the cessation of logging in Thailand in 1989, the elephants that were trained as working elephants have been “unemployed.”
Mostly the domesticated elephants today are used as one of Thailand’s great tourist attractions. The mahout (elephant trainer) stays with the elephant from the time he/she is weaned from his mother until death. Sometimes for an elephants lifetime there are 2 mahouts, one older and one younger (often a father-son team), since the elephant often lives longer than a human. The unemployed elephants is becoming an issue of national concern, since that also means the mahouts are unemployed and do not have enough money to feed or care for their elephant. So the government has lately been involved in promoting the role of the Asian elephant in ecotourism.
Our trip took us about an hour north of Changmai to Ciang Dao to one of the many tourist “elephant camps.” We went first to a “show” with the mahouts taking their elephants to a river stream and giving them a bath. Then we were led to some shaded bleachers where the elephants showed us tourists how they can pull, push, and maneuver huge logs through their training of being “working” animals. Finally we went on a 1 ½ hour ride on one of these grand beasts, Joe and I on one seat on the elephant’s saddle. (They even provided us with a seat belt!). Our mahout was riding “bareback” behind the elephant’s ears in front of us and guided him with verbal commands and a short stick. This was truly a wonderful experience as we traversed through a tropical rainforest jungle and even went sloshing in river beds. We did make one stop at the Lisu hill tribe village, a tribe that originally came from Tibet. Mostly it was a chance to stretch from the ride and for us to take photos of the colorful dress of the tribe and to spend money on the souvenirs that they made and sold. On our way back to the camp the elephants went in the river trekking against rapids up almost mid body to give us a thrill.
Lisu Hill Tribe Children
After our ride, we had another wonderful lunch at the camp sitting outside on a deck overlooking the river. Then following lunch, the adventure continued as Joe and I got on a small bamboo raft (just the 2 of us and our boat man). Our 1 hour trip took us again through beautiful forest scenery, with elephants on the bank. We floated with the rapids with our raft guide using a series of various length long bamboo poles to push us along when the current was slack. At the end of the river trip, our regular tour guide, Jack, and driver were awaiting us for part 3 of our tour.
Our next stop, and final day’s destination, was to the “Long Necked” Padaung Village. The “Long Necked” hillside tribes are refugees from Myanmar (Burma) who left due to persecution from the Burmese government. Traditionally, even today, the women of these tribes (and even some of the children ) wear a continuous coil of bronze metal around their necks that can weigh up to 50+ pounds (but most commonly today they weigh only about 12 pounds). The neck coils depress the collarbone and the rib cage, which makes their necks look “long”. Nobody knows for sure how the coil custom got started. One theory is that it was meant to make the women unattractive to men from other tribes. Another story, (which is what our guide told us,) was that it was so tigers wouldn’t carry the women working in the fields off by their throats. Now these tribes, still get some funding as well as donated living land by the Thai government (and the government treats them as refugees), but mostly they grow their own food on the land given to them, support themselves from the tourists, like us, that come to see the bracelet necked women and take photos.
Long Neck Tribe Woman of Padung Village
We both felt this all day trip, and especially the elephant ride was the highlight of our entire Thai experience, and will be preserved in our good memory bank for years to come.
For 2 of the days we were in Changmai, I thoroughly enjoyed myself (leaving Joe to do his own thing by the hotel pool with a book in hand!), by attending 2 different all day cooking classes on Thai cooking. For anyone interested in cooking or if not cooking, at least EATING Thai food, I recommend this wonderful experience. I decided to go to 2 different schools so I could compare but in all honesty BOTH were very hands on, had wonderful individualized assistance, great menus and food… and were about the same very cheap price (less than $22/day!!!). Cooking schools seem to be quite the rage in Changmai and there were many to choose from but the ones I attended and recommend highly were the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School http://www.thaicookeryschool.com/ and the Thai Kitchen Cookery school http://www.chiangmai-online.com/thai-kitchen/ also called the Thai Chocolate Cooking School, as “Thai chocolate” is the local’s pet name for the Thai moth-scalding hot chilies that they put in the green and red curries!
On line you can actually choose the dishes you want to prepare (different menus on different days), and, if you choose to, go on a market tour with the chef to learn about the ingredients used in Thai cooking. And by above mentioned “hands on” — you really cook in these classes instead of just being the spectator. You are given your ingredients for each recipe, a cutting board where you prepare your ingredients, a very sharp knife, a wok where you actually cook your one-portion sized dish — that you then sit down and eat afterwards! It was wonderful. For you Thai food aficionados, some of the favorite things I got to cook (and eat) were Hot And Sour Prawn Soup (Tom Yam Goong), Green Curry With Chicken, Thai Style Fish Cakes, Thai Fried Noodles (Phad Thai), Thai style fried spring rolls, Spicy Minced Chicken Salad, and some wonderful Fried Bananas with Coconut Toffee sauce! In one of the classes, I actually paid extra to get to sit there and pound chilies and about 30 other ingredients for over 40 minutes in a stone/lava mortar and pestle to make authentic Green Curry Paste. My arms were killing me after about 10 minutes, so my instructor and I traded off pounding and then resting!
One evening when Joe and I were about to go out for dinner, outside our hotel we were surprised to see hundreds of people (probably more as they went for as far as we could see down the main street our hotel was on) lined up in a parade in beautiful traditional dress. We later found out this was for the “Candle Festival” which is the beginning of Buddhist lent. Socially, every Thai male is expected to become a monk for at least a short time of his life (usually a minimum of 3 months) — usually between the time he finishes school and the time he starts a career or marries. So the beginning of Buddhist lent is the popular time for new Monks to enter the monastery. During this “lent” (which is also the beginning of the official “rainy season”) the monks are required to go to their monastery and stay there for 3 months not leaving from sunset to sunrise. Traditionally (in the “old days”), people presented candles to monks because there was no electricity so they could continue their studies in the dark. The candles offered were small, neatly tied in a bunch. However over time, the tradition has become to carve candles into beautiful artistic creations, some of them quite huge and ornate. One wax carving we saw on display was probably 15 feet high and was carried down the street in procession fashion.
July 14th — 21st: Bangkok
After a wonderful non-rushed week in Changmai, we headed off for Bangkok (about a 1 hour flight). There we stayed at Siam City Hotel www.siamhotels.com, also in a great location as it was right across the street from Bangkok’s Skytrain. The hotel had 5 restaurants, a spa, workout room, and a pool. Our plan for our one week here was again to take a couple of days for touring and to then just be on our own the other remaining days of our stay… for me that meant shopping and for Joe, that meant more pool time and reading and relaxing. Bangkok had certainly grown in size, population, traffic and pollution since my last visit, and of course for Joe who was here 40 years ago, it was unrecognizable. However there is still plenty of culture, charm, and beauty remaining — enough that it should still be on everyone’s list as a must-visit Asian destination.
For our first day (after arrival day) we had pre-booked a whole day temple/ city landmarks tour via www.asia-discovery.com/Thailand/Bangkkok/BKK-3.htm. And as I remembered from my previous Bangkok visits, the gold and glitter of the temples were just mind boggling. Our first stop was at Wat Traimit (“wat” meaning “temple”) to view the world’s largest Golden Buddha. It is 9 ft tall and is made up of 5 1/2 tons of solid gold. Amazing is the story that it was not discovered until about 40 years ago. It had previously just looked like a stucco and plaster Buddha. While attempting to move it to a new building within the temple compound, it fell from a crane. The plaster cracked off revealing the gold Buddha. It is theorized that the plaster covering was added to protect it from marauding hordes when the city was under siege by the Burmese. The temple is said to date from the early 13th century. Even though I had seen this Buddha before, I felt my heart accelerating and found myself holding my breath in awe when I viewed it again on this day.
Solid Gold Buddha
Next we went to see The Grand Palace which was built in 1782 built for King Rama 1st when the capitol was moved to Bangkok. It is a huge compound taking up several city blocks and it houses, within its walls, more than 100 ornate buildings, government offices, and the former royal residences. The King and his family no longer reside in the palace but it is still used for state banquets and royal ceremonies. The whole area is an architectural wonder of glittering glass, gold, polished orange and green tiled roofs, marble, gold stupas, mythical characters (giants, winged garudas, lions, ) in great contrast to the colonial style of the palace itself.
One of the Many "Demon" Protectors at Grand Palace
The main attraction at the Grand Palace, in which literally thousands of tourists line up outside everyday to steal a glimpse of, is the huge Royal Chapel that houses the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Keo. The Emerald Buddha is considered one of the most sacred sites in Thailand where people convene to pay respect to the Lord Buddha. It is considered a Pilgrimage destination that all Buddhists are expected to try and get to in their lives. High and enshrined on a golden throne, the sacred image is clothed with one of 3 seasonal costumes (summer, rainy season, and winter) and the costumes are changed 3 times a year in a ceremony by the King. The Emerald Buddha is, in fact carved from a block of green jade, and was first discovered in 1434 up in Chiang Rai in the northern part of Thailand. Just like the Golden Buddha described above, at that time, the image was covered with plaster and was thought to be an ordinary Buddha image (in order for it not to be stolen by enemies). Later however the abbot, who had found the image, noticed that the plaster on the nose had flaked off revealing the green stone underneath. The abbot initially thought that the stone was emerald and thus the legend to the Emerald Buddha began.
Sacred Emerald Buddha
Like what we saw in Changmai, there are all over the grounds of the palace, and temples in Bangkok, decorations, posters, and banners for the birthday of King Bhumibol who is celebrating his 50th year as King of Thailand. The Royal family is highly revered and photos of the King and Queen Sirikit are to be found in almost all Thai businesses and even their homes.
Our 3rd Wat of the day… (I’d have thought we’d have been “wat-ted out” by now, but each Buddha and temple was so spectacular, that we were more overwhelmed than weary) was a visit to Wat Po — the oldest and largest Temple in Bangkok. The temple compound is very large and crammed with pavilions, walled gardens and statues and over 90 spires. Wat Po's most famous attraction is the Reclining Buddha, the largest in Thailand almost 150 feet long and 50 feet high, covered entirely in gold leaf. The soles of the feet (50 feet high!) are covered with intricate inlaid mother of pearl designs showing the 108 ancient signs of the Buddha. The face of the reclining Buddha is serene and blissful and the statue illustrates the passing into Nirvana (Buddha’s death). The perspective from the feet end looking back down the length of the figure was particularly impressive and was impossible, at least for me, to capture in a photo.
Onward to yet another temple… Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, was just a short water taxi ride across the Chao Phya River from the Grand Palace. It has one of the highest (240 feet) of the religious structures in Thailand. What (or should I say “wat”) was interesting about this temple is instead of the ornate gold we had viewed all morning, the complete surface of the tower in this temple was covered with mosaics of multicolored Chinese porcelain. When the builders ran out of porcelain, Rama III, who had inherited the massive project from his predecessor, called upon his subjects to contribute any broken crockery they could find to complete the decoration.
Our tour then took us to a nice restaurant for lunch (all the prices of these tours we took in Thailand included wonderful multi-course lunches!) And then we headed for our last stop of the day, the Vimanmek Mansion, believed to be the world’s largest Teakwood palace and which was once a Royal residence… We slowly (Joe was getting quite worn out — still suffering with post-op back pains) meandered through a self guided tour of the house which is now a museum full of extravagant gifts given to the royal family.
We left a few days of rest before beginning our 2nd all day tour for our Bangkok stay, booked with www.city-discovery.com/thailand/bangkok-sightseeing-tours.php. This trip took us several hours out of town into the countryside to what was called the “Floating Market” tour. Our guide took us to a place along the river where we boarded a traditional “longtail” boat. The longtail boats are particular to this part of the world and are a common sight on nearly every body of water in Thailand. They are of wooden construction and are long and slender, held 6-8 passengers (in 3-4 rows of 2 each side-by-side) with a high prow, and have very loud converted car engines in them. What makes them unique is their elevated motor mount at the back of the boat and the extended (giving them the name “long tail”) propeller shaft system that can rotate 180 degrees.
We traveled in our longtail, very rapidly up river and side canals known as Khlong's which snakes their way through villages. The canal banks were lined on both sides with traditional Thai homes with docks connected seemingly to their living rooms. We eventually made it to the floating market. There we found hundreds of smaller boats (longtails now abandoned for small paddled canoe-type boats) laden with fruits, vegetables, dried fish, and even moving restaurants with a propane bottle and a griddle, and skewers with wonderful satay (shish-kabob chicken or beef). The boats are mostly paddled by women wearing traditional broad brimmed straw hats looking like lampshades. Besides the beautiful exotic fruits and traditional goods, due to the influx of tourists now, the ladies also were selling every imaginable tourist souvenir such as knock-off designer purses, designer “flip-flops,” wood carvings, silk paintings, etc.
Lady at Floating Market Selling Coconut and Fruit from Her Canoe
From the Floating Market, our tour continued to a multi-faceted cultural show in a beautiful setting called The Rose Garden. Busloads of tourists are dropped off here to first participate in the Thai lunch buffet, and then to watch a presentation (in arena format) with presenters showing different aspects of traditional Thai culture. We again watched elephant demonstrations , saw many beautiful dances, watched a monk’s ordination ceremony, a wedding ceremony, and even demonstrations of sword fighting and Thai kick boxing. Although very “touristy” (but after all, we WERE tourists), we did enjoy the performance… kind of like one-stop-shopping--- for the tourist short of time with a lot of culture under literally one roof.
For the rest of our time in Bangkok, we really did go at a slow pace, just enjoying walking around, eating wonderful food, reading, lying by the pool — and for me shopping. I had read about the Chatuchak weekend market, and since I had a Sunday to spare, I hightailed it on Bangkok’s Skytrain (their main monorail/train type system of transportation throughout the city) to the largest outdoor market in Thailand. I was not prepared for its size nor the array of things for sale. It was a market not only full of tourists (and lots of souvenirs) but probably just as many locals also looking for a bargain. It had everything imaginable for sale from handmade silks, linens, housewares and hardware, artwork, to fluffy puppies and kitties, and snakes. I had planned to spend a day, but in the heat (we were there in the HOT season… with over 100 degree temperatures every day!) and the huge crowds and my old aching body… I escaped after only a couple of hours and had had my fill.
I guess it was pretty good that I had shopped so much at the Night Market in Changmai (at a LOT better prices than in Bangkok), as even with the purchase of a new suitcase/duffle to carry all the stuff back to Singapore, my bags were overflowing and I was pretty much out of room. However knowing that jewelry takes up little room, I headed to a planned stop to the jewelry store I had done business with 30 years earlier. I couldn’t believe when I opened our Lonely Planet Guidebook and the ONLY jewelry store recommended in the book was the store us Military types had done business with for years and years, Johny’s Gems! What a shock… not only still in business, but now with a recommended reputation. I gave them a call and they sent a limo/van to our hotel to pick me up and take me to their store. It is still a tiny (VERY unpretentious, especially in comparison to all the glittery gigantic jewelry stores all over Bangkok) place. I was offered tea, drinks, and of course a meal (I believe the “Johny” family reside right there at the back of the store). Anyway, I had brought some things I wanted to get set, plus some of my black pearls we had collected in our South Pacific island (black Tahitian) sailboat travels that I wanted strung and mounted… etc. Thailand is also known for its rubies and sapphires… so since I haven’t bought myself any gems since my travels here 20 and 30 years ago, I had planned a small splurge. Anyway, I made several trips to his store… [by the way, Johny had since died, and now Johny Junior was in charge…] and if anyone is interested in visiting a reliable highly recommended (not only by me, by most anyone in the military who ever went to Thailand in the 70’s 80’s, etc, but recently an article was written about the shop in the New York Times!) the information about them is on their website Johnny’s Gems http://johnysgems.com By the way, even though his prices are really fair and by US standards, a very good bargain, there is a little wiggle room for bargaining for an even better discount.
So that concludes most of the highlights for us on our recent 2 week trip. Thailand is also famous for its beaches and its sailing and it’s diving… so perhaps we’ll get there again someday to explore other areas, but at least for now, we have renewed memories and there were no disappointments in the new and modern Thailand. With its strong hold of its ancient culture, mixed with the ease of travel and beautiful people, modern accommodations, it is a destination we recommend for others.