Trekking Around Chiang Mai

For those of you who might be looking for an escape to nature not too far from Chiang Mai, I can recommend two little gems. The nearest one is Doi Inthanon about 60 km west of the city, and the second one is the Chae Son National Park about a two and half hour ride northeast of the city in Lampang province. Both day-trips are well worth a visit if you are seeking clean air, beautiful flora, birds, and waterfalls.

Although I have visited Doi Inthanon on previous trips to Thailand, I was still eager to visit again not only for the clean air it offers… it’s the highest peak in all of Thailand…. but because this trip took me on a trail I had not been on before. Chae Son Park was my first escape thanks to a friend who arranged a car and driver to take a small group of us there. I would never have known about it, otherwise.

We were a group of seven… 50+ in age…who set out on our first trek to Chae Son Park. Our expert driver chose to take us up through a mountain pass which provided not only gorgeous scenery but some hair-raising curves and twists. Needless to say, some of us were very happy to arrive at our destination. With good walking shoes, sunscreen, water, and snacks, we set out on a 5 km. hiking trail which took us to the highest waterfall, Mae Mon, about 2,000 m.

The upward climb to Mae Mon.

The upward climb to Mae Mon.

Looking down.

Looking down.

Mae Mon

Mae Mon Waterfall

Chae Son was opened in 1988 making it Thailand’s 58th National Park. What was surprising to us was that in the middle of the week there was nary a tourist around and only a handful of Thai enjoying this beautiful park’s offerings…the hotsprings, waterfalls, and abundant flora.

Hot springs

Hot springs

Our second waterfall

Our second waterfall

Mushrooms anyone?

Mushrooms anyone?

The mostly deciduous trees meant lots of birds which were apparent from their calls although none of us had binoculars so we didn’t actually get to see them. I read that there were caves in the vicinity but those escaped us, too. Our focus was on the walking or I should say climbing, the waterfalls, and the river leading to them. Upon entering Chae Son we couldn’t help noticing how well-kept the park was with immaculate landscaping and neat little bungalows with spa facilities for those seeking some rejuvenation. However, we were there to walk so decided to forego them.

Hot springs near the park entrance.

Hot springs near the park entrance.

C'est moi.

C’est moi.

Like so many public parks and places of interest in Thailand, the signage wasn’t up to par. There were some signs with a smattering of English but most of them were in Thai making it difficult for us to figure out what direction to take and just what we were seeing. The maps and information at the entrance were not clearly presented…at least not to our 50+ minds.

This was the most prominent sign.

This was the most prominent sign.

As we ascended the well maintained trail with sturdy steps and handrails, and adequate rest stops, we were treated to two lovely waterfalls. I read that the park has six in all. The rest of them we never saw because the trail abruptly ended when we came face to face with a bridge that definitely did not look safe enough to cross. At this point we decided to head back to enjoy the hot springs which we had only observed at the beginning of our trek knowing full well that our tired feet would enjoy them more at the end.

Three rare birds.

Three rare birds.

Taking a much-needed rest.

Taking a much-needed rest.

Such a treat.

Such a treat.

The highlight of the hot springs especially to the Thai is to have the thrill of boiling some eggs which you can then feast on for breakfast or lunch. The numerous pools of boiling water average about 73 degrees centigrade and will boil an egg in about 17 minutes.

One week later, our trekking group now diminished to four, visited Doi Inthanon at 2,565 m above sea level. Like Chae Son the park here is also a major water source for Central Thailand. What is so interesting about visiting this area is you get to experience two climates. At the beginning or at the bottom, you have a tropical climate but about half way up, you begin to notice it gets colder and by the time you are up to the top you are putting on a jacket and noticing plants that look a lot like home.

The trekkers.

The four trekkers.

Here the signs were much clearer than those of Chae Son, and it was brought to our attention at various points that it was now about 17 degrees centigrade.

Oops, the temperature has dropped!

We were in the cloud forest! The scenery brought images of Switzerland and Scotland to my mind… I haven’t been to either but it’s how I envision them… with the grasses, jutting rocks, and rising mists. It was breath-taking.

Up into the clouds.

Up in the clouds.

Scotland or Switzerland?

Scotland or Switzerland?

Suddenly, we saw specks of red which turned out to be masses of rhododendrons growing up into huge trees.

Can you see them?

Can you see them?

There's one!

There’s one!

The proliferation of lianas and ferns produced a brilliant green which is a result of higher rainfall levels than down below. I read that there are over 360 species of birds making it the best birding site in the entire country. Again we weren’t able to see them because of the height of the trees, but we did hear them. It’s at times like this I wish I were a birder or with one who could educate me. Although we were accompanied by one of the park’s guides and our driver who had some English, it was still difficult to understand the names of any flora or fauna we were witnessing. However, I kept reminding myself I was there to walk and to witness the gorgeous scenery, not become a bird-watcher or a botanist.

On our way down the mountain, we stopped to take a brief tour of the Two Chedies we witnessed on our way up. These chedies ( the Buddhist word for stupa) were built to honour the late King of Thailand, Bhumibol, and his wife Queen Sirikit. They were built to commemorate their 60th birthday’s. Although the Queen’s is smaller, it is the more elegant of the two with beautiful murals depicting the women in the life and times of the Buddha.

The Two Chedies

The Two Chedies

The King's chedie.

The King’s chedi

The Queen Sirikit Chedie

The Queen’s

We made another stop after our visit to the Two Chedies to see the Vachirathan Waterfall which fortunately looked wonderful with lots of cascading water. On my previous visits I was never so lucky because there was not much water and wondered why the Thai would even bother taking us there to visit such a puny site. This has been a fairly good year for rain in this area and what a difference that makes. We have to remember that this is the dry season here in Thailand which can mean that waterfalls start to shrivel up about this time.

Great group picture taken by our expert photographer guide.

Great group picture taken by our expert photographer guide.

By the time we got down closer to Chiang Mai, one of the members of our group wondered if our driver could take us to a wat (temple) which sits on small mountain overlooking the city. Being a polite Thai man who likes to please his customers, he consented and with perfect timing got us there just as the sun was setting. We were also blessed with clear skies, something of a rarity at this time of the year when the city could have been shrouded in haze. Fortunately it wasn’t, so we were able to get some pretty spectacular photos. Thank you Patty!

Overlooking Chiang Mai from the wat.

Overlooking Chiang Mai from the wat.

A Big Buddha at sunset.

A Big Buddha at sunset.

This is the thing about Chiang Mai and its environs. It’s still relatively easy to use the city as a great starting point for numerous day trips which can take you in all directions to scads of attractions mostly provided by the mountainous terrain and the Hilltribe villages. I will be forever indebted to my friend, Buddy, who put much time and effort into pulling us together and getting us out of the heat and noise of the city to enjoy Nature’s beauty.

Is Chiang Mai Losing It’s Allure?

Is Chiang Mai Losing It’s Allure?

Am I not bored with visiting Chiang Mai in Thailand, you might ask? After all, this is my ninth visit to this exotic and oftentimes chaotic country, but my answer is still a resounding “No”. For me it’s not about how much I can see or do here; it’s more about what I can absorb and learn from it. Admittedly coming to Thailand is a bit like coming home for me. It’s comfortable and nurturing. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not becoming too comfortable. Perhaps I should stretch myself and travel to new places before it becomes impossible to do that?

Chiang Mai's moat at night.

Chiang Mai’s moat at night.

However, for now it’s enough for me to just be in the warmth of its beautiful sunshine. But hang on …all is not perfect! Chiang Mai’s air quality has worsened over the years… more vehicles and no decent transportation system all while the population continues to grow with huge numbers of tourists and new people moving in making this city less desirable for many of us. Furthermore, the slash and burn carried out by the northern rice farmers adds more fuel to the fire. Even though the local governor has stated all those who break a 60 day moratorium, beginning in February, will be fined, it’s only caused more problems as it’s now rumoured that they are outwitting the ‘powers that be’ by burning before the moratorium goes into effect. I have been here two weeks and already my sinuses are taking a beating.

So you might ask why I keep coming back to Chiang Mai to put myself through this torture? Well, it’s mainly because of the fabulous markets which I need to shop for my importing business and to meet up with old friends. I manage to immerse myself quickly into the worsening traffic, the bad sidewalks, the dirt and the noise, and accept all that makes this city an exciting place to visit. It continues to draw people of all ages from all parts of the world. It boasts of having one of the largest ex-pat communities in the world. It offers something for everyone in the realm of culture, food, night entertainment, and adventurous activities. If you want to escape the noise of the city you can retreat to a wat for meditation, a nearby provincial park for some bird watching and a walk in the woods, or stay at an elephant farm to commune with these beautiful beasts in their natural habitat.

Night Walking Market

The night walking market.

The market in Baan Tawae outside Chiang Mai.

The market in Baan Tawae outside Chiang Mai.

This year I chose to rent an apartment outside the centre or inner city away from the ‘madding crowds’. My new location near the airport is near enough to the action that I can grab a songthaw and be there in twenty minutes or less depending upon the traffic. Last week the temperatures were brought down with some much-needed rain, so I found myself walking to the Chiang Mai Gate, one of five gates leading to the centre of the inner city, since songthaws aren’t always readily available. Another reasonable alternative cropped up when I discovered a free shuttle service for tourists at the nearby Central Airport Plaza which will take me to the centre and back out if I can fit my schedule into theirs and not count on the last trip back at 7:15 pm which may or may not show up. Oh well,  available songthaws and reliable free shuttles aside, this is Thailand so I’m not complaining. One has to accept that things here happen on Thai time not our western time.

My apartment is in this condo-the Sereno Airport.

My apartment is in this condo-the Sereno Airport.

A nearby side street.

A nearby side street.

So far I’ve not only been meeting up with some old friends but also meeting some new ones….mainly Thai who speak good English. This is definitely a bonus as I can get a better idea of what is presently going on in their country and how they feel about it. The Thai have always had to be extremely careful of what they say about their Royal family…especially the King… but now it seems they have to be careful of what they say about their present Prime Minister who is the leader of the military backed government.

Thailand's beloved King as a young man.

Thailand’s beloved King as a young man.

Yes, I can read the Bangkok Post which gives its readers the impression that Thailand has settled down and getting back to business as usual following the military coup two years ago and the loss of their beloved King last year. Now the only son who carries a storied and eccentric past that many Thai question is going to take his place, and they wonder if he’s capable of filling the big shoes left behind by his father. I can also listen to the present Prime Minister’s Friday night speeches where the “lovely, smiling” Thai people are told they need to pitch in to help him bring the country together. In other words, they need to obey the laws of his government and work together if they are to better their quality of living, overcome corruption, and continue to be the leader of the pack in the Southeast Asian countries. All well and good. However, the quality of life doesn’t appear to be improving and economically the country is reported to be losing ground to the huge economic growth taking place in Viet Nam. Furthermore, the whole country is beginning to feel the effects of climate change. At present, the south is being hit hard with massive flooding while in the north the farmer’s are begging for rain as they see their rice crops drying up. The question is…can a military dictator who is reported to be paranoid about what the press will say about him and his government, and an eccentric prince with such a questionable past be able to steer Thailand in the direction it needs to go?

Thailand has had too many coups and Prime Ministers to count over the years since the Royal dynasty granted the country a constitution which brought into existence the role of the Prime Minister, a House of Representatives, and a parliament. Since then they have struggled to achieve a democratic form of government, but all efforts have been short-lived only to be replaced with military dictatorships. Fortunately, these numerous coups have all been carried out peacefully which says much about the Thai character. Most will tell you that it was the former King who was instrumental in pulling that off. Now that he is gone, what will happen next? So far so good. Many Thai are in mourning and will be until a year from his death which will be some time in October of this year. The present government has successfully orchestrated a peaceful transition and is promising to have a democratic election in 2018, but the people are wary and don’t seem to be too hopeful…at least those I have spoken to.

A massive display depicting the King's life and death.

A massive display depicting the King’s life and death.

Thai grief after his death.

Thai grief after his death.

The government claims that tourism is up over last year, but the vendors I deal with report their sales are down. They are worried about their decreasing sales and increasing rents which are putting some of them out of business. Small coffee shops and restaurants are either closing or relocating to the outer regions because of the rising rents. Large, more modern buildings and more cranes are evident in the inner city giving it a distinct cosmopolitan flare. With all of this happening, it’s definitely time the city got its long proposed transit system in place. The money is there or so says the government, but the council still has to get the songthaw operators on board. Who knew they held such power, but they do. In the meantime, they don’t seem to care about the fumes they are spilling into the already dirty air.

A songthaw

A songthaw

Ray and Koong owners of the small cafe One Peaberry.

Ray and Koong owners of the small cafe One Peaberry.

Where does all this leave me, I wonder? If I come back again I will seriously have to re-think where and how I will do my buying. Perhaps I need to come earlier… in December… get my shopping done quickly, and make a quick exit to the northern city of Chiang Rai where the air is definitely cleaner. I wrote a post on this northern city in the mountains after my visit there two years ago. Check it out at What About Chiang Rai?. Back then I wasn’t too impressed with the markets, but I’ve heard they are improving. Northern Thailand is dotted with colourful Hilltribe villages and tea/coffee plantations…. and it’s cooler! It may not have the allure of Chiang Mai but my health is more important. I will consider taking the tranquillity of Chiang Rai and leave the excitement of Chiang Mai to the young backpackers. For now, I’ll just have to deal with the present day problems in Chiang Mai, enjoy finding new treasures in the abundance of its markets, and revel in soaking up all the best of what it has to offer.

For more information on the markets in Chiang Mai you can check out my post on Shopping the Markets in Chiang Mai.

For more information on coffee growing in the north you can go to the website of the One Peaberry Cafe at www.onepeaberry.com.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Love, Power, and Economic Justice

This is so well said and something good for all to read.

Deborah J. Brasket

Image result for images martin luther king jrCelebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King days before Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the Unites States could not seem more incongruous, nor be more timely. And needed.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he had begun to turn his attention away from the civil rights movement to what he considered to be an even more compelling problem: economic injustice.

“For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

He had discovered that the major divisive force in America was not color, but class. The rich and powerful, whether black or white, shared the same interest in keeping the races segregated, exploiting the poor and powerless, and maintaining the status quo.

He believed the…

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Good Bye 2016 and Hello 2017

How can a year pass by so quickly, I wonder? It seems like I was writing a review of 2015 just a short while ago in the same place and at the same time in December of last year…while visiting my daughter in snowy Ottawa for New Year’s.

However, early yesterday I woke up with thoughts of all that has happened in my life and the world over the past 12 months and, of course, wondering how 2017 would unfold for us all? Then I began to reflect on the places I have been and the posts I have written. Usually WordPress http://wordpress.com sends me a year-end review of the posts I’ve published but this year there has been nothing. With the last day of the year facing me, I decided to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and put something together myself.

One huge benefit to the time and effort that goes into my writing is the final result. Now as 2016 fades into the distance, I can review what I wrote and reflect on many of the exciting but also downright difficult times throughout this past year for myself and the world. 2016 has never been dull and will probably go down as one of extremes and not one to forget. Depending on how you look at it, you might either say it’s been an exciting year filled with tremendous possibilities or a frightening year with the potential for disaster. It’s up to us to decide in what direction to choose.

When I take a peek at my blog stats one of the first things I look at is which of my posts garnered the most interest. This year it was the interview I had with Peter Robertson in Buenos Aires which took top spot with 57 views… An Interview With Peter Robertson (click on the title to read). Second place went to The Cloud Forest in the Rainy Season (click here). This was surprising! I wonder if it was the pictures of the chocolate factory I visited in Ecuador which caught my readers’ interests? Then there were those posts which elicited the most comments: the ones that described a funny or harrowing incident, such as Oh, My Aching Feet (click here) relating the near miss of my flight to Buenos Aires, Mendoza – Touring the Wineries and the Andes (click here)with a description of my nail-biting trek into the Andes, or Our Trip to Tigre – Facing the Unexpected (click here) with the tale of our ‘mate’ tea scam. I suspect our visits to the wineries in Mendoza perked the interest of my readers, too. Another interesting bit of information Word Press gives me is from where in the world these views and comments are coming. It’s no surprise that Canada tops my list by far, with the United States a distant second. Thailand is third, followed by such European countries as Italy, Germany and France in top spot there. South America and various places in Eurasia…places I have been and written about… are appearing as well.

Looking back on this past year, I am happy that I chose to break my pattern of going east to Thailand and instead heading south to that huge continent of South America. Ecuador and Argentina were the only countries I travelled to so there is still much more to see, such as Columbia and Peru. Those will be for another year. For the coming year, I have opted to once more visit Thailand followed by another visit to Viet Nam. As many of you know, I buy accessories such as clothing, bags, and jewellery to sell at our market in Annapolis Royal. Thailand is still my best country to shop just for the sheer number of markets I find there. In the past, Viet Nam has also been a good shopping venue so now I am looking forward to unearthing new treasures there. Great food and the openness and energy of the Viet Namese are other reasons for returning.

As this year draws to a close, I can’t help feeling blessed that I am able to travel to the places I’ve been and hope to go in the future. The benefits I receive from my travels are invaluable… self growth, an escape from our cold winters, and making new friends are just some of them. I have not tired of this life style. Each year as the time nears to take off once again, I can feel the adrenaline beginning to flow and am filled with anticipation for what is ahead. In addition, I am thankful for my small family here in Ottawa who support my travelling lifestyle and a husband who freely lets me follow my life journey while he follows his.

I also want to thank all my readers who so faithfully read my posts. Your encouraging comments never fail to inspire me to keep up the task of putting down in writing all that I have learned about the world as I continue to explore it. A Happy New Year to you all. My wish for 2017 is that all of us will continue to move forward in whatever way we can to make our world a more positive and peaceful place.

A Short Pictorial of 2016