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.

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

A Walk About Cuenca

I love Sundays. There has always been something special about them. In fact, I wrote a post about a year ago titled “ A Precious Gift” about spending a memorable Sunday in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Sundays have no special religious connotation for me but I do find them inspirational. For example, I have noticed it is often on a Sunday that I get inspired to write another blog post.

I woke up today realizing this is my last day in this beautiful city called Cuenca. What was I to do with it after I finished Skyping my daughter and my travelling friend, Cathy? Some of the guests here where I’m staying were taking an excursion out to visit some nearby villages for their Sunday markets, but that didn’t hold much appeal for me. There were other things I could have made an effort to see, such as the El Cajos National Park but that didn’t ring my chimes either. What I opted for was to set out to explore all my favourite places right here within walking distance from my hostel.

Tourists and locals who want to explore or who simply want to stroll will invariably head for the pulse of this city: the Plaza del Calderon.2016-02-21 13.50.11

As I approached it, I could hear authentic Andean music or folklorical as I’ve seen it referred to. This was exciting because I have been wanting to hear more of this music but somehow the opportunity had just not presented itself. There it was, finally, at the Nuevo Catedral! Three men dressed in native costume were making music that literally sent chills through me. 2016-02-21 13.40.59

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At last I had found what I was looking for and to sweeten the pot even more they were selling CD’s. Without hesitating I bought one on the spot for only $5.00!

Feeling quite elated, I decided to head down to Calle Larga the street following the Tomebamba River one of four rivers snaking through Cuenca. The streets here are laid out in a kind of grid pattern in spite of the rivers, mainly because the heart of the city is nestled between the Andes that run parallel on either side of it. The Tomebamba River, which is the nearest to the centre, flows from west to east so all the north south streets lead to it.

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I find myself on a street I have not walked on before. At first it appears to be rather nondescript with houses, shops, and a few eating places on either side. Suddenly a shop with colourful textiles and a few people milling around catch my eye so I  decide to check it out. I find the kind of llama sweater I bought for myself a few weeks ago which I mentioned in my latest post. If I can get several of those at my price of $10 I decide I will buy them. I am in a shopping mood after buying that CD. He starts at $28 and finally comes down to $15 but I can’t accept that even though they are thicker and of a slightly better quality. I know I am fighting a loosing battle. Not wanting to leave empty-handed, I spy some bags which might sell if again I get the right price. Starting at $15 he eventually lowers to $8 so I buy two of the three he has in stock. Buying in Ecuador takes much effort so I’ve had to walk away from many of the things I see and like because of our crummy Canadian dollar!

Purely by accident or maybe it was fate, but the next street I take leads me straight to Cafe Goza, the most popular spot in Cuenca for their many specialty coffees all grown in Ecuador. It’s popular with locals and ex-pats alike and is always busy: so busy in fact that it has a security guard standing outside where everyone sits. I’m not sure why this is so, but I’m assuming there must have been a nasty incident there at one time. It’s odd because I haven’t seen much evidence of police in the rest of the city. Better to be safe than sorry I guess when it comes to the safety of the ex-pats. Apparently there are well over 5,000 living here.

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Sated with a cappuccino and some apple cake, I continue my walk, snapping pictures of the old colonial homes, the bridges spanning the river, and stairs leading down to it.

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By this time the sun has come out from behind the clouds to pour its warmth on me. Sitting there beside the quick-flowing river, I take the time to appreciate this environment for possibly the last time and to realize how fortunate I am to be here in this wonderful place. I love people watching and this was the perfect place to do it. Families playing games or splashing in the water, older folks out for a walk with their dogs, young lovers smooching under a tree, and old indigenous women looking for recyclables to cash in for extra money. It was all there; the good and not so good.

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It is time to move on again so I continue west which will lead me back to the centre. I am looking for Avenida Benigno Malo which has become one of my favourite streets. I discovered it for the first time yesterday and after seeing many restaurants offering daily luncheon specials I noted this and remembered to return. I know I might be disappointed because it is Sunday when many restaurants and shops are closed. However, as luck would have it, I find one which is offering soup, BBQ chicken, dessert and juice for the paltry sum of $4.00. I had taken advantage of a similar lunch special or almeurzo two days ago on another street. Such specials can be found in the better class restaurants on some of the smaller streets where foot traffic is lighter. Their portions are substantial and they are usually good. Tourists like me on a budget love them!

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Benigno Malo has a fine showing of the old Spanish colonial architecture which contributed to naming Cuenca a Heritage site some time ago. That’s another reason for choosing to walk this street and not the others. It’s a photographer’s delight. Right in the centre it runs smack dab into the famous Nuevo Catedral or Church of the Immaculate Conception which is another photographer’s gem. Snap, snap! I must have taken over 100 pictures today!

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Over four hours have passed since I stepped out onto the street at my hostel. Now I am back in my little room with a full stomach and at peace with this city which I hope I will get the chance to revisit. Once again, it’s time to pack up my bags for tomorrow’s early morning departure and long haul bus ride to Quito, my next stop. This will be another revisit to seek out the places I missed or maybe just to explore those already seen in greater depth with a more seasoned eye. Time will tell.

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Adjustment, Reflection, and Realization

My excuse for not blogging.

My excuse for not blogging.

I am using my house as an excuse for not keeping up with regular postings on my blog, and I’m sure I could find others if I cared to dig deeper. For now, I’ll stick with the house and my life here in Victoria Beach. I have discovered that in spite of the work that comes with maintaining a house in the country, I must not forget that there is a silver lining to such a life style. Thankfully life here has made me stop and reflect upon my reason for being here, and how I can keep up with my blog when I’m not travelling.

We have had our fair share of challenges since we arrived home on April 25th. In the past I’ve found it relatively easy to get back into the old groove of living here, but this year we have been put to the test. It started when we arrived home on a bitterly cold day to an empty oil tank. However, thanks to our helpful neighbours and our furnace guy who drove all the way out to Victoria Beach from town at eight o’clock at night, we had our furnace up and running before bedtime.

Just when it seemed like we were getting nicely settled into our usual routine, our old house decided to test us once again. This time it presented us with a broken water pipe leaving us with no water for four days. Again our neighbours came to our rescue with bottled water and containers for carrying water from their taps. God bless them!

Then our two old cars decided they needed some attention, too, so in they went for oil changes and inspections after being idle for five months. Mine was given a clean bill of health, but my husband wasn’t so lucky.  He received the sad news that his car was facing uncertain death from a case of extreme rust corrosion. His mechanic told him in no uncertain terms that it was totally unsafe and had to be put down immediately! Our bills by this time were mounting up so hubby decided that he would try to find a new, but used car for no more than $4000. Fortunately, he found one in short order at his price which had not a speck of rust anywhere. In fact, it looks almost like a brand new car. This was another little gift from heaven to whom we owe much thanks to Andrew, his mechanic.In the meantime a lady backed into me at the Irving service station causing over $600 damage to my front bumper. Again this has all worked out well and my bumper will be replaced at no cost to me this week.

Every year for the past seven, I have been planting a vegetable garden, an interest which I believe I inherited from my grandmother. To this day, I can still taste her delicious veggies, fruits, and berries which probably explains why each year I tackle the task of coaxing our rocky soil into something suitable enough to yield us at least some  fresh vegetables. This spring it’s been unusually cold and dry so not much is coming up yet other than those rocks that just never cease to crop up every year with a vengeance.  I am happy to report that most of  my seeds are in the ground and the peas and kale are beginning to pop up. Now if only the rain would come!

My garden as it looks right now.

My garden as it looks right now.

Unfortunately, I’ve allowed all my time to be consumed by the house, the cars, and the garden along with a  myriad of other chores required to keep a house running. One of the joys of travel for me is being able to take a hiatus from all of them! However, I do realize that if I am to continue my blogging, I must start delegating some of the household chores to hubby. Therefore, since he loves to cook, I have called on him to take over more of that. Sometimes it’s difficult to overlook the mess he can make, but I’m trying by heaping lots of praise on him for his efforts which seems to be working!

There was one more item on my list I had to deal with before getting back to my blogging and that was getting my merchandise ready for the Saturday market which is already in full swing. All my boxes, except for one containing silk scarves, have arrived from Thailand and Cambodia safely. The scarves which I somehow overlooked and  left in Chiang Mai have to be shipped separately at great cost. I am lucky that I was able to locate them at one of the guest houses where we stayed which has such an honest and helpful staff who have taken the time to pack them up and get them in the mail for me. So far our market is off to a fairly good start which hopefully will continue to get better as the tourists arrive from the US on the new Portland to Yarmouth ferry because my next winter escape depends heavily on the sales I can generate from this little importing venture.

My table of imports at the  Mason's Hall in Annapolis Royal.

My table of imports at the Mason’s Hall in Annapolis Royal.

Reflecting upon this past month, I have learned that when I don’t write and and take pictures, I feel like something very valuable is missing from my life. Too much physical work was making me more tired than I wanted to be and that old feeling of anxiety and unease was creeping in. I needed to write but I kept making excuses which were preventing me from doing it. I was also stymied by what I could write about.  What was there to write about here in Victoria Beach? These were my reasons for not writing so what was I going to do about them? I came up with the following solutions which I would like to share with you, and if they can be of any help to any ‘would be’ writer like me, then that would be fantastic. Here they are:

  • Make time in your day no matter how busy it is shaping up to be to write something even if it’s only a sentence or two.
  • Find a quiet spot away from any distractions i.e. in my case a chatty spouse.
  • Open up your computer and go straight to your blog’s ‘new post’ page. Don’t check your messages or Facebook first.
  • Type out a title which will be somehow related to what you have a vague idea you want to write on. Let this just be a guide which you can always change as many times as you wish once you start to write.
  • Now just start to write – anything. You’ll be amazed at where this can go.
  • Once you see something take shape, you will be off and running and feeling great.

This usually works for me, but I need to constantly remind myself to do it so it will become a habit. Perhaps I need to write this list out and have it in front of me until it becomes ingrained in my psyche? As I look back on this past month, I shudder to think about the agony I have put myself through just thinking and worrying about what I could write about. Well, I believe that I have that problem solved, too, making this a second wonderful realization about writing. Why not start with where I live and write about life here? As for pictures, this place is a photographer’s dream. It has the most incredible sunsets, and it’s near the Bay of Fundy which has been nominated as one of the most beautiful unspoiled spots in the world. One day it will become one for sure because just how many unspoiled sites are left in this world? It’s all about using the resources we have around us before venturing beyond. I’m thankful now for the challenges our life here in Victoria Beach has presented. It has helped me learn much about what writing is all about and how therapeutic it has become for me. It doesn’t matter where it will all lead to, if anything, but the one thing I do know is that it brings me great joy and satisfaction.

One of our beautiful sunsets.

One of our beautiful sunsets.