Day 1: Bangkok, Thailand
We arrived at Bangkok International after a three-hour flight from Taipei, following a 14-hour flight from San Francisco, both aboard EVA Air. With only fitful sleep on the flight we felt exhausted and faced a daunting prospect of navigating a sprawling, bustling terminal with a tight connection for our short flight to Chiang Rai. And even if we could manage, would our checked bags make it?
A pleasant surprise greeted us in the person of a young man in EVA Air livery holding a sign bearing our names. He led us on a long, brisk walk to the farthest corner of the terminal, whisking us through customs and depositing us a security checkpoint to board our flight — in sufficient time. We doubt we could have made without him. This speaks well of EVA Air, but also of the hospitality consistently shown us by the people of Thailand. Our bags showed-up in Chiang Rai when we did.
We found our guide for the next several days in Northern Thailand, Teeraphon (Phon) Boonna, personable, knowledgeable, and very willing to go the extra mile, or make changes to accommodate us. Phon is a freelance guide who works for several tour companies. We loved pretty much everything about those days except the weather: very hot, humid and hazy, according to Phon, due to fires across the border in Burma (Myanmar).
Of course we had to ride an elephant — something, Phon said, you must do if you come to Thailand. We’re glad we did, partly so we could say we did, but also because it gives employment to the elephants and their handlers. With the demise of teak logging due to deforestation, they would be unemployed without curious tourists willing to pay for a demonstration of their skill and intelligence or for a ride in the forest and river.
Another highlight: Visits to hill tribe villages. In a village of the Akha, a tribe originally from Tibet, we met a woman in traditional costume smoking a very large pipe. The nearby Yao village, a people from southern China, seemed more prosperous, and less traditional. We visited a Lisou village on elephant-back. These people, originally from Burma, seemed quite traditional and produced some charming crafts that we could not resist.
We visited the northern tip of Thailand where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet along the Mekong River. Here we enjoyed a boat ride on the famous stream, including a brief stop in Laos where we toured a market offering thousands of Chinese-made, knock-off hand bags for sale.
We sniffed and photographed the blossoms at Bai Orchid Farm near Chiang Mai. The sights, sounds and smells at the morning market in Chiang Mai’s Old City captivated us, and we enjoyed some excellent restaurant meals — the food around here is very local, fresh and imaginative; the flavors unlike any other.
Phon took us to the Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, atop Suthep Mountain just outside Chiang Mai where he led us to a small temple where the saffron-robed monk blessed us with scented water and a prayer for good luck, and memorialized this with a string around our wrists. This was not something we expected but seems to symbolize our positive experiences in Thailand so far.
Today we traveled back to Bangkok where we boarded Oceania Cruises’ Nautica and settled in for the next 25 days. Tomorrow, we’ll tour the city.
April 4, 2013