Following on from some ideas I got via the Wanderlustplusone blog I was now in search of a real bamboo bridge across the rice paddies. These are easier said than found and my helpful taxi driver took me to the middle of nowhere – into the centre of the rice paddies after which we walked for ten minutes and I found my bridge. True it was broken and so didn’t actually go anywhere but it is an impressive piece of design and it was stable enough for me to walk out to the point at which it disappeared. My taxi driver came too as he had never seen one of these either – at least that’s what I think he said!
Firstly a drive through the rice paddies – to some astonished looks from the workers and everyone else who was on a bike or scooter.
And then the bridge
Then we made our way to the memorial for the heroic Vietnamese mother. Although I’d seen some photographs of it I was not prepared for the size of the memorial – which has the faces of women carved into it like Mount Rushmore (well except for the fact it is women only – yay!) or the lovely grounds in which it stood. Unfortunately the sun was in the wrong spot so it is hard to see the grandeur clearly – for best pics go in the morning.
When you go inside – it is free – you see various exhibits about women in Vietnam – unfortunately nothing in English yet but I thought these reliefs spoke for themselves about the variety of lives mothers in Vietnam have lived
One of my favourite travel blogs is wanderlustplusone.wordpress.com. I was perusing her site when I came across a few places she and her son had recently visited near Hoi An and so I decided to find them for myself. She had a number of ideas and the first one I sought out was the mural village – which is south of Hoi An and is called Tam Kay – xa Tam Thanh. It is about 45 minutes south of Hoi An on the coast and in a joint venture with Korea (not sure why them except that there are a lot of Korean visitors to this part of Vietnam) they decided to turn this village into a Centre for all kinds of murals. It is still virtually unknown – I only saw about 4 other western faces – which makes it even more interesting and it took the taxi driver a while to find it – but luckily al the people in the villages along the way proved very helpful in guiding us there.
The first things they started paining was the underside of the traditional fishing boats
Then they brightened up the actual houses in the village
And finally onto the murals
I love initiatives like this one – makes everyone who sees it smile and I suspect it won’t be so unknown for long
A few years ago I was lucky to be able to stay at the Nam Hai in Hoi An Vietnam. I went back to visit this week. The hotel is now owned by the Four Seasons and consists of villa only accommodation in 35 acres of understated but beautifully maintained grounds. It has its own Vietnamese cooking school and runs gravity defying yoga classes (think you hang from silk loops that fall from the ceiling?) – as you can see it is truly stunning (even on a cloudy day) and only 10 minutes from downtown Hoi An.
Nice to dream:)
Bit of history:
When you visit Thailand you always hear a lot about the revered Royal Family and especially the “Princess Mother”. She came from a very ordinary background but she was smart and had parents who educated her. She studied nursing and won a scholarship to study further in the US which is where she met the future King of Thailand. It was turbulent times and they lived outside of the country – various places in Europe – while they bought up their three children. The King died very young leaving her a widow at 29. She stayed in Europe and chose to bring up her children in as ordinary a way as possible while also ensuring they understood their heritage. She became fluent in English and French. Eventually her eldest son became King back in Thailand but he was assassinated so his younger brother became King unexpectedly – he is the one who was on the throne the longest of any royal and who died a couple of years ago. The Princess Mother came back to Thailand and especially focussed on regenerating the area around Chiang Rai (or the Golden Triangle). People there were poverty stricken, the forests were being pulled down and opium was grown for meagrely sums of money while many locals became inadvertently addicted to it as a means of escape from their desperate lives. She initiated many sustainable projects to change the shape of the region, removing opium, encouraging the replanting of trees and ensuring everyone had access to education and medical support.
Last time I was in Chiang Rai I visited the Opium Museum – it is about an hour from Chiang Rai – extraordinarily high tech and shows all the medical benefits as well as harsh realities of opium and how things have been turned around. Some of the docents are former addicts. I strongly recommend it.
This time I visited Dong Toi high up in the hills and at the confluence of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand- the temperature dropped from 34 degrees to a very pleasant 27 from the bottom to the top.
This is where the Princess Mother lived her last twenty years (she’d died aged 94) and includes access to her private villa (a pleasing mix of Lanna and Swiss design) as well as the stunning European style gardens built on a slope (kind of reminded me of Butchart Gardens in Vistoria, BC!) and a museum area called the Hall of Inspiration about the Princess Mother and her immediate family – really remarkably good. I’m a fan of hers. Go see it.
This is her villa and the views from it.
And the stunning park
As it’s a my final day in Chiang Rai need to give a call out to my lovely hotel – Le Meridien. Gorgeous and peaceful location on the river but an easy shuttle ride into the city.
Now heading back to Vietnam in search a local village with murals and a bamboo bridge.
Visited the newly renovated Museum of Siam. I enjoyed it but not for the reasons I thought I would. Actually this museum is firmly aimed at Thai youngsters and poses the question “what is Thainess” and how has that evolved? I guess the authorities felt the need to encourage young people here to understand their origins and the changes over the years to help them think about what makes them Thai. That in itself was interesting. Some of their take so “Thainess” is below!
A blessing of living and working all round the world is that I tend to know someonein most places. While in Bangkok I caught up with Panadda who I stayed with but also Chaitanya and Tani (former colleagues from ANZ) and we had a lovely evening dining by the river.
Finally a trip to Bangkok has to include shopping. This is truly a city of malls but also somewhere where “just looking” really means something. Being there on Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year meant that every mall was more decked out than usual. I really liked Zen Mall (very cool gadgets and they even sell drones as well as Emporium and Em Quartier. See what a mall should look like below
also many malls include a shrine nearby so you pray and shop within metres of each other
First time to visit the White Temple. It is surreal, spooky, unique, kitsch and beautiful all at same time! Definitely an important place to visit in Chiang Rai but beware the hordes other visitors and their selfie sticks.
And a bit of scary weirdness
And a bit of gold for good measure!
Nice to get out into the countryside in this area. First stop was Doi Din Dang Pottery. As it was a Saturday it was quiet as the workers who are normally there were off but that made it nicer to wander around and enjoy the different stages from clay to finished product.
Then off to one of the tiny villages inhabited by the Karen tribe women. I remember seeing pictures of them in National Geographic magazine as kid. They are the ones who wear neck rings as part of their cultural heritage. Once the rings are in place they cannot be removed or their necks would break. And they can only drink out of straws as they can’t tilt their heads backward. Sounds barbaric but they seem quite happy.
Went into Chiang Rai city in the evening. This involved an unexpected flower festival, typical Thai street food on every corner, colourful items for sale and a cat café. The latter appears to be a place that houses about a dozen cats just hanging out – but welllooked after – and you grab your coffee, go inside and pet a cat. It was quite popular. I declined!