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!
Well here I am in the very northern part of Thailand – close to the Laos and Myanmar borders and famous for elephants and opium production (in the last im assures). It is quite an artsy and artisan place which prompted me to visit The Black House. This is a collection of many black teak traditional Thai houses (well except when they are white ultra modern pods?) owned by a renowned Thai artist who is, to say the least, a bit offbeat.
From trad black
To modern white
I enjoyed the architecture of the exteriors and interiors.
And the Buddha’s and shrines inside and outside
The interiors are his eclectic collection of artifacts that inspire his art
Overall a very Thai (and non Thai) experience. Glad I went but it may not be for everyone.
Spending a few days with my mate Panadda in Bangkok and trying to do things I haven’t done here before. It is the run up to Chinese New Year so although the Thais have new year at a different time there is still a huge Chinese presence here and hence the malls (there are lots of those in Bangkok) and just about everywhere else is bathed in Chinese red lanterns. First I have to get through Valentine’s Day though – no comment!
On Day 1 I used the BTS (Bangkok Transit system) to get to the riverside. It is an overground rail system and far easier to get around on than the roads which are frankly just one large traffic jam. A tourist hop on and hop off riverboat trip costs Baht 180 and is a nice way to get to places you might want to visit here eg. the Grand Palace, the most famous Wats etc. I chose to get off at the Flower market – which also gives access to the Museum of Siam (more of that in next post). Like all cities on a river a boat trip is a handy way to get your bearings and get a feel for the place and the constant views of old temples amidst new skyscrapers.
I also visited Lhong1919 – this is also another place you can stop on the boat cruise although I visited on a different day. It is quite newly opened and for those who know Shanghai it is like a smaller (much smaller) version of Xintiandi. Old buildings by the river repurposed to shops, a shrine and cafes and restaurants – it feels restful and sits right on the riverside. Below are some shots at Lhong1919 including my half pint of latte (!) and a traditional Thai snack which is in effect roti bread, sprinkled with sugar and topped with condensed milk. Sadly it was rather delicious and I scarfed the lot ( I think it’s important to eat local fare).