18 November 2009

Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

Hearing: Death Cab For Cutie - Meet Me On the Equinox

"If you have been to Chiang Mai but haven't been to Doi Suthep then you haven't been to Chiang Mai..." At least that's what my tour guide said. And I'm not inclined to disagree...see what you think.

Doi Suthep - Located on a peak overlooking the city, Doi Suthep is beautiful. Avoid the crowds and go at sunset or just after. The monks chanting echos through the small temple grounds and the view at night is very calming. The steps to the top require some energy...but its well worth it.

Day Tour - Doi Inthanon National Park

First stop: Wachiratharn Waterfall

Next, the White Karen Hilltribe:

There are several Karen tribes in Chiang Mai, the White Karen hill tribe is so called because all the young unmarried girls wear white. Only after they are married do they wear colour. They have a small 'church' and school and their houses are made from pretty basic material - the 5th photo shows the 'rich family home' because its made with actual wood compared to those made from bamboo and big leafs. The top (if memory serves me correctly is usually for the kitchen and sleeping, the space under the house is to keep the animals and serves as a sitting area during the day. They have their own rice field that is watered by water from a nearby waterfall. The 2nd photo is a bin believe it or not. I saw a lot of these around Chiang Mai. They are made from recycled tyres.

Unlike other tours to local tribes i heard about this is pretty authentic. There are no kids running up to you begging for money, no stalls trying to sell things to any visitors, just the village. It does make some money but in a less in-your-face way. They hand make and sell scarves, local dress and bed sheets/spreads. There is a little hut where they work and keep their wares for sale, but you wouldn't know its there if you don't walk in to look around. I bought a scarf (and till now i wish id bought more than one) which had a purple and black pattern and was really soft. It takes them 3 days to make (see the lady in the first photo) and they sell it for 200bhat - that's less than 8 dollars!!

I really enjoyed this part of the tour.

Third stop: Royal Garden Sirbhumi

The story here goes that this whole area used to be opium fields and the King decided to get rid of them but his people wouldn't have a way to support themselves as they only knew how to grow and harvest opium. So he set them up to farm vegetables and flowers (not opium poppy) and even said he would buy some of their harvest each year. Now travelling through the area you can see fields and fields of vegi farms - during the monsoon season they are covered in plastic to prevent excess watering (see 6th photo). This garden was built around that time and its beautiful.

Lunch break:

The King and Queen Twin Chedis

The Kings Chedi was built before the Queens (but the queens is by far more decorative and pretty). The grounds are landscaped and if you plan to visit, be prepared to get wet and bring a jacket. I was there not 3 minutes before a mist (or it could have been a cloud even given how high up we were) blanketed the area and you could only see white.

Last stop, the highest point in Thailand

To the right of where I'm standing in the photo there is a track which funnily enough leads to higher ground where you can find the Chedi in the second photo - the small square stone in front of it marked the 'old' highest point.

There are a lot of natural flora and fauna and the little guy in the third photo was just as inquisitive about me and the rest of the tour group as we was about him! He and a few other birds came to see us on our coffee break at the end of the tour and they came quite close!


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