Thailand Tour 2019

Mike & Sandy flew to Shanghai on a brand-new China Eastern 777 -- very nice plane, and great service. (It's an interesting experience to be a few Caucasians in a group of 250 or so Chinese folks!) Shanghai's airport reminded us of the old Hong Kong airport - not enough gates for all the traffic, so our plane parked way out somewhere, and we climbed down to a waiting bus via a high shaky stairway. Shanghai is doubling the size of their airport, so that might fix this.

But the most memorable aspect of getting to Thailand was Bangkok airport where literally thousands of tourists arrived the same time as Sandy & Mike, and all shuffled along in an enormous line for over an hour while a few Immigration bureaucrats processed the passports.

Because the Thai King back in the 1800's wanted his kingdom to be more western, and had good relations with the British, everyone drives on the left in Thailand, and practically all road signs are in both Thai and English.

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Here's some pictures around Bangkok before our tour headed north. Our hotel was right beside the river, we saw lots of Buddha figures, toured some of the "shanty town" back streets of Bangkok (actually a series of canals), met some University graduates, visited a (sort of) floating market, saw preparaations for both the Thai New Year and the coronation of the new King, and visited the Grand Palace. Our last night we saw a high-tech production show about the history and customs of Thailand -- way more entertaining than its title might suggest.

At last we boarded a nicely appointed Volvo bus, and headed north. We spent two nights enroute to the mountainous part of Thailand, with stops at two UNESCO World Heritage sites, separated by a visit to a town over-run with monkeys. Sukhothai, the capital of the Kingdom of Siam from 1240-1350, and Ayutthaya, the capital from 1350 to 1550, are both in ruins, but easy to visualize.

Remember the movie "The King and I?" It's based on a true story of an English school teacher who came, with her young son Louis, to Bangkok in the 1860s as a tutor to the Thai King's children. Louis enjoyed Thailand enough to return as an adult and found a company that exported teak wood.

Back in the 12th - 14th centuries, Siam was to the south, Burma was to the north, Laos to the East, and in between was the little kingdom of Lanna, with two principal towns: Chiang Rai ("Chang Rye") and its capital, Chiang Mai ("Chang My"). It was regularly invaded by one or another of its neighbors, but today is part of Thailand.

We first arrived at Chiang Rai, the most northernly Thai town, and very near to the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (aka Burma) meet. The border crossing is, for lack of a better description, chaotic but fun. Nearby, we took a boat ride and saw one of the new casinos being built along the Mekong River by the Chinese,visited a village of one of the indigenous Hill Tribes people, and saw an enormous Buddha statue (you can go up in it, sort of like the Statue of Liberty). A novelty here: the shower enclosure in our hotel room was made entirely of teak wood - no tile or fiberglass in sight anywhere.

Chiang Mai is a city of 2 million people, much larger than the other cities in northern Thailand. On our way we saw in the hazy distance the mountain made famous last year as the site of the flooded cave where the boys soccer team had to be rescued. Down the road we made a rest stop at the humerous Cabbages and Condoms cafe, founded as part of a government effort to get Thai villagers to cut down their birthrate. At the umbrella factory, we saw a picture on the wall of Princess Dianna visiting, and then toured a shop where craftsmen were making amazing teak wood carvings. We took in a fun folkloric show that evening. The next day we visited yet another Buddhist Temple, with a novel feature; the associated university encourages monks to go out in the courtyard and chat with tourists. We walked by an art museum, and later came out for the night market (didn't live up to hype).

(Drum roll!) But maybe the most exciting thing in Chiang Mai was a visit was an elephant camp, where there are well-trained elephants (that accept tips), and Sandy and Mike made a new friend!

Our last night in Chiang Mai was lots of fun, with a hands-on Thai cooking class. We met the chef/teacher at a local market to learn about selecting the best ingredients, and then went to the school itself. We watched, and then cooked our own dinner -- which we then ate!

We spent a few days on Phuket, Thailand's biggest resort area, before flying home. Phuket suffered major damage in the tsunami of 2004; the movie "The Impossible," with Naomi Watts and Ewan mcGregor, tells the true story of a family caught up in the swirling water.

As it turned out, coming to Phuket wasn't the best end to our trip, with the hotel chosen by our tour company up on a cliff, with hundreds of steps everywhere -- not good for us older people, and the weather wasn't all that welcoming. But a bright spot was a day-long eco boat trip that saw us in sea canoes exploring islands jutting up out of the ocean. We also made flower memorials and floated them on the sea in a Thai ceremony celebrating nature's beauty and the New Year.

From Phuket, it was an hour's flight back to Bangkok, then 5 hours to Shanghai, and 12 hours over the Pacific back to LAX. (OK, there were some annoying layovers at the airports, too.) Because we came back across the International Date Line, we "gained" a day, so arrived at LAX the same day we left Thailand. A flight north on Southwest brought us back to the Bay Area and home.

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