Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chiang Rai

A couple of months back, Clare and I ducked up north for a long weekend to check out Chiang Rai province.

Chiang Rai would have to be one of my favourite destinations in Thailand for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the greenery was a welcome change from the Bangkok polution and concrete jungle - it was great to just look out the car window and see nothing but bush or rice paddies all the way to the horizon.

The diversity of the landscape kept Clare and I guessing - with the mountainous region in the west and flat rice fields in the east. Chiang Rai reminded me somewhat of the Northern rivers region of NSW, with the long lowland landscapes and hilly regions. Less hippies though.

I also loved the individual little villages and genuine culture - too often have I seen Thai's cash in on their country's cultural heritage...a bit like Rolf Harris selling albums to the poms! Clare and I felt lucky to see people working in the fields in their colourful traditional clothing, and the Chinese influence of migrant communities in the all seemed such a world away from the streets of Patong, Pattaya and Sukhumvit.

The area also has a rich history, being at the crossroads of trans-Asian trade for centuries. Most recently, the opium trade brought black prosperity to the people of the region, however this seems to have been thwarted, at least in Thailand, by concerted efforts by the Thai government, Royal family and international pressure.

So we hired a car, covering about 500km over three days of winding roads and pot holes like doorways to the depths of hell. We dodged herds of cattle, dudes in ramshackle tractors, random chickens crossing the road (there's got to be a joke there somewhere...) and of course full families on motorbikes.

We visited the Chinese migrant town of Mae Salong; Doi Tung, the mountaintop place of royal residence and religious focus, including the royal botanic gardens; the many small rural towns dotted around the provincial countryside; a random guy's farm, after getting a little sidetracked; and a national park just north of Chiang Rai city. There's a lot to be said as well for the many hours we spent just cruising around.

Somewhere in the Phu Chi Fa mountain range - the landscapes here were terrific, when Clare and I were driving through, wispy clouds were rising through the range as the morning woke up. What was previously opium country, fruit, coffee and macadamia nuts are now grown in the area. Note the small rain shelter here used by workers during heavy storms.

Another shot of some of the mountain ranges Clare and I drove through. Pretty sweet.

Closeup shot of one of the flowers at the Mae Fah Luang botanic gardens on Doi Tung. The gardens were terrifically landscaped - rainforest, roses, water-flora, an orchid farm and a cracking little cafe among other things. Mum, you would have absolutely loved the rose garden - was about the size of a football field.

Clare smelling the roses.

It rained a bit when we visited the province, and I loved it.

Why bother with an umbrella when you can just stick a plastic bag on your head?

Driving around some of the lowlands. In the background you can see rice paddies stretching out into the mountains. Whilst this particular photo doesn't really do it justice, the colour of the paddies was breathtaking, reminscent of Young in canola season.


Clare and I with the Jazz in front of a great statue of Buddha. This photo was taken up near the junction of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand - AKA 'Golden Triangle'.

Looking down the Mekong toward Laos.

Navigating in Thai script was a growth experience.

Rice paddy and rain shelter.

German backpacker?? Ya - das vatervall iss goot.

The Khun Kon waterfall in one of Chiang Rai's national parks - it was a really great little trek up to see this one, Clare loved it. As we got higher in elevation the flora changed...there were also heaps of small insects and butterflies, indicating the area is still in pretty good nick.

Click the images for a higher-res, more detailed look at some of the landscapes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My birthday cake

Clare took me out for a delicious meal tonight at an Australian-owned wine bar / restaurant for my birthday. On the menu was a blood orange cocktail, a wonderful glass of Sicilian Syrah, white wine poached chicken and avocado, pork fillet with stewed spiced apple and port-soaked cranberries, and as pictured - pavlova with banana and passionfruit!


Happy birthday to me!

My friend Bonnie sent this YouTube video through to me for my our birthday - classic!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Just another Saturday night in the soi

Our new apartment is in a soi (street) which also houses Wat Phra Si Maha Umathewi, built in the 1860s by Tamil immigrants and one of Bangkok's most revered Hindu temples. The Central Asian population in my area is the mainstay of the temple community, while others come from all over Bangkok to worship.

Last night was pretty standard for the soi, with thousands of people converging on the temple to celebrate Diwali.

A cloud of incense and wafts of rosewater filled the air, while a percussion band kept the vibe going with their tribal beats. The flowers and offerings were pretty cool, with all manner of garlands, Bualuang (lotus), coconuts, bananas, food and even what looked to be a glass of coke (your kind of deity Angus). Firecrackers were going off until about 1am.

I was up at 7am this morning to go for a run with a mate and amazingly the soi was spotless. There always seems to be something to celebrate at temple, so by now the cleanup goes like clockwork!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The bachelor

So Clare’s been away now for about two weeks, acting as Maid of Honour at her friend Chrissie’s wedding (last Saturday); meeting the newest edition to the O’Connor clan, young Will; hanging out with her family in Tregeagle and Byron; and now traipsing around the South Australian countryside with the wonderful Mariani family, sampling the best wine the region has to offer.

She’s back next Wednesday evening.

So what’s life been like without her around? Let’s do a quick reflection exercise:

  • Pizza delivered for dinner. Three times.
  • Post-work DVD delight in the fine works of Seagal, Willis and Stallone.
  • Underwear everywhere.
  • Toilet seat fixed in the upright position.
  • No early-morning teaching-hour wakeups.
  • No express shuttles late on a Saturday night from the grog-house to the dog-house.
Of course, not all is rosy, and our new place can be pretty empty without an extra body floating around. Looking forward to when she gets home…although I might have a bit of work ahead of me this weekend to get everything back in shape!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The security of tomorrow's Thailand

I attended a small Australian Chamber of Commerce luncheon today about the ‘certainty and uncertainty of Thai politics’, presented by the Editor-in-Chief of the Bangkok Post/Post Today - what’s for certain is that I am even more confused!

I sat next to Natchaon, a young Thai woman who is currently completing her second masters degree. Khun Natchaon is studying consumer behaviour specifically relating to home and personal security (random!). Some of her interim findings were interesting from a sociological perspective…

Over this way ‘luck’ and ‘karma’ provide ways for Thais to order and explain life’s events. If, for instance, you are hit by a motorbike on your way to work, a traditional Thai would explain it as an imbalance of bad karma – doing too many bad things, or not enough of the good. To counter this imbalance, many Thais ‘make merit’ by giving to the poor, helping monks etc. It’s all part of the social fabric over here.

Despite this, Khun Natchaon found respondents to have differing attitudes to personal and home security, largely based along generational lines.

Those up to the age of 30 tended to be more inclined to purchase personal security products. Those aged over 30 were not so inclined to purchase products like home CCTV or electronic access, as they believe an instance of home robbery (‘bad luck’) is an uncontrollable occurrence directly resulting from their own karma inaction, thus a bad way to spend their money.

Why is this interesting?

It shows that for good or bad, Thailand’s next generation (middle class and up) are changing the way Thai’s frame their lives. The next generation are becoming more proactive in taking control of their life, which will no doubt flow into issues of politics and democracy, consumerism, the relevance of Buddhism, the family unit, socialism vs capitalism, and the monarchy.

Thailand will be very different in twenty years time…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Samui

This is a quick pic taken last month in Samui the day after the adventure race.

As recovery, I decided to go on a snorkeling tour of some of the outlying islands. A lovely day, the swim was good, but the array of sea life where we went had nothing on Koh Chang in April this year.

You may also notice I got a wee bit burnt the day before! More on the adventure race later...