Massages are a big deal in Thailand. We’d seen signs and brochures everywhere, often multiple storefronts per block. Prices varied wildly, with fancy places near expensive tourist hotels many multiples of the crazy-cheap prices quoted in small, local massage parlors. Some of these little places were “mass production” affairs where we could watch through windows or open walls as customers, side-by-side with each other in un-air-conditioned rooms, were manipulated and prodded… an experience which didn’t appeal in the least. Still, we wanted to try a real Thai massage and see just what that entailed. How was it different from a Swedish massage or an “massage with oil” which often cost twice the price of a “Thai massage”? We decided to dedicate some free time in Chiang Mai to finding out.
One thing we knew we wanted to do while in Thailand was attend a cooking school. After doing a little research, I’d decided Chiang Mai was the ideal place for this and had booked a day at Thai Orchid Cookery School before we left the States. Like so much on this trip that we planned in advance, there’s a sense of unreality when the day finally arrives…but here it was!
As promised, a brand new van arrived shortly after 9am to pick us up at our hotel. Another couple was already in the van and we picked up a third couple before continuing on the short distance to Thai Orchid which is located in the center-east of Old Chiang Mai. Cooking schools have boomed in Chiang Mai and there are a bewildering amount to choose from. I’d narrowed it down to two before picking Thai Orchid over a school far out of town located in a farm where you can pick fresh herbs. After all the driving we’d done the day before on our Doi Suthep-Blue Elephant day, I was happy with my choice. Moreover, Thai Orchid offered air-conditioned space for dining and classroom portions of the school, something the farm didn’t have.
Today was the day we ride elephants in the jungle! We’d booked this outing months ago, deciding on Blue Elephant tour on the recommendation of my niece-by-marriage, Christie. This was something we really wanted to do, but there are a lot of elephant tours in the area–some of questionable repute–so it was good to have real data we could trust. We wanted a private tour, caring treatment of the elephants and extended, quality time with them. Christie didn’t steer us wrong!
Our day started at 8:30am with a pick-up by private car at our hotel. Our driver and guide for the day, Zen, turned out to speak good English and we enjoyed visiting with him about Thailand, America and children. (He has a teenaged daughter and son so we spent some time discussing university and job opportunities and costs in our countries.) We had a full day scheduled with the elephants to come at the end.
Since our hotel, Rendezvous Classic House, is in the old city of Chiang Mai, we decided to spend our first full day here exploring some of the many Buddhist temples (wats) the city is famous for. A moat surrounds the brick walls of Old Chiang Mai, enclosing a maze of streets and narrow alleys. First impressions of this part of Chiang Mai were mixed as we discovered a serious shortage of sidewalks or safe places to walk, even on the main roads. Walking requires weaving around stalls, parked cars and scooters meaning you’re frequently walking among the swarming traffic. It’s hot, too. Still, we made our way to the first wat on our list, Wat Chedi Luang, without any real difficulty.
All good things must come to an end, and our time at Chiang Rai was one of those good things. We’d loved the Maryo Resort Hotel, we’d had fun at the night market, we’d had some really good and inexpensive meals, but it was time to move on. Maryo quickly booked us seats on a VIP bus leaving the next day. The nice lady at the front desk said they’d had trouble using credit cards online so she gave us a printout of our booking, loaned us a couple of bikes and sent us to a 7-11 a couple of blocks away. (It seems nearly everything can be done at a 7-11 in Asia!) We pedaled to the 7-11, showed our printout and paid our 516 baht ($14.74) for two tickets on an air conditioned motor coach. (The “tickets” were actually a cash register receipt stapled to our original printout.)
So we leave tomorrow on the trip that inspired me to start this blog: a 77-night ramble through Asia. This trip runs the gamut of lodging, transportation methods, and weather. It’s been a challenge to plan (and a challenge to pack for). We’re excited!
In a (large) nutshell, this trip includes:
- Our first trans-Pacific cruise [the Aleutians, northern Japan, Yokohama/Tokyo]
- 2 weeks in Japan [Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima island (where we’ll stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn), Fukuoka]
- a ferry to South Korea [Busan, a Buddhist temple stay, Seoul, the DMZ]
- a cruise from Shanghai to Singapore [Okinawa, Hong Kong, Chan May/Hoi An and Phu My/Ho Chin Mihn City, Vietnam]
- Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
- Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see Angkor Wat
- Luang Prabang, Laos
- a 2-day open-boat trip up the Mekong with a stop at some to-be-determined-when-we-get-there guesthouse in tiny Pakbeng, Laos
- 2.5 weeks in Thailand: Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai (a day with elephants and a Thai cooking school), Krabi (scuba diving the Phi Phi islands), the Bridge on the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi, Bangkok
- a 1st class mega-flight on Korean Air from Bangkok to Seoul to Dallas (courtesy of airline miles and credit card points, a favorite game of ours)
I’ve tried to anticipate the trickier bits and done an incredible amount of research, but I know there will be things I overlooked or had no way of knowing. There are liable to be things that don’t pan out as we’d hoped (or maybe don’t even pan out at all). It’s the nature of travel, and also part of what makes it exciting and interesting. And besides, I don’t want to plan every moment anyway. I intend to focus on experiencing the trip rather than documenting it, but I’ll blog about it when I can. Hopefully, there will be fun as well as useful info to share…and, no doubt, our portion of clueless-fools-in-a-strange-land moments. Wish us luck!