thailand

Two Years in Thailand, in Ten (plus) Photos

Back in November 2012, I was escaping the rains and cold of Europe to a backpacking trip in Southeast Asia. Guess my plan was to spend a winter here and return to check job markets in Spring. Little did I know then that trip would last this long, today is my last day of that journey.

I lived and worked in Chiangmai, north Thailand and kept the camera clicking as much as I had energy and inspiration. Here is bigger album of photos during this time. Bellow are ten selected ones that am considering to reflecting the experience and life best.

Chiang_Mai_3536
Chiangmai is characterised by a large mountain called Doi Suthep. Mountain is a natural park, has two interesting hill tribe villages, and a famous monastery with beautiful views to surrounding region. Here’s city seen from the top of mountain.

Chiang_Mai_3641
Happy seller, tired seller.

Chiang_Mai_3839
“I really like this Ranger’s shirt”

Chiang_Mai_4281
Celebrating the birthday Thailands revered old King is one of big occasions in December.

Kanchanaburi_4387
Central west of Thailand. The bridge over river Kwai, built by Japanese during the war, and using forced labor.

Kanchanaburi_4321
Another view of river Kwai bridge.

Bangkok_4345
Yellow shirt street protest in Democracy Monument, Bangkok. Military coup would follow the months long clash between red and yellow shirts in 2014.

Chiang_Rai_4524
Monks and famous White Temple of Chiang Rai.

Chiang_Rai_4516
Same temple in a early morning mist.

Chiang_Rai_4551
Big boa of Black House in Chiang Rai. I almost stumble on its head, while not paying attention of what’s on ground.

So, that’s it. Ten pictures. Thank you for watching 🙂

(I post bellow couple more for those who might be interested)

Chiang_Mai_4042
Another reptile I would surely stepped on (with flip flops), unless warned by a friend.

Chiang_Mai_0048
Fortune teller, and listener. Chiangmai Chinatown.

Chiang_Mai_0022
“We work hard, play hard, work hard, play hard…”

Chiang_Mai_Hill_Tribe_Trek_0764
Rice paddies…

Chiang_Mai_Hill_Tribe_Trek_0857
and planter. Rice planting is actually back breaking hard work, but smile never disappear from Thai’s.

(OK I should be stopping. But few more still…)

Chiang_Mai_1343
Hill tribe games, spectators.

Chiang_Mai_1358
Hill tribe games, players.

Chiang_Mai_1371
Hill tribe games, impact.

Chiang_Mai_1355
Hill tribe games, the finale. Players show amazing skill and force when they are whisking the wooden disks and try keep them rolling longer than the opponent!

Chiang_Mai_0773
I call this shot Horse Muay Thai. Horse Thai boxing!

Chiang_Mai_2094
Anything is possible in Chinatown.

Chiang_Mai_2121
Violin player, and young admirer. Chiangmai Saturday street. Saturday and Sunday streets are every week occurrence in downtown. Its mainly geared towards tourists, but are lively sight also for locals.

Phanom_Rung_1180
Phanom Rung. An old Khmer ruin in central east of Thailand, near Cambodian border. Prasat Phnom Rung, was an important Khmer city on the road between Angkor and Phimai, during the reign of Khmer Empire (802–1431 ad).

Phanom_Rung_1181
Long corridor that’s purpose has been speculated. One suggests that it was used by Khmer royals during religious ritual’s.

Phu_Chi_Fa_trip_0894
North Thailand offers some beautiful mountain and valley vistas, especially captivating during sun rise and set. Two photographers in Phu Chi Fa.

Phu_Chi_Fa_trip_0910
Phu Chi Fa.

Allright. I didn’t count how many photos where there. Obviously, just a brief glimpse of what all is there. Everyone should go visit central and north Thailand as well, not head just beaches in south!

Burmese History in Chiangmai

Arrived few days ago to Myanmar (Burma) and am working on material about that. But this post is about Chiangmai in Thailand (Siam). Was surprised to learn about my old home town being part of both countries over the course of history.

History in brief

Visitors of today in north Thailand probably come across the term Lanna or Lan Na. Lanna was independent medieval Tai kingdom (Tai are people speaking same family of languages, Thai being someone from Thailand). Its capital moved few times, but eventually Chiangmai, the New City, was founded 1296 by King Mengrai.

2015-05-31 02.01.11 1
Lanna mural in temple wall in Nan

Perhaps not as many are aware for over 200 year Burmese influence. Burmese rule in the region started 1558 when King Bayinnaung occupied Lanna and subdue it to his vassalage. Many other kingdoms would follow, eventually Bayinnaung’s empire would stretch from modern day Bangladesh to Cambodia, see: map.

Andrew Forbes & David Henley, The Khon Muang: People and Principalities of Northern Thailand:

Unlike the Siamese of central Thailand, the people of Lan Na do not retain bitter memories of the Burmese conquest. Judging by the histories, when a suzerain was just and his rule generous, the Khon Muang (Lanna people) would support him even against Siamese

IMG_8447~2~2
Burmese and Siamese main battle tanks in action

Later, continuous conflicts would empty Burmese war chest, resulting a heavy taxation and worsening relations. Burmese lost control entirely when Lanna rose to revolt with the help of Siamese 1775. Independence wasn’t to be anymore, and Burmese were replaced by Siamese with Bangkok as their new capital.

So if Burmese had over 200 years of influence in Chiangmai, they must have left a mark that is still recognisable? Both countries are Theravada Buddhist countries, and if people loved to do something in the old times, they loved to build religious buildings. In Chiangmai, people built stupas (chedi), temples and monasteries (wat), and city said to have almost as many of them as 50-times bigger Bangkok.

After a bit of research, I jumped on a scooter and drove to the city to find about its Burmese connection.

Chiang_Mai_0082

Wat Myanmar, south-east corner of old city – I cruise to the yard early, before monks alms walk had begun. Pack of wat dogs (monks pet them, but don’t really train them to behave) started getting territorial. Luckily someone at temple was also awake and sweeping the yard. He hushed the dogs silent. Wat is fine example of a 19th century Burmese temple which would not look out of place in Mandalay. It is mainly associated with the lowland Burman tradition in the city, and pictures of the Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon can be seen on the walls.

Chiang_Mai_0069

Chiang_Mai_0072
Time seems to have frozen in Wat Myanmar

Wat Ku Tao. Remains of Tharawadi Min, the Burmese Prince of Chiangmai and son of Bayinnaung. In 1607 the Prince died after a reign of nearly twenty-eight years, his ashes are said to be buried in Wat Ku Tao.

Chiang_Mai_0110
In Wat Ku Tao

Chiang_Mai_0111

Kawila’s lions, Khuang Singh, or “Place of Lions”. This was erected by Chao Kavila at the end of the 18th century, when rebuilding of depopulated city had started. Some say lions are symbol of power designed to overawe the armies of Burma, in case they choose to try occupation again. Superstition played big part in everyones lives during those years, but would two stone lions really stop an army is everyone to judge by themselves. Lucky for lions, their test never came: by early 19th century Burmese threat in the region disappeared, when it in turn end up being occupied by the British Indian Empire.

Chiang_Mai_0115

“Chedi Khao”, or “White Chedi” is on the bank of the river Ping. It is a round-base cone shaped chedi, 6 meters wide ad 8 meters high. The body is covered with smooth cement with no decorative patterns. It is painted in white.

Chiang_Mai_Panorama

Legend was told that once a Burmese King led his troops to surround the city and challenged the ruler of Chiang Mai to bring the best diver to compete with the Burmese. His deal was if the Chiang Mai diver could stay under water longer than his, he and his army would return home. “Lung Piang” an old man volunteered to compete and the ruler of Chiang Mai accepted him. The two rulers agreed to hold the competition near the area where the chedi is situated now. They had two poles posted in the river at a distance. When the two army commanders were seated and the divers waited at the post, the generals signaled for the contestants to start diving. So much time passed and the people started to feel uneasy. Finally one of the divers came up to breath. He was the Burmese representative. The people on the Chiang Mai side were relieved and waited for their hero to come up to declare victory. Time passed; so long that it was clear that Chiang Mai had won the victory so the ruler sent his men down to tell the old man. The men returned and reported that Lung Piang could not return. He had sacrificed himself for the city. He tied himself to the post and was drowned in the river. As a monument for his bravery, the ruler commanded a chedi to be built at the Ping River bank.

(from link)

Warorot Market near White Chedi, by the river Ping. Visitor can try a Burmese cheroot from market supplies. Here too one may find a wide selection of lungyi—sarongs—from Mandalay, Lashio and even Mytkyina. There are also fresh/dried fruit, vegetables, flowers, butchery and bakery items, herbs, condiments, clothing, shoes, cosmetics, jewellery, lacquerware, silks, hemps, handicrafts, ceramics, wood carvings, beauty supplies, household appliances, electronic gadgets, sunglasses, watches, souvenirs, fireworks…

Chiang_Mai_0148
Other of the two big market halls of Warorot

Chiang_Mai_0153
Best Sai Oua, or northern Thai sausage can be found from Warorot Market

Ps. my Burmese Days (and Thai) are over now, and am moving Europe. I lived over two years in Chiangmai and will definitely want to go back one day. The region has its unique qualities that am already missing. Different that of south Thailand or Bangkok region for instance.

Songkran Ride: Mae Hong Son loop

Mae Hong Son loop is name for set of scenic serpentine roads crossing hills and valleys of north west corner of Thailand. Loop starts and ends to Chiangmai, the second largest city after capital Bangkok. There are several route options one can choose. This link describes the loop more in detail. I followed Pai, Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang route with a friend year ago, but switched Mae Sariang this time to Mae Chaem. This turned out to be good idea as views were better and could more easily visit Doi Ithanon, the highest point in the country.

Location history from the trip
Route as my phone recorded it (for some reason Google had determined farthest distance being 88.095 miles. Route in total is about 500-600km)

Infrastructure is well developed and guesthouses can easily be found all along the route. And, occasionally fascinating restaurant or coffee shop too. These services are best in Pai and Mae Hong Son, but are not nonexistent elsewhere either. Compared to its neighbours, Thailand have had more time and better resources to improve its road network. For most part road was in good condition. Driving style is “interesting” to be put mildly. Car drivers generally consider bikers as their inferiors, that stay away and give way when needed. This can be seen especially on big highways, but sometimes on smaller roads as well. After 10am to around 4pm, especially now when rain season had not started yet, sun can be tormenting. Good sun glasses and lotion are a must!

Songkran
What is Songkran, is best illustrated with photos 🙂

Songkran

Am big camera and photo nut and would normally take real camera with me. But as it was Songkran, the Thai new year, the water splashing is guaranteed everywhere from big cities to small roads in the middle of nowhere. So decided to keep electronics at minimum, and just use smartphone for everything. Same device is invaluable these days with maps, routes and location tracking. And searching information about guesthouses.

Honda and road

For the transport, chose my 150cc Honda PCX. Its not torque oozing touring bike, but rather just a big scooter. I found it enough for one person to pull up the mountains. Tank is big enough for about one to two hundred kilometres, while the engine is not as thirsty as in bigger bikes. Compartment under the seat takes helmet plus stuff such as clothes, sandals etc. Dedicated box behind the seat wound improve the storage abilities even further. I tried 300cc “jumbo scooter” Honda Forza few months ago, and for two persons would not choose anything smaller in Mae Hong Son. Many locals and tourists alike wont care, and storm around with their 110cc Scoopy’s and Fino’s. Going by car would obviously be safest, and with aircon, one does not have to care about scorching sun. But because road is so curvy, one has to have a good stomach. Knowing breaking techniques is also mandatory, as overheated breaks loose their grip. Least on personal preference, good curvy roads on nice warm weather are so much more enjoyable on two wheels that decision was easy.

Views at Mae Hong Son

Region is Himalayan foothills that span across North Burma, Thailand, Laos and Yunnan in South China. Region was largely unknown to the world until 19th century, and plurality of ethnics that populate region is stunning. Different hill tribes live in countryside, their remote villages can be accessed by hiring a local travel agent or self-searching the information. I did three village trips to Kayan (Karenni) villages. They are also known as “long neck women”, because of their custom for women to wear brass rings around their neck. There are several theories why this became to be. One is that rings were intended to make women look less attractive, for raiding parties from neighbouring tribes. Other is that rings were intended as protection against tigers, the beast biting to neck of its prey. Third is that they were meant as protection against evil spirits. Am sure there is also fourth and fifth theory at least. Before there were any border demarcated between Burma (Myanmar) and Siam (Thailand), hill tribes moved freely in the region and Thailand has its own ethnic minorities. But today most Kayan people here are refugees from purges by military junta in neighbouring Burma.

Sign to Kayan village

Crossing the river to Kayan village

Crossing the river to Kayan village

Huai Sua Tao is most easily found and accessible, south west from Mae Hong Son centre. Only about 20-30 minutes drive. Its also smallest and most touristy, entry fee is 250 Thai Baht at the time of writing. Women are selling souvenirs for visitors.

In Kayan village

In Kayan village

In Kayan village

Second village is more genuine, and north west of Mae Hong Son centre called Ban Nai Soi. Drive there takes bit of road manoeuvring skill. Road is usable only with dirt bikes during monsoon season. Some locals felt even surprised me showing up one late afternoon.

In Kayan village

In Kayan village

In Kayan village

The best experience was to village of Nam Phiang Din, further south west from first village. It stands beside river Mae Pai that crosses the border nearby. To visit the village, one has to cross the river with help of locals. Entry costs 200 Baht plus 20 Baht for the boat men. Village is biggest than two earlier, has genuine feel in it. People are doing other things there, rather than just wait tourists to show up. Dogs seemed to roam everywhere, which at night time can a surprise. Children were playing on mud streets, adults minding their businesses such as fixing boats, carrying fire wood and caring their young ones. Chicken and pigs were doodling about as well. This meditating place would be good choice, when wanting to escape hectic city life for a moment.

In Kayan village

Village church
While Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, work of Christian missionaries in 19th century can still be seen in hill tribes

Had strong rain shower when heading up to Doi Ithanon, as last part of my trip. While feeling wet and cold, rain also cleared temples from tourists and had nice moments reading about Buddha in silence.

Doi Ithanon

Seasons of Southeast Asia – in Orwells Words

Its now hot season in Thailand. George Orwell describes Northern Burma where he lived, but his lively description applies to here and Laos as well. Quotes are from book Burmese Days, first published in 1934.

Pai_4098

Every year from February to May the sun glared in the sky like an angry god, then suddenly the monsoon blew westward, first in sharp squalls, then in a heavy ceaseless downpour that drenched everything until neither one’s clothes, one’s bed nor even one’s food ever seemed to be dry. It was still hot, with a stuffy, vaporous heat. The lower jungle paths turned into morasses, and the paddy-fields were wastes of stagnant water with a stale, mousy smell. Books and boots were mildewed. Naked Burmans in yard-wide hats of palm-leaf ploughed the paddy-fields, driving their buffaloes through knee-deep water. Later, the women and children planted the green seedlings of paddy, dabbing each plant into the mud with little three-pronged forks. Through July and August there was hardly a pause in the rain. Then one night, high overhead, one heard a squawking of invisible birds. The snipe were flying southward from Central Asia. The rains tailed off, ending in October.

Sukhothai_2482

Chiang_Mai_3471

Sukhothai_2393

The fields dried up, the paddy ripened, the Burmese children played hop-scotch with gonyin seeds and flew kites in the cool winds. It was the beginning of the short winter, when Upper Burma seemed haunted by the ghost of England. Wild flowers sprang into bloom everywhere, not quite the same as the English ones, but very like them—honeysuckle in thick bushes, field roses smelling of pear-drops, even violets in dark places of the forest. The sun circled low in the sky, and the nights and early mornings were bitterly cold, with white mists that poured through the valleys like the steam of enormous kettles. One went shooting after duck and snipe. There were snipe in countless myriads, and wild geese in flocks that rose from the jeel with a roar like a goods train crossing an iron bridge. The ripening paddy, breast-high and yellow, looked like wheat. The Burmans went to their work with muffled heads and their arms clasped across their breasts, their faces yellow and pinched with the cold. In the morning one marched through misty, incongruous wilderness, clearings of drenched, almost English grass and naked trees where monkeys squatted in the upper branches, waiting for the sun. At night, coming back to camp through the cold lanes, one met herds of buffaloes which the boys were driving home, with their huge horns looming through the mist like crescents. One had three blankets on one’s bed, and game pies instead of the eternal chicken. After dinner one sat on a log by the vast camp-fire, drinking beer and talking about shooting. The flames danced like red holly, casting a circle of light at the edge of which servants and coolies squatted, too shy to intrude on the white men and yet edging up to the fire like dogs. As one lay in bed one could hear the dew dripping from the trees like large but gentle rain. It was a good life while one was young and need not think about the future or the past.

Chiang_Rai_4551

Chiang_Mai_4266

Chiang_Mai_3930

End of Backpacking

Aug 4 2013 — Deep cloudless skies are ceiling Paris, merry tourists from around the world are discovering the Europe’s top holiday destination. Looking people sunbathing at the parks of Louvre and river banks of Seine, its hard to remember to the chilling and muddy weathers of my previous visit in Dec 2011. Back then I was stopping while on transit to India, little knowing what was still ahead. Now am having similar stopover here, for a second journey to Thailand.

Paris_3206

Paris_3100

My three year long university of life is over now, and backpack will be used as a storage in the basement instead lugging stuff around. In a few weeks am beginning to work in Chiangmai, North Thailand, and live with girl am very fond of. The journey has teach me a lot about world, people, myself. It has given time to reflect past occurrences of life. Things that seemed to be so important before the journey, does so little today. Resignation from egoistic aspirations and material things, over simple (and cheesy) 🙂 things in life that are the best. Love, friendship, spontaneous smile on strangers face, health, funny joke, Tom Yam soup, good book… Am humble of having had the opportunity: 10 month round the world trip, winter in India and then another in South East Asia + many places in between. It hasn’t been continuous fireworks and “a blast”, but often rough road as well. Moments of loneliness. Desperation of arriving late to some mega city without any idea where to head next. Helplessness of watching relatives getting older and weaker. Nagging feeling how my savings will outlast the travel. I was never so seriously ill or had accident that would have required visit to doctor. Never threatened with violence anywhere, but was robbed once while sleeping (lost old travel computer and phone). My credit card was duplicated once and was used to steal little money. All in all, with these dues I paid, many things could have gone much worse so have to be thankful.

Am not resigning my little blog though, there are still plenty of unedited photos and stories to be added. And who knows, perhaps journey can continue in some form, some day. One thing that hasn’t changed (read: still haven’t learned anything). Just like last time, am lugging hefty SLR + lenses in the long boulevards of Paris. Pain in my shoulders has been a true French deja vu! @ Paris

Paris_3065

Paris_3045

Aug 11 2013 — Rainy season is washing over Thailand, and many Thai’s are worried if rivers stay inside their normal channels. Massive floods two years ago halted factories in Bangkok, and are still in good memory. My travel bags are unpacked and things sorted out now. Its hard to comprehend not having to wake up anymore in the middle of the night, and lug all my worldly possessions on my back to some train station or bus terminal… looking after bullying stray dogs or drunks on the way. But with all its hurdles, backpacking can be so addictive experience that some fell for it rest of their lives. My trip has had permanent effect on me. Even if not going on road anymore, will be a backpacker by heart forever. @ Chiangmai

Third Christmas on Road

Two years ago I was freezing in Osaka Japan. Year ago awing the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra India and now wandering the old city of Chiang Mai, North Thailand.

Dec 24 2010 — Merry Christmas from Osaka, Japan!

Heavy rain clouds are swaying over city as am doing my first wanderings near hotel in Tennoji area. Weather in coast has been little warmer than in Kyoto. Train took about an hour, all the way through urban sea of buildings, roads, bridges etc. The second most populated metropolitan area of Japan.

Was bit surprised how well one can manage with English here, compared what the reputation is (hard). All larger street names and metro lines are small printed in English, as well as restaurant menus, adds, slogans, brands.. People often speak least word or two. European like division younger generations being more fluent speakers than older ones does not seem to exist.

RTW_Osaka_0125

RTW_Osaka_0037

Watching people at street, shops etc. people feel a bit reserved, compared to, say, spontaneous and always laughing Africans. Its hard to get smiles back on the street. But once contact is made, and “ice broken”, Japanese do not hide their curiosity. And after knowing even better, not their feelings either. Code of hospitality and manners are also quite unique and bit funny for stranger. When passing by street construction for instance, there is usually one worker, an older man in his blue working clothes and a helmet, guiding pedestrians very politely, nodding, smiling and waving to the safe passage. Even if there is no car coming either direction! @ Osaka

Dec 24 2011 — Merry Christmas from Agra! Am stucked, it seems, to city of Taj Mahal. Trains are packed this time of year, and trying get next train to Mumbai, am only on waiting list at number 26th. Indian railway booking on small stations is ordeal of unique kind. Usually booking window has half circle of travel agent guys overtaking everybody else, coming and going, talking each other and phone, arguing and yelling with the booking officer behind the window. Behind this half circle is normal queue of other people, hoping some miracle of getting their turn with ticket buying. To avoid the hassle, one can buy tickets in advance from big stations like Delhi. Or pay some extra (though not what they ask at first) for travel agent to buy ticket either from net or the station. Takes bit of practice, but after a while, using trains in India is no issue at all.

Agra_1591

Agra_1638

Went to see today Taj Mahal. What a breath taking sight! Of course not only foreign travelers want to see Taj, but Indians from all around the big country as well. Inside the mausoleum where Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal are resting, queues and rushing was just crazy. But marble jewel of Taj Mahal still took breath away from this visitor! I tried to schedule visit at sunset for the best light, and it worked. Cloudless evening sky was giving beautiful orange and purple hues to white marbled buildings. That was the Christmas this year for me. Wonder how it will be in 2012, hopefully with friends and family, with nice ham and other Christmas delicacies. @ Agra

Dec 24 2012 — Missing traditional Christmas foods and seeing relatives, but other than that not much. Definitely not the weather! My Thai visa is almost over, so walked to bus station and bought ticket to Laos border. Tomorrow, not a single regular bus. So am going 26th and visa ends 27th. Bus should arrive to border little before it closes at afternoon, so lets see what happens. Busses can go all the way to Luang Prabang, but decided to be bit adventurous and take a boat on Mekong river from border to city, slow one, two days on river. Thats the plan at least!

Chiang_Mai_6821

Chiang_Mai_6688

Been enjoying my time here in Chiang Mai, visiting water falls, parks on the hills covered by lush forests and saw also fascinating old ruins of Wiang Kum Kam where Lanna king first found the capital for his kingdom, some 800 years ago. Location wasn’t very very good one. After 15 years from of its founding, flooding river buried it to thick mud. So city was rebuilt to current place. Pretty expensive and laborious trial and error for ancient city planners! What todo this Christmas here? Probably go see new Hobbit movie with a friend. Christmas dinner will be big bowl of steaming hot delicious Thai pork noodle soup, very spicy! Merry Christmas! @ Chiang Mai

Backpacker Ghettos or Meccas

Main Bazar Rd Delhi

Its either, depending your preferences. I love them! Three best ones I have visited are Big Bazaar Road in New Delhi, Khao San Road in Bangkok and Thamel in Kathmandu. My first visit was in the last one, arrived Kathmandu at night and got taxi to hostel through sleeping, dark city at early morning hours. Next day after sleeping jet-lag off, I walked into a noisy chaos of people, animals, scooters, cars all blended to one living mass on narrow and dirty roads. I got complete culture shock, never ever experienced anything like that! Honestly felt like running back in, hide from it!

RTW_Kathmandu_8171

While Thamel is whole area of old town, two others are streets, spreading to side streets and neighborhood. All have multitude of street shops, hawkers of varying degree of pushiness and skills of convincing you buy their product. Hostels are plenty but don’t expect to find Hilton and likes from among them! Cockroaches, rats and other funny pets are part of the bunch. So how can anyone willingly stay in such places, like them? For me its the Asian atmosphere, mix of cultures and races, total world apartness from sterile and over planned West, multitude of photo opportunities. Most interesting people, other backpackers you can find from there. All the life and creatures passing in front of your very eyes, its mind-bogling! Thats why. @ Bangkok.

Bangkok_6082