Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nov 8 - 9 To Chiang Mai, Thailand

On the nightflight to Bangkok, Thai Airlines offers dinner that is a very civilized affair even in economy class with cloth napkins, metal forks (plastic knives) and a bottomless little glass of red or white followed by a port, cognac or coffee apperitif. No nickel & diming. Very few actually choose the alcohol options, I’d like to point out, so I’m sure the added cost of perhaps an average $3/head is well worth the value of high regard for the offer! We have just the right amount of time in Bangkok to stretch our legs, find a snack, and, for my part, admire the calligraphic Thai on airport signage, and promising translations on two airport billboards touting “Generousity” and “Gentleness”.

It’s a 1 hour jump on a packed plane larger than the international flight to Chiang Mai - a smallish city - bustling with life. Ensconced in hundreds of kilos of baggage which insulate us in an AC coccoon from the Thai heat, we all are glued to the sights. Jet lagged brain & buried camera prevented photos, but we were barraged in a traffic of scooters, mopeds, taxis, tuk-tuks and smiles. It seems the entire city has opened its collective door and is spilling onto the roadside. In fact, in most cases, there is no door at all. One market after another sits astride the street, tables overflowing with colorful produce and fresh fish, snacks, patties, brochettes of all manner. A flow of vendors & pedestrians blends through our windows as we wind out into the countryside.

The city falls away and villages quickly dwindle to just a couple as we near voluptuous, jungled hills, and, finally, (thanks to the production) the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai. We are greeted with lovely jasmine necklaces, endless smiles and breathtaking views. The area is so stunning and perfect with stream-inlaid jungle gardens, elegant bovines, and rice paddies sculpted into the valley that I double-check that the resort isn’t a little “Disney-fied” for tourists. The charming tennis pro, Leslie, who has offered to show us around, assures us that no - this is, in fact, real Thailand.

We have a few hours to get our feet under us before heading to the night market back in Chiang Mai. The markets, we’re told, tend to strategically occur in the morning or evening - bookending the notorious steamy daytime temperatures. The Sunday Night Market is essentially a locals affair - relatively quiet and few tourists. And Thailand is shoppers’ heaven. With bargain basement prices and about 35 Baht to the dollar, we feel like millionaires. I threaten to reserve a shipping container and fill it. By the end of the evening, however, I’m able to reign it in at a single 1400B purchase of a gorgeous hand-sewn & batiked coverlet - which ultimately ends up being my biggest purchase in Thailand at about US$40.

Along the sidewalks, and throughout the square are barbershop style reclining chairs where vendors hawk a famous Thai foot massage. Akin to competing shoeshine stands, the open-air massage “parlors” are at every corner. Bailey & Maddie take advantage of a half-hour foot massage, with all the mind-body pressure points covered, for less than $1.75 each. Aaaaahhh....

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