November 2002


The glories of Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai The glories of Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

You can click on any picture for a larger version.

At the end of the month, we drove again to Chiang Mai, this time with four friends of my brother's who'd been visiting in the North. As always, I went to Doi Suthep to marvel at the glorious temple in its extraordinary mountain-top setting.

These are just a few snaps from this visit, on a fresh, cloudy, bright day.


Sunburst on temple mirror glass Sunburst on temple mirror glass

The great chedi at Doi Suthep The great chedi at Doi Suthep

Endless, enchanting ornament and beauty Endless, enchanting ornament and beauty

Our visitors at the Golden Triangle (Chieng Saen) Our visitors at the Golden Triangle (Chieng Saen)

One day we drove the 65kms from home to Mae Sai, briefly crossed the border into Myanmar (Burma) - the first time for Chai and me - then home via Chieng Saen and the Golden Triangle (where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet), overlooking the great Maekhong river. This point is only a short distance from China, too.

Here the four girls from England pose for their holiday memento.
On the road to Mae Sai On the road to Mae Sai

Chai and I had passed this imposing Buddha figure, set on a hillside overlooking the main road, several times and had wanted to get a closer view. We have now both forgotten the name of the temple.
English visitors with Chai English visitors with Chai

(From front lower step): Pat, Helen, Margaret and Carol.

Chai and I had never met this group of my brother's friends before, but we found we got on very well and had a good deal of fun. They were a plucky and adventurous bunch, too, and took on some considerable challenges.
Chai and I with elephant at the temple Chai and I with elephant at the temple

Trekkers set out Trekkers set out

Chai joined the group for three days trekking - the first time he had ever done such a thing in his own country.

They were dropped in the jungle and, with three guides, then walked, boated and rode by elephant through quite rough territory. There was some serious climbing. Leeches were a feature of the extensive river-wading. Nights were spent in hill-tribe huts, without electricity (to bed at 6 p.m.) and only very elementary sanitary arrangements.

There was heavy tropical rain for the entire three days, and it's evident from reports (I was safely and drily at home) it required some significant psychological effort to overcome the effects of being continuously soaked. The efforts were successful, however, and everyone reported having had a memorable and enjoyable time.

Here, the party poses with the minibus that was to take them to their starting point. They are in the grounds of Baan Bua, an excellent guesthouse in the centre of Chiang Rai which Chai and I discovered, set in a tree-filled garden, and charging 200 baht per room per night (that's under three pounds sterling).
A great host A great host

Chai turns out to have special gifts for cooking and hospitality, and evidently enjoys both enormously. Here he is with three of the English group, towards the end of a spectacular cooked meal and barbeque at our home in Koggalae.
Inspired public health promotion Inspired public health promotion

Thailand very early recognised the threat which HIV posed to its population, and under the charismatic leadership of Meechai Veravaidya (Minister of Health at one time), undertook some fantastically imaginative campaigns. (He became so identified with the programme that one of the vernacular names for a condom is 'meechai' - his first name.)

One was the Cabbages and Condoms campaign, which familiarised the nation with condoms, and made them a subject of games and entertainment to overcome the strong male resistance to using them. (Street competitions for blowing up condoms to their largest possible size were amongst the gimmicks.)

This, and other efforts were so effective, that Thailand's HIV prevalence has been reduced and there is a high level of awareness of sexual risk. Sex workers have had their own counselling and education in their places of work.

Among the lasting effects of the campaigning is a chain of cafes/restaurants/guesthouses called Cabbages and Condoms. One of them is half way between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, and, here, our four English visitors pose beside the guesthouse bungalows, when we stopped on our way south.

There are, of course, ranges of mementos and promotional items - condom postcards, key-rings, and so on.

There's a great biography of the man, called From Condoms to Cabbages, by Thomas D'Agnes, published by Post Books, Bangkok, 2001; ISBN 974-228-009-6.

[The link between cabbages and condoms is the simple one of a healthy population being able to feed itself.]
With my brother's (now my) friend Margaret With my brother's (now my) friend Margaret

One our first day together we went with the four girls to Huay Mae Sai Waterfall, about 30kms from home, and 20 from the farm. Here a pose in the parking area in the jungle with a freshly plucked flower. There were several giant poinsettia shrubs around, which were a surprising contrast with the little potted versions one is familiar with in the UK.
Spirit house on the move Spirit house on the move

Almost every private, public and commercial building in Thailand has its spirit house near the entrance to the property. They represent a kind of mixture of animism and Buddhism. They are supposed to be a place where the spirits, dispossessed by the human occupation of the land, can visit or live, but they are also symbolic of the presence of Buddha.

Rituals vary, but usually, offerings of food and drink, flowers and incense are made daily, and if there's a special occasion in the building, sample items from the menu will be placed at the entrance to the spirit house.

Spirit houses vary from the simplest construction of a small piece of corrugated iron on a simple wooden frame, to enormous and elaborate constructions (usually of brightly painted cement) with lights and secondary buildings.

I knew we would have to find one for our new house on the farm (indeed for the whole property when we came to occupy it) and Chai and I were keen to find something a little more special than the usual little cement temples.

On our extravagant shopping trip to Chiang Mai, to the extensive crafts and furniture village of Baan Taway, we saw this exquisite, miniature wooden viharn, and knew it was just what we have dreamed of.

Here, it's packed on the back of the pickup with some of the bags of cushions and fabrics we had bought, on the road out of Chiang Mai, with the mountains we were to cross on our way home in the distance. It cost us 5,000 baht, about seventy pounds. (It's missing its flying rooftop decorations here, as we removed them for the trip. There'll be pics of it in its full glory once established on the farm.)
Chain and Helen rest in Burma Chain and Helen rest in Burma

Crossing just metres into Myanmar presents vivid contrasts with Thailand: the roads are broken and crumbling; there are lots of beggars, young and old; the buildings are shabby; the motor vehicles all older and more decrepit (and they drive on the right). The huge market, however, was as bustling and well-organised as anything in Thailand, but with some rather more aggressive strolling sellers accosting one frequently. Many more men wore sarongs than you usually see in Thailand (though not uncommon in rural areas).
16th century Burmese nation-making hero King 16th century Burmese nation-making hero King

I shall research him and add some notes later.
Budding entrepreneur Budding entrepreneur

On a trip early in the month to Mae Sai (Thailand's northernmost border point), Chai bought great bales of cheap clothing. Here he is sorting and pricing it before trucking it off to his aunt's shop in Maha Sarakham, where he anticipated there would be a good demand for warm, winter clothing. (While winter temperatures of 17-20 in the mornings and evenings (often 25-30 during the day) leave Thai people shivering and complaining, they feel pretty comfortable to me, of course, and prompt only the wearing of light, long trousers rather than shorts. In the hilly places, temperatures may be a lot lower, however.)
Ben at work in the kitchen Ben at work in the kitchen

When we went to Chiang Mai, we visited Ben at his mother's restaurant, and had the usually wonderful food. It's one of Chiang Mai's premier seafood eating-places, with tanks of large live prawns bubbling away in the centre of the dining area. (Wankung Rena Restaurant, Anusarn Market.)

Ben had stayed with us in London for nine or ten months in 2000-2001, after his mother had made a plea for help when I had visited the restaurant on a previous trip to Thailand.
Loy Kratong at home Loy Kratong at home

A great buttery full moon rose on the evening of 20 November for the festival of Loy Kratong, when Thai people celebrate the end of the rainy season and launch uncountable numbers of floating floral tributes, each with lit candles and sticks of incense, on all the rivers of the Kingdom. They drift, twinkling and bobbing downstream into the darkness, leaving their sweet scent behind. Tokens of hope for a benign future.

Homes are often decorated with lighted candles, and this picture, rather than an airport runway, shows our house with its festive display. In town, along the banks of the great Maekhok river, there was a gigantic celebration, with thousands of people launching their kratong on the water, funfairs, sideshows, parades and general junketing.

These photo are in the nature of a bit of an experiment, and are not terribly impressive, but do give some impression of our domestic celebrations, I hope.
Full moon at Loy Kratong Full moon at Loy Kratong

Well, an impression, anyway!
Kratong in our lily pot at home Kratong in our lily pot at home

As well as launching a real kratong (exquisitely constructed from banana leaves and flowers) on the Maekhok, we also had a couple of wax kratong candles at home. I'm not sure what the poor old fish in the pot will have made of it...


An attempt at a slightly more magical impression of the kratong at home, without flash.