Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok, is 20 km (12 miles) upstream from the Gulf of Thailand. It straddles the Chao Phraya, River of Kings. The current population is 8 million. Traffic and pollution can be tough but if one can get around in the long tail boats on the river, the city is quite beguiling. I love it.
An ancient kingdom of Siam, Ayutthaya existed between 1351-1767. The city of Ayutthaya was its capital. It was a successful and wealthy center with ties to the court of King Louis XIV of France during the reign of King Narai (1656-1688). The ambassador from France at the time compared the size and wealth of Ayutthaya with that of Paris. They were also in touch with many other countries around the world.
The Sukhothai Kingdom existed between 1238-1438. The beautiful ruins have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage historical park. We visited in February of 2007. They had trading missions with China. In 1378 armies from the Kingdom of Ayutthaya invaded Sukhothai, ending its power.
Located on the Ping River, Chiang Mai (New City) is the most important city in Northern Thailand. It is located 700 km (435 m) north of Bangkok. Its historic importance is attributed to its location on the Ping River, a major trading route. The city was founded in 1296 and succeeded the ancient capital, Chiang Rai, of the Lanna Kingdom. The original city was surrounded by a moat and a wall for protection. Today that old part of the city is a wonderful place to explore. Chiang Mai hosts many festivals throughout the year.
The Golden Triangle is in the northern part of the country where Laos, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand meet. We stayed in the town of Sop Ruak on the Mekong River.
This amazing new temple, Wat Rong Khun, was begun in 1997, when the designer, Chalermchai Kositpat,was 42 years old. It is located on the south side of Chiang Rai on 3 1/2 acres of land. It is quite stunning, all white, inlaid mirrors, water fountains, several buildings. We visited in 2008 on our trip to the Golden Triangle.
A classic Lanna structure of the 12-14th centuries. According to the chronicles, three years after the completion of the city wall of Chiang Saen, King Saen-Phu ordered the construction of Wat Chedi Luang in 1291. The principal chedi has an octagonal base with superimposed platforms up to the bell, in the Lanna style of construction. It is the highest and largest chedi in Chiang Saen.
Across the valley from Myanmar and a base of Burmese soldiers. We could hear their conversations. The Thai base was ridddled with tunnels, had a helipad, and many re-enforced bunkers. We stepped into Burma, sliding our feet under the barbed wire and razor wire fence. The gateway to the bases had gates with sharp wooden spikes.
Two Black Lahu tribe villages …. In Ban No Lae we walked through the village watching kids play, women cooking. In Kob Dong, we visited a straw house on stilts, animals underneath, one room, a small storage area, and a “porch.” There was a fire burning in the middle of the room with a large black clay pot of rice cooking over the wood fire. Ten people live in the 24’-28’ room, four families, assorted children. Their food consists of rice at every meal and small bits of marinated pork, or pork rind. Nahe sold us some straw bracelets which is what the women make to sell to tourists. Everything from birth to death happens in the one room.
This project, founded in 1969, is located on Tanaosri mountain and is only five kms from the Thai-Burmese(Myanmar) border. 160 kms from Chiang Mai, 1,400 meters above sea level. In this area, opium used to be the main cash crop. There were addicts, drug wars and a lot of trouble. The king decided to totally change that and initiated the growing of vegetables and fruits. The hill tribes who used to grow opium are now employed full time in farming. The crops grown here are plum, kiwi, avocado, strawberry, persimmons, raspberry, peach, apricot, pears, apples, temperate vegetables. And, of course, acres of flowers!
We passed rice farmers in a valley with groves of oranges, patches of sunflowers, lots of bougainvillea. We then stopped at Tha Ton to see a giant white Buddha at the Wat Tha Ton. There were a couple of monks, laundry hung on a line which reflected on the marble pavement. Such a treat to photograph. The Buddha was indeed, huge, the site overlooking the small town and the Kok River.
Tourist buses were the tip off that this “Tribal Village” was not authentic. There was a $5 entrance fee, quite expensive for Thailand. Their wares were for sale and they were working on their crafts, but it was like a human zoo of at least three different tribes. Especially depressing were the many Padaung tribe (or “Kayan”) girls, the tribe where the girls begin to wear brass rings about their necks when they are five years old. They begin with five rings and stop at about twenty five, becoming “long-neck women.” The Tribal village is a private, for profit enterprise. The people of the tribe are supplied with a house and work, for which they are paid a salary.
A hilltop village with strong Chinese influences, Mae Salong is known as the Little Switzerland of Thailand. There are two beautiful temples of note as well …. The area has an alpine-like landscape and climate, and is known for its hill tribe villages, tea plantations and cherry blossoms. It is 80 km (50 miles) from Chiang-Rai.
Up a winding road, steep at times, to a temple, DOI TUNG. The peak is 5,900’ (1,800 meters) in altitude and is an important pilgrimage site. And we passed more rice paddies.
Mae Fah Luang Garden, 25 rai (hectares) which is almost 9 acres. The garden, considered the finest in Thailand, was opened in 1992 and is dazzling. It has an array of wonders, a yellow garden with touches of blue for the king, one can pass under a cascading waterfall and not get wet. There are pruned trees, fountains, tons of dahlias at this time of year, and the amazing symmetrical ornamental gardens with beds in various shapes.