Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sawatdee Khrab

Some thoughts on my recent Thai excursion to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai:

1. Thai people are friendly. Perhaps it's due to their tourism culture. Taxi drivers in Chiang Mai seem to be friendlier than those in KL. They don't haggle their potential customers.

2. Thai food is really spicy. It's not that I didn't know that before. But when I was served tomyam soup for EVERY lunch and dinner for 3 days, it suddenly struck me that chili padi is a standard ingredient for probably half of the dishes there. And it made me go to the toilet a bit more often than usual.

3. Thai roads are really good. There's absolutely no reason for Malaysians to gloat over our so-called world class roads. In Thailand, you get 4-lane dual carriageways as standard intercity highways. Very few potholes. Wide hard shoulders, with motorcycle lanes. And they're toll-free. In Malaysia, the government is only now upgrading and widening certain stretches of trunk roads. I like the Thai road signage. It's systematic and consistent. Roads are all numbered and signposted. I think they modelled their system after the Americans. Malaysian road signs are more like advertisement boards. Each private highway concessionaire puts up their own signs to attract "customers." Not helpful for drivers who need to know where they are and where they're going. I drove around in southern Thailand during a road trip in 2002, and I can say that the roads are just as good up north and down south.

4. I couldn't help but notice the vast number of temples dotting the landscape. As a non-Buddhist, I found it hard to fully appreciate the religious aspect of visiting a temple.
The architecture was impressive, but that was about it for me. The Thais are religious people, so, as a Christian, I'm wondering what would attract a Thai to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is definitely a superhuman job, if you know what I mean.

5. We visited a small settlement of the Karen tribe, where we met some long-necked women and girls. They still practice the wearing of brass coils around the neck to enhance their beauty, although they are probably doing it nowadays also to sustain the tourism industry. I got a feeling that the settlement and people were being used like a commercial showcase to rake in some tourism dollars. Well, at least they are earning some money to support themselves, and hopefully not exploited by a middleman. Many of them are refugees from Myanmar who have no nationality.

6. Thais absolutely revere their king. They even have a yellow T-shirt that everyone wears on Monday as a sign of respect for their monarch. The king has not just commanded, but earned, the respect of the people by his concern for the welfare of the people. I think that's where the stability of the country comes from. Despite all the political upheavals and military coups, Thailand is still much alive and kicking.

7. Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is from Chiang Mai. Our tour guide was giving us a commentary on why he is a Thaksin supporter. It's mainly because Thaksin brought much economic development to the area. I guess that's only natural for a politician.

8. There were no street peddlers swarming tour groups to get a sale, unlike in Bali, where the moment I got off the bus I would be engulfed by children and adults alike, trying to persuade me to buy a souvenir or trinket which I didn't want.

9. Thai public toilets are very clean, even those pour-flush toilets. And many are supplied with toilet paper.

10. Thailand has nicer cars. Thailand is the pickup capital of the world. They are the biggest market, and biggest manufacturer of pickups in the world. I think the nationalization and Protonization of the auto industry in Malaysia really cost us a golden opportunity, which eventually went to Thailand. So what if a car company is "foreign"? At least they're operating in and from your country, and exporting to the rest of the world.

11. I'm a lousy bargainer. I managed to knock down the prices of everything I bought, but not as low as other heartless, merciless shoppers. :P

p/s These are entirely my personal observations based on a visit of 72 hours. If I had stayed longer, like 2 years, I might have a different report.

Poser in the lavatory of an AirAsia Airbus A320


Silk weaver

Silk thread

Nice wheels

Poppy flower

Random motorcycle

Doi Suthep temple

Prayer bells in the temple


The stupa pagoda covered with engraved gold plate

Elephants showing off their strength by stacking logs

Elephants and me. I'm the one in yellow.

Elephants thumping the ground with their trunks. I think they were asking for food.

I see you...

Baby elephant

This is where the elephants live

Elephant artist

This snake "charmer" turned out to be more of a comedian who delighted in scaring the audience by "accidentally dropping" snakes on them

Side view of the white temple (I can't remember the name). The temple was founded by an artist/sculptor who built it and then got some monks to use it.

Golden toilet beside the white temple (it's for real)

White temple on a scorching afternoon

Lobby of the Laluna Resort in Chiang Rai

Swing at the Karen settlement. Whooppiieee!

Karen girl with the neck coils. They start as young as five years old, and never take it off for the rest of their lives.

Neck coils can weigh up to 4 kg

Example of a public toilet. OK, this is one of the better and more arty farty ones.

The Golden Triangle, referring to the tri-state border. I'm standing in Thailand, across the river in the midground is Myanmar, in the distance is the Mekong River and on its far bank is Laos. Lim Goh Tong co-owns a casino resort in Myanmar... if you look closely you can see the red roofs of the casino in the distance. Golden Triangle also refers to the illicit opium producing region, but we didn't go there.

The tour took us to the border town of Mae Sai. That's Myanmar/Burma in the background, on the far end of the bridge. There's an obvious difference between here and there. Here's rich, there's poor. Relatively speaking.

Public transport at 80 km/h on the highway

Night market in Chiang Mai. This stall is selling carved soap. Very intricate.

Ikea-ish lamp for sale at the night market

Muay Thai, or Thai boxing. This turned out to be a farce, as it wasn't a real match. It was just a show put on for tourists. The two "fighters" were friends who were smiling as they traded punches and kicks. I got the impression that they were saying to each other, "OK, kick me here when I'm ready, but don't kick too hard."


nicole said...

I like the bells picture and ditto. Looks like a really nice place to visit. What would happen if the Keren ladies remove their chokers? Will their heads dangle?

So agree with you on the lost opportunities thanks to Proton.

HL said...

Yeah, without the "chokers" they have to spend the rest of their lives lying down, because the neck muscles are too weak to support the head.

CHARIS said...

I enjoyed your awesome photographs! Welcome (too late!) to my favourite country :) Good observations...Reading your blog & seeing your pictures made me homesick, since I've been visiting this country 2-3 times per year till I moved to far away :(

Guat said...

you took a photo on yourself in the toilet? :) hehehe...
I LOVE the poppy photo cuz its such a simple and pretty and "flow-y" like flower :)
gee, pretty "sad" about the Keren ladies, in the sense that they can never take it off. Doesn't dirt etc. get stuck in there? :p

HL said...

Charis: Show us some pictures from your Thai escapades... You feel homesick? Come back la. I'm sure many people would be happy to see you. :)

Guat: Yes, but I made sure I looked presentable before snapping that shot! Haha. I think planting poppies might be illegal here, so I grabbed a shot while I could! The neck coils are a part of their culture. It's a form of beautification. I don't know if the more modern girls would prefer not to wear them. Do they have a choice? I've read that taking off the coils is a punishment for adultery. The women bathe with the coils on. I don't know how they do it, but I saw pictures of them wearing sarongs and happily bathing in the river.

kat said...

heheheh laughed when saw ur poser shot.. maybe cos dont usually see u take such poses!

HL said...

I go crazy once in a while... :P