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Heading to Hanoi

It is Wednesday morning at 9:20, December, 2008.  We are in the Bangkok airport waiting for our connection to Hanoi... after two absolutely magical days in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai.  Hope everyone is doing well.

Chiang Mai is such a special place... though the fact that we were booked into the Four Seasons didn't hurt as they say.  Set amidst the mountains.  You walk into the open-air lobby and look out at beautifully manicured rice paddies, gardens, statues.  On our first walk there we ran into two water buffalo (escorted, of course).  Each room has a sala (pavilion with a mosquito net covering, very romantic.)  The rooms were beautifully appointed.  Of course, I had to check out the spa which was amazing... they do a combination massage (Thai and regular) that was indescribable.  Just say it was one of the top 10 massages of all time.

Anyway, aside from the amazing resort, in Chiang Mai we had three destinations-- 1) temple, 2) elephant ride, 3)  crafts market.  The temple and the monastery (12th century) were so different from the temples we had visited in Bangkok.  Here, we made a group offering to several monks.  As those who have travelled here know, it is taboo for your feet to face forward--particularly in Buddhist shrines.  It was comical to see a group of 30+ 50, 60, and 70-somethings sitting on their knees.  Our next destination was the definite highlight... a visit to the elephant camp with an elephant ride in the jungle.  While we did this in Zimbabwe during our Africa trip, this was an altogether different experience.  We fed the elephants--they enjoy eating half a bunch of bananas at a time.  Then, we watched them being bathed (though it was more like a synchronized swimming performance).  Then, the talent show... lots of marching, lifting, some formations.  But the piece de resistance was to watch one of the elephants do a painting.  I kid you not. Perhaps you saw this on PBS... it was familiar...but seeing it in person was wild...single brush strokes in different colors in a tree design with flowers, grass, and leaves.  They sold the canvas for $15 afterwards but we chose to take a pass. 

The absolute best part of the elephant adventure was our ride.  Whereas in Zimbabwe, we trekked through the brush--one elevation only--and were seated on elevated pillows so felt nothing.... in Chiang Mai, this was more of a thrill ride.  We sat on an elevated seat with a seat belt, ha!, and bounced our way up and down through jungle paths (including one segment that was totteringly close to the edge).  Everytime time we descended, I white-knuckled the handles for dear life.  The 18 elephants trekked together in a single line.  It was particularly exciting when they descended into the river, one by one...which was probably up to 3 feet deep before we were through.  Just let me say that I had further evidence of why you should only drink bottled water as a result of the elephant ride.  No further description necessary.  While the trek was somewhat harrowing, it was worth it.  The last destination in Chiang Mai was the crafts market.  Highly acclaimed, but not worth the afternoon.  I didn't buy a thing but made up for it in the hotel gift shop afterwards.

I would be remiss in my write-up of Chiang Mai if I didn't describe the food.  Our guide recommended we consider having rooom service night one because of the setting.  While we've had our share of mediocre room service, we took him up on it.  It was lovely... as good if not better than any restaurant meal so far.  I stuck with Thai... Wayne had more continental choices.  The prawns with peppercorns were to die for... the broccolini was great.  We had an appetizer of chicken wrapped in banana leaves which was very good and, of course, fresh fruit for dessert.  Wayne had grilled sea bass.   For dinner Tuesday night, we decided to depart from Thai and have Italian (the other option at the hotel).  They were doing yet another Thai dance performance in the other restaurant with yet another buffet and we decided a break would be good.  Our dinner was fine; but our dinner companions did not share our political persuasion so our conversation topics were quite limited!
Some miscellaneous thoughts as we leave Thailand.  The Thai women are absolutely beautiful.  People say this but it is so true.  The Thais are very nice; our guide explained that this might be attributable to their Buddhism, which is the Southern brand, including a tinge of Hinduism.  People from the Hill Tribes, who we met at the elephant camp, were even more gracious and their children were just too precious.  Evidence of the monarchy is everywhere and thou shalt not say anything against the king.  Thais seem to be somewhat embarrassed by the political situation.  But, it is ongoing and they seem to be used to it. The service levels in the hotel and restaurants are unbelieveable.  When we went down for the early (4:00 am) continental breakfast this morning and wondered if there was any type of juice beyond OJ, they went in the back and squeezed some pineapple juice.  I could go on and on.

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