Existing Member?

Southeast-South Asia Reflections

Review and catching up

THAILAND | Thursday, 12 January 2017 | Views [199]

Let me go back to the beginning since it has taken me some time to get the first blogs out.. We took a flight through China Southern to Chiangmai Mai Thailand via Guangzhou China, where we had a 24 hour layover and transit visa. Jim and I had traveled to Guangzhou some 30 years ago, but the city is unrecognizable to me - filled with glittering skyscrapers and modern transit. Back in the mid 80s, I remember mostly low slung buildings and spare surroundings with the major forms of transit to be bicycles. Back then, most people were still dressed in dull colored Mao jackets and few people drew any unique attention to themselves. In 1985, we travelled to Qing Ping Market filled with rows and rows of stalls filled with exotic and unknown (to us) Chinese Medicine, foodstuffs, and lots of communist propaganda. Jim and I bought antique ceramic Mao pins for a couple of renminbis (at the time just pennies) feeling ourselves to be touching this vast hisory that was only tangential to our own. Sophia and I instead went up into the Canton Tower which is the 2nd tallest free standing tower in the world. We got a bird's eye view of this shiny new and modern city filled with smartly dressed and fashionable young people. We also slept in Guangzhou which helped to stave off some of our jet lag.

We then flew to Chiangmai Mai in Northern Thailand. Chiangmai Mai is at the foot of the hills where many hill tribes live, including lots of Hmong people. Jim and I also traveled in this region years ago going up into the hills to visit a Hmong Village. For Sophia and me, our first days were spent sleeping into this radical upside down (for us)time zone, and exploring the wats of the old city Sampling its cuisine and drawing out Thai phrases from the dusty crevi of my fading memory.

We had an absolutely amazing experience visiting with one of Sophia's St. Olaf college class mates, Sarin and his family. Sarin invited us to come to Lampung to visit his amazing family, and it was such a privilege and honor to spend time with them.  Sarin picked us up in Chiangmai Mai and drove us to Lampung stopping on the way at an elephant camp that was started by the princess of Thailand. She is very popular with her people for her good works, and she created a camp with a hospital where former working elephants retired. Elephants used to do logging but it is now illegal in Thailand. Jim and I back in the day also saw an active logging camp in eastern Thailand and it was brutal work for elephants that is no longer allowed  - a good and compassionate decision. We went to Lampung where we stayed with Sarin's grandparents. Sarin's grandpa was born in the Punjab in what is now part of Pakistan, so after the partition his family made their way to Thailand. Sarin's grandma spoke excellent English and we went to the evening market in Lampung. We ate incredible food and met Sarin's parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. We visited area Buddhist Wats (temples) and ate the local specialty cuisines (kao soi) and sticky rice and bean paste cooked and served in a hallowed out bamboo. Sarin and his wonderful mom drove us back to Chiangmai Mai as they were preparing for a family wedding in Bangkok and Sarin's impending semester abroad in Denmark. It was an incredible experience. We returned to Chiang Mai to spend a few more days. Fortunately, my niece and Sophia's closest cousin Celia is doing a Hamline J term in Chiang Mai so we were able to snag her for a part of an evening. It was weird to come across the globe and be able to see each other so far from home. We visited a museum called Art in Paradise where we took a lot of photos of illusion which are noted in the photo album Chia Mai.

some five days ago, we took a train south to Ayutthaya. It is an old historical city surrounded on four sides by rivers and was a former politically powerful kingdom prior to Thailand being unified. There were temples on nearly every block, and the ruins of others in a huge park in the center of the city. We stayed at a beautiful home stay with a Thai style house built up on log stilts. It had a big veranda looking out on the river and on the other side of the river stood an old Portugeuse church a minaret end mosque and several wats. As we arrived, we heard the sunset call to prayer. Within moments, we also heard the bells of the church and the buddhist monks' chants. As the sun set to the west, a full coral colored moon rose in the sky. Sophia and I both felt those magical spine tingling shivers. In the following days we biked to various wats, and one evening circumnavigated the city in a boat as the sunset. That evening, we went through a school of fish so thick that they were jumping and splashing and getting us wet. 

This morning, we took the train to Bangkok. It too has changed since I was here so many years ago. There is a modern sky train as well as a subway, and the city has grown, quadrupling its metro population to 20,000,000 with surrounding areas. But the tourist areas still have a gritty side that includes young women entertaining Western (and probably Thai and other Asian) men for a price. I can't help but feel sad to see this degradation. And it is apparent on the street with western men in theit late middle age strolling the street with girls young enough to be their daughters and granddaughters. Even in our hotel, there is a sign in the elevator that says that all prostitutes ('guests') must register at the desk before coming upstairs. The sex trade is all around and so destructive. Years ago, my good friend Julian travelled to Thailand with me after her own Peace Corps experience in Tanzania. She spent time on an island in the Gulf of Siam interviewing and talking to these young women, many of whom were poor and trying to help out their families. They would sometime get lured in by scams with promises of getting rich only to be trapped in a terrible cycle. It actually makes me angry to see this sort of western exploitation of these young girls/women (and boys as well). Many boys are exploited similarly.

I want to say two more things. The first is that I'm so proud of the competence that my daughter Sophia carries within her. She is strong and smart and while I thought I would be the one taking care of her, she is often the first to figure things out. I know that I travelled here at her age alone, but I see that she too is as capable as I was at that age. My eyes aren't what they used to be so Sophia is my GPS. I'm forever misplacing my readers to my great frustration, so I feel like she is taking care of me.

The second thing I want to say is how greatful I am that some very techie people have made amazing offline apps that make traveling so easy. We literally have offline phone apps for Thailand that give us the ability to travel anywhere with turn by turn maps and offline GPS, tour guides, and suggestions and reviews for food, hotels and activities helping us to read the landscape more easily. Thank you techies for making life so much easier. We've used these apps for biking, on trains to know our stop, in taxies to make sure we aren't taking the 'long' route, and to pinpoint our lodging.  We learn about off the beaten path places not to miss, and major attractions not worth your while. The apps help tourists learn about how to be polite, not to offend, and how to speak some of the language. I am filled with gratitudE to have these incredible tools!

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.

About sarai-sophia

Follow Me

Where I've been

Photo Galleries

My trip journals



Travel Answers about Thailand

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.