Op Khan and The Flight of the Gibbon, Thailand

We are continuing to have a thoroughly enjoyable time, here in Chiang Mai. We have been to a different restaurant every evening – much cheaper than buying the ingredients and cooking at home! We have even eaten at the Night Bazaar. This has changed dramatically since we were here in 1997; they have developed an air-conditioned indoor section with a food court and entertainment of traditional Thai dancing. (See photo)

We have also experienced dining Thai-style at a Khan Toke restaurant – sitting on the floor at low tables while dancers perform for our entertainment. We were very proud that we managed to sit on the floor for the whole evening, although getting up afterwards was an effort!

On Thursday we visited the Op Khan National Park where we followed the nature trail along a natural gorge caused by erosion of the cliffs on either side of the Mae Kjan River. After hiking along the bank, David and Glynn swam in the river to cool off while Harry, Margaret and I found a cool spot to wait for them. Afterwards we went to the National Park Restaurant for lunch, there was no menu however, as the only dish on offer was – I’m sure you’ve guessed it - Cow pat Moo!!

Yesterday, David, Glynn and I decided to do the touristy thing and venture out to the mountains for the Flight of the Gibbon experience. Their promise to allow us to “view jungle life from a perspective previously reserved for a select group of researchers” was too tempting! They have a two-kilometre stretch of tree houses, platforms, cables and sky bridges high up in the canopy of a 1500 year old rainforest which forms the dramatic backdrop to the village of Mae Kompang.

When we arrived at the village we were given a lunch of green curry and introduced to the other five people in our group, a family of three from Malaysia and two young Irish girls, who looked at us rather doubtfully as the guide apologised to them for including us in their party. They were good sports, however, and soon warmed to us - especially when they discovered that David exhibited the best style whilst traversing the wires!

Before we could set out, we were strapped into a harness (not good from the posterior angle!) and fitted with a hard hat, then presented with an angular piece of bamboo. Glynn thought we might be going to do a spot of water divining, but we were told it was the brake!

We were all quite nervous at the first of the fifteen stations, but once we had zipped along the first wire we gained in confidence. The brake only has to be used on the steepest of the wires and we were instructed to pull down on the cable with the bamboo as we approached the platform.

The first time we had to use the brake, I didn't pull down hard enough and so slammed into the guide as he waited to secure my landing. So the next time I pulled down much harder and didn't make it to the platform at all, and was left dangling in the air! Fortunately, the guide came down the wire and attached me to his harness and reeled us both in – to much merriment all round!

Occasionally the land fell steeply away below us and we had to rappel down enormous trees, with the aid of a friction rope, in order to arrive level with the canopy again.

We were in the hands of the guides, but we felt really safe as they were very professional and had all sorts of safety procedures in place (although I did wonder what ‘elf and safety would think of it). It was such fun and we all said we would do it again with no hesitation!

Me, dangling from the wire, high up in the trees

The intrepid Glynn enjoying 'The Flight of the Gibbon'!


The Delights of Chiang Mai, Thailand

At last I have found time to update my blog! We have been so busy here in Chiang Mai and its environs that I have hardly had a chance to sit down and collect my thoughts! As well as doing the touristy things, we are experiencing life here in Chiang Mai.

Glynn has always been a member of a choir in whatever country he has found himself and here is no different. On Wednesday, Glynn and I went to choir; Sunday evening was madrigals and today, Monday, we will be joining the group that sings Broadway melodies!

In addition to singing, I have been with Margaret to water aerobics and hope to go again this week. This is all besides visiting a national park, a hot spring, trawling through the local markets, eating out every night and getting David fitted for a new suit – and we haven’t been here a week yet!

On Saturday, we went to Doi Suthep Mountain, which, together with Doi Pui Mountain, dominates the landscape over Chiang Mai and forms part of the 260 square kilometre national park. David and Harry climbed the 1 000 metres to the summit, while Glynn, Margaret and I drove to the top and walked to Chiang Kian, a village of the Hmong people, where we were to meet the intrepid climbers.

Whilst there, we looked at the fine embroidery that is a speciality of the Hmong women and visited the local school. Harry and David managed the climb in good time and we drove down to Doi Suthep village for lunch. There, David chose a dish that sounds like ‘Cow Pat Moo’ and has been eating it ever since as he can remember the name!

That evening, Glynn took David and me to his favourite Thai Massage parlour – the Nimman House Massage - for a one-and-a-half hour massage. I asked for a lady masseuse, but when I saw one of the muscular young men on offer I was nearly tempted to change my mind! My masseuse was very good, however, and I am glad I gritted my teeth through the pain as I felt, at least, two centimetres taller when she had finished!

Following the massage, we went to eat at a very interesting place called Sukontoa Restaurant which is a muugrata or cook-your-own restaurant. There are long tables full of an enormous variety of food which one cooks at ones table on a small braai-like contraption which is full of hot coals (see photo). The food was delicious; there is one caveat, however - if you take more food than you can eat, you are charged for the wastage – what a good idea!

On Sunday we drove out to Sankampen Hot Spring where we swam and lazed in the hot pool before treating ourselves to a foot massage. Glynn noticed that the price was different for farangs (foreigners) and Thais and he was able to argue with the man, in Thai, and get him to lower the price for us. We are continually impressed by Glynn's mastery of the language – he can even read it!!!!

After our foot (and lower leg) massage, we went to the hottest part of the spring and cooked a dozen quails eggs in the near-boiling water (see photo) which we ate as a pre-cursor to our lunch.

For lunch we drove to Tharnthong Lodges at Mai Kampong for a delicious meal, Glynn and I chose a soup, but David had …. Yes! Cow Pat Moo!!!!


Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand

At last we are back in contact with the world again! We are now in Thailand staying with our friend Glynn in Chiang Mai, who – if you have been keeping up with our travels – we last saw in South Africa when we stayed with his cousins Neels and Sandra. We arrived in Bangkok on Monday 10 March (Clare’s birthday – hope you had a happy one, darling) just before midnight and reached our hotel about one o’clock in the morning! We stayed at the 50 year-old Atlanta Hotel (formerly called The Continental) – and they don’t seem to have changed the décor since! We found the hotel quite eccentric, but charming – in a mad sort of way – and have decided to stay there again when we return to Bangkok. In their own words they are “…an old-fashioned place of charm and genteel character in downtown Bangkok with the secluded and secure atmosphere of a private club and the facilities of a small resort for sleaze-free and wholesome tourism.” There are numerous notices and exhortations to behave dotted around the hotel and it is said that one could spend a day reading there and never have to open a book!

On the Tuesday we took the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Glynn had thoughtfully booked us bottom bunks so that we, being geriatrics, didn’t have to climb the perilous-looking ladders to the top bunks. This was a good move as the bottom bunks are wider and more comfortable than the top bunks. I had thought that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all on the train, but, in fact, I slept soundly and woke refreshed in the morning.

When we first arrived in our carriage, we couldn’t imagine how the bunks would be arranged as the carriage looked like a normal railway carriage. Even though our seats were either side of the aisle, we were instructed to sit together by the carriage attendant and a kind Thai gentleman showed us how to extricate our table from under the floor and assemble it. We were then brought the menu and asked to select our meal. We noticed that only the farangs (foreigners) were ordering as the locals all had brought in take-aways from the station kiosk and – too late – we realized that this was the thing to do as the meal was overpriced. Notwithstanding, we enjoyed the meal tremendously and put it down to experience.

Soon after finishing our dinner, the carriage was magically transformed into sleeping booths with curtains – rather like that scene in ‘Some Like it Hot’ where Marilyn Monroe joins the band on the train. Another advantage of the lower bunk is that one can either draw the curtains or look out at Thailand rushing by. Before I finally fell asleep I saw numerous markets with people still shopping or eating and families sitting outside enjoying their evening meal.


Tea with Jeannette

We have had a wonderful time here in New Plymouth and will be sad to leave. Bev and Mike have been wonderful hosts and have taken great pains to show us their city, of which they are justifiably proud. We have met so many interesting people. Today we had tea with Jeannette, who arrived here from London 44 years ago and hasn’t regretted the move for one minute. Once a teacher, (weren’t we all) she has carved out a new career for herself in her retirement. She is both a wedding and a funeral celebrant for people who wish to have non-religious ceremonies. I found this fascinating and wondered if I could do something similar; I will certainly look into it.

Tomorrow we are off to Hamilton where David wants to watch day two of the test match between New Zealand and England on Thursday – I, meanwhile, intend to shop and look at the city! On Friday we will carry on to Auckland where we will stay until the following Monday when we begin the next leg of our journey. It is possible that I will be unable to blog until we reach Thailand, our next destination. Until then, Hasta la Vista!


New Plymouth, New Zealand

We are now staying in New Plymouth with Bev and Mike, whom we met at the Blenheim Reunion I wrote about earlier. They live in a prime location, right next to the golf course and the beach. On our first day, David and I walked along the boardwalk by the beach. The weather was glorious and we watched the surfers strut their stuff, while a group of would-be lifeguards trained by shuttle running on the beach followed by a race around a round a buoy in the sea.

The following day, Mike took David and me up Mount Egmont (more usually referred to as Mount Taranaki). The going was quite steep so we didn’t go too far (and my calves are still sore from all the climbing). We did visit the visitor centre, however, and watched a film about the mountain and its origins, from both the geological and Maori viewpoint – very interesting!

Both Bev and Mike are wonderful cooks and we particularly enjoyed a dinner given by them where we met two of their very entertaining friends, Esmae and Beth (see photo, from L to R: Bev, Esmae, Beth and Mike). We have also met Bev’s cousin, Janice, who invited us to watch her ladies marching team, the Waihi Golden Girls, demonstrate their routine. There were 14 groups from all over North Island taking part in the display and we were fascinated to see their precision marching. Unfortunately, my pathetic camera wasn’t up to the task of long distance shooting during the display, but you can see Janice’s in her marching uniform in the photo.

Following the display, Bev took David and me to the Puke Ariki Museum where we gained a fascinating insight into the area and its history. While we were there, we watched a display of Maori dancing, after which, the audience were invited to learn either the Haka (only for men – I really fancied having a go at that!!!!!) or the Poi, a women’s dance. Bev and I were game (although David declined to do the Haka). We spent an enjoyable 15 minutes or so learning the dance and then we performed it for the onlookers, followed by the men’s Haka – which, judging from some of the men’s pathetic attempts is not as easy as it looks – we women were far more successful!

Today, we went to Pukekura Park, a beautiful oasis in the city. The vegetation was lush and very green (something to do with their one-and-a-half metres of rain a year!) I was fascinated by the reflection in the water of a piece by a sculptor called Michael Smither, called ‘Aotearoa, “the land of the long white cloud”.’ WHEN I finally get my digital SLR camera, I intend to do a series of photos of reflections – watch this space!

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