I’ve always wanted to raise a family near wherever my parents are living because I grew up far away from my grandparents. My mum’s parents live in Montreal, QC where I was born and my dad’s parents have moved from Montreal to Toronto, ON where most of my cousins live. Seeing my grandparents was always a scheduled event involving a car trip, overnight bags, passports, and green cards (which we forgot once). I was always envious of friends whose grandparents picked them up from school and friends who saw their grandparents whenever anyone wanted. Spending time with grandparents has really always been something that I’ve treasured, which was exactly the case during our week in the Adirondack Mountains in good ole upstate New York.
In order to bring all of us together, though we missed my brother who couldn’t take off work, my parents rented a cabin on the lake just outside the adorable little town of Old Forge, NY. We went into town for ice cream, Mum’s daily latte, and to visit Old Forge Hardware, which sells everything and is a delight to explore.We didn’t have cell service and wifi only worked in certain corners of the cabin, so I read a lot and was very happy to disconnect for a while.
In true holiday fashion, we quite enjoyed our view of the world from the cabin porch:
We had a pontoon boat and a kayak to play with and were out on the water every day. My dad and grandfathers went out fishing a few times and I went with them for the sake of the scenery. In six days, the three men managed to catch two fish. That, according to my dad, is why they call it fishing and not catching.
I love being out on the water.
I also love hiking! One morning, my parents and I hiked Black Bear Mountain and we decided to bring Puck along just to see how he would do. Turns out, the dog is part mountain goat and it’s a good thing, too, because the trail was fairly steep and very muddy.
The view from the summit was beautiful, too:
Later in the week, my dad and I hiked Bald Mountain, so named because it’s very rocky (as opposed to leafy, I guess). It’s a much shorter hike and therefore was also more crowded. I’ve never spent time in the Jurassic Age, but I think it looked like Bald Mountain.
We climbed this tower at the summit . . .
. . . from which my dad pointed out all of the seven lakes that make up the central region of the Adirondacks:
And of course, because that’s what you do up in the mountains when it gets cold after sundown, we made a fire every night. My trusty Syracuse University sweatshirt reeked of smoke (and so did my hair) but I had packed it just for that reason. I’m a bit of a pyromaniac when I’m allowed to be; I love watching the flames dance and hearing the crackle of the wood and the whistling of the fire. Had some good fun with my zoom lens, too:
In sum, that was the week. Time outside to hike in the mountains, boat and kayak in the lake, and run along the trails. Quiet time to read. Singing, telling stories, and laughing over the fire. Being together with family. Very relaxing and very simple. Can’t ask for more than that.
Thanks to Singapore’s elections on Friday, we had a three-day weekend! I hadn’t been out of Singapore since arriving at the end of July, which means I’d been in the same city for about seven weeks. When’s the last time that happened? The haze coming up to Singapore from Indonesia meant, and continues to mean, that we haven’t seen the sun in a couple weeks (and can hardly see clearly at all, for that matter), the kids have been cooped up inside during break times in a space not large enough to accommodate all of them, the air constantly smells like something’s burning (because it is . . . thanks, Indonesian palm oil companies . . .), and just breathing has become a chore. All in all, a great weekend to get out of Singapore.
Before I left Malaysia, I knew I wanted to visit Chiang Mai. Mitch and I had a whirlwind of a weekend in Bangkok about a year ago (here is the blog post about that) and I haven’t made it back to Thailand since. This weekend’s visit to Chiang Mai, because of the day off on Friday, gave me ample time to explore not only the city, but also an elephant reserve nearby. The 400 photos I took on this trip (no kidding) basically fall into two categories: temples and elephants. I have done my best to sift through the photos and I’ve tried really hard not to saturate this blog post with too many images of the same thing. Enjoy! And if you want more pictures, let me know. I have them.
Firstly, orientation. Chiang Mai is located in northern Thailand, which means there was sun, clean air, and mountains. The old city is surrounded by a moat (Chiang Mai dates to the 12th century) and there’s access through a couple gates.
Much of Chiang Mai is made up of clusters of multi-story buildings with businesses on the bottom and who knows what on the upper floors. More than a few were brightly colored, like these:
I also spotted a few examples of colorful graffiti. It amuses me that there are words presumably written in English, but I still can’t read them. This is also the case with graffiti that I’ve seen and photographed in English-speaking countries, so I suppose it isn’t a surprise.
The shrines that dot Chiang Mai were no less colorful. In every city I’ve been to in Asia, it’s normal to find shrines outside, inside, on street corners, in parking lots, inside business, near homes. I loved the motorcycle parked right next to this one:
After dropping my trusty purple duffel bag at the hotel (since I was traveling alone, I figured I’d treat myself), my first stop was just down the street to the Lanna Folklife Museum, where I learned about the Lanna kingdom of ancient Thailand and their distinct culture. It took me about an hour to go through the whole thing, and I highly recommend it for a historical overview, especially if you’re unfamiliar with Buddhism.
I took a picture of exactly one artifact at the museum:
Just across the street is the Three Kings Monument, which I could see from my hotel.
After getting my bearings (and getting slightly lost on the way) I began my tour of Chiang Mai’s temples. For the most part, I have no idea which of the dozens of temples I saw. It doesn’t matter because they’re all just names to me. I went inside many of them, leaving my shoes with the others at the entrance. Thailand is understandably strict about respectful attire when entering temples (explicit signs indicate in many languages and many pictures indicate what is and is not acceptable). There’s often nothing to borrow from friendly devotees at the entrance because the temples are simply open to the public for prayer. I have a few dresses and skirts that cover my knees; I keep a light scarf for my shoulders in my bag at all times when traveling in Asia. You never know when it will come in handy!
The gallery of photos below comes from two days of walking through Chiang Mai and popping in and out of temples. I did a lot more of this than I think I would have if I were traveling with a buddy. But since I wasn’t, I did a lot of meandering (read: getting lost) and meandering means finding temples.
Wat Prah Singh is famous for its Buddhas, but also for its murals
This was part of a monument just sitting on a street corner
All temples have bells that monks ring during prayer
Inside the very famous Wat Phra Sing
Beautiful temple that came out of no where when I was lost. The style is very Chinese, but the sign is in Thai.
All temples have boxes asking for donations. Often, the specific cause is listed on the box – some temples have MANY boxes.
Wat Prah Singh is famous for its Buddhas, but also for its murals
Part of a shrine in front of a temple
These monks were at prayer when I visited this temple, so I didn’t go inside
Just a quick comment on the temple in the photos below. I’ve seen a lot of temples in my travels, but never one made of wood. It honestly reminded me more of Norway’s stave churches than of a Buddhist temple.
And to compare, here’s a stave church in Norway:
I tend to write a lot when I spend time alone, and time alone while traveling is no exception. I also pause for more tea and coffee breaks than I would otherwise, perhaps because I spend less time lingering over meals. In Chiang Mai, though, my break beverage alternated between iced coffee and Thai iced tea, which is quite possibly the most delicious of beverages.
Based on a recommendation from a friend, I chose Elephant Nature Park for Saturday’s all-day trip to visit elephants. The park is a reserve for 70+ elephants who range in age from babies to about 80 years old. Some of the elephants were brought to the park when they got too old to work or when industries using them were shut down, but most of them were rescued from logging operations, circuses, and street performances. Our guide, Pur, told us about each of the elephants that we met. She was incredibly knowledgeable about each elephant’s story as well as how its current family group formed. It is amazing how elephants, much like people, form families.
While most of the day was devoted to watching them interact, we got to feed and bathe the elephants, too! Pur allowed us to pet some of the gentle giants but kept us away from the ones the she called “not nice.” Every so often, the elephants would get upset or agitated and the mahouts (handlers) would shout at the visitors to get out of the way. Over the course of the day, Pur also told us about the various injuries and abuses that many have endured. More than a few elephants were blind and had misshaped or deformed limbs from stepping on landmines. There was also a gallery at the reserve devoted to photos of elephants before and after surgery and rehabilitation.
Elephants eat fruit completely whole, rind and peel and all
Probably my favorite shot of the day
Yes, elephants really do blow water out of their trunks
These elephants got into a fight that included some running across the river
Elephants walk in lines just like in all the movies!
Most of an elephant’s day is spent eating; each eats about 300 kilos of food!
This elephant has a flower in her earring to cover up a bullet hole
There were baby elephants, too!
In the end, we all just want to play in the water
They were definitely posing for the cameras at this point
In addition to elephants, Elephant Nature Park is also home to over 400 dogs and cats, many of which are up for adoption. Most of the dogs, at least, were strays in Bangkok once upon a time. They followed the elephants around as they pleased and were constantly looking for love from visitors. The park itself is staffed by about 200 people; this week, about 70 of those were volunteers. It was a wonderful day, complete with transit to and from the park and a delicious vegetarian lunch. I can’t say enough good things about supporting this organization.
And then there’s the fact that Elephant Nature Park is simply beautiful. It was a marvelous change of pace (and air quality) from hazy Singapore.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting people. I’m still in touch with someone Mitch and I met in Langkawi about a year ago. That was our very first Southeast Asian trip!
People tend to meet through shared experiences, and Elephant Nature Park was no exception. Two girls and I made plans to meet up to visit the Night Bazar and go for dinner. We ate at a food court, which was cheap and delicious. While there, I couldn’t help but notice the sign below, which reminded me that the world has a long way to go. Travellers with disabilities will most certainly encounter difficulties when visiting Asia.
After the Night Bazar, when we were done looking through the regular tourist trap kitsch that feature at many markets, we went out to a very chill rooftop bar with a rasta vibe. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant when I heard about it, but the decor clarified very succinctly.
The highlight of Sunday, my last day in Chiang Mai, was a river cruise along the Ping River. It was a dreary day but the wonderful people of the Scorpion Tailed River Cruise (basically the Sam Patchof Chiang Mai!) were very gracious and gave me a private tour! The ancient Thai man who acted as the tour guide is also, I suspect, the owner of the entire operation. Part of the tour included time off the boat to taste tropical fruits and smell local herbs in his garden. The experience was expensive by Thai standards but a really nice way to learn about Chiang Mai’s history from (literally) a very different angle.
River travel used to be the way people got around. That has changed, but there are no metered taxis in Chiang Mai. The best way to get from point A to point B without a private car is by a red sorng-tau-oo, basically a shared taxi, or tuk tuk, a private taxi.
Thanks, Chiang Mai! Thailand, see you again in a month!