Chiang Mai- their last resort

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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The first time I was in Chiang Mai Kiaw (our host) invited me to help do some projects and visitations upcountry. Her colleagues and long-time friend Ning and her husband, Pietro from Italy, were driving up from Chonburi (a city close to Bangkok) to do that as well. I decided to hitch a ride with them.

After a long days drive we arrived at the home of Kiaw and Claude on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a beautiful city and the new residential suburbs are ideal places for people who want to lead a peaceful quiet life. The house had white washed walls, airy screen doors allowed for maximum natural cooling. Meals were taken on the terrace dining table the lacquered wood trellis was traditionally carved in Chiang Mai style. I was shocked at how cheap the rent was here (a couple hundred dollars for a 4 bedroom house) “This area was developed early but the infrastructure never reached this far out” Jack the neighbour and friend explained to me. “It’s good for us as its reasonable rent and we don’t need the city around us anyway.”  Jack was an ancient retired American expatriate he lived next door with his Thai wife and small girl.

Claude and Kiaw were a not that far over the hill and they craved company. Their house was full this time with not only us but also Claude’s brother Jacque and their niece Bernadine visiting. We all piled into a car and headed up to the hills to see some sights. Jacque was a fun chatty fellow who talked incessantly about “my house in Krachinah” (somewhere in east Thailand) Bernadine was a quiet girl who spoke English with a thick French accent “This is so different from back home (Quebec)” she said over and over with wide eyes. Chiang Mai City is in a valley surrounded by high-forested hills. We drove up to the top of the hills from there we could see the whole valley spread out before us. We hiked to one of the many waterfalls bringing cool stream water down to the river in the valley. “But there are no animals” Bernadine said looking around expectantly, “Well you know this is Thailand, everyone is rather shy here” I told her. Next stop was a temple perched on a hill the walk up there was fun 20 minutes of stairs. The architecture was unique. On both sides of the staircase were gold coloured Chiang Mai dragons that looked rather like glorified snakes with their colourful heads reared up. The Temple was golden coloured (most likely burnished brass) and intricately decorated with beaten metal leaf and relief. In the center was a courtyard with the copper prayer wheels and encased relics. A row of brass gongs hung on one side the size of the gongs gradually increased down the line. “This is Thai Buddhism. What do you think?” I asked Bernadine “It’s amazing…” was all she could say.

Life in upcountry Thailand moves at a languorous pace. It moves with the position and heat of the sun. The highlight of the day is supper. Served in the evening dusk and carried into the creeping black night with endless discussions. With all this time on your hands and not much amusement people do what our ancestors did for millennia- think and talk. Jack turned out to be a veritable encyclopedia of twentieth century knowledge. It's amazing what you'll find in the most unlikely corners of the world. This puttering old man had lived a full life with experiences ranging from the military, private defense contracting, entrepreneurial ventures and so on. “In America politics, corporate business, and military are inextricably intertwined it’s all part of one large system of control, but you’re an intelligent young man so I’m sure you already know that” He mused. I did know but I’m always ready to hear instead of read. Orally transmitted knowledge, however inaccurate, is more valuable to me than a hundred books. To have the chance to share a moment of your life with others exchanging information in a personal way is not to be taken for granted. We spent many mealtimes and evenings talking about everything from lifestyle, culture, history, politics, religion etc I mostly listened and answered questions.

One day we went to visit an old friends of my hosts John and his Thai wife. They lived in a palatial mansion in a village in the backwoods. Their iron front gate opened to a long driveway lined with flower beds and trees. On the left was a huge lawn with Thai gazebos, benches and tables. On the right was a stone Koi pond and fountains with a wooden bridge and covered deck. The whole property was luxuriantly green with palms and mango trees. We walked up the marble front steps to the front door where they were waiting to show us the house. The exterior walls were typical white washed brick but the interior framing and floors were entirely  teak. The stairs creaked as we walked up to the second level the bedrooms were furnished in ornate vanities, wardrobes, and heavy beds with tall bedposts (all dark stained teak) where gauze mosquito netting hung from. It was true tropical luxury complete with servants quarters, workshop, storage sheds, and school building like a colonial plantation house.

“Come on and meet my family.” John beamed. In the lounge were some young dark girls and boys aged from 12-21. “These two are our adopted daughters” John put his arms around two girls, “the rest are villagers from around who work or attend the village school.” They all were hill tribe people (Karen, Mon etc) that John and his wife had taken in. “What made you come out to this village?” I was curious about this balding American. “When the tsunami hit south Thailand I was here. I met some volunteers from your NGO and I grew interested in your way of life. By then I had already grown to love this beautiful land and people and Haw…” he gave his wife an affectionate squeeze, “well she only helped that along.” I let the older folks reminisce and went outside to play football with the boys. After a good drenching of sweat I was led by the hand by a little brown girl to see the music room, with a battered keyboard and guitar warped with humidity. I followed the children to the gardens we skipped stones in the fishpond and knocked down mangoes with a long bamboo pole.

The sun was setting as our pickup pulled out of their driveway. We waved back at the waving hands and smiling faces, one white and a dozen brown. I thought of the simplicity and beauty of life here in the jungles of north Thailand. The magic of this steamy place works like a charm to the world-weary. When you are under this enchantment giving up your past life seems so insignificant. Life takes on a whole new pace and meaning here. In many ways this place is an untouched paradise, a last resort.
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Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes