Category Archives: Must See

Rice Festival @ Yafu Village

We were recently invited to Chiang Rai to celebrate the Rice Festival with a couple of the local hill-tribes and … WOW … what an incredible experience. We were only in the hills for a day but I’m still having difficulties gathering all of my thoughts. It was definitely one of those experiences that really puts life in perspective.

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A panoramic view from our host’s balcony. The outhouse / shower is the small structure on the far right.

 

 

 

For anyone that may have the opportunity to experience a journey up the mountainside on a motorbike, it’s not for the faint of heart. We spent about 45 minutes to an hour on steep, unpaved roads that have been rutted and carved out by heavy rains. I made the mistake of not testing the brakes and suspension thoroughly on the motorbike prior to our journey and as you’ll see in the video, we had a minor spill coming down the following day.

We spoiled these two as much as we could.

Unless you were brought up on a farm it’s not too often that one gets to see pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, and even a Canadian Geese cohabiting in harmony, interacting, setting boundaries, even expressing affection with each other.

There’s no detachment from the food supply here. Several of the chickens and even one of the pigs that we saw foraging for food, just hours later provided several hearty meals during our stay and I gotta say that I had some of the best barbecued pork I’ve ever had. All of the vegetables were grown in the common areas of the village or surrounding hills and nothing went to waste. Anything we didn’t eat or use was quickly eaten by the dogs, cats, chickens and lastly the pigs. It was quite the experience to see the full circle of life. Here’s a little video of our food being prepared.

The only electrical power in the village was derived from small solar panels connected to each dwelling and the water was pumped from a local mountain spring. There was no door on the outhouse and for whatever reason the piglets seemed  to enjoy interrupting whoever was currently taking care of business at the time. There were no beds, we slept on the floor but I have to say, bamboo is incredibly forgiving and my back felt better after a night on the floor than it has on any of the “therapeutic” beds I’ve slept on in the last 10 years.

Most people from the west might consider these living conditions rather primitive yet what they lacked in the way of possessions they made up for with creativity, ingenuity and a genuine sense of community.

 

 

Care for Dogs

For the last 6 – 8 weeks we’ve been volunteering at a local dog rescue / shelter called Care for Dogs. Most of the 180 dogs here at the shelter are soi dogs that have been injured in some form, (usually accidental but often from neglect or outright abuse) including quite a few that have been rescued from the dog meat trade (yes the dog meat trade but that’s a different topic entirely).

Care for Dogs operates primarily from the blood, sweat and tears and the tireless efforts of a number of (mostly) volunteers dedicated to helping our four legged friends receive medical care AND find a new home. Care for Dogs is also committed to conducting a regular number of sterilizations each month to address the dog overpopulation issue here in Thailand.

If you come for a stay, you can expect to join us for a day of dog walking … so be sure to bring your walking shoes. Of course there are other ways you can help …. and yep that means cash. Providing food, shelter and medical care for 180 plus dogs is not cheap and Care for Dogs relies entirely on donations from people like you and I. Thailand is not exactly a thriving economic center and without the exposure to foreigners willing to donate to the shelter, I’m afraid that the center would not survive. We recently picked up a couple of leashes, collars and grooming supplies and it all cost about the same as they would in the US so even if someone wanted to send a “care package” in lieu of cash it would be put to good use.

If you are really feeling especially gratuitous you can sponsor a dog. Here’s just a few of the dogs we walk …

This is Fritz and Jones. Fritz is blind in both eyes but as you can see he’s a healthy boy. Unfortunately, he’s a bit too heavy to be carried out of the enclosure by most of the volunteers so he doesn’t get walked as much as he should. He’s a gentle boy who loves being brushed and cuddled with. Jones is a big boy too and he’s definitely the top dog in his little corner of the yard but his bark is much bigger than his bite.  Frankly, I think he’d spend all day licking the sweat off if I allowed him to.

This is Penny (left) and Tam (right). Tam and 3 of Penny’s offspring are segregated from the main yard because they don’t play well with other dogs. Penny has a cage all to herself because, well, her junk brings all the boys to the yard. Tam has become one of my wife’s favorites to walk and if we find ourselves in a position to foster / adopt, Tam will definitely come with us. Surprisingly (given her reputation), Penny has been a joy to walk, she doesn’t pull, listens quite well, and she even takes treats like a lady.

These 2 beautiful sisters were recently “found” wandering the parking lot at the local mall (coincidentally there was an adoption event going on the same day). This is the first I have seen of German Shepherds in Thailand so my guess is that they were brought in by foreigners, then ditched for whatever reason. Never the less, these 2 girls can’t be more than 2 or 3 years old and they are still quite playful. I don’t think that they have been walked on leash much and they tend to weave but I think that will be easy to overcome with a little persistence. We encountered a few soi dogs while we were walking the other day and they definitely got agitated but never got too aggressive. These 2 girls are not soi dogs and don’t belong in a shelter and I’d be heartbroken if they were broken up so I am hoping they find a good home together soon.


Rick the prick, Lulu the lap dog, and my bud Fritzi. Lulu is a very jealous dog but when she is getting attention she is all love. Rick is a social young male that loves attention but tends to bark at the other dogs when they get in the way of his human time.

Here’s just a few more that need YOUR SUPPORT.

To learn more, please visit the Care for Dogs website at http://www.carefordogs.org and be sure to add them on Facebook.

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Care for Dogs

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Care for Dogs 18.717037, 98.908242

Doi Inthanon

We finally made the ride up to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s tallest mountain at 2,535 m (just over 8,000′) . This was by far the longest ride we’ve done on the motorbike (as evidenced by the nasty sunburns we are both dealing with at the moment) at just over 2 hours in each direction (a bit more than 100km). We managed to stop and take a couple breaks on the way up to Doi Inthanon but weren’t so fortunate on the ride home (more on that in a minute). Admission for farangs is 300 THB per person and 20 THB for a motorbike, definitely one of the more expensive sites in Thailand but well worth it.

As we experienced on the way up to Doi Suthep, the temperatures start dropping as the elevation increases and Doi Inthanon is no exception. The weather at the top couldn’t have been more perfect in my opinion, although my head got a little toasty just from walking around the gardens. The temperature difference is so noticeable it felt like we were riding into an oven as we descended the mountain back in to the valley. We were also very fortunate that there was little traffic headed up or down the mountain (which seemed incredibly odd for a weekend).

I believe there’s 6 or 7 total waterfalls to see along the road up to Doi Inthanon and we had originally planned to see 1 or 2 on the way up and several on the way down but we had some mechanical issues with the rear brakes which distracted us from pretty much everything else at the time (not to mention the rain that was headed right toward us). Luckily we stopped at this waterfall on the way up and managed to take a few pictures and cool off in the mist.

It’s a short but steep and windy road down but our 125cc made it up without any issues. There’s also a café and restrooms for visitors.

We intended on stopping at a number of temples we saw along the side of the road on the way home, however that ominous rain cloud, that is visible in a few of the pictures, chased us home with our tail between our legs. Fortunately, we managed to stop at Wat Namtok Mae Klang just before getting to the first checkpoint headed into Doi Inthanon National Park (the last 3 pictures in this group are from a different temple that we stopped at briefly).

Just having fun with panoramic pictures.

This day trip was definitely a highlight for me and in spite of the crazy winds, rain and mechanical issues with our scooter, I’d do it all over again. It would have been nice to make a couple extra stops along the way home but I left my weather modification device in the US …… haha (kinda).

Songkran 2015

So now that we’re a few days past Songkran, I figured it was time to put pen to paper (euphamistically speaking of course) about our first New Year holiday in Thailand. The first thing worth noting is that the Thai’s celebrate several New Years Holidays during the year (World, Thai, Chinese and often individual tribes have a new year celebration of their own).

I’ll dispense with the not so fun part about Songkran: over the course of the 7-day holiday there were 364 deaths, 3,559 injuries, 3,373 accidents with 39% of the accidents attributed to drunk driving. With a little over 80% of the accidents involving motorbikes, it’s not terribly difficult to understand why there are so many (unfortunate) deaths. I sure appreciated being in a smaller town though, I’m sure Chiang Rai had it’s share of accidents but we didn’t see any ourselves. It was fairly clear as the week progressed that alcohol consumption and it’s prevalence in and around motor vehicles was on the rise, so we made it a point not to be on the road much more than was necessary.

One thing that I really appreciate about the Thai culture is that many businesses were closed for several days, the last few days of the 7 day holiday period, the whole town seemed to be shut down … we couldn’t even get a massage. Often, the businesses that were open, the employees were stationed outside their shops armed with water guns, buckets, or trash cans full of water waiting for willling, and sometimes unwilling, participants to pass by. We saw trucks with 8 – 10 people (from age 6 – 60) packed in the back, and if they weren’t all armed with super soakers, there was sure to be a 50 gallon drum of water (ice cold often) in the back. And there was no safe haven, we live on the outskirts of town and figured the “action” would all be in town …. NOPE …. the locals that run the small ma & pa shops, or live along the road, all had their buckets at the ready. They often had cones out in the road and would walk out into the lane to get our attention and slow us down ….. just to have buckets of water poured over our heads. It was all very good spirited though, I never felt like anyone was being “aggressive” about wetting us. However, we actually made it a point not to go out one day after a few days of getting absolutely drenched on the road no matter what path we took to or around town. We were able to “wave off” a few dryness saboteurs one afternoon but so many of the businesses were closed it wasn’t worth the effort.

Can you imagine what the news headlines would read after a holiday like this in the States? “Dozens dead as gun shots ensue from giant water fight in Los Angeles” … OR … “Over 7-day period, cops kill 10 citizens carrying life-like water guns because they “feared” for their dryness” … OR … “OC woman sues child 8, for making her spray-on-tan run”. But here’s the thing, the water tossing and wetting is a symbolic blessing. I suppose that in a country where 95% of the population is buddhist, the symbolism of the whole event is not lost on very many. Even the people that were trying to avoid getting wet, but did, were good spirited about it. But I will say, I targeted dry, unsuspecting foreigners as often as possible. Talk about a return to childhood, I don’t think I took a break at all one afternoon I was having so much fun.

For anyone that is thinking about visiting Thailand, Songkran is definitely one of those holidays that is unique to this region of the planet and would be worth the time. If your time is limited and you want to do a lot of other “tourist” related activities while here, it would be smart to allocate some time before or after the Songkran holiday for those activities.

The main street, standing room only.

The COPE Museum

It was purely at the recommendation of a woman we met on a short taxi ride from the Thai consulate in Vientiane that we decided to visit the COPE Museum (http://www.copelaos.org) during our short stay in Lao. We did little research prior to our visit and had no idea what to expect. On arrival it appeared to be a rather typical medical facility, we paid a small fee to park the motorbike and headed over to the visitor’s center tucked away in the corner. It didn’t take long after we entered the visitor center for me to grasp the magnitude of what the COPE Museum represented. Just inside the entrance, dangling from the ceiling was a large American military rocket split in half with hundreds of small, baseball size explosives suspended in the air, more commonly referred to as Cluster Munitions.

Cluster Munitions
Click the following link to see which countries still have not agreed to end the use of cluster munitions. http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/en-gb/the-treaty/treaty-status.aspx

You can barely see the map on the wall in the background but the red area (which is actually thousands of small dots) represents the locations where the United States Air Force littered these cluster bombs all over Lao. This short video will provide a much clearer picture of what the 8-year US bombing campaign really looked like.

Here is a couple of the short stories that were posted on the walls inside the visitor center:

Risky Cooking
Thong regularly cooked over a wood fire, similar to the one set up here. The fire was built into the dirt floor in her home.

On 10th May 2010 she began to cook above the open fire. She had no way of knowing there was a bomb buried beneath the fire.

The bomb exploded, sending shrapnel flying. Thong and her 15 year old daughter were both seriously injured. Neighbors helped to get them to the local hospital and from there they were transferred to a larger provincial hospital. Thankfully, they both survived but shrapnel remains in their bodies.

Making a fire in the UXO contaminated parts of Lao PDR is never safe. The heat from the fire warms the earth below it and if there is a bomb buried, it could cause it to explode.

 and one more …

Mr. Ta
In 2004, Ta was out fishing with two of his sons, aged 8 and 10. He found a bomb lying on the ground. He knew it was dangerous but he had heard that the explosive made it easy to catch fish. He sent this children behind a tree and crawled up to the bomb. As soon as he touched it, it exploded. His sons dragged him into a boat and rowed back to the village. In total, it took 9 hours for them to reach medical help.

Ta lost both arms, an eye and all of his family’s livestock to pay for this treatment. For 4 years, Ta described how he had to, “eat like a dog”. Since being brought to the CMR by the team at PCL (A UXO clearance organization) he has received three different types of arms and is now able to help his family and try to rebuild his life. He has become an advocate for a ban on cluster munitions and travelled to Oslo to watch the signing of the treaty.

At this point I was completely overwhelmed with emotion, if for no other reason that (as an American) I felt incredibly humbled to even be permitted inside the country (think about that next time you give a nasty look to a foreigner in the states). I have not been a saint by any means and I am no stranger to violence, but I have never had an experience where I felt such a sense of shame and embarrassment as I did walking through this museum.  I wish every American child could walk through this facility, to see the harsh realities of war and the byproducts of US foreign policy. No one “won” the Vietnam war, more than a million people died, and still 50 years later innocent children and people are losing limbs and dying because of the decisions of a few men in positions of power. The only winners are the bankers and the military industrial complex who profit from these fabricated wars. Everyone else loses ……. PERIOD.

Apart from the fact that it was  started under completely false pretenses, the War in Iraq will be / is my generation’s Vietnam.  If you doubt what I am suggesting, I’d encourage  you to  do a little of your own independent research, specifically on the use of depleted uranium munitions.

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COPE Visitor Centre

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COPE Visitor Centre 17.958055, 102.620293

 

 

 

The Black House – Bandaam Museum

This museum is definitely an addition to the “Must See” list in Northern Thailand. The museum, which I wouldn’t consider to be a black house, is a collection of artwork by the deceased Thawan Duchanee. Admission is free, yep FREE. There are a number of smaller structures in addition to the main building that resembles a large temple. As one would expect, Buddhist artwork, statues and influences are present all over the property, however there is also a certain darkness  reflected in much of the artwork and displays. We will be returning at night to see the change in ambiance after the sun sets. A ton of great pictures of this museum can be found with a quick search on Google.

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The Black House - Baan Daam

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The Black House - Baan Daam 19.991990, 99.860616

Buddhist Meditation Retreat

We had the honor of attending the first Meditation Retreat put on by the Chiang Rai Sangha College of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University at Wat Phra That Phangao. The retreat was designed to provide foreigners an opportunity to learn about the Buddha’s teachings and to gain a greater understanding of the rituals, practices and life of a monk.

While most of my background in meditation has pertained to martial arts  and visualization practices, my “practice” has always been rather informal. I definitely took away a greater technical understanding of meditation and how to be more mindful in my activities and daily life. Stay tuned for video of me floating in the air.

Our days began with a morning meditation at 5:00am, followed by a vegetarian breakfast. We had lectures each day by a meditation master, a retired Army officer, followed by more meditation – seated and walking (yup, a walking meditation). While I didn’t mind the vegetarian meals, we didn’t waste any time after we got home to  run into town for some meals that included meat.

One of the more powerful experiences of the weekend was being present for the monks chanting. I wish I could have sat in the middle of them and listened to this for hours.

Serving the monks lunch.

Field trip! Some of these temples and sites are close to a 1,000 years old. Talk about historical significance. In a couple of the pictures, you can see the Mekong River in the distance and the border between Burma, Thailand and Lao, or better known as the Golden Triangle. Hard to imagine but all of the agriculture in the area was once opium fields.

 

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Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao

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Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao 20.244474, 100.114683

 

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Wat Phra That Chom Kitti

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Wat Phra That Chom Kitti 20.286152, 100.074140

ASEAN Flower Festival

Sooooooo we’ve been seeing these huge banners posted all over the area for the 2014 ASEAN Flower Festival and finally decided to check it out. If I had to describe it, it was like the Rose Parade meets the Arboretum meets the LA County Fair …… on steroids. In addition to all of the flowers and plant life on display there were rows and rows of vendors, tons of local food varieties, carnival rides, and lots of plants for sale (from vegetable and fruit starts to decorative plants and of course, our favorite …. orchids).

Here’s another thing I appreciate about Thailand …. there doesn’t seem to be a consistent effort to try and take advantage of consumers at every possible opportunity – parking for the Flower Festival was 20 baht (about $0.60) and there was no (as in 0) entry fee.

For anyone planning on visiting Northern Thailand, the Flower Festival would be well worth including in your itinerary.

The orchid area was probably my favorite part of the Flower Festival.

Here’s some of the orchids that were on sale by the vendors. Most were 40 – 150 THB.

We stopped by on New Year’s Eve to check out the festivities.

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ASEAN FLower Festival

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ASEAN FLower Festival 19.925263, 99.863916

The Clock Tower

The clock tower is a popular landmark and ‘must see’ in Chiang Rai. Built in 2008 in Honor of The King, the clock tower lights up and plays music every evening at 1900, 2000 and 2100 hrs. Our favorite restaurant for Khao Soi also sets up a little stand on the southwest corner of the Clock Tower just before show time every night. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the light show and music of this popular site.

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Clock Tower

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Clock Tower 19.907166, 99.830956

Doi In Cee

This is a must see for anyone visiting Chiang Rai, the drive up is a bit precarious but the views from the mountaintop are gorgeous. We can even see it lit up at night from our balcony.

A video of our ride up the mountain on the motorbike.

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Doi In Cee

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Doi In Cee 19.906090, 99.737440