Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bangkok & Chiang Mai (World Tour, stops 6 and 7)

Thailand has unbelievable shopping, food, and Buddhist temples but the heat, humidity, crowds, and traffic have worn me out.

In Bangkok, I went to the Chatuchak weekend market which was overwhelmingly big. There was everything and anything for sale: clothes, jewelry, tourist souvenirs, garden fountains, furniture, exotic pets- you name it and you could probably find it there. I really wanted a baby squirrel or hedgehog or bunny, but I doubt customs would like them as much as I did.

I visited Wat Pho, which had a 46m long reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf. I also went to Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, which was covered from top to bottom in small mirrored tiles in intricate designs. The huge buildings were all clustered closely together and it was almost too much color and detail to take in all at once.

Chiang Mai was not as crowded or touristy as Bangkok (but that's not saying much). I went on an organized day trip which included a visit to the elephant park, bamboo rafting, and a visit to a long-neck hill tribe. The elephants were the best part- we took rides on them, and saw a show where they paint and play the harmonica and drop kick soccer balls. I always worry about animals being exploited to bring in money, but the elephants were never chained up and seemed clean and well fed. The hill tribe women wind copper rod around their necks, which over the years causes their shoulders to drop and their necks to elongate. The guide said they started doing it a long time ago to prevent tigers from being able to attack their necks, but now they do it to bring in tourists. The tribes are illegally in Thailand (originally from Burma, I think?) and I wonder if it's good to encourage them to stay in Thailand illegally by giving them tourist money.

The street food vendors are amazing, and the $0.50 fresh mango smoothies are almost worth the risk of getting horribly sick from the ice.

It looks like I'll escape from here with all of my belongings and without getting sick- somewhat of an accomplishment when something like 30-50 % of visitors get traveler’s diarrhea here.

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