For out final day at Mirror, the staff took us to the White Temple Wat Rong Khun. This is a privately owned temple on the outskirts of Chiang Rai. The artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed it and constructed it, devoted his life to work and opened it to the public in 1997. He could be seen working on the temple until the day he died,
What makes this temple so unique is its color and the details used in his design. For example, as you approach the entrance, you walk across a bridge (called the cycle of rebirth) of outstretched arms reaching out from the water. They symbolize unrestrained desire The artist painted images of Saddam Hussein and President Bush the eyes of his Buddhas as a protest to the war in Iraq. There are also images of Michael Jackson, Freddy Kruger, and Neo from the Matrix - all symbolizing the fact that people are wicked. It is a very unusual place.
After visitng the temple, we headed back to Mirror to pack Our songtows took us back into Chiang Rai where I boarded a bus for Chiang Mai. I really enjoyed Chiang Rai and wish that I had time to see the Black Temple. But I will save that for a future visit.
The three hour bus ride to Chiang Mai was uneventful. I read and looked out the window at the scenery. I was ready to get somewhere where I could take a hot shower and make my own schedule for a few days. I had nothing actually planned at this point, but I did have a list of things that I wanted to do.
There were three memorable things that I did in Chiang Mai: 1) got a massage from a prison inmate; 2) took a Thai cooking class; and 3) went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.
Women's Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center - Anyone who has visited Thailand will tell you about the abundance of personal services available. After a few days of outdoor work, I was ready for a massage.
Several volunteers had told me about a facility where they teach women prisoners how to do massage. This gives them a skill that they can then use when they leave prison The prison offers paid massages so that the women can practice their skills. I was in!
The fact that I still have not been able to adjust my sleep schedule in this new environment came in handy as I was one of the first people to sign up for a massage that day. By 11:00, they were no more apointments for the day.
The massage lasted 2 hours and cost 400 Thai baht (about $12, $15 with tip), It was fantastic! There were two times when I had to cry "uncle", but I felt great afterwards. I now felt ready to tackle all the wats around the city.
Thai Cooking Class - My fiend, KB, told me that one of the highlights of her time in Chiang Mai was a Thai Cooking Class. I am certainly not a chef, but this seemed like a good way to learn about the culture and have a great meal. So I arranged to take a class from Red Curry Cooking School.
My instructor, Aon, picked me up at my guesthouse and we went straight to the market. This place was really cool. They sold all the parts to any animal they offered. Which meant I saw pig heads next to intestines and hearts and feet! There was a whole area dedicated to insides of cows. As I walked through this section, I was fascinated with what I saw but very happy to be a vegetarian.
The produce was beautiful. I saw so many items that I had never seen before. And the smells made me hungry. We picked up the items were were going to need for our meal today and then headed out to the kitchen.
The Red Curry Cooking School operates out of the River Market. I was Aon's only student so I got lots of instruction. We made coconut soup, tofu green curry (we made our own curry paste!), sticky rice with mango, and something else that I cannot remember. I was full by the time I left, but so happy!
Elephant Jungle Conservancy - Up until recently, the highlight of many people's trips to Thailand would be a ride on an elephant. But as people became more educated about the impact on the elephants (their spines are not designed to hold weight), demand for this experience has tapered off.
I notced that most of the brochures for elephant experiences highlighted the fact that they did NOT allow riding, and that no prods or chains were used on the animals. I only saw a flyer for one program that still offered the elephant riding experience. And the amazing thing was that this program was about 2/3 of the cost of the non-riding experiences, meaning that they thought a lower cost could overcome the negative impact on the elephants. It is good to see that education can have such a positive impact.
I was picked up early on the day of my tour. The elephant conservancy was about 1 1.2 hours outside of Chiang Mai. We arrived and hiked up to the property where the elephants live. They have about 60 acres to roam, which is certainly not how they would live in the wild, but these elephants would not survive in the wild. They have all been rescued from circuses or work farms, and even from other tourist camps where they used to give rides to humans. These elephants are well-fed and appear to be happy.
We were asked to put on colorful shirts that everyone wears when the elephants are fed. The elephants know that the people in these shirts have bananas, and they love bananas! We then fed them corn, which they didn't seem to enjoy as much.
The big experience came next. We got into our bathing suits and followed the elephants down to their mud hole. I could not believe that I was going to be swimming with the elephants! We were given some safety precautions - don't stand behind the elephant and watch where the elephant is going to lie down (so you don't end up under the large beast!). And then we followed them into the water. It seemed pretty cool at first, and then the elephants did what all creatures in nature do, and you quickly realize that you are swimming in their toilet. I had to get out.
Our final interaction with the elephants was down at the waterfalls. This gave us a chance to get somewhat clean, and splash around with the elephants. It was a great way to cool off and finish our encounter.
I really enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai, but I was excited to move on to my next country. Besides, I would finally have some company - my sister would be meeting me there! God help her because I have not talked much in the last two weeks so she is not getting many words in for the first few hours!