Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chiang Mai to Bangkok

26 January 2014

We decided to fly from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, since it wasn't very expensive and the train trip was long (and not as comfortable as we had hoped).  While it was interesting to see the landscape, towns, villages, temples up close, it was equally interesting getting a view from way high up above the clouds.
Especially since we didn't get to see all of these hills, almost mountains - I guess we hit this area at night.  Or maybe the train goes through the flatter areas.  I'm not sure of the exact route.

But it was amazing to see all the hills and mountains rising above the low-lying clouds and mist.  Or haze.  Or pollution, in the bigger cities.

Chiang Mai is 5 degrees north of Bangkok, about 600 km, or 370 miles.  So it's a totally different climate, also due to the elevation.  Much chillier during the days as well as the nights.  Nights are downright cold!  So that temperature change creates a lot of morning fog and haze, making these lovely mystical landscapes.

Anyway, we decided to stay in the city center this time around, since our first hotel in Bangkok, while nice, was way far from anything.  And we got tired of taxis stuck in traffic.  So we booked a hotel on Silom Road - in the city center, but not in the area of the government offices, where much of the anti-government protest and demos are taking place.  (That's the next blog post.)

So, Silom or Si Lom (pronounced see-LOAM) is a long main street, with little alleys or side roads off the main street - and these alleys or side streets are Soi Silom (Soy see-LOAM) and are numbered - so yes, we are on Soi Silom 14.  Confusing until you get used to the system, then it makes perfect sense.  It's like 1st St, 2nd, etc., but off the main drag so that you know what part of town it's in.  And the even numbers are on one side of Silom, odds on the other.  Makes perfect sense.

Especially on a road with elephant statues on the median.  (I love the statues, they are so whimsical!)

I'm not sure if this is considered the garment district, but there are certainly tailors all over the neighbourhood. 
 And tailors on the street, who set up their treadle sewing machines and take in work for customers.  We stopped and had this woman repair our bag from Bali.  Eighty baht later (about $2.60 US) and we were set.  LOVE it!

This is definitely a more posh neighbourhood than some we've seen, with the tailors, upscale tourist shops, lovely fountains, and some very fancy hotels.  (Our hotel is much more modest.)  

The fancy hotels seem to feature fancy shrines.  I enjoyed the little tableaus set out around the mirror shrine - really, it's almost like playing with dolls.  I'd love that job, being a shrine tableau designer, setting out the elephants and horses and dancing figures, creating little stories around the shrine.  Wouldn't that be fun?  Get to play with dolls and animals and get paid for it?  It just seems like such a joyful celebration of the belief system of the religion.

I haven't seen any Buddhist temples on Silom, just the shrines.  But there is a Hindu temple along this street, with all the wild colours and figures and decorative motifs on the wall.  Beautiful! 

And of course flower stalls so the observant can purchase offerings for the temples.  Or shrines.  Or just because they are beautiful floral embellishments.

It has been interesting to go from St. Thomas, with a good-sized population of people from India who are practicing their form of Hinduism, to Bali, where people practice a Hinduism with traces of Buddhism embedded in their beliefs and rituals.  Now we're in Thailand, where there are vestiges of Hinduism in the Buddhism practiced here.  Which is unlike the way Buddhism is practiced in Japan, where I've spent some time.  It makes sense, since Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) came originally from Nepal, which was Hindu at that time.  There's some question (dispute!) whether he practiced Hinduism, since he was a prince and thus not bound by religion.  But he probably was at least somewhat familiar with Hindu tradition and ritual in some form.  So to see the progression from Indian Hinduism to Balinese Hinduism with bits of Buddhism, to Thai Buddhism with bits of Hinduism, is sort of like watching the religions transition across the continent.  At least that's how it seems to me.  (Thai people say that Buddha was Hindu; Hindu people don't agree.  At least they aren't fighting over this issue!)

Anyway, just one of those things I've noticed and tried to make sense of, as one does when travelling.

So we continue to explore Bangkok, talk to Thai people to learn more about their culture and traditions (as well as the politics, which are volatile at the moment), and chat with other tourists and travellers.  I had a lovely talk this morning with a couple from Paris, and their Swiss friend who is working here in Bangkok - they were very interesting, and thinking of doing a similar all-over-the-world trip after retirement.  Voluntary nomadism is spreading!

Up next:  Chinese New Year, and the political situation in Thailand.   

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