1-2, December 27-8, Saturday-Sunday:
Bangkok airport, said to be built on a place called Cobra
Swamp, is huge and very new and modern. We are lucky it
is open since
there have been recent protests in Bangkok that closed the airport
for some time and stranded thousands of tourists. After the long
trip from Boston via Chicago and Tokyo, we are glad to be whisked
off to the China Princess Hotel, a high-rise in the heart of
Chinatown. It is midnight but our internal clocks think
it is noon, so despite
our fatigue, we sleep very little.
3, December 29, Monday:
breakfast buffets are usually plentiful and this is no exception.
The fresh tropical fruits are delectable, there is a chef making
omelets to order, plus there is an array of not only western
and Asian choices but also a selection labeled Muslim food.
Following breakfast and orientation with our guide, Rachan (or
Roger as he suggests we call him), we walk through the congested
flower markets at Paklang Talad. The flowers are nice but the traffic
is what catches our attention. Thailand has the most traffic fatalities
in the world for its population and crossing the street is such
a challenge that our guide stops traffic for us.
We continue wending our way along the pocked sidewalks among the
many stalls selling everything from lawn mowers to jewelry until
we reach Bangkok's wide Chao Phraya River, board a colorful longtail
boat, and head to Wat Arun on the west bank, bathed in morning
King Taksin established the capital here in the 17th century,
seeing it first at dawn and dubbing it Wat Arun meaning "dawn temple." The
prang or tower of the wat is decorated with porcelain and pairs
of elephants, colorful and glittery and fantastical. I also
spot clouds of butterflies on the flowering trees within the
and think they are a variety of jezebel like the one in my
new Butterfly Effects piece. There is some confirmation of
as I find a framed red-spotted jezebel in one of the market
stalls. Roger later tells me that the trees are called Sorrowless
(saraca dives or ashoka trees) sacred to Buddhists whose saffron-colored
robes mirror the hue of the flowers. Anyway, finding these
butterflies on our first day seems a good omen for the concerts
we came to
Leaving the wat by longtail boat, we head down a narrow canal
to a charming traditional teak house where the lady of the
us a Thai cooking lesson—grinding spices to make red
curry and an appetizer of fried bread with pork and basil.
Back at the China Princess, we dine in the revolving restaurant
on the 25th floor and begin getting acquainted with our group of
15: eleven young people mostly associated with an L.A. film production
company and two academics, both nurses, who are our age.
A chapter in Thailand Confidential by Jerry Hopkins
reminds us that Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham spent time
here and quotes
Maugham as saying Chinatown was "dark, shaded, and squalid." While
still true, the other truth is the beauty of the wats which Maugham
finds bedazzling. He writes: "They are unlike anything
in the world, so that you are taken aback, and you cannot fit
into the scheme of the things you know. It makes you laugh
with delight to think that anything so fantastic could exist
somber earth. They are gorgeous; they glitter with gold and
whitewash, yet are not garish; against that vivid sky, in that
sunlight, they hold their own, defying the brilliancy of nature
it with the ingenuity and playful boldness of man. The artists
who developed them step by step from the buildings of the ancient
Khmer had the courage to pursue their fantasy to the limit."
4, December 30, Tuesday:
8 am we are out in the Chinese markets near our hotel, swallowed
up in the nearly overwhelming congestion, array
of goods, colors,
and smells of this busy place. Jack buys a tile to help restore
a small temple that we pass and is asked to sign his name
on it—thus accumulating merit according to Buddhist
tradition. It is with some relief that we board the bus
for the Giant
Swing and Wat Suthat, built in 1807 after the 25th year of
of Bangkok by King Rama I. The main image of Buddha is the
oldest and largest bronze Buddha in Thailand, some 8 meters
Surprisingly, photos are allowed in the temples of Thailand,
so we remove our shoes and mount the stairs to the main wihan
or assembly hall. People buy lotus flowers and numbered sticks
in a cylinder which they shake until one falls out to indicate
one's fate. (There are numbered papers to detail your destiny,
good or bad.) Handsome bronze horses flank the wihan.
Next we head to Wat Pho, a working temple with resident monks,
a respected school for masseuses, and the great 150' long
Reclining Buddha. The glitter of the upturned edges of the
the 100 chedi or stupas containing relics, the Farang Guards
caricaturing westerners, the miniature mountains with hermit
statues, the elaborate mother of pearl designs decorating
the huge Buddha's feet—all fascinate us.
Today we lunch on a floating restaurant, and as we leave, Jack
spots a huge lizard floating among water hyacinths in the Chao
Phraya River, the same creature, apparently, that others thought
was a small crocodile.
On our way we see many police near the parliament building, prepared
for protests like those that recently closed the airport. Our
guide explains the yellow and red shirts, the opposing political
factions, and Thailand Confidential reminds us that since 1932
and constitutional monarchy, there have been 29 governments,
20 coups, and 17 constitutions, mostly bloodless, in Thailand.
The monarchy is the constant.
The Jim Thompson House is a museum with four traditional houses
joined together and is set in a lush garden on a canal. JT is
credited with building the reknown of Thai silk worldwide during
the 1940s and 50s. In 1967 he disappeared while walking in the
Highlands of Malaysia, possibly because of his former CIA connections.
We take a tuk tuk (motorcycle with 2-seater open cab) home.
5, December 31, Wednesday, New Year's Eve:
Leaving early to beat the Bangkok holiday traffic, we stop at
a coconut plantation to hear about harvesting which is sometimes
done by trained monkeys! Our second stop is the Floating Market
(Damnernsaduak) where we roam along the canal while boats full
of produce and goods are sold to the many ready customers.
Roger introduces us to four exotic fruits while we are on the bus:
pomelo (like grapefruit), sapadilla (brown oval & white fruit),
rambutan (red hairy outside and white inside), longan (small brown
grape-like clusters). Not much flavor to any of them!
Our third stop is the Wooden Crafts Center and then Kanchanaburi
("buri" means town) for lunch on the River Kwai (pronounced "kway")
in view of the famous bridge which was bombed by the Allies—not
dynamited by POWS—and rebuilt with some of the old parts.
The spot is lovely but crowded and touristy. More meaningful are
the beautiful War Cemetery and War Museum documenting the bravery
of the Allied POWs and brutality of the Japanese who forced them
to build the bridge: 200,000 Asians and 61,000 Allied prisoners,
20,000 of whom perished.
Further up river in a much wilder area, we board another longtail
boat and speed to our jungle resort where we are housed in thatched,
air-conditioned huts. Dinner is al fresco with drinks beside the
pool, a show of Thai dancing, a few fireworks, some loud music
and prizes. Jack and I are tired so we leave around 11 pm, but
we soon hear knocking and open the door to find the "kids" filming
us in our pajamas (Jack just out of a shower and wrapped in a towel).
One of them remembered our room number so when our number was drawn
for a prize, they claimed it and came to deliver it and film our
6, January 1, Thursday, New Year's Day:
On our hour-long boat ride up the River Kwai, we see herons, kingfishers
with bright blue on their wings, and lizards plus many floating
hotels without electricity, kids swimming, houseboats and much
unspoiled scenery. On landing, we board trucks for a short trip
to Hell Fire Pass, the difficult pass about 325' long, mostly hand-carved
from stone by the POWs. The walk is now peaceful with mountain
views but we are reminded of the deaths of so many by memorial
placques, signage, and even the occasional Aussie flag. (Most of
the POWs were British and Australian.)
After lunch we board the River Kwai Railway for a short, crowded
ride, getting off before one of the long trestles and reboarding
the bus to head home with a stop to feed a troop of monkeys and
see a waterfall where many families are swimming and having picnics.
We have our own swim at the hotel and I swap our canoe-ride prize
for a back massage. Some of the kids have gone hiking or to the
Tiger Temple. So we hear about their adventures.
7, January 2, Friday:
Reluctantly leaving the River Kwai Resotel behind, we board our
longtail boat with luggage at dawn to rejoin the now familiar red
bus with Benz, our bus boy and our driver waiting to begin the
long haul to Phitsanulok. On the way we stop for snacks and then
at a busy, colorful, smelly market in Uthaithani where we ask in
Thai for ingredients for a dish of rat (no kidding) and veggies.
(One of the guys expressed interest in tasting unusual foods so
we are in for it.) Then we board a former rice barge for lunch
(including the rat dish which J samples) and a cruise on the Sakae
At our hotel, I pick up a Bangkok Post and find an announcement
with photo of the January 13 concert in Bangkok! I also have an
email announcing, at long last, the recording of To Music on Capstone
Records despite a complete lack of communication from the flutist.
Sukhothai, "Dawn of Happiness," a
World Heritage Site, is the most interesting place we have
seen to date. Founded in
1238, the city originally contained some of Thailand's greatest
treasures, many now in the National Museum in Bangkok, but is still
a beautiful park with its many Buddhas, temples, and moats. Wat
Mahatthai is one of the most important of the 70-odd monuments
in the old city, surrounded by a moat and centered on a huge seated
Buddha with a tall lotus tower having a bulbous top and a platform
with a frieze of walking monks. Wat Sri Chum houses a giant Buddha,
huge in a small space where we see the faithful praying while others
take photos—an experience that never fails to jar me. We
tour this large historical park by trolley, strolling among the
ruins at each stop.
On the way to lunch at a pretty outdoor restaurant, we stop to
visit a rice mill and see the machines that process rice at different
stages for different purposes, for both human and animal consumption.
Apparently there are 40,000 types of rice! Following lunch we stop
at a batik workshop where we all try the technique of imprinting
wax on fabric that is then dyed with indigo.
When the bus stops for a bathroom break, some of the young women
are dismayed by Asian toilets, however clean. Many of these require
scoops of water for flushing and accept no paper. We are old hands
at this from our China & Egypt trips and encourage the kids
to adapt, which they do.
This morning we breakfast
with a group of French tourists who travel the same route and
who shouted out in English "I love
you" when Maryn sang on New Year's Eve. They are from the
Cote d'Azur and Brittany and the conversation in French and English
is great fun for us all.
As on other OAT trips, we visit a school that has received assistance
from the organization's charitable foundation. At the Doncham School
a group of students lead us to their village where we see the products
they make and the house of one student, Joy, who lives with her
grandparents while her parents work in Bangkok as a taxi driver
and waitress with just one trip home per year. The grandfather
is a shaman practicing traditional medicine including treatments
for scorpion and snake bite. Both Bea and Diane, the nurses in
our group, say that many of these remedies are highly effective
and that NIH now has an institute of traditional medicine.
We are each assigned a student and mine learns my name quickly
and holds my hand at all times. She and others play some Thai music
for us on fiddles, flutes, drums and finger cymbals and then demonstrate
Thai dance and try to teach us the hand gestures which we all find
very difficult to imitate.
After lunch we meet taxi trucks that take us 3,000' above sea level
to visit two hill tribes: the Yao and the Akha. The Yao are Christian
and make products to sell to tourists. They have paved roads, schools
and a church but their houses are very simple bamboo huts with
corrugated roofs. The young people in our group are very sweet
and generous, buying many things that they may or may not really
need or want. The views from the mountain are beautiful: mountains
all around, crops in the valleys and on some hillsides.
The Akha people come from Tibet and continue to wear elaborate
traditional headresses. Their way of life is very different from
the Yao as they have no roads, only dirt tracks, and the simplest
of huts with no school building. This is a very poor people indeed
and one wonders if they have any health care, much less education.
We see one small child crying bitterly with nobody coming to its
aid and many ignoring it.
Our beautiful hotel in Chiang Rai, the Phowadol, is a sharp contrast
to what we have just seen. Here we are housed in comfortable separate
cottages amidst beautiful grounds.
10, January 5, Monday:
We would have liked a day by the pool at this lovely resort, but
are off early to cross the border into Burma (Myamar) at the Sai
River into Thachilek. Once we have our visas, we mount motorized
rickshaws for the ride to a hilltop temple where we make wishes
as we release tiny birds from little wooden cages, a Buddhist tradition
we also observe elsewhere. We also see open markets and a working
temple that houses visitors. Although this is a border town and
thus may be poorer than other parts of Burma, it seems noticeably
scruffier than the other side in Thailand. Just outside the temple,
a former teacher gives us a quick lesson in Burmese geography.
Later we discover that he participated in protests and was barred
from teaching. He now sells souvenirs.
Back in Thailand we go by etans, small jitneys with tiny
engines, through the rural countryside to lunch at a remote "gallery" and
outdoor restaurant. From there we board a long boat to cruise the
Mekong River in the Golden Triangle and stop on an island in Laos
to browse an open market selling everything from textiles to "Johnny
Worker Black Labial" and liquor bottles containing whole cobras
and other dead creatures.
11, January 6, Tuesday:
Our bus rolls through villages
and an unspoiled national park on the way to Chiang Mai. A coffee
break at Cabbages and Condoms
is interesting as it is a branch of the larger restaurant of the
same name in Bangkok founded by an Aussie-Thai man to improve life
for the rural poor and fight HIV. We also stop at several factories— gemstones,
lacquer, and silk— where we see the workers making their
products much as in Chinese workshops.
12, January 7, Wednesday:
Arising at the Hotel Centera at
daylight, we arrive at the Mae Taeng Elephant Park where we see
the mahouts take their charges
into the river to bathe, demonstrate their log-dragging skills,
and even see elephants painting little pictures and playing drums
and xylophones. Best of all, we have an hour-long jungle trek riding
in our howdahs around the area and across a small river. Finally
we raft silently down the river listening to bird calls, then board
the bus for an orchid and butterfly garden.
After a swim at the beautiful 4th floor pool of our hotel, we have
a cruise on the Ping River with mai-tais and a light supper of
little Thai snacks. At the end we release paper lanterns over the
river, making wishes as they rise in the night sky.
13, January 8, Thursday:
Only six of us are willing to rise before dawn today to offer
alms to the monks from a nearby monastery. We observe a young girl
carefully placing food and a lotus bud in the bowl of each monk
she has invited to stop. Apparently it is her birthday and she
is giving alms to 99 monks this morning. The mostly boyish novices
walk silently and barefoot, single-file in the dark and stop only
when invited. They never give thanks to the donor as it is a chance
for the donor to do good and gain merit.
Then we, too, remove our shoes and offer alms: food and drink already
packaged. We then stoop, making the wai or prayer gesture, and
the monks chant prayers over us. I find it surprisingly moving,
perhaps because we know these are poor boys taking their chance
for some education by living in a monastery, and the food looks
to be pitifully little for growing kids. Most males in Thailand
are expected to spend some time as a monk.
Later we visit Chedi Luang and the Mahamakut Buddhist University
where a well-educated young monk gives us a Power Point talk on
Buddhism and takes questions. He leads us in meditation for a bit,
telling us to concentrate on our breathing, and then demonstrates
the wrapping of his outer robe, an intricate rolling of a length
of fabric to slip over the head and make into a sleeve.
Next we wind our way up a mountainous road to Wat Phrathat Doi
Suthep, Chiang Mai's most beautifully sited and elaborate temple.
A flight of 306 steps flanked by colorful naga (serpent) railings
leads to the temple. Roger explains the murals that tell the story
the life of Buddha, and we admire the marvelous view of Chiang
Mai, watching pilgrims pray & ring the large bronze bells.
As we drive down the mountain, we see many monks and nuns toiling
up. At least it isn't very hot.
After lunch and a swim (where we meet a Canadian/Aussie couple
who teach in an English school in Bangkok), we are driven to our
home-hosted dinner. This exceeds expectation as there are just
Jack and me and Diane, one of the
two nurses. The young host is very extroverted and speaks good
English, while his great-aunt is a darling but speaks only Thai
except to say "I love you," hugging us, when we leave.
The kids in our group go elsewhere and we miss their lively,
14, January 9, Friday:
Today we fly back to Bangkok and
the China Princess. I feel a bit queasy from the malaria pills
and stop taking them for a few days. Most of
the travelers in our group are in good health again (many have
been ill), so we all go to the dinner and classical Thai puppet
show at the Joe Louis Theater, enjoying the elaborate costumes
and three-person manipulations (1 for feet, 1 for hands, 1 for
body) that are carefully
and quite dance-like. There are also two sets of musicians flanking
the stage: one set on drums and ranat ek (xylophones) and the other
on winds or doubling as chanters or singers. The show contains
effects such as lightning and smoke and flying arrows. As at the
opera in China, the explanations of the complex stories are quite
Roger suggests we should see something of the underbelly of Bangkok,
the much hyped Pat Pong area with its Super Pussy Bar and other
hangouts and gorgeous young Thai bar girls pole-dancing. This infamous
area grew up during the Vietnam War when American GIs came to Thailand
for R & R, and the sex trade in Thailand earns the country
about half of its GDP. Roger explains that "rental wives" are
not prostitutes and expect to marry one of their customers. But
I read in Thailand Confidential of the life of the many young women
who are driven to earn a living here, and the picture of their
lives is not a pretty one. Even the young folks in our group don't
15, January 10, Saturday:
Climaxing our visit to Bangkok
is our visit to the Grand Palace complex, the king's official
residence, throne hall, government
offices, and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha built in 1782. The
grounds and buildings are immaculate, kept in the best condition
of any we have visited. We look first at the golden Phra Siratana
Chedi and the delicate Phra Mondop housing sacred scriptures and
studded with blue and green glass mosaic topped with a spire
shaped like the Thai king's crown. A little further is a scale
model of Angkor Wat built by Rama IV, the same king who offered
Abraham Lincoln an elephant to help fight our Civil War. I am reminded
again of Somerset Maugham's lively description of these fantastical
There are statues of huge fierce guards, mythical creatures
part bird and lion, demons, and monkey figures. Everything is glittering
gold leaf and glass stones. We then enter the Royal Monastery which
has murals illustrating the epic Ramayana. Then we remove our shoes
to enter Wat Phra Kaew which houses the Emerald Buddha. We are
required to sit with our feet facing away from the 30-inch jade
statue, Thailand's most sacred statue, and we learn that one does
not pray to Buddha, but offers one's respects, a significant difference.
Next we see the palace proper with Italian, French, Khmer, Chinese
and traditional Thai styles blended together. First the mixed style
Chakri Maha Prasat Hall for banquets and the dazzling Dusit Maha
Prasat Hall (1789) with its 4-tiered roof and 9-level spire in
traditional Thai style—my favorite of these structures.
Traffic is so bad that we exit the bus to walk 1.5 miles to the
hotel, browsing the shops and taking our lives in our hands at
each street crossing.
Dinner is a cruise on the Chao Phrya River at sunset, past Wat
Arun and the Grand Palace and the city of Bangkok. We say goodbye
to the others who leave tomorrow.
On our own in Thailand! Today we
move to the Amari Atrium Hotel, a new highrise hotel N.E. of
Chinatown where we will meet up with
the Boston musicians for the first concert. We settle into our
large (upgraded) room, then take a taxi meter (one of the brightly
colored taxis that are rarely more than 100 baht or $3 no matter
you go) to the National Museum, careful to keep the hotel card
with its address in Thai.
The museum is varied and interesting but a bit odd. Initially
there is a series of maps, pictures and dioramas about Thailand
prehistoric times through the Dvaravat and Khmer eras (400-1238),
the Sukhothai period (-1350) with the birth of the Thai alphabet,
the Lanna Kingdom (-1558) centered in Chiang Mai, the Ayutthaya
period (-1767) when the Burmese overran Ayatthaya, and the Chakri
Dynasty (-1932) when constiutional monarchy was established. Rama
IX is the current king, now 81 and, we are told repeatedly, that
he is the longest ruling monarch in the world.
We wander through galleries of ivories, marionettes, mother of
pearl inlays, funeral chariots, standing & seated & walking
Buddhas of all sizes and postures, and even a musical instrument
gallery of tuned gongs, xylophones (ranat ek), cymbals, flutes,
zithers, reeds and other members of a phiphat orchestra.
We stop in the café for a Chang beer and two types of bananas
and chat with the proprietor, a telecom engineer, then taxi home
and dine on room service, feeling rested and pampered.
17, January 12, Monday:
Beginning with an elegant
breakfast buffet at Café Vivaldi, we brave
the morning chill to hang out on the attractive pool terrace and
begin boning up on Angkor Wat. The Boston musicians are here! Becky
finds us sunning at the pool in late afternoon and we all (Peter
and Condoms for dinner. Peter is very skeptical when he hears the
name, but we all find the Thai food delicious and the courtyard
dining room delightful.
18, January 13, Tuesday:
Dusit Park is our destination
today where the main attraction is the Vimanmek Mansion, said
to be the world's largest yellow
teak building with over 70 rooms and no nails used in its 1868
construction. The style is a bit Victorian and the furnishings
are European. It was a summer palace where no males were allowed
except the king and family. We also visit the Dusit Throne Hall
displaying many beautifully crafted objects which the queen supports
to preserve traditional Thai arts. There is also an elephant hall
explaining how all white elephants belong to the king, were used
in battle, and were "elevated" to special status in ceremonies.
After a swim and photos in the hotel with the musicians and manager
(a concert sponsor), we taxi to the area of the Goethe Institute
for a pleasant supper at an outdoor café before walking
over to the hall. The hall is small but pleasant and nicely filled.
The impresario introduces us in Thai and English, and the performers
give a fine program that includes a new piece by a young Thai composer
who is present, Copland, my Kleemation, and an encore
by the king called "Falling Rain." The parents of Scott's
Thai girlfriend, Kate, seek us out and kindly drive us back to
the Amari Atrium.
19, January 14, Wednesday:
Arising at 4:30, we breakfast
and taxi to the airport for our flight by Bangkok Air to Cambodia,
e-visas in hand, arriving early
at the lovely little Siem Riep airport by 9 am. We are met by our
guide and driver, taken to the Casa Angkor Hotel (not fancy but
charming and with a nice pool). We soon set off to see the first
three temples, all 9th century with the Khmer style rounded prasats in
brick and carved sandstone, temple mountains— all Hindu.
Prehko has 3 prasats or towers in front and 3 smaller ones behind.
Bakong is larger and one climbs steep, narrow stairs to three levels,
two of which have life-sized elephants at the corners. Lolei is
next to a school and a modern Buddhist temple. After lunch and
a swim, we head to Angkor Wat, seen in the afternoon light which
our guide says is best.
Jack is impatient because our car is a little late (needing a brake
job) and he is eager to roll, but we soon weave in and out of the
countless motor scooters and tuk tuks over paved and dirt roads
to Angkor which is surrounded by a huge moat and accessed by a
long causeway with naga (serpent) railings. We enter by the main
gate and approach the three prasats so familiar from photographs.
Although this is the dry season and the smaller ponds flanking
the main structure are not full, we still see the famous reflections
amid pink water lilies.
We learn that the endless bas reliefs tell the tales of the Mahabharata and the other great Indian epic, the Ramayana—continuing
all around the outer wall for one kilometer! Though suffering with
a sore throat, J is thrilled and takes many photos.
Dinner at a local restaurant includes minced pork and mint and
sprout salad, fish soup and curry. We sleep for eleven hours.
20, January 15, Thursday:
After two weeks of group travel, we relish having our own car
and driver. Today we see the huge complex of Angkor Thom. First
is Bayon, a Buddhist temple, again with elaborate reliefs, but
this time from real life with battles with soldiers eaten by crocodiles
and daily scenes of grilling fish, cooking rice, telling stories,
watching cock fights, acrobats, and later a return to Hindu subjects.
Although Mahayana Buddhism was practiced in ancient times, it is
primarily Chinese today and there was a return to Theravada Buddhism
in Thailand after Khmer times. Theravado Buddhism is actually the
more ancient practice, dating back to the 6th century, and involves
some elements of Hindu beliefs as well as animism. As we walk through
the gates, we see elephants taking people to the temple and monkeys
at the edge of the jungle.
Next is Baphuon. As we wander, a German tourist tries to tag along
until I tell him he needs to pay the guide if he wants to continue
with us, something he is unwilling to do. We move on to the Terrace
of Elephants where 3-headed elephants have trunks like columns
and where there is
of many, many
From there we walk to the Terrace of the Leper King, Jayavarman
VII, the statue of whom is in Phnom Penh. Tradition says the King
was a leper. In any event, it is here where royals were cremated.
There are many international efforts to preserve these temples.
though unfortunately I see no evidence of U.S. aid. France and
India and others are involved in some of the archelogical digs.
Our guide speaks of the
Rouge and civil war, the killing of the intelligentsia, the lack
of education for boy soldiers, and his personal losses with people
disappearing in his grandfather's generation. Even now there is
schooling in Cambodia. There are books about
the Khmer Rouge available everywhere.
At Pre Rup I tire and sit to talk to three little girls selling
postcards and trinkets. They go to school mornings and sell to
tourists afternoons. They are a bit dirty but bright and eager.
One girl has a bilingual book—in Khmer and English— and
I ask them to read the English. They can speak English but cannot
read it so
we play a game of finding all the similar words like "husband" and "wife" in
the story. One child gives me a postcard with her name and another
puts a flower in my hair. We buy cards and bracelets from them
and Jack goes back
to give the third girl something. They are so poor and such sweet
After lunch and a swim, we see Prasat Kravan, the "Cardamon" Sanctuary" which
consists of five restored prasats in a row with Vishnu reliefs
inside. Then we see Ta Prohm ("Ta" meaning elder) which
is deliberately left choked by kapok and fig trees as the jungle
reclaims much of the complex that housed thousands of monks. The
place sets the imagination wandering, and we hear that several
films have been made here.
Our evening entertainment is a traditional dance
performance following a buffet dinner at the Amazon Angkor Restaurant.
Tourism does help to preserve some of the old culture, it seems.
21, January 16, Friday:
up today is East Mebon, a 10th century Hindu temple, which has
some well-preserved full-scale carved elephants at the top two
levels. We go on to Banteay Srei, another Hindu temple, small in
comparison but a masterpiece of decorative carving and one of our
favorite places among the many ruins. We also listen to a group
of classical musicians playing under the trees, all land-mine victims,
and we buy a CD-ROM from the monk helping out.
We also ask our driver to stop at the Land Mine Museum founded
by a former fighter in the civil war who has dedicated his life
mines. We take note that the U.S. has not signed the land mine
ban treaty. We also stop at a roadside stall I spot where they
puppets and where the craftsman is teaching youngsters the art.
I buy one, the goddess Shiva.
Finally, we have dinner and watch a shadow puppet show with kids
watching behind the screen as well as out front. There is no translation
of the stories but it is charming and at least the folk tales are
fairly obvious. Our guide and driver watch also and tell us that
the youngsters working the puppets are from a local orphanage,
22, January 17, Saturday:
Narin, our wonderful guide, and
Narong, our driver, take us to
the nearby Siem Reap airport for our flights
to Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The Tamarind Village Inn has a car
waiting and we find this hotel the most charming of all: a 187-year-old
tamarind tree in the courtyard, orchids growing in pots everywhere,
2-level structures whitewashed with dark wood trim and native crafts
in the room along with white orchids.
We settle in and take a swim. Mary Jane finds us at the pool and
Anders, the son of our neighbor in Maine who has been teaching
English nearby and whom we have tried to contact, walks
in by chance and joins us
short distance to the American University Alumni Library and concert
hall just down the street. The hall is small but there is a good
audience and Peter and Mary Jane are at their best—everything
seems right and well-shaped: the Bach, the Copland, the new Thai
piece, Kleemation, and then the Schubert variations. We
join the musicians and impresario for a bite at a nearby café afterwards
and then collapse on the good hotel beds.
23, January 18, Sunday:
is our last day to explore Chiang Mai so we set off by foot for
the two wats we've missed:
Chiang Mun (the oldest here)
and Phra Singh (the principal temple). The main viharn or hall
of Chiang Mun has massive teak pillars and gorgeous wall decorations
of gold on red lacquer. Behind the hall is a square chedi supported
elephants. Jack kneels to receive a bracelet from a monk but I
am no believer so do not.
Walking the busy, colorful streets full of shops and stalls, we
pass many temples but finally find Wat Phra Singh within the old
city. A beautiful small chapel to the rear of the park contains
gold on red lacquer decorations and a 14th century Buddha from
Sukhothai that is the focal point of the structure.
Then we walk to the pool at our oasis of a hotel, entered through
a long, shady bamboo bower. I'm much enjoying reading Water
for Elephants so
read for several hours before we wander in the Sunday open market
just outside, snapping up some more tribal textiles on the way.
Anders joins us again for drinks and dinner as we babysit Peter's
flutes which he picks up before they all fly back to Bangkok to
premiere Butterfly Effects at Mahidol University on the 20th, the
day we fly home.
24, January 19, Monday:
We fly Thai Air to Bangkok and shuttle to the airport Novotel
which, luckily, has a great pool where we swim and read and try
Singha beer on tap. Jack buys yet another elephant, this one a
pretty little one in pinkish onyx.
By chance we watch the news and
see a young Australian man in prison garb and in chains for defaming
the Thai king in a few lines in a book he has published that
has sold only 7 copies. He has received a three-year sentence.
It is illegal in Thailand to speak ill of the royals, and we
situation, the media, including CNN, cannot reveal the particulars
of the offense without
repeating the crime and endangering their Thai correspondents.
So we wait until returning home to discover for ourselves. On
the internet we find the details of the situation and a scanned
copy of the book in which the offending passage details some
personal peccadilloes of the crown prince which would hardly
shock Americans after the news we have heard of
many public officials, including our (almost) ex-president about
whom not merely personal missteps but war crimes have been alleged.
Kate's parents, Hiran and Supanit, pick us up at the hotel
and take us to dinner at a huge restaurant called The Riverside
are built for tables above the water
and water lilies. We ask them to order and they do so with abandon:
deep fried minced shrimp rounds, shrimp coconut soup, shrimp
and pork, sweet and sour fish, several sweet dishes (mango, and
bean curd and brown sugar jelly with ice) and a platter of exotic
fruits (dragon fruit, pineapple, rose apple and others). Their
older daughter, Yok, is there too, looking much like Kate. At
the end they present us with gifts
and handbags. We chat late into the evening before the long drive
to the hotel and an early wakeup call for the flight to Boston.
The delightful visit with the Hiranpradits
seems a most fitting conclusion to our latest Asian adventure.