thailand blog

Day 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.

Day 3, December 29, Monday:  

Hotel 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 sun.

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 complex and think they are a variety of jezebel like the one in my new Butterfly Effects piece. There is some confirmation of this notion as I find a framed red-spotted jezebel in one of the market stalls. Roger later tells me that the trees are called Sorrowless trees (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 hear.

Leaving the wat by longtail boat, we head down a narrow canal to a charming traditional teak house where the lady of the house gives 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 them into the scheme of the things you know. It makes you laugh with delight to think that anything so fantastic could exist on this somber earth. They are gorgeous; they glitter with gold and whitewash, yet are not garish; against that vivid sky, in that dazzling sunlight, they hold their own, defying the brilliancy of nature and supplementing 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."

Day 4, December 30, Tuesday:

By 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 the founding of Bangkok by King Rama I. The main image of Buddha is the oldest and largest bronze Buddha in Thailand, some 8 meters tall.

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 tiled roofs, 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. Or not.

We take a tuk tuk (motorcycle with 2-seater open cab) home.

Day 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 reaction.

Day 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.

Day 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 Krang River.

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.

Day 8, January 3, Saturday:

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.

Day 9, January 4, Sunday:

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.

Day 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.

Day 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.

Day 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.

Day 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 of 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, irreverent presence.

Day 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 the body) that are carefully choreographed 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 many special effects such as lightning and smoke and flying arrows. As at the opera in China, the explanations of the complex stories are quite abbreviated.

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 linger long.

Day 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 structures.

There are statues of huge fierce guards, mythical creatures part bird and lion, demons, and monkey figures. Everything is glittering with 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.

Day 16, January 11, Sunday:

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 where 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 from 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.

Day 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 Mary Jane too) taxi to Cabbages 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.

Day 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.

Day 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.

Day 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 a frieze of many, many elephants. 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 Khmer 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 no mandatory 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 kids.

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.

Day 21, January 16, Friday:

First 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 to disarming 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 make and sell shadow 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, learning the skill there.

Day 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 for dinner at the poolside restaurant. We walk the 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.

Day 23, January 18, Sunday:

Today 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 by 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 walled 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.

Day 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 are curious to know what this man has written. However, in a sort of catch-22 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 where platforms 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 rolls, green pepper 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 of handwoven cottons, recordings of the king's music, 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.