Monday, July 4, 2011

Two Days in Thailand

My view from my room at the Wanasom Wellness and Aesthetic Resort

Wellness Resort lobby

The wellness resort

Mae Fah Luang University

      A winding trip through tropically foliaged hills and along the Mekong River took us to Chiang Rai, where we checked into the Wanasom Wellness & Aesthetic Resort.  The “wellness resort” is actually owned by Mae Fah Luang University, which has a thriving major in Travel & Tourism, so students from the college run the resort as part of their internship.  It is a lovely, peaceful lodge at the top of a mountain, overlooking a lake and beautifully landscaped.  They offer massage and beauty treatments there but we were too busy to take advantages of those services.  We attended a lecture at the university entitled “The Past, Present, and Future of the Great Mekong Sub-Region” and then were special guests of the president of the university’s home for a dinner reception.  At the dinner I sat with the charming wife of a Malaysian diplomat on the president’s verandah overlooking a lake.  The college is amazing.  Only 12 years old, it’s in a strikingly lovely natural setting and is thriving. 
Dinner at the president's  home at Mae Fah Luang University

      Mae Fah Luang University is also located near the “Golden Triangle” – the area where the Mekong River runs along the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar/Burma.  Right on the Laotian border is the “Hall of Opium” – a state-of-the-art museum which traces the history of opium from its earliest use to the present.  It really was a comprehensive look at the drug trade, and if there is ANYTHING you want to know about opium, ask me and I can probably tell you after spending a few hours in this museum!  I was surprised to learn that (contrary to my previously held belief) opium did not originate in the Far East, but actually in India and was brought to China and Thailand by British tea traders.  The exhibits documented the trade routes established during the days of imperialism, the Opium Wars, the paraphernalia used in opium dens, the harmful effects of addiction, and the international community’s response to the problem.  I was struck by a Buddhist proverb written on one of the exhibits about drug addiction and rehabilitation:  “He who conquers many thousands of men in battle is not the noblest victor; But he who conquers himself is, indeed, the noblest victor.” 

I am in Thailand's Golden Triangle looking across the Mekong River at Laos

The old city wall at Chiang Rai

 I didn’t know what to expect when brought to a place called “The Hall of Opium” but it was really fascinating. 

      After lunch we visited the Chiang San school.  We were almost an hour late and felt really badly when we saw the welcome they had waiting for us!  About a hundred boys and girls lined both sides of the sidewalk waving Thai and American flags.  Middle school students shyly approached us offering us flower garlands to wear as honored guests.  At the end of the line was the school’s marching band and imagine our surprise when the conductor waved his baton and the teenaged Thai students broke into a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner!  How wonderful it was for them to learn this song just for our visit!  It’s betting to be a bit embarrassing to be given this VIP treatment – if only these people knew how insignificant we really are!

      We were entertained by the students exhibiting their Thai dancing skills and then another band played for us – this one specializing in traditional Thai instruments.  Many of the students served by this school are from the hill tribes, so instruments common to these peoples were prominent in the band.  Inside, we went through the obligatory speeches and greetings and then broke into groups with Thai teachers to exchange views on each country’s educational system.
Greeted with American and Thai flags

Chaing San students playing the "Star Spangled Banner" for us!

Entertainment by students

Music using traditional Lanna tribe instruments

Exchanging views with Thai teachers

      In the evening we donned our cultural dress to have dinner at a museum of Thai decorative arts.  The curator of the museum is fascinating.  She is an American from Louisiana whose father moved the family away from the States in the early 1960s because he didn’t want to raise his children in the climate of racial intolerance that existed there at the time.  So she was raised in Samoa and Laos where her parents were public health officials.  She married a Thai and settled in Chiang Rai – and somehow earned an advanced degree in museum management.  Anyway, her museum was fascinating and dinner was one of the best we’d had.  (Footnote:  the evening was billed as “Cultural Night” and when we’d been encouraged to wear Thai clothing we’d come expecting some kind of Thai luau or something… it took us a while to get out of that mindset so we could enjoy the museum!)

Below are some photos I took at roadstops in the North.
Monks doing upkeep on the chedi

Phra chedi in northern Thailand - dating from 1487 and containing the ashes of an ancient king

Loyal Buddhists tie ribbons and place poles to prop up the Bodhi trees at the chedi   

We stopped at a natural hot spring and geyser.  The local women make money by selling eggs which they've boiled in the hot spring!

The geyser

Egg seller

Egg seller on break