- We decided to go upriver and visit the Grand Palace. Last time was 15 years ago when Megan joined us for two weeks in Thailand. Before the development of the BTS elevated skytrain and the subway system (we remember Bangkok before both) the fastest way to move was a river boat on the Chao Praya river. Since the Grand Palace is no where near either system, we take the skytrain to Taksin Pier and catch the Chao Praya Express and head upriver to Chang Pier near the palace. The boats hold about 200 people, mostly standing and stop at designated piers along the way. The ten mile long system costs 14 Baht or roughly 40¢.
- The Grand Palace is old so not a lot has changed in 15 years. The buildings are as beautiful as ever. At the National Museum we saw the royal funeral carriage which will carry the king’s body through Bangkok to his cremation point. The Thai’s revered and loved king is now 88 and under constant medical care. Last week he was in the hospital to have excess water drained from his brain. His passing will traumatize this country.
- The other real change at the Grand Palace is the tourist base. In the past, one could quietly roam through the complex enjoying the Thai Buddhists praying at the numerous shrines and alters, offering up insense and flowers. Fast forward 15 years and the Chinese tourists have taken over the tourist scene. Hundreds of tour groups (30-40 people) descend on the Grand Palace daily with their flag bearing tour guide. Each group moves en masse, half carrying sun umbrellas which are wacking me in the face. The flag bearer shouts at the top of their voices so their group hears. The Chinese speak loudly anyway. I am assuming that most Chinese have no religion growing up in a Communist country, so their was no respect of the numerous “quiet please” signs through out the complex. It was a constant battle navigating the palace grounds. It was refreshing to get out of the grounds.
These were all tour groups and obviously non English speaking. There are still thousands of independent Chinese travelling also but they all speak passable English, actually better than the Thai’s. Thailand is getting inundated by Chinese tourists since they are not welcomed in the Philippines, Vietnam and other SE Asian countries over the South China Sea issue.
Wat Phra Singh is about one block from our Rachamankha Hotel. This wat is the main wat in the old walled city of Chiang Mai. The chedi has a new recent facelift. During our past visits, the chedi was white washed with moldy black/green areas. The devout Buddhists paid a few bahts to pull a bucket of water on a pulley cable up to the top of the chedi where the water spilled out of the bucket at the top of the cable and ran down the chedi wall staining it’s entire side.
Low and behold, the chedi is now been covered in brilliant gold leaf since our last visit 2 years ago. The chedi was molded with a thin metal covering then gold leaf was applied to the metal. Gold leaf is much more brilliant on smooth metal when burnished than on stucco.
Wat Phra That Doi Suteph is one of the holiest temples in Theravada Buddhism. Founded in the 1300’s when Buddhism arrived into South East Asia. Buddhist Ceylon (Sri Lanka) shipped tea throughout Asia (and onto England).Hindu India shipped their plethora of spices the same route.The route was overland into China and onto the Silkroad into the Middle East and Europe. The one problem was the constant invasion and robberies and death at the hands of the Monghal hordes. The solution was to sail East over the Bay of Bengal and run the tea and spices overland through Southeast Asia (Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) to the South China Sea and sail the good north into China avoiding Mongolia.
Along with the goods into Southeast Asia came Buddhism from Ceylon and Hinduism from India. In Cambodia the great temples of the Angkor Wat complex were each built hundreds of years apart under various Kings some were Hindu then some were Buddhist. In the end, Buddhism won out but Theravada Buddhism today is ritualistically intertwined with Hinduism mainly about multiple lives to attain Nirvana (Like Hindu caste system).
Back to Doi Suteph, they had a collection box with an elaborate sign requesting donations to build an exact replica of Doi Suteph in Chino,California.
In the center courtyard of Doi Suteph is a very old Bohdi tree. These temple trees were planted as young seedlings all descendants of the original Bohdi tree which Buddah meditated under. We tore (gently) off two leaves from the tree for souvenirs.
This is our third visit to Rachamankha. The hotelhas 24 rooms. The two guys who designed, built and own this hotel were both in the antique and interior design business. The breezeways are full of antique document chests and armoires, antique sculpture and antique framed religious drawings with silk matting. The hotel is way Zen. Background music is classical both Asian and European. The staff are quieter than church mice. You never hear them moving about, not even in the dining room.
There are two open center courtyards. The building between the two courtyards is an open air sala with cinnabar lacquer columns furnished with sofas, chairs and framed art. The perfect place for our first glass of wine. We up the ceiling fan to high to keep the mosquitoes away. Classical music plays softly in the background. We hang out at the pool after a hot sweaty day in town. We get there around 4PM and move to the sala for wine time.
The rooms are also furnished in Asian antiques(armoire, desk, night stands, chest of drawers). For a small hotel they have an amazing restaurant. During our last stay we ate all four dinners here and will do the same again. When you have the best restaurant in Chiang Mai, why look around. Breakfast, which is included, is done off an ala carte menu not the stuff your face buffets. You are served in the dining room or outside terrace by their wait staff. All dishes are bone China and the glassware is cut crystal (except juice glasses). I’m actually beginning to like classical music.
The library is the most sequestered part of Rachamankha. The best part is the self serve brandy decanter and glasses. “Mot-hai-ba-yo” (Cheers in Vietnamese).
One of our favorite locations on earth. They treat us so well with the friendliest and most accommodating staff we have ever experienced. Even the grounds keepers stop work and greet you as you walk by. Even with 85% occupancy, many staff members call us by our first names.
In the past, off season occupancy was at its best 40%. Now, it is at 85%. The burgeoning international tourist market includes hordes of Chinese and now Indians who are beginning international travel. The Chinese women are dressed to the 9s in sun dresses and large Gatsby era hats. Their bikinis are all covered in hanging lace. Almost laughable. Think their clothes cost as much as their trip. The Chinese spend half their time posing in model poses while having their pictures taken. If someone else isn’t available to take their picture, then it is 10 minutes of selfie time. We Westerners stick with shorts and t-shirts and flip flops. Never a selfie stick to be found.
All Deluxe (cheapest) accommodations are in the two story cabins with a British helmet shaped roof. Beautifully furnished, the downstairs is the living room with a half bath and upstairs is the bedroom and large bathroom. We stay in the “cheap” cabins. There are privately owned villas within the resort which are rentable. All were occupied by the Chinese. Almost every item in our homes was made in China. Nixon was right, engage them and when they have something to lose they won’t want to lose it. The Chinese today definitely don’t want to lose what they have. They are investing all their money in the West.
The resort fronts two of the top rated beaches on earth. Phranang and Railay. Can UNESCO preserve beaches? Hordes of day tourists arrive by speed boats from Phuket. They disembark and stroll and swim for an hour then back into the boat and onto the next beach. All beaches are public in Thailand and public access must be provided over private land.
This was our 7th stay at the Rayavadee. Never had we had so much rain. The first two days were a washout. All weather patterns are changing. This is the wettest start to the raining season on record. No Beach time. We did a lot of walks through the 120 acres under our umbrellas but still in shorts and flip flops. The vegetation is really beautiful when wet. One day we did a Thai cooking class. Made shrimp cakes (usually crab cakes but out of season). Phad Thai and chicken curry. Had a lot of fun and ate what we prepared. Just two couples and the instructor.
Koh (island in Thai) Lanta Island is located in the Andaman Sea in the southern Thai province of Krabi. We are located near Malaysia. Koh Lanta is covered in jungle and is one of Thailand’s least developed islands. The population is roughly 90% Muslim and 10% Buddhist. This resort was built 15 years ago and is still owned by a wealthy Thai couple out of Bangkok. On call motorized buggies ply the hillside lanes picking up and delivering guests between their villas and the different pools, restaurants and beach.
Our villa is literally at the top of the resort, backing into the jungle. Monkeys spy down on us from the trees looking for food ops. Saw a 2 ft. long monitor lizard (they can grow to 6 ft.). Also saw a green tree snake off our deck.
We booked our “Deluxe Room” (2 units to a building) near the beach on line for $152 a night. When we checked in, reception said the rooms were overbooked and they upgraded us to a hillside pool villa. Lucky us!! Two separate spacious buildings with our own pool and sala between. Everything is 5 star. One building has a living room with full kitchen and full bath. The second building is the bedroom with full bath. All have elegant furnishings and an extensive mood lighting system. We live on the outdoor sala bed during the day and only leave our villa for the obligatory meals down hill. We call for a buggy pickup each way.