Monday, February 1, 2010

Exploring in Suthep-Pui National Park

IMG_1531On Monday Mr. Horse swapped his tuk-tuk for an air conditioned truck. Picking us up at 8:00, we left Chiang Mai behind, ascending the nearby forested mountain which is known as Suthep Pui National Park. Our destination? Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the symbol of Chiang Mai. Here we climbed the 306 stairs to enter the Buddhist temple, wandering about and appreciating how tourist observers such as ourselves easily mix and mingle with the devout. We always marvel at the Buddhists who accept being the focus of attention. We know that back home, worshippers in most organized faiths would not be as welcoming of tour groups and photographers in their midst while they pray.

IMG_1607Leaving the Wat we continued our ascent, visiting the Royal gardens at Phuping Palace. Although beautiful, we felt it unnecessary for the Royals to insist on charging an entry fee: why couldn’t people be allowed to appreciate the gardens in the same way we Canadians can freely explore and enjoy Rideau Hall?

IMG_1626After visiting Baan Tong Luang the day before, you can bet we were eager to visit “real” villages so on Mr. Horse drove, climbing still further up the narrow hairpin road which suddenly became single-lane. The road ended at Khun Chang Kiang village where Eric and I strolled its dusty red-earth lanes and wooden homes. Shouts of laughter beckoned us: we discovered a group of schoolboys getting their heads shaved at Srinehru School. A gay banner welcomed visitors, and the boys smiled at the camera, continuing to shave one another’s heads with what appeared to be very dull shears. Eric declined getting a cut…

IMG_1638We retraced the narrow road and stopped at a lookout to see a tidy village in a valley below. Seeing our interest, Mr. Horse turned off the main road to take us to Doi Pui, another Hmong tribal village. Narrow, wending streets led us to the village heritage museum. Entry was 10 bhat apiece. Although exhibits were dust-covered and sparse, they were nonetheless interesting—but the piece de resistance was the “sample house.” Sample indeed: it was being lived in and was full of refuse, plastic bags and detritus. No windows and we thought it was emphysema-inducing just to step inside.

IMG_1652Beyond it, however, was the real highlight: a terraced garden extending up the mountainside where cascading water made its cooling sounds. Amaryllis were in full blossom as were opium poppies – part of the museum display apparently – and many other blossoming plants. Three pavilions beckoned us onward and after the ascent to them on narrow Nepalese-like stone steps, we appreciated the astonishing cool breezes which rewarded our efforts.

Time. It does have a way of passing. We descended to greet Mr. Horse who returned us to Lai Thai… And none too soon: it was a long but fun 9-hour day.