The International Writers
Sunday morning came
and we stuffed ourselves to brace the day. It would be a break from the
heavy studying of the week. I asked our poet friend Javed why he ate so
little at breakfast. As the cool of the early morning turned to prickling
heat, we got restless waiting for Babar who woke up late once again that
morning. Once we made the headcount, the tuk-tuk sped off on a road trip
across the vast city of Chiang Mai.
Mai on a Shoestring
Rachel Chan Suet Kay
Chan Suet Kay tours the city during a Peace Studies training course
Tuk-tuks will take
you along a preplanned route which links all the main tourist attractions
for 15 baht. The price of the ticket was expensive and I felt uninspired
at having to watch the humiliation of elephants. These were proud creatures
who once fought in battles! But now they were reduced to carrying sedentary
tourists who did not refrain from gawking at them throughout the whole
show, passing comments as though they were at a slave auction.
did it. I touched an elephant. And then much later on I was in turn,
touched by an elephant. The elephants, from my very first glance,
were chained in spirit and body to the role of jester. Ugly Americans
snapped away. We were the real animals, I hissed to anyone who would
A few in the group agreed. Javed said it was due to capitalism.
Reluctantly I followed the rest of the group (it was a pre-planned
tour) despite initially having plans to run off to explore on my
own. (Aleem and Nang were clever enough to go sightseeing on their
Anyhow it was photo taking session afterwards, which cooled me down a
bit. We snapped around while the seats were still empty of tourists who
came merely to give armchair comments. Somehow I felt that the comments
were uncultured compared to the beauty of the place. Maybe I was only
hungry. After all the porridge I had for breakfast was slowly beginning
to wear off. Here was a place I could lose weight while eating like
The elephants however, were astoundingly talented. They began with performances
which they improvised at the end individually begging for tips. Then they
moved on to performing greater tricks. They played football and proceeded
to heckle each other as humans do. However what was really surprising
was when they started to paint, which was nothing short of genius! Of
course capitalism reared its ugly head again as the paintings were priced
at 8000 baht each. The elephants provided foot massage too
Farm and Umbrella Making Factory
One of the traditional handicraft centres of Chiang Mai. Here was where
they produced the dainty parasols, Chinese fans, papier-mache notebooks,
ornamental swords (!) and other quirky little ornaments one can find in
night bazaars. This was the source itself.
Wandering into the entrance the first to greet me was the T-shirt printing
section where I was told I could get my own blank T-shirts deeper in the
factory. So we went in, anxious to get a good buy. Along the way we were
assaulted with the colours of ornaments surrounding the shelves. Fans
of various shapes, sizes, and materials appeared before us.
The butterfly farm was where we had lunch. For the PETA folks no butterflies
were on the menu. Only uber-expensive vegetarian meals for me and the
smarter buffet choice which others made. Water cost 20 baht, which is
Before the final tour site we stopped to marvel at the silk factory. I
resigned myself to window shopping as I was greeted with rows of jade
and diamonds even before I saw silk. Nelson jokingly propose to Marie
while we looked around at illustrious panorama carvings out of jade. Then
we entered the fitting area where cloth was cut to make costumes and witnessed
the proves of cloth weaving. Rauf from Malaysia entered the room
and was swiftly deterred by Javed who criticized the global capitalist
pricings of the textiles. I went outside for an ice break.
Yes, ice break. While the others were quenching their thirst at the ice
cream mans and Min Wenjie was discovering coconut for the first
time, I was busy stealing ice cubes from the vendor.
on then list was the temple on Doi Suthep hill. The journey up the
hill was arduous. It took a strong stomach to withhold the steep
ride by tuk-tuk up the hill. I fell asleep, tired with the afternoons
heavy sightseeing. Of course, being the evening I was only half
asleep and awoke to the sound of someone talking about Herbert Spencer
and the survival of the fittest. I jolted up and started
the discourse, saying he was too deterministic. Lino was enquiring
if Faisal had read the works of this Darwin muse. Both were sociology
postgrads. Then I realised I felt nauseous. I went back to sleep,
excusing myself for apparently my stomach was not fit
enough to survive the rest of the ride awake.
We finally reached Doi Suthep and thankfully enough I was fresh and ready
to roll. Not everyone was, however. Our poet friend Javed was standing
by the side of the road looking gloomy. I suspected this was not due to
inspiration or a poets melancholy.
The temple of the hill called Doi Suthep was originally said to be reachable
only by the staunchest of worshippers. Otherwise the hill was a very challenging
trek upwards. However volunteers have laid out the path to the temple
ever since. Here I wandered around the temple instead of taking the oft
beaten track into the temple grounds where heaps of foreigners were clicking
away. Instead I took a walk down the hill where the monks' quarters were.
A few dogs guarded the steps coming down but none dared venture near me.
I was a trespasser indeed in every sense of this tranquil portion of the
temple. Young boys were sweeping the grounds around the quarters, but
I do not think they were monks. It seemed that entire families lived here,
but all was still new to the eye and the air was calm and soothing yet
I felt a sensory overload at the new sights and wonders. I carried on
walking in the peaceful atmosphere, thinking I could go on forever. The
steps down were as steep as promised. It seemed to not end as I reached
an empty space which to my non-bespectacled eyes seemed to be filled with
white monuments. I roamed for a while and realised I had ventured into
a graveyard. A pack of hounds emerged. Praying they would not bite, I
turned and left.
I met up with Min Wenjie who was a very talented photographer. We stood
around turrets and archways and got some good shots of ourselves. There
were some hlltribe children at the steps of the temple which I think earned
income through tourists posing with them in their photos. They were bedecked
in their luxurious ethnic costumes. They looked no older then five.
Later on while Mr. B from Cambodia (who will one day become Minister)
nagged at Min for using up his memory card I sneaked off to look at souvenirs.
There wee brocaded bags selling at seven for 100 baht.
general observations of the City
On the first day of my arrival at Chiang Mai I noticed a few peculiar
things. The Thai revere their King greatly and so place portraits of him
along the streets and in shops. However in the city of Chiang Mai the
portraits of the King were nearly outdone by the great number of Coca-Cola
advertisments similarly placed outside shops and along the streets. This
was indeed a metaphor for the nation-state vs. globalisation.
When we cross roads in Chiang Mai there are no overhead bridges. One is
expected to cross at specially carved out intersections along the dividers.
Also cigarettes were very strategically packaged. Pictures of disfigured
teeth and lungs are draped over the brandnames, daring you to take a puff.
Crystal Spring House
So it was time to head home as the evening grew darker and everyone ws
loaded with shopping bags. If I overshopped I was clever to hide it in
my knapsack that I didnt look like a tourist. It was important to
maintain the leftist Che Guevara look always. After pressuring Faisal
to buy me a souvenir I was prepared to leave.
We trudged off into the tuk-tuks where I chose to sit at the open end.
Trying not to fall asleep this time as I missed most of the magnificent
view I stayed awake by jesting around with Marie, an adventurous spirit.
I accepted her challenge to stand by the ledge of the rapidly hill-descending
vehicle. It felt cool to be spread-eagled in the air. The rest scolded
me for pulling a stunt, saying I should return to Malaysia in one piece.
But I think I may have left my heart there.
© Rachel Chan Suet Kay April 18th 2007
World Travel in Hacktreks
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