Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Laid back Chiang Mai

A trip to Chiang Mai provides the traveler with a relaxing break from the frenetic pace of Bangkok, and a more engaging visit than the Thai beaches. Set in the beautiful misty mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai immediately draws one into its slower pace. Instead of buses and swarms of taxis found in Bangkok, Thailand's second-largest city buzzes with small three wheeled tuk tuks and the more traditional human-powered pedicabs. Small sidewalk restaurants provide northern and traditional Thai cuisine to patrons seated at tables, often in the street, where traffic lazily veers around the parked motorcycles and bicycles. (Photos by the author, all rights reserved. Do not use without permission.)

A typical roadside vendor. This one serves up delicious fruit smoothies for 30 baht ($1).

Tuk tuks are one of the two main modes of transport in Chiang Mai. The other is the two bench "songthao".

It seems that fewer people are dictated by the clock in Chiang Mai. Shops may or may not open at the expected time, or perhaps not at all. I asked the receptionist at my hotel, "Where is the nearest place to eat breakfast?" She thought a minute, then said, "Nothing around here is open that early." I found that there are indeed some open early in the downtown area, catering mostly to foreign tourists.

Instead of the glitz of the enormous shopping malls of Bangkok, Chiang Mai has thousands of interesting tiny shops, and arts and crafts spread out in umbrella-covered market places. Instead of the sleaze of the capital city's sex massage parlors on Soi Cowboy and Patpong, Chiang Mai has traditional massage spots, many set in the shade of tree canopies on temple grounds. Of course, one can find these things in Chiang Mai, but they are not as obvious or prevalent.

Street markets are not only places to buy and sell: they are popular meeting places and social centers.

No one looks at a clock in the market place.

A relaxing one and a half hour foot massage at a temple, 180 baht ($5.50; $7 with tip).

Fortunately, Chiang Mai has preserved much of its ancient architecture, and has an amazing number of stunning temples set among gardens and tree-lined walks. One resident told me that there are over 100 wats (temples) in the small original walled city, which can easily be covered on foot. Each wat offers a respite from the heat and street noise, and has unique qualities that set it apart from the others. Many are absolutely stunning, others have an understated elegance in the beautiful details of their artwork and decorations.

The magnificent staircase to Wat Doi Suthep atop a mountain outside of Chiang Mai. The scales of the "nagas" that line the steps are individually painted and fired ceramic tiles.

A devotee circles the chedi (pagoda) at Doi Suthep three times. Many chant a meditation as they walk.

Young girls in hill tribe outfits on the steps of Doi Suthep.
This photo cost me (and other tourists) 20 baht (60 cents). They made a bundle, as you might imagine!

Temple door detail, painstakingly hand painted.

An altar set in a corner of a temple's grounds, overlooked by most visitors.

Monks preparing candles and holy water for a gathering at a wat in Chiang Mai.

Entrance to monks' quarters at a wat.

Some of the decorative hangings and door carvings at wats are lovely. 
A roof (ceiling) of dried palm leaves woven in bamboo frames in a "sala" or outdoor seating area.

Monk garments drying behind the dormitory.

Gorgeous intricate inlays in a temple wall. 

Prayer bells, rung for good luck.

Base of chedi (pagoda) with serene image.

Chedi detail.

Temple grounds offer a restful place to escape the city noise.

Reminders are often posted on the grounds of wats.

Beautiful "al fresco" paintings are often present on the walls of wats.

A tuk tuk driver naps in a wat parking area.

Window detail.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Little treasures

Each day there is something new in the details of life in the neighborhoods. Sometimes they occur and are not noticed, but once in a while I am struck by the change and it literally stops me in my tracks. Such is the following scene, that did not appear (or maybe I had not noticed it) before today, even though I pass by frequently. (Photo by the author, all rights reserved. Use by permission only.)

Early morning at a sidewalk noodle cart.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Jet Lag Remedy

Back at home, and once again, no jet lag symptoms. How do I do it? Simple: I pay attention to science. Five years ago while flying to Thailand (across the maximum 12 time zones) I read an article about a scientific study that showed diet, not sleep, is what drives the sleep cycle. As one who suffered miserably from jet lag, I was of course interested. Since trying out the very simple requirement of not eating solid food for 18 hours before a trip, I have experienced absolutely no jet lag in either direction in 12 trips to and from the U.S.

It's easier than it sounds. If your flight leaves in the late morning or early afternoon, it is a simple matter of skipping breakfast as long as you ate dinner the previous evening, at least 18 hours before the flight. If you leave early in the morning, then skip the previous evening dinner (lunch as the last meal). It's more difficult if you have an evening flight, as it requires skipping two meals, but the result is far more preferable to me than three days of jet lag.

I am writing this 21 hours after arriving from the U.S. I had a regular night's sleep and woke with--again--no jet lag symptoms. It is an amazing discovery. What is more amazing to me is the number of people I have told who just can't bring themselves to skip a meal, and prefer to deal with the stupor-inducing effects of jet lag. I have absolutely no sympathy for them when jet lag clobbers them during the next few days. I have three more days on both sides of the trip to enjoy myself.

The formula works if the flight is part of the 18 hours, too. If you just cannot give up a meal, then you can count sequential hours in the plane before you eat as part of the 18 hours.

Give it a try, and spread the word. Jet lag sucks. If there is a solution, why not follow the simple procedure for greatly reducing, or eliminating, jet lag altogether?