Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fantastic Trip - Part IV

First of all, a big happy birthday to my older brother, Jim!  I hope you have a great day!  

I submitted my final exam essays and answered the last set of questions for my "Modern East Asia" class this weekend.  Whew!  I am so glad that is over with!  I loved the learning part of the class but trying to keep with my homework and studying, as well as that of the kids', was just too stressful.  I did learn a lot and gained some insight into why things are the way they are in this part of the world.  However, I am not sure that is a good thing as I am now much more apprehensive about some of the leaders in this region.  As if I needed anything else to worry about!    

Yesterday, I had my first Interior Design class and just loved it!  It was very interesting to learn about the "science" of decorating and the methods behind choosing furniture, paint color, wall decor, accessories, even lighting and plants.  Tomorrow, we are going downtown to visit a few furniture showrooms that our instructor prefers to send her clients to.  Apparently, you can show these vendors a photo of any piece of furniture that you are looking for and they will either construct it in the exact image or keep their eyes open for something similar while on their buying trips.  She gave us a lot of suggestions about which vendors and suppliers to use here so, as soon as the flood waters recede, I will get out there and have a look.  Fabric, wood and other materials are of a high quality and reasonably priced and the labor is VERY VERY inexpensive so I think I will have some window treatments and a few furniture pieces made for our home in Virginia (hoping we will be back there in 2014!).  

The kids returned to school yesterday and I think all of the moms did a happy dance out in the streets! I know Caitlynne was very happy to be going back. The e-learning required quite a bit of time and brain power from them and they also missed their friends tremendously.  Their basketball games and the end of the year tournament have been re-scheduled and they jumped right back into the routine with practices yesterday and today.  We are very lucky to be able to go to school as the Government has now closed all other schools (with the exception of private and international schools) until November 21st.  

So, back to the last part of our trip to Chiang Rai...

We finished in Myanmar, retrieved our passports and walked back over the bridge to go through processing by the Thai immigration office.  Everyone coming back into Thailand was loaded down with goods from the counterfeit market. Anan said the Thais go to Myanmar to buy the fake goods and the Burma people (as they call themselves), come into Thailand for the medical care and medicine.  I wish I knew more about Myanmar to give you some information about the history of the country and what it is like present day, but I really don't know much.  Other than watching Brad Pitt in "Seven Years In Tibet" (a LONG time ago), I have had no exposure to this region at all.  Hence, the Modern East Asia class!  Earlier in the day, during our drive to the border, Anan did say Myanmar is the richest country in the world as far as natural resources are concerned.  He showed us a map which detailed the locations and types of natural resources in Myanmar and there is quite a variety and abundance.  From other things Anan said, I got the impression that the government does not have complete control over the entire country and portions thereof are ruled by tribes, local armies, etc.  

We met back up with our driver and he had bottles of cold water and a tray of cold washcloths waiting for us so we could freshen up a bit.  Then, we drove a short distance to an art gallery that mines jade in Myanmar and makes it into jewelry, figurines, and art.  First we visited the "production" part of the gallery....

We walked in on the tail end of the process so, obviously, a lot of things had already been done to the jade before the woman in the photo below began to polish the figurine.    The jade is dyed a dark purple color so she can see what has already been polished.
I thought it would be nice to purchase something from this gallery as a little souvenir of our day but when I saw the prices, I just about died!  Once finished ONE of those LITTLE elephants in the photo above will sell for about $450 US dollars.  Jade, like other gems, has gradients of quality and this gallery specializes in only the very high level grades.  Their prices certainly reflected it!  

We left the gallery (alas, empty handed), stopped for a quick bite to eat and began the drive to Laos.  The drive was REALLY long - probably well over an hour.  Both of the kids fell asleep.  The route we took was very "back road" - through rice paddies (photos below) and lots of small Thai villages.  I am going to learn how rice is grown as the growing/harvesting/sale process looks and sounds very interesting. 
We stopped in the ancient town of Chiang Saen, on the Mekong river and at the very southernmost point of the Golden Triangle.  Before going to the dock to catch our boat to Laos, we went to a very old temple that is in the process of being rebuilt and restored.  This temple seemed to be more "photo friendly" than the one we visited in Myanmar so I was able to take a few photos.   This temple is called Wat Chedi Luang and is thought  to have been built between the 12th and 14th century.  This is a new Buddha that was recently installed.  It was very large (maybe 30 feet) and quite spectacular! 
Before we left the temple, Anan showed us "game", almost like pick up sticks... you match the number on the stick you pick up with the number on a drawer in the chest (photo below).  Inside the drawer is your "fortune".  I can't remember the details for the two kids (Anan had to translate to English for us) but we all got a good laugh because Christopher's fortune contained a very strong warning for the woman he is to marry!
In the photo below... you take a small (stamp sized) piece of gold leaf (provided by the temple), say a prayer to Buddha and adhere the gold leaf to statue on the part of the Buddha's body that corresponds to where you are feeling your pain (i.e, if you have knee pain, you would put the gold leaf on the Buddha's knee).   
Christopher thought the sign below was funny and took this photo (yes, surprisingly I let him touch my camera again!).
The photo below shows a portion of the temple currently under renovation.
After another bathroom break (this time with Western facilities!), we hopped back in the van and drove down to the Mekong River to meet up with our boat for a short trip across the river to Laos.

Anan waiting for our "skipper".
The view over to Laos.
 A traditional Asian river boat. 
Our long tail boat.  Yes, all six of us went in that boat.  And survived.  I would not have set foot in that boat had we not had life preservers and knowing that the river was heavily trafficked     
 A true house boat. 
 A river front home on the Laos side of the river.
The sign below was on the dock where we tied up the boat on the Laos side of the Mekong.  Done Xao (China) is 266 KM farther up the river from that point.  Anan told us that it would be about an 8 hour ride in a boat similar to ours.  No thank you.
Warning - those with queasy stomachs, beware of the next few photos!

So, how many of you have dared to eat the worm at the bottom of the tequila bottle?!? I know my husband did when he was at his cousin's wedding in Mexico many years ago and thought he should "go native".  Well, in Laos, they have something similar.  However, the Laotians think the worm is a little too wimpy so guess what they have in their whiskey?

Is a cobra manly enough for you? Why did I think in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice as I typed that sentence?!? Ha! 
I will spare you the photos of the whiskey with the armadillo and the one with the scorpion.  Kevin wanted to buy some bottles to take home to our families but we thought there might be some problems going through customs with these!

More counterfeit purses - although these were not as good of quality as those in Myanmar.
We did not spend much time in Laos.  I think we were all exhausted and ready to get back to the hotel.  We walked around the little village on the river bank for a while and then returned to the boat for our trip across the river to Thailand.  The dock on the Thai side was renovated a few years ago for the Queen's birthday.  The view as we approached was quite impressive.
After we docked, we met up with our driver again (and more of those lovely cold washcloths) and had a very short ride back to the hotel.  We went to dinner and then packed up as we had a very early (6.00 am) departure the next morning.  

That is a wrap!  I think it took me longer to write about our trip than the trip actually was!

Have a great Wednesday! 

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