In our ‘Travel Tales’ series, our Travel Consultants share their travel stories. Our Travel Consultants regularly travel to the destinations they specialise in. This is how each hotel, experience and mode of transport we recommend has been road-tested and reviewed. This ensures that our advice to you is fresh, up-to-date and first-hand.
Here David Gookey, our Thailand Travel Specialist shares his travel tales in Thailand..
After about 40 minutes’ drive from Chiang Mai by car we switch to a local songtaew – the local taxi which is a semi-open red truck with two rows of seats opposite each other – for the drive to the Chang Kien Hmong village.
As we pass the Royal Family’s former Winter Palace, my guide Jeab explains that the road will become too narrow for cars to reach the village that we are going to. She mentions that there is another Hmong village nearby which is easier to reach by car or minibus but much more touristy and very popular with the Chinese in particular.
After about 25 minutes of a single-track road with twists and turns – but with smooth tarmac –we reach a much more bumpy section. I try to continue to make notes as Jeab explains some background to the Hmong people but my already-poor handwriting becomes even more illegible. This is the reason why the village is relatively unknown – but it’s really not too bad a journey and the bumpiness only lasts for around 15 minutes until we pull up outside the village school and say a brief hello to the principal.
The school is for young children and Jeab explains that the Royal family and the Government have been investing in the future of these small communities, with electricity having arrived in the village just two years ago. As we walk around the village dodging chickens, roosters and the dogs that are milling around I notice how quiet it is – there are few people around and Jeab explains that most are working in the fields which contain vegetables, rice and ‘Aribica’ coffee grown locally as part of the Chong Khien coffee project.
There is one man, however, with a catapult who is nearby. He doesn’t speak much, if at all, and simply points to his cloth bag slung around his shoulder and at a bag of rice hung up about 20 feet away. He hands me the catapult and a handful of balls made of clay and invites me to hit the target. Being the generous sort of traveller I am and not wishing to show up a local person with my shooting prowess, I dutifully proceed to miss the bag of rice over and over again. This amused Jeab greatly and we continue our walk around the village.
As we approach three women chatting away and working on their embroidery and weaving for handicrafts to be sold in Chiang Mai, I spot several trays of coffee beans which are at various stages of drying out before being roasted. After explaining the coffee production process Jeab takes me over to a small hut that sells coffee – it’s the real highlight of the trip as my selected coffee is freshly and manually ground up in front of me and put into a cafetiere and is an absolute bargain for 60p for two cups. It’s a fraction of the cost, and in some cases the same coffee, as you may find in the famous coffee shops in other parts of the world.
After leaving the Hmong village my guide and making the same bumpy journey, we arrived at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – the temple that is very much a part of the Chiang Mai landscape and more commonly referred to as Doi Suthep which is actually the name of the mountain that it stands on.
Visitors can either choose to get to the temple pagodas by climbing the Naga staircase of 300 or so steps or by taking a tram for a small fee and we decided to take the latter up and the former down – a wise decision in the afternoon heat. The impressive temple is considered one of the most sacred in the area and the golden pagoda shimmered against the deep blue sky as hundreds of devout Buddhists made their offerings.
There are various different shrines all around and I was particularly taken with a replica of the emerald Buddha and surprised to see a statue of the Hindu God Ganesh which was surrounding by a beautiful small garden. On a clear day, there is also a fantastic view of Chiang Mai from the temple.
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