Trip Prep

Warning: Lots of words, no pictures…

We’ve been asked quite a bit about the steps we took before we left the States for a year of travel; this post covers the large items from our checklist. We spread out tasks as much as we could and managed to cover a lot of ground in the few months before starting our trip.

The most difficult part was the decision to move away from the comfortable, (relatively) predictable life we led in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is a great place to be in all seasons, and there was lots of good food, hiking less than an hour away, an ocean, local wine, and lots of career opportunities for both of us. Traveling the world for a year meant giving that up in exchange for the unknown, both on the road and upon our return. We both love to travel, and every trip always felt as though it ended too soon and should have been the start of something grander.

The catalyst ended up being notice that my own job was gong to come to and end as the company I worked for downsized. It didn’t hurt that the lease on our apartment was gong to be up at about the same time, and Kevin’s desire to work for himself meant we could live anywhere with reliable internet.

We were never big spenders, and we worked to pay off our student loan debt as quickly as possible. Saving was also constantly on our mind as we had been building a reserve to provide Kevin freedom to go indie (the cost of living is so high in Seattle that even with me working full time, we would still need to dip into savings each month). The money we had saved to that end would go further abroad.

As anyone who lives in Seattle – or who wants to live there but has had to settle for suburbs – knows, it is a pricy city, especially where housing is concerned. Even a brief look at our budget and some comparisons for cities around the world proved to us that it would be cheaper to live elsewhere, even while moving each month. Of course, we had to rule out some big destinations like London, Paris, New Zealand, and Australia, where prices vastly outpaced our budget, but aside from a few exceptions, the decision to live abroad would give us a longer runway while allowing Kevin to work and both of us to experience new cultures and places on a frequent basis.

My job wound down, and we began taking steps toward the possibility of living abroad long-term. Everything we did and the amount of money we spent was relatively small until about a 6 weeks before we left; if something drastically changed we could have called the entire trip off and only been out a few hundred dollars. But then we bought airfare and booked apartments, gave final notice on our lease, and started telling family and friends – we were committed to at least a couple months of travel.

When we saw our potential plans included places where tropical diseases were a concern, we set up appointments at a travel clinic to decide which precautionary vaccinations we would need. We didn’t know which countries we would be visiting, so we played it safe and asked for almost everything that was available. That meant boosters for tetanus, polio, and Hepatitis A & B. It also meant prophylactic shots for Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, and rabies as well as the oral typhoid vaccine. The cost of all the injections was more than $2,000 per person; thankfully our insurance covered all of those as preventative care! We were also given prescriptions for a high-powered antibiotic cream and antibiotics to use in case of wildly upset stomachs. Since the rabies shots have already come in handy for me, I’m going to applaud my own decision to get better at dealing with needles. I also got my vision checked and a new prescription ordered.

As you might guess, the internet is a sea of inspiration (some good, some awfully outdated), and stacks of travel books from the library didn’t hurt our state of mind either. While it is fun to pretend we were going to go everywhere, the world is too big and our budget too small for that. We settled for finding places we would want to call home a month at a time; cities that provided easy means of transit, good food, cultural variety, and were still relatively cheap. Since we book a few months out, this process will be ongoing.

We set up a mail forwarding service and began changing the addresses on our accounts with plenty of time to spare. We now have the option to have our mail stored until our return, scanned to us, or shredded (even 7,900 miles away, sending junk mail to its doom gives me a sensation of glee).

In our previous travels, we noticed foreign transaction and ATM fees can really add up, so with that in mind we opened two new accounts. The first was a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and which had points we could use toward later travel expenses. The second was a new bank account with a debit card that could be used worldwide with no ATM fees. It was important to us that our travel bank account be completely separate from our savings account so that, if our travel card becomes compromised, our savings are secure. Now that we are on the road, we find an ATM upon arrival so that all of our day-to-day purchases are made with local currency and our cards are used rarely and at locations that are as secure as possible.

Though we didn’t own an entire home’s worth of physical stuff, our apartment was still pretty full. We hadn’t moved in about four years, so items gathered in corners unnoticed. I couldn’t bear to part with my books, so we already knew that a storage unit would be necessary. (Kevin put up with me storing almost all of them, and doing the physical labor of moving a small library – I have a perfect husband.)

About two months before we left, we started seriously going through our material possessions to decide what was worth saving, what could be sold, what should be donated, and what could be recycled or left for free on the sidewalk. All told, about four large carloads went to local Goodwills – outdated fashions, unneeded cooking supplies, some small furniture. We drove many carloads over to a 10X5′ storage area, and with about three weeks left before vacating our apartment, we rented a Uhaul and moved the furniture (bookshelves mostly, but also a desk, dresser, and a few other bulky items). Large, unkeepable items were sold online. We spent the last days before our trip in an eerily empty house.

The most unexpectedly emotional part of the downsize for Kevin was selling Eva, our beloved car. I’m not convinced she ever liked me since she often threw a fit if I planned a trip; it didn’t matter if we were going to Mount Rainier or Montana… she found a way to complicate an oddly large portion of the getaways I planned. I think her jealousy of me stemmed from the fact that Kevin bought her on Valentine’s. We did find her a good home, but being without a car was an odd feeling, especially with so many last-minute errands. Even though we were used to walking most of the places we needed to be on a daily basis, a car is one of those things society expects you to have. By getting rid of Eva, it felt a little like going backward. Then we reminded ourselves that where we lived… and where we were going… we didn’t need a car. (We would still probably need roads… roads come in handy.)

One of the most frustrating aspects of our preparation was finding and applying for health insurance. Though healthcare in many parts of the world is cheaper in price and the outcomes on par with the US, going without insurance was not an option. We researched multiple plans with widely varying prices and coverage caveats. We finally settled on one with coverage in just about any country we could legally visit, emergency medical evacuation should there be a worst-case scenario, and a moderate price tag. Since international health insurance plans do not fall under the aegis of the Affordable Care Act there were loops to jump through and paperwork to produce. After producing the most mundane medical records going back years, we had to answer still more questions, and we received notice of our coverage only about a week before leaving. (It was an unhappy reminder of how miserable shopping for health insurance was before the ACA.) We would have started that process earlier if we had known it would take more than a month.

What might have seemed like dragging our heels to settle down became an advantage. With no debt, no house (too pricey in Seattle), no kids (not ready yet), even no pets, we had no strings strong enough to prevent us from leaving. Since we already lived on the other side of the country from our families, the other side of the world didn’t seem so far. And since we live in the future, keeping in touch and staying connected from anywhere isn’t the struggle it used to be.

We’ve already come more than 10,000 miles from O’Hare and every day has been worth the stress of upending our lives as we knew them.

 

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Ferries and Georgetown, Part II

We took another trip into Georgetown to take the funicular up Penang Hill for a good view of the island. But upon arrival, we discovered it was closed for maintenance… good thing we are staying for a few more weeks! As a consolation prize we headed toward the waterfront and the Chinese Clan Jetties. Chinese families with fishing livelihoods set up the jetties generations ago, and many homes are still occupied. The wooden boardwalks and cobbled-together appearance give the piers a rustic vibe, contrasting the shops selling trinkets and snacks (ice cream) to tourists.

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Chew Clan Jetty

Just up the street is the Georgetown ferry dock. We took a 15 minute trip across the Selatan Strait to Butterworth to get a view of the cities from the water and spend time in the breeze. The ferries are smaller than those in Seattle but still carry cars and are more brightly colored. A cluster of passenger benches takes up the center of the upper deck, between two lanes of vehicles. Though two bridges connect the island to the mainland, the ferry can save time coming from Georgetown, especially in heavy traffic. The ferry ride ends at a bus and rail terminal, and there isn’t anything interesting in walking distance (yet… there were several construction projects underway), so we just paid the return fare and enjoyed the ride back and a view of a massive sea eagle skimming the water.

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Happily painted ferries, Georgetown from the water, small boats near the port.

Back in the afternoon heat of Georgetown, we stepped into the Han Jiang Ancestral Temple because it had shade. It turned out to be my favorite temple in Georgetown so far – recently restored, it was full of incredible artwork (tile floors, small statues along the roof, intricate corner beams, painted doors). Though it is still in use, there was almost no one inside and we were able to enjoy a break from the noisy traffic and spend time admiring the skill that went into creating the complex.

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3D Murals at the entrance, name plates of deceased ancestors, the front altar, ornate dragon at the corner of a ceiling beam.
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Offerings at the temple, dragons along the roofline, doors to the interior courtyard.

Around the rest of the city we discovered more street art, and that preparations for Chinese New Year, coming up on February 8, are in full swing. Lots of stores have displays for the Year of the Monkey, gift baskets, red and gold decorations, and red clothing (red being a lucky color). It is just like the excitement building up to Christmas in the US – everyone will visit family to begin the new year and celebrate with cleaning, gift-giving, and lots of food.

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Adorable mini-mural, a monkey set up in preparation for the upcoming Chinese New year, my favorite shop name, and Georgetown buildings in need of repair.

Speaking of meals, we can check a couple more local foods off our list: Penang Hokkien Mee (prawn-stock soup with egg noodles, rice noodles, prawns, pork, and a hard-boiled egg), and stingray (lots of bones). As usual, both were tasty choices.

 

Georgetown

We took our first trip into Georgetown to see some of the tourist sights and eat some local cuisine. Rather than taking the 45-minute bus ride (we really are out in the suburbs) or a taxi, we opted for Uber. It worked out pretty well – our driver had good advice for what to see and eat in town – and dropped us off in front of the best mee sotong (squid and noodles) stand in Penang, which happens to be in a food court outside of Fort Cornwallis.

The British (if the names Georgetown and Cornwallis weren’t giveaways) were responsible for the construction of the fort under the direction of Captain Francis Lightfoot. Ironically, he died shortly afterward and the first recorded marriage in the fort’s chapel was his widow’s to a new husband. Fort Cornwallis isn’t overly impressive – it has a relatively low brick wall and a few sea-pointing cannons; it never saw combat, so more secure battlements were never needed.

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Cannon at Fort Cornwallis, incense burners outside a Taoist temple, birds for sale – to be freed upon purchase, Armenian Street buildings.

Georgetown has an eclectic mix of architectural styles and heritages – a British-colonial style still defines the buildings of the banking core, just down the street is Little India (with saris, curries, and spices for sale in shop windows), Chinese and Buddhist traditions show up everywhere (temples are common in the Old Town, as are small, red altars at the front of businesses, and Chinese-language signs), Armenian Street betrays European character (low building with shutter-covered windows), and Islamic influences also have great significance (mosques, beautiful patterned and flowered tile work, and signs in Arabic). The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the unique blend of cultures and traditions that has shaped the city.

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Kapitan Keling Mosque, St. George’s Church, Kuan Yin Teng Taoist Temple – all within about three blocks of each other.

The area around Armenian Street is known for murals and street art, both intentional and unintentional. While we were there, some of the paintings were serving as the backdrop for a music video. I don’t think the group is overly famous yet as there was no crowd of screaming hangers-on.

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Armenian Street artwork.

The diverse types of meals that are available reflect the mixing of cultures. Chinese, Cantonese, Indian, Malay, Nyonya, Western, Portuguese, Thai, and Japanese are all often available at the same food court. Rice and noodles are still central components, as are spicy peppers and rich sauces (often too spicy for me, sometimes too spicy for Kevin).

Clay-pot-cooked meals have been my favorite discovery since arriving in Penang. Rice is already heated in a clay bowl and a choice of meat or veggie topping is added when you order. The flame is turned up and the flavors blend together for a bit. It is served piping hot with a separate plate so you can dish it out as you go and share with friends; the rest of the meal stays toasty in the insulated bowl.

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Other street art from around the Old Town.

One final note about humidity – the actual air temperature is only a few degrees fahrenheit warmer than Chiang Mai, and we adjusted to that fairly well. Penang averages about 88-90 degrees; we were often up to 85 in Thailand. But the humidity – 70% or higher -makes it feel much warmer and far more uncomfortable. Michelle, our Uber driver on the return trip, was amazed we had spent a few hours walking around outside in the middle of the day. She admitted even locals never get used to it, they prefer go from one air conditioned place to another. At least our apartment is higher up and near the water, meaning some parts of the day offer cooling breezes, but between about 1 and 6 p.m. and after 9:30 p.m the air stagnates and all pretense of comfort vanishes.

Final Thoughts on Thailand

We made it to Penang Island, Malaysia and are excited to explore our home for the next four weeks. We spend the first couple of days settling in and coming to terms with the high humidity (think of those handful of Midwestern summer days where everything crunchy in your cupboard goes stale in hours – that is every day), getting Malaysian SIMs for our phones (cheaper even than Thailand), shopping for groceries, and swimming in the pool. Since we are farther out in the suburb of Gelugor, our trips to sightsee will be more planned than in Chiang Mai.

So in the meantime, here are a few miscellaneous parting thoughts about Thailand:

  1. Packaging glue is something to be reckoned with in Thailand, especially when it comes to pre-packaged snacks. I don’t know why chips need to be childproof, but I needed scissors to open them. Every time. I feel so weak.
  2. There are so many snack flavors – various seafoods, hotpot, hamburger, bbq, extra bbq, nori seaweed, corn soup (that one was on a bag of popcorn), miang kham, cheese ice cream. Even chrysalis snacks for those willing to eat fried bug larva (it wan’t as tasty as I hoped, but I can see it being better freshly fried or as a topping).
  3. Forget credit cards and carry cash, preferably small bills. ATMs only want to give out 1,000 baht bills, so you have to break them at 7-Eleven or another chain store. Then you can go to the yummier places to eat with all the 100 and 20 baht notes you get as change.

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    Offering left at the base of a tree, the best restaurant name we saw (though we did not eat there), readily available electrical outlets for phone plugs, Star Wars hype at one of the malls.
  4. It is incredibly common to have dual-purpose outlets that support North American plugs without adapters. So that those converters you purchased are wholly unnecessary. Just toss the doohickey in the garbage, plug your phone into the wall, and forget about it.
  5. Eating street food might be the biggest highlight. There is a small chance you will get sick (we racked up one case of food-related illness between us), but that mostly doesn’t happen. And the thing that probably caused it was fish that had been sitting out, for a few hours at least, on a 90 degree holiday with fewer patrons than usual. And we ate just about everything else we saw, including other fish, with no ill effects except a craving for more.
  6. There are a surprising amount of tourists/expats in Chaing Mai, and that increases ten- or twenty-fold in the Old City. And a surprising number of those are older men with Thai wives/girlfriends/escorts. It is a little bit unnerving and a little gross. Don’t get me wrong, some have clearly fallen in love and both partners are happy, committed, and enjoying each other and their family. But others… not so much. I’m especially suspicious when the age difference is more than 10 years or so. I really hope that maybe I saw the couple on a bad day or that at least they each treat the other with respect and caring at other times. But I have a horrible feeling that some are one-sided with one partner is trapped by economics, lack of education, or some equally unfair disadvantage.
  7. Lighter skin is a big deal. I think the tanning craze has been over in the US almost as long as I’ve been out of high school, but here the opposite extreme happens. Not only is a dark tan frowned upon, but light skin is the focus of a large portion of lotions and soaps. They are advertised as ‘Whitening’ or ‘Lightening.’ I’m not sure what ingredients create this effect, but sunscreen is a better alternative.

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    Our favorite story of a monk and his need to gain weight, electrical wire chaos (yet the power always worked), skin whitening body wash.
  8. Written Thai is confusing. Words are not divided from one another in the same way as in English – so sentences appear to be one long string of letters. It makes picking out individual words impossible without prior knowledge. (**However, Thai TV is very good at being accessible to the deaf. Most news channels have an interpreter in the lower corner, and other channels, especially those showing movies dubbed from another language, will have close captions running along the bottom.) Thankfully, spoken Thai is easier to pick up and basic phrases and numbers are simple to learn in an hour or less.
  9. Street dogs are everywhere. Very few pets are leashed (and the ones that are have good reason to be) and are free to wander around day and night. In our neighborhood they bark a lot. And while their bite is not worse than their bark, they do bite.
  10. Which brings me to cheap and efficient medical care: Both post-exposure rabies shots, a series of antibiotics (which I ended up not taking because my bite didn’t get infected), and the doctor’s visit amounted to less than $100USD. There is a reason medical tourism is a growing industry. The hospital was (once we got to the right counter) clean, fully & competently staffed, and not much different than a hospital in a medium-sized city in the US. On a side note – before we left the US, we each received three rounds of pre-exposure rabies vaccine, and each was billed at a rate of $324 (thankfully completely covered by insurance as preventative care). Each of the two shots in Thailand was less than $30. So even paying out of pocket didn’t add to the pain. (We do have travel insurance, but are not yet up to our deductible.)

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    One of the larger spirit houses, adorableness.
  11. Everyone is really kind – willing to offer directions or suggestions if they see you are lost or confused, happy to work with you to get you the meal you want, and smile as you stumble through attempts at speaking Thai and nod encouragement and let you know where in the sentence you went wrong. Locals all spoke enough English to help us through our transactions. Occasionally they were hesitant to use it, perhaps because they were shy about pronunciation or grammear, but it was clear that their knowledge of English far surpassed our Thai vocabularies.
  12. Spirit houses and small offerings are commonplace. Spirit houses are usually placed in one of the corners of the property and are on a pillar. The small structures are often accompanied by flowers, fruits, open drinks, and figurines. Businesses that don’t have room out front will have a shelf set up inside with the same purpose. Offerings are sometimes left outside near doors or at the base of trees as well.
  13. It was an incredibly safe city. I never felt awkward or unwelcome or afraid walking around (though now I check twice where the dogs are at). Apparently pickpockets can strike at the crowded markets or tourist sights, but we never had need to worry.

Thai New Year

Thailand does New Year’s better. For starters, the weather is a vast improvement over any other end-of-December I’ve witnessed… no snow, no ice, no freezing temperatures, no gray Seattle fog hiding fireworks. Just a balmy 75 degrees at midnight, perfect for strolling, eating street food, and drinking outside.

And midnight on December 31 is just the first of three New Year’s celebrations. Why have just one when you can also give a nod to Chinese New Year in February and have the three-day Songkran in April with merit-making, firecrackers, parades, and massive water fights?

Holidays here are taken seriously – most of the local restaurants we’ve eaten at closed on or before December 30 and won’t reopen until January 3 or 4. (Some even closed between Christmas and the New Year or longer.)

And of course, midnight celebrations are a little different. We went to the Tha Pae Gate to celebrate. The area had already been setting up for the events days in advance – a small market sprung up last week along with more street food vendors than usual. A main stage was erected, and was occupied by a famous or semi-famous Thai singer and band for a concert the traditional countdown to midnight. Since the area is tourisy and restaurants stayed open, we ate there on the 31st (a German/Thai restaurant might not have been the most obvious choice but it was delicious) and that put us right in front of one of the main launching areas for lanterns.

The first sky-lanterns go up about 7:45, just a small handful from those who could not wait or had small kids to hurry home. Then, about 9 p.m., hundreds start rising from all directions. Several other sites around the city like the Nimman Road/Maya shopping plaza and Ping riverfront/Warorot Market had large celebrations and also contributed steady streams of lights.

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The lanterns are flimsy, and the slightest breeze sends them into trees or power lines (of course, it doesn’t help when they are launched directly under said power lines by inattentive people and then burst brightly into flame and rain down burning ashes on the sidewalk). But once the lanterns get around any obstacles, they are absolutely beautiful. One light floats up, joins dozens or hundreds of others buoyed along by the wind, bobs along for a while, then flickers, fades, and sinks back to earth. I think it might be the most quietly joyful celebration I’ve witnessed (just tune out the firecrackers).

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If you look carefully, there are already downed lanterns in the water.

Fireworks are not so strictly regulated, so roman candles and aerials can be bought by the side of the road, and carried around above your head as they explode in merry bursts (saw two guys doing this) or set off in the middle of the (crowded) street. It is assumed passers-by will notice and move out of the way accordingly. Most were made well enough and the explosions cleared the rooftops, but some explode closer to eye-level and sent people dodging.

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What goes up does come down, and after just five minutes or so. Burned-out lanterns already littered the moat and nearby trees when we sent ours up and we passed the their detritus all the way home. They skimmed along the streets the next morning, lingering gray husks of the celebration.

Tastes of Northern Thailand

We knew Chiang Mai was going to be a hot spot for all sorts of Thai food, but we’ve been amazed at the variety of what is available within just a few feet of our door. We pass a dozen small restaurants and food stands just to get to the main road where there are dozens more within just a few minutes’ walk. Some are permanent and some pop up on the back a motorcycle or in a parking lot. (TVs are at almost every restaurant, including those that are set up on motorcycle sidecar – just plug in to curbside power and the latest soaps and sports are cued up.) Here are some of our favorite food-related discoveries:

  1. Khao soi. Crunchy, soupy, semi-spicy goodness that seems to capture Northern Thailand in a single dish.
  2. Self-seasoning! No 1-5 stars or presumptions about how spicy you can handle. Sometimes we get asked if we would like spicy or non, and some dishes come with peppers as part of the recipe, but usually the spice levels are low (well, low by Thai standards, so really low-to-moderate by ours), so you can add more to taste. At a local restaurant, there are usually 3 or 4 condiments on the table – sugar, vinegared peppers, lip-burningly-hot crushed and dried pepper flakes, and a jar of fish sauce. Some dishes are served with their own special additions like pieces of lime or peanuts on the side. But the message is: you know how you like your food, so we’ll serve the basic components and you can fine-tune the rest.
  3. Palm sugar! Baking sugar, maple syrup, and stand-alone candy in one. It tops toast, oatmeal, or yogurt at breakfast, and fruit during the day. I’ll admit: I just eat it by the spoonful.
  4. Seaweed- and fish-flavored snacks. Uwajimaya aside, US stores should carry more of these.

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    Crepe-like dessert, palm sugar, snake fruit, tiny bananas!
  5. Noodles. All kinds. Everywhere. Egg noodles, rice noodles, glass noodles, vermicelli, wide noodles, thin noodles, crunchy noodles, noodles in soup. Mostly fresh, not frozen or dried, and stir-fried or boiled to perfection.
  6. Tiny bananas. Sweeter than in the US supermarket and just the right size for snacking and making itty-bitty banana splits.
  7. Rose apples. Crunchy, semi-sweet deliciousness that tastes like apple blossoms, roses, and springtime. Eat it like a regular fruit or add chili powder and sugar for a local touch.
  8. Snake fruit. Strange looking with a thin scaly skin that reveals yellowish flesh that tastes unlike anything I’d tried before. Smooth and sweet-and-sour. You think you’ll eat just one, but then need another.
  9. Pringles-shaped crunchy crepe desserts. Topped with sugared egg white and coconut or sweetened egg yolks (foy tong).

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    Rose apples, fun snack flavors, Thailand-produced wine, khao soi.
  10. Mango sticky rice. Because rice sweetened with coconut milk and sugar with mango is all the dessert you need.
  11. Coffee! Extra sugar, and often extra chocolate. Seattle is no longer looking like the best coffee city.

**Shoutout to the Thai wine industry. Though we consider ourselves wine-lovers, we had no clue that wine grapes were grown in Thailand, but they are in several vineyards near Bangkok and to the south. The wine goes great with Thai food (as you’d expect).

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

Like most visitors to Chiang Mai, we also made the trip up to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. Located on a mountain overlooking the city, it is visible as a faintly gold-colored spire and set of buildings during the day and is well-lit at night (just glancing up, we thought it could have been a low-flying airplane except for the brightly lit chedi).

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The Wat is in a national park, so once we passed the zoo on the outskirts of town the number of buildings drops precipitously and the surroundings become jungle. We went on a cloudy, cooler day, but the temperature kept dropping as we climbed, a nice respite from the lowland.

A few fruit stands are situated near viewpoints on the way up and the top is a full-fledged temple complex with market and dozens of food vendors. The temple is separate from most of the hubbub and is up a 300+ step flight of stairs. We paid the foreigner fee for entry at the top and went in. The courtyard is a semi-continuous shoe pile.

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The Wat is an active temple and so many of those visiting are there to worship. The main gilded chedi is in an interior courtyard and many take the time to pray and circle it with a lotus flower. Images of Buddha abound and, like the other Wats, everything is intricately carved, gilded, and painted and flowers and bright fabrics adorn many of the altars and trees around the Wat.

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Offerings of coins can be made by lighting candles and dipping the coin in the dripping wax and then attaching it to a board near one of the altars. Alternately, there are donation boxes for the various needs of the temple complex and the monks.

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There are also bells for devotees to ring and candles kept burning with oil poured onto them by the faithful.

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To the right side of the the main temple is a deck overlooking the city. The airport is visible on the nearer side of town (our temporary home is located a bit to the left of the runway).

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Dogs have a particularly good time near temples in Thailand. They are willing to eat anything visitors drop or give to them and act as a pet/guard dog combo.

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We ate lunch at the market near the bottom of the steps (and paid a higher price to do so, since the day was cooler on the mountain and though the food was not as good as the rest we’ve eaten).

A word about the roads: Driving up is an adventure. We caught a red truck by the Ford dealership near the old city’s north gate. We shared the back with 7 other people (so 9 total on the way up) and were part of a group of 13 on the way down (2 were in the truck’s cab). The road up to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is three lanes so vehicles having trouble with the grade can go slower. At least that is the theory. In practice, everyone drives in the center, even around blind curves. And there are dozens and dozens of blind curves. Even swerving into oncoming traffic we were being passed by vehicles even farther over the center line.  On the way down a full-sized tour bus was stuck (with rocks under the wheels) on the final blind curve before the Wat. I hope it didn’t cause any other accidents as everyone was veering around it at speed to take the corner in the single remaining lane. Cyclists take on the mountain in high numbers, but I am not as brave as they are.