Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thailand, Part 3

The street stall area in front of Doi Suthep temple takes the shape of two streets intersecting in an "L", running down the hill 1-2 blocks straight from the temple stairs, and up the hill to the right another 1-2 blocks. The stalls sell knit stocking caps, fruit smoothies, fruit and nut butter waffles, plain fruit, jewelry, coffee and wood carvings. The coffee was as good as ever. But, I wanted coconut milk. One stall along the 300 stairs staircase had coconuts for 60 baht ($1.80 USD; other places sell coconuts for 30-40 baht). The guy there took a chopping knife and whacked 5 cuts into the coconut, then pried the top open and stuck in a straw. The thing had been pre-chilled on ice, so the milk was cold and very sweet, and there was enough for about a 12-ounce cup. Very good.

We also got a waffle sandwich with mango jam inside, which was also really good. Otherwise, we just stood around and waited for the rest of the group to show up and for the red taxi to come back to the stairs at 1:30 PM.

They've got the weirdest handholds here.

(The Thai version of a chicken products logo.)

(Stocking caps. Notice the yellow Winnie the Pooh cap.)

The one thing I wanted to mention here is the presence of dogs at the shrines and temples. You don't see a lot of animals around the city proper, but there are always several dogs hanging around or sleeping on the temple grounds. And they always seem to be untrained.

After the long ride back down the mountain, we got to the "bus terminal" and everyone went their separate ways. I wanted a snack, so I want to a nearby tourist planning agency and asked for a good coffee shop. Everyone inside said "Into the Woods", and pointed a couple buildings farther along the block. Into the Woods is probably one of the more interesting ideas I've encountered so far. It's an American-style shop, with a dessert case, table and comfy chair seating, and wooden cases with a number of books you can read for free (including a lot of Thai-translated manga). Most of the customers seemed to be regulars, either reading or working on laptop computers with free wifi. The white door in back is designed to look like a clothes cabinet door, but is actually the entrance to the toilets.

The menus have Alice in Wonderland artwork on them, while my copy looks like the play book for Stephen Sondheim's musical 'Into the Woods'. The sandwich was good, as was the coffee, but the waitress apparently gave my dessert (a chocolate cheesecake slice) to someone else, and then when I asked where my order was, attempted to charge me twice for it. The problem being that they never gave me a receipt. I eventually got things straightened out, but I'm pretty sure they never figured out what the mistake was. The cheese cake was American-style, really good, and only about $1.50. I still like the place and would happily go back there given the chance. The "Alice in Wonderland/Red Riding Hood" concept amuses me.

We returned to the hotel by red taxi, and I spent about an hour walking along the street away from the bridges to see what was in that direction. Answer - about the same, only more-so. Little shops selling tires and tire repair, small open-air restaurants, bars, and lots and lots of traffic. A kilometer away there's a large park with the statue of some prince near the entrance. At 5:30 PM, as the sky was getting dark, there were still people jogging, playing badminton, and standing around and talking.

(No idea who he is.)

Right across the street is a military base. I didn't want to be too obvious in taking photos in case someone thought I was a spy. I'm thinking that the 40 men in brown uniforms standing at the Iron Bridge Tuesday night were soldiers doing some kind of training exercise.

A bit farther on I came to the regional electrical authority (the power company). To the left in the photo, people are using the ATMs. My interest was the sign above the power company doors.

(They're everywhere you are.)

(One of the open air restaurants. I'm not sure how they close up at night or during the day. Or, if there's any way to keep vermin off the tables during off-hours. Even if they don't get rats or stray dogs, they probably get lizards.)

This place serves Thai curry and stir fry.

That night, we had trouble deciding where to eat dinner. We started out by strolling around the night bazaar, and looking at all the various choices. We settled on the Roadside Diner, located at the entrance to the bazaar. They have a lot of different variations on curry, and the prices are pretty good. I had the chicken curry cooked in a fresh whole coconut, plus Singha beer. During the meal, they had live music on the small stage nearby, including a solo guitarist, and a violinist accompanied by another guitar player. During the meal, someone shot off fireworks, so several customers ran into the street to watch that for a few minutes. The fireworks came from the direction of my hotel, so it was difficult to figure out who shot them. My best guess is: There's a restaurant across the river from my hotel, at the foot of the Iron Bridge. When we walked over the bridge to go to the bazaar that evening, the restaurant had traditional Thai dancers performing on a small stage in their backyard. Near the dancers were another 10 or so musicians playing flutes and small drums. It's possible the restaurant was hosting a wedding party or something, and the fireworks were part of that party.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel and watched TV until falling asleep.

The flight back home was scheduled for 8:30 PM Friday night, while hotel checkout was 12 noon. So, we had breakfast (ham and cheese sandwich, plus the fried egg and toast), then set out to wander the city, while leaving the main suitcase at the hotel. The graffiti  here was on a building wall along the way to the second bridge.

We grabbed a red taxi and took that to Central Department store on the other side of the downtown area; 30 minute ride for 50 baht per person. Central is in a very large red brick building, and has a wide variety of clothing, fashion and food shops. It's built like a donut and stands about 6 stories tall. The thing is, the back half of the donut, on every floor, is empty. It looks like a number of tenants went out of business and the place couldn't find replacement shops.

There's a Starbucks in the plaza in front of the building, and a little bazaar opened up around it as people set up arts and crafts tables there. We got coffee inside Central instead, at Black Canyon Coffee, which was very good, and a bit cheaper than Starbucks. From here, we walked another kilometer towards the mountains, to a hole-in-the-wall shop, Ninja Ramen, for their Ninja lunch set (pork ramen, a rice ball, miso soup and tea) for $3, and a watermelon smoothie for another $1.50. The smoothie was excellent.

Another kilometer out, there's a big cross street that acts as a kind of express way. On one corner is a shop called Tom Tom, with this mascot guy out in front. His name is "Tonton" and he looks like a bus driver.

On the other side of the street is the Maya shopping mall. It's a big, new mall, with clothing, fashion, music, and electronics shops, plus a cineplex. I'm not sure if I want to feed "goood" or not.

(The Residents!)

We got coffee at the Black Canyon here, relaxed a bit, then strolled around the shops. At one of the few bookstores we'd encountered during the trip, we bought a tourist guide book and map for Chiang Mai, and some post cards. I wrote messages on the cards, then checked our maps for the nearest post office (for buying stamps). One map only showed a post office near the hotel, while the one we bought from the bookstore showed a different post office one kilometer from Maya, along the express road. Past that was the marker for the Chiang Mai natural history museum. We decided to try getting a red taxi to go to the post office, but when we got out on the street, we changed our minds and just started walking down the side streets. After 15 minutes, we got to where the post office was supposed to be, but all we found were some rundown shops. We tried asking someone walking in the area and they had no idea what we were talking about. (On a side note, most Thais don't speak English very well, and almost none of them can speak Japanese. The English speakers are mainly around the hotels and airport.) We passed a major temple, where we found a couple red taxis, but they wanted to charge us 100 baht to go a couple blocks, so we kept walking to the museum.

(Part of the temple.)

When we finally got to the museum, we were hot, tired and thirsty again (the sky was clear blue, and the temps in the upper 80's). It was a bit disappointing to see a sign on the door saying that the museum had been closed in 2013 for renovations and wouldn't reopen until 2016. In the meantime, though, one small section was still open to the public, and was free, so we went inside to look at that. The woman at the front desk told us that the post office we were looking for had shut down several years ago, so the new map we'd just bought at Maya was wrong. There was a second post office another 1-2 kilometers farther along the express road, but it would have closed at 3 PM, and it was 3:30 now.  So, after looking at the few local historical exhibits, we returned to Maya, got some more coffee at Black Canyon, then headed towards Central Department to find a red taxi back to the hotel.

We reached the hotel, and asked the landlady to call a regular taxi for us. She had some postage stamps, so I bought those from her and threw the post cards into a mail box outside. We killed time until the taxi arrived, then returned to the airport. We got through customs ok, and had dinner at the Black Canyon inside security, and waited for our flight out at 8:30 PM. That part went ok, although the plane was a bit cramped. We got to the Bangkok airport an hour later, and killed time there. The flight to Fukuoka wasn't scheduled to depart until 1 AM, and there weren't any restaurants in the international wing - just lots and lots of duty free shops. So, we got to our gate and waited. And waited. And waited. At 1:30 AM, someone got on the PA and announced that they were having technical problems with the plane and the flight was going to be delayed. They never did change the announcement board, which showed that everything was still on schedule. Turned out there was something wrong with one of the engine cowlings, so the airlines switched to a different plane. We got boarded at 2 AM and flew out at 2:30 AM. Our "special dinner and drink service" was a tiny tomato and onion sandwich with a glass of juice. I watched part of a TV show, then tried to fall asleep. We crossed a time zone, gaining 2 hours, so I only got 3-4 hours of sleep before the flight attendants brought out breakfast. I watched part of Minions as the in-flight movie, and then we were on the ground at 9:30 AM Japan time, just about on schedule.

We got through immigrations ok, and made our way to a bus to go to the terminal for the bullet train back to Kagoshima. The bus filled up with Chinese tourists, and the cargo space in the bottom of the bus had so many suitcases that the "hatch open" sensor kept going off. The driver and 2 attendants then spent the next 15 minutes trying to fix that before giving up. The sensor alarm continued sounding during the 20 minute ride to the bus terminal. We got out, got our suitcase, found the bullet train terminal entrance, and then waited for the next train. The ride to Kagoshima was 1.5 hours and went smoothly. I even got a little sleep during the ride, and we arrived in Kagoshima at about 12:30 PM. The problem was that I was scheduled to teach English classes at the school near city hall at 4:30 PM, and there wasn't enough time to take a nap after unpacking and eating lunch (a bento box bought at the Kagoshima train terminal). I had maybe only 5 hours of sleep within the last 28 hours and I was really dragging at that point. The lessons ended at 9 PM, and after dinner, I finally got to bed at 11 PM.

While Chiang Mai was interesting and I did have fun there, it was kind of frustrating, too, because of all the stuff that I missed happening in Kagoshima. The really big 2-day dance festival, Ohara Matsuri, was on Monday and Tuesday, at the beginning of the trip. A couple events connected to the Japanese National Culture festival were on Tuesday and Wednesday. And, when we came back on Saturday, the 3-week Furusato festival (the one I've written about twice already) had stage events in front of the main train station. In fact, there were 3 more events last weekend - an MBC radio fest in front of Lotteria, stuff along the Kotsuki river, some stage event in Central Park, plus 2 nights of fireworks, Saturday and Sunday. I had to work Saturday from 4 PM to 9, so I missed everything on that day. Then, on Sunday we spent the day shopping for the food and household items we needed to replenish following the trip, so that shot the rest of the weekend. The fireworks Sunday night started at 7 PM, shortly before we went out for dinner at Royal Host a couple blocks from the apartment. Fortunately, some of the fireworks a mile away were visible between the buildings on the street leading to Royal Host, so I was able to watch the last 10 minutes of that while waiting for the restaurant to get us our table. I really would have liked to have been able to watch some live music in Kagoshima and get some video to put on youtube for the blog.  Sigh.

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