Mixed feelings outside Chiang Mai

On Wednesday, the driver we had arranged through the hotel took us out to see some things out of town — a (recently established) “village” of 5 different hill tribes including Akha and long neck Karen. I put the word “village” in quotes because it was more like a few traditional style houses with tables for selling wares to tourists. Some of the things for sale were made there, but many things were the same trinkets available in other places.

It was interesting to see the different appearances of the various tribes with their traditional costumes, but it’s hard to know if places like this are a “good” thing (for cultural preservation and an opportunity for outsiders to learn a bit about other cultures without having tour buses descend on actual villages) or if they’re simply exploitive. It felt a bit like visiting a zoo, but the women working (and presumably living) there seemed good natured about it all.

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Next, our driver took us to a place that amounted to a tiger petting zoo. We ate lunch near the tigers and watched a stream of tourists come into the fenced in area, pose with the tigers (in some cases lying down against them) and then leave. If the tigers started to fall asleep with their heads at the wrong angle for a good photo op, the workers would tease them with what amounted to a large wand toy to get them to wake up.

Part of me wanted to have a turn with the magnificent creatures and to to see what they felt like (and when else would I ever have the opportunity?), but the cats really seemed annoyed (if a bit drowsily) and I didn’t really want to support the place any more than we had by eating there.

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We found our driver and then headed to Doi Suthep — a temple on one of the mountains outside Chiang Mai. We climbed the ~300 steps accompanied by the long dragon handrails and then wandered around the shiny gold temple. I was amused to see monks in their orange robes taking iPad photos of the temple, the view, and one another.

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After visiting the temple, we weren’t really sure what else we should see, so when our driver suggested a boat trip up the river, that seemed like a good plan to us! The trip was fairly relaxing, and we chatted a bit with the nice Japanese couple who were also on the boat with us. We had a bit of excitement when the motor got tangled up in a fisherman’s line, so we stopped for a moment to free it. Our destination was a restaurant and garden with a bit of everything from basil to hogs. We enjoyed our juice (lemongrass for me) before heading back downstream. On the way back, the motor died several times, but we eventually made it back into town and got dropped off right at our hotel (which was on the river).

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For dinner, we walked up to a restaurant that our driver had pointed out earlier in the day and enjoyed some local food –including my first khao soi (egg noodles in yellow curry) and some thai beer.

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