The women, looking like exotic giraffes, wear a single brass coil around their necks. Wearing the rings is a tradition of the Padaung tribe in Northern Thailand. You will see them near and in the small city of Chiang Rai. Some say the tradition started to make women unattractive to the slave trade. Today, it is a sign of beauty among the people. Others suggest that the coils protect against tiger bites. Still, others believe it symbolizes the dragon, the most auspicious and lucky of the twelve Chinese astrology signs.
No matter how the tradition began, the neck rings and the women amaze visitors. Made of a single brass coil, the rings weighs up to 5 kg. First placed around the neck when a girl is five years old, the weight and size increase as she grows. The metal necklace presses the clavicle and the rib cage down about 45 degrees from normal, resulting in the appearance of a long neck. The neck itself does not elongate, as this is impossible.
This unusual sight is one of many the traveler may see once in Thailand. This is a sensory land of great beauty, temples and architecture. Expect colors to dazzle your eyes. Rainbows pale in contrast with the iridescent silks you will see. Bamboo, ponds, and hills give landscapes such depth and dimension that it takes your breath away.
Thailand is obviously not as easy for Americans to reach as Europe, but the experience is well worth the effort. You may fly first to Hong Kong or another Asian entry point, rest a few days, and then take a much shorter flight to Bangkok. I’ve only been once, and ever since it has been my dream to return. It is full of wonders, mystery, and enchantment.
The Giraffe Women are from an area near Chiang Rai in the north of the country. Here, you will find the spectacular Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. Besides touring the nearby sights, you may learn to ride, wash, and care for elephants.
Elephants are important to Thailand. In the mid-1800s, the country’s King Mongut offered to send them to our country to populate our countryside. The King could not imagine civilization without them. By the way, the 1956 film The King and I is banned in Thailand. Thais do not consider the portrayal of King Mongut flattering.
Three hours from Chiang Rai is Chiang Mai. This more famous regional city boasts even bigger temples. We suggest that you stay at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai. It is among our favorite places in the world. The décor is unparalleled for tasteful and soothing design. The landscape will take your breath away. It is peaceful, yet sexy. Sumptuous Thai silks discretely add texture and color. Fresh and delicious food is a constant. Of all honeymoon destinations, it creates an atmosphere for unrivaled memories.
Almost everyone enjoys visiting the temples in Chiang Mai. You may learn about the teaching and rituals of Buddhism directly from monks. Some temples provide a “monk chat” where a resident monk fields questions. Not even a Hollywood set designer can compete with the variety and splendor of Chiang Mai’s temples.
The temples and landscape inform every aspect of life in Chiang Mai. For example, each July, the 10,000 freshman-class members from Chiang Mai University walk to Wat Suthep. This is the mountain that houses the city’s spirit. They say, the walk makes lifetime friends of students and faculty.
The mountainous temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the symbol of Chiang Mai. From here, you can see a panoramic view of the city and the Mae Ping River valley. This is where the legend of the white elephant began. Freely roaming up the mountainside, a white elephant selected the site. Upon reaching this spot, he trumpeted, circled three times, and died, signs indicating an auspicious site.
Culturally, Thailand brims with friendship and courtesy. The customs for hospitality are famous. At the other extreme, a naïve tourist can be an easy mark for locals selling “real” rubies that are fakes. Be careful of trying to buy jewelry – unless you really know what you are doing. Having said this, when I went to Thailand some years ago, Dad bought me a pearl and cabochon ruby necklace. I have had it appraised, and we paid a fair market value when purchased. I wear it every chance I get and treasure it beyond measure. Just be wary of so-called “bargains.”
After a stay in these beautiful northern areas of the country, a few days in the bustling city of Bangkok will be even more fun. Our favorite hotel is the historic Mandarin Oriental facing the river. Watching the river traffic from your room or the terrace is one of life’s best pleasures.
The Siam, a relative newcomer, is another great hotel choice. A local family of famous recording stars built it. Their desire was to reflect Thailand’s culture and history, with a contemporary swing. Since it sits on the Chao Praya River, you can also watch the river life from here. This hotel borders the historic Dusit district, home to many cultural sights and great shopping. The palaces, government buildings, and Royal Elephant Museum are here.
If it seems as though I’m focusing on hotels, you are correct. Our philosophy is to build the trip around great places to stay, especially when you are so far away from home. Once you have experienced exquisite Oriental hospitality, there is no turning back, I warn you!
Discussing food and restaurants is a whole subject unto itself. Suffice it to say for this post, the staff at any of these world-class hotels will have a list of great restaurants in all price ranges for you to enjoy. The food in Thailand, in my experience, was delightful.
There is far more to say about and do in Thailand that a few fotos and notes can possibly cover. There are museums, points of historical interest, more temples, and the Jim Thompson House and cultural center in Bangkok. The idea here is to provide ideas to inspire you. By the way, we always recommend, at All Aboard Travel, that you speak with a qualified travel advisor when planning such a trip. Time changes, air booking complexities, and different customs can be tricky and needlessly time consuming if you are not familiar with the processes. Additionally, we have outstanding local tour operators to meet you at the airport. Reputable guides will help you explore the areas in ways that is most suitable for your situation. We have several on-sight partners in Thailand each of whom will ensure that your trip is so delightful, you, too will want like me to return soon.
Thailand is tropical. It is humid and hot during our summer. Thus, November through February is the most pleasant time of year. The temperatures will average in the mid 80ies from Bangkok south. It will be a few degrees cooler in the North and quite a bit cooler in the mountainous regions. It is a great place to be during our winter time.
The time to plan for next year is now. Remember, half the fun of travel is in the planning and exploring of options. To create a beautiful trip that is all you can dream of and more, now is the time to get started.
P.S. The Downton Abbey trip that I wrote about last month still has a few openings. Remember, this is an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Highclere Castle and the ambiance of Downton and London during The Season. Call 214-521-8444 if you’d like to learn more about the trip this May. The cutoff date is nigh!