During one of my earliest visits to Chiang Mai, my rented apartment had a westward facing view. And from the ninth floor, the top of the building, the balcony that runs the width of the apartment provided for a spectacular viewpoint of Doi Suthep, the west guardian of old Chiang Mai. And from that time, these memories return.
Chiang Mai is positioned in a ‘bowl’ with mountains encircling it on three sides. Not closed in, though. Rather, a somewhat spacious encircling. From my sliding glass doors and windows view, and a relaxing chair on the balcony, I awake each morning to the beautiful sight of the sun’s rising rays reflecting back from the brilliant gold of Wat Doi Suthep.
Later in the afternoon, I’ll watch as the clouds float around the doi (mountain) summit, conjoin, and then gently roll down the mountainside in patches of rain, at first light, then fuller as it nears the city. About this time, my friend Picko calls from his workplace, soon to leave on his way back to the apartment, and asks, “Is it raining in the city yet?” The answer is always “yes”.
Some days after the rain and as dusk nears, I’m treated to some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. The hues of the setting sun in, around, and behind Doi Suthep, and rainbows arching over the mountains of the remaining city sides provide a sight of considerable beauty. Once I saw my first and only double rainbow, two totally complete and complementary rainbows.
But the entrancing charm of the walled and moat-ed city of old Chiang Mai, is but the beginning of the lure of Northern Thailand.
We left mid-morning heading for Chiang Dao. It’s just a couple of hours from Chiang Mai (depending upon the city’s traffic – Chiang Mai is, after all, a city!), but the scene is much different. There it is rural and forested.
Along the way, one has choices. A visit to the orchid farm (highly recommended, for these fanciful and intriguing creations are quite a delight); an elephant camp (yes, those pachyderms can “perform” oil painting and play soccer just like the adverts claim trained as they are, and you can take a ride high atop their swaying massive bodies along a jungle path, but shepherded by the “mahout” [each elephant has its own trainer for life – the mahout]); a snake show (I chose to avoid that); and any number of other indigenous attractions; and some not so indigenous, such as the bungee jump (I definitely avoided that!)
Arriving in Chiang Dao, we made for our overnight lodging, the Chiang Dao Nest. They refer to themselves as a mini-resort. It is tucked in and nestled among the folds of the mountainous Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary. Jagged, tropical, heavily forested soaring peaks all around, with the green oasis of the “Nest” resting in the center.
They say that they have Thai and British management. That’s Wicha (Thai) and Stuart (British) and their young, multilingual reared son Joseph. Wicha, who speaks excellent English, has quite the chef’s resume. She has trained in England and Europe and worked and traveled all around the world. Her cooking at the Nest is, for sure, one of its strongest draws. World class cuisine would not be an overstatement at all. But, this outstanding cuisine, presented in such an otherworldly setting makes for a unique and world class experience. The meals are taken in the pavilion connective to the kitchen, but open-sided all around. The early evening tropical air gently and lazily passes over you and occasional sounds from the forest pique your interest as you sip your aperitif and read the day’s fare chalked on the blackboard. My! How could one possibly acquire the ingredients, let alone prepare, a menu of such depth and sophistication, and then present it here in the jungles of Northern Thailand!? But Wicha does. And in so doing she displays the skill that ranks her as an outstanding chef.
After dinner, we walked back to our bungalow along the small crush-stoned paths through the manicured wilderness, marked by small path lights, the only lights here --- save for the stars. My, dark can really be dark.
During the evening, those stars retreated. And a light rain began to fall. By early morning, the steady dripping of that light, but insistent rain, on the tin roof of the bungalow brought back such fond recollections of similar sounds from my childhood in another rural setting on the other side of the globe. I arose early and sat on our small porch and, waiting for the early rays of light, luxuriated and was transfixed in that hypnotic sound.
The Nest’s trees are tall, quite tall indeed. As the light rain fell onto and then downward amongst them, the air was washed clean and the green was more lush than any I’ve ever seen.
After a savory breakfast at the pavilion with the freshening rain still falling, we packed, loaded the Honda Jazz and made for parts even further north, further into Lanna --- the old kingdom predating Thailand. Lanna = “a million rice fields”.
All for now from the jungles of Northern Thailand, and the rice fields of Lanna.