Friday, August 17, 2012

Wat Doi Suthep

 Yesterday, while we were out looking for a place to eat dinner, Lydia and I met two women tuk-tuk drivers. After some negotiation, we arranged for the tuk-tuk for half a day to take us to Wat Doi Suthep on the hill and to several of the handcraft centers around town. All this for less than $30. We met them before 10:00 a.m. and they led us to their car. We were curious as to why they hadn't brought their tuk-tuk, but the mountain roads made the answer quite obvious, a tuk-tuk would have found the roads difficult. They drove us up to Wat Doi Suthep, which is located about three-fourths of the way up the mountain and can be seen from Chiang Mai. They dropped us off at the bottom. From there Lydia and I took an elevator up to the top of Wat and walked around. It was stunningly beautiful with gold tower and gold and jade Buddhas. Only when we were inside the wat did we realize that Lydia had left her memory card back at the hotel. But, this did not stop the intrepid photographer, several times she physically positioned me and made me take the photos that she wanted to take with my (pitiful but no longer held together with a hair tie) point-and-shoot camera. Most of the following pictures are the result of the "you come here and take this picture from this angle." 

This little girl was ringing the bells for luck.

We should have a very good view of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep
 but our view was hampered by a mix of smog and clouds

The stairs up to the Wat, if you don't want to take the elevator.

Fruit seller

On the way to see the handicrafts, our drivers asked if we would like to stop on a side road and look around. Once we were out, we realize that we were in Doi Suthep National Park and 200 meters from the road was a beautiful waterfall. We ventured up the road towards the waterfall and walked around for a few minutes. Unfortunately, our flip-flops, worn to make entering wats easier, were not conducive to further exploration. We returned to the car and carried on to the other side of Chiang Mai.

Notice the charicatures of the tourists, the fat white guy with the camera and the little boy.

One of the stalls was selling fried bugs. I see some roaches and some larva. 

Our next stop was the Umbrella Handcraft Center, where artisans craft umbrellas from scratch. They will paint any design you want on anything you want. One of the artists offered to paint my camera and my capri pants. I politely refused. We walked around and stopped to watched some of the artists at work before going into the gift shops. I bought black fabric fan painted in vibrant oranges and yellows.

How to make an umbrella.

Some the the designs that could grace your fan, umbrella, pants or camera.

An artist hard at work.

Our drivers then took us to the world's largest gem retailer (no photos allowed). Inside you can watch the jewelers setting stones and carving jade Buddhas. We were then ushered in to the showroom, where saleswomen tailed us from the moment we stepped in trying to convince us to buy anything we showed interest in. I think they were disappointed that I only spent 100 Bat on a tiny jade and gold pendent to add to my bracelet. Sorry, graduate student budget.

Just down the road, our drivers took us to a lacquer box factory, where we were allowed to step inside and watch as lacquer boxes were made. One of the women explained that the process starts with a piece of wood or bamboo. Then it is lacquered in black lacquer seven times. Once it is lacquered the designs are created using the inside of eggshells, mother of pearl or gold leaf. From there, the eggshells may be painted, or they may be left unadorned. Lydia and I both both bought lacquer figurines.

Picking up the eggshells with a wooden stick.
Placing the eggshells into the lacquer.

Painting the eggshells.

Examples of the finished product.

These candle holders have a colored lacquer on the bottom.
After the lacquer box factory, with our wallets lighter, we decided that we were ready to return to the hotel and get some lunch. At the hotel, we paid our drivers and tipped them well because they had been so kind and probably would have driven us anywhere else we wanted. They seemed genuinely surprised by the tip. If we were here longer, we would probably have made arrangements to hire them again. However, tomorrow, we are taking a hotel tour to Chiang Rai for a day trip.

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