Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sawatdi Ka

Chiang Mai
is Thailand’s second city, the northern country cousin to Bangkok. In this city of 150,000 (1 million in the cosmopolitan area), skyscrapers do not exist, but there are more than three hundred temples, among them some of the most beautiful and revered in the entire Buddhist world, giving the city an atmosphere of calmness and timeless elegance. It is international, since so many visitors arrive for the authentic Thai experience, often going trekking into the mountains, riding elephants and river rafting.

My friend Noy and I enjoy each other, and it helps to have a local buddy to make me feel at home and show me around. From the back of the motorcycle, I am given instructions in Thai- Sye (left), Qua (right) and Darong (straight). After seven days, I feel expert in the congested roadways.
Thai people have a nice way of greeting—they bring their palms together in front of their heart in a prayer-like fashion and bow slightly, smiling, and saying sawatdi ka the traditional welcome. Their language is impossible for westerners to read, since the characters are unique.
The markets are always good places to visit for local flavor. Vendors often just spread a blanket out on the pavement and sell their fresh fruits and vegetables. Flowers are plentiful and the variety is wonderful—I saw varieties I had never before seen.
Although I am entranced by the people, way of life, and low cost of living, the art scene in Thailand is not sophisticated enough to convince me to live here. Traditional crafts are plentiful, but I need a contemporary, vibrant and developed art culture to participate in. Nonetheless, certainly I will return.

Tomorrow I travel to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

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