Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thailand 2016 Day 3. From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

I woke up with the clear plan of motoring the 200 km between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, which is way up in the north portion of the country. Everybody knows I am not faint of heart, but I am neither a glutton for punishment, so the prospect of 200 km of narrow, winding mountain roads was not necessarily a happy one. Somewhere I had read that driving a scooter in the mountains was not advisable, largely because car drivers were reckless. All bunk! Highway 118 is a perfectly modern highway, with two lanes for much of the way, and Thai drivers are some of the most cautious and considerate Asian drivers I have known.

I did, indeed, had a great time scootering through the mountains, and only once was forced to stop because of rain (twice actually, but I will tell you about it later on). Based on a visit to the Jade Buddha temple I had ascertained that there has to be a paleo-subduction zone somewhere in the country, but what little I saw in the outcrops along the road were folded sedimentary rocks, which based on their slight metamorphism I would assign to the Paleozoic. One of the outcrops had a thick, black, thinly-laminated slate in which I would definitely expect to find graptolites.

On the subject of geologic wonders, somewhere near Wiang Pa Pao I found a small tourist development about a series of geysers. The two main ones were continuous geysers (an oddity, as most geysers spout for a few minutes and then have to recharge before they spout again). The others were really bubbling pools of hot water, where the enterprising locals cook hen eggs, quail eggs, and bamboo shoots to sell to the tourists. I bought a bag of about six bamboo shoots, each the size of a small corn ear. The merchant lady promptly peeled and spliced them for me, and I had half of them for lunch and another half for dinner. I had lunch at a small roadside restaurant about an hour later, and following the old tradition of pointing I ordered a bowl of rice and a delicious fish stew with vegetables. The only problem was that the dish was brutally spicy, and by the time I had finished with my meal I was on the verge of tears.

Fifteen kilometers shy of Chiang Rai I spotted a snowy white temple and decided to stop and take a look. It turned out to be a large complex, still in the process of construction, and it left me absolutely speechless. It was a modern sculpturing extravaganza, with ugly dwarfs, dragons, and diabolical beings, executed with the touch of a master, overloading the fa├žade and spires of several temples, with every edge scintillating like pure silver on a base of pure white. On closer inspection I realized that the silver was nothing else than thin strips of mirrors, cleverly inset into the stucco of the walls. To enhance the silver motif, the faithful are encouraged to place their wishes in thin silvery pendants that are hung on every available surface. The overall effect is terrific.

Five kilometers short of reaching the city center the skies opened and I was treated to the most intense monsoon rain you can imagine. Fortunately I had put on my poncho after the visit to the White Temple, and I had sought refuge in a gas station as soon as it started to rain, but over the next hour I stared in disbelief as at least 2 inches of rain came down in torrents. All things considered, so far I have been very lucky with the weather, but now see that my truce with the elements could be a very tenuous one.

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