History, mostly

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The moat. A wonderful place to fish, run, walk or just chill. 

Chiang Mai, our new home, is the second largest city in Thailand and it’s far north from Bangkok and the beaches. It was founded by the legendary King Mengrai in 1296 so it’s about to be 722 this year. For comparison, Quebec City was founded in 1608 and New York City in 1624.

Chiang Mai sits just east of the Doi Suthep mountain and is protected from rain run-offs by  multiple natural reservoirs creating a buffer. It’s surrounded by a respectable moat and the ruins of the city wall whose gates are still the ways in and out the inner city.

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Chiang Mai map with the old city surrounded by the moat and the Ping River east of it. The old city is about 1 square mile and very walkable. 

 

Chiang Mai was the capital of the former Lanna kingdom and was subject to frequent and unkind Burmese incursions, until 1775 when the Lanna chiefs left the Burmese control to join Siam as a protectorate under King Taksin during the second Anglo-Burmese war.

The Lanna Kingdom became an integral part of Siam in 1920 when the 13 years old Princess Dara Rasmi, the heiress to the  Lanna throne got engaged to king Rama V.  She became his consort and joined his other 4 wives, 32 consorts, and 80 concubines. Ever since, both she and the Lanna Kingdom became irrevocably attached to the fate of Siam.

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Princess Dara Rasmi . Her very long hair is a symbol of her Lanna heritage.  The photo was taken from one of her co-constorts. Taken from: Enter Concubines with Cameras: Royal Siamese Consorts Picturing Femininity and Ethnic Difference in Early 20th Century Siam

King Rama V, also known as King Chulalongkorn, became a king by accident, after being a buddhist monk, studying the teachings and bringing blessings to his family.  When his father and brother died unexpectedly, he became king and had to produce a heir. He married 3 wives in one ceremony, and eventually produced 33 sons and 44 daughters who continued the Rama dynasty until today’s king  Rama X.

Rama V ruled between 1868 and 1910. He was well beloved and to this day he is called Phra Piya Maharat (พระปิยมหาราช, the Great Beloved King). He started modernizing Siam, protected it from colonialization and reformed it, and he abolished slavery in Siam.

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Antique store along the moat. 

Even if part of the kingdom, Lanna was still far from Bangkok to the point that it took weeks – and elephants – to make the 423 miles trip through the mountains. This made its cultural integration difficult. Train service which started in 1922 allowed for a closer intermingling, but even now the train trip takes 13 hrs. A new high speed train line is planned for 2022. A flight only takes about one hour.

Accordingly, Chiang Mai and northern Thailand is Lanna first and Thai second. The food is spicier , the language is similar but not quite the same, and the people are Shan, genetically closer related to the Burmese than that Thai. They are very proud of their Lanna heritage and there is a significant resurgence of Lanna everything – culture, architecture, food, art.

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Nam Prik Noom, very spicy eggplant dip 

In case you wondered, “Lanna” means the kingdom of a million rice fields. You’ll understand why when you wander outside Chiang Mai into the greener than green rice fields. There are also coffee and tea plantation, producing some of the best tea and coffee in the world, but the opium which used to be the life’s blood of the region is gone now, even in the golden triangle between Thailand Burma and Laos, a couple of hours north.

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Plaa Raad Prik, whole fried fish with chili sauce. 

Chiang Mai is too cool.  From the temperature – an average of 25C (77 F) throughout the year, cooler than the rest of Thailand, to the cool vibe of being one of the top 5 on the list of best cities for Digital Nomads, ahead of other cool places like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Montevideo, thanks to its excellent weather, food, safety and infrastructure, Chiang Mai is cool and full of cool people.

Check nomad list.com, and stay in touch will you?

The Joneses

The long journey

We made it. Barely. It was a long trip.

We started with driving the girls to Buffalo for their winter stay. Then Tim drove us to the Toronto airport. From there we flew back to Montreal – fancy that! – for the flight to Beijing. After the flight  – 15 hrs only – we missed the connection. We were offered a flight to Chiang Mai via Bangkok or else via Kunming six hours later. We settled for a night in an airport hotel then a direct flight the next day. Steve lost his passport. After he made a big fuss, I found it in his pocket. I lost my temper. I found it eventually but it was frayed.

Did I mention that all this happened in crutches/wheelchair?

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Alcohol helped. So did the food, the most memorable being a lunch like no other at a Hot Pot Japanese restaurant in Beijing.

The hot pot, also known as Shabu Shabu is a setting in which you get your own personal pot of broth boiling over a fire – spicy or not – as desired, as well as a ton of meats, fish, shrimp, vegetables and the abomination that is Tofu.  You cook it by yourself using only chopsticks. It’s lots of fun, especially when you lose the objects of your efforts in the boiling broth and can’t fish them out again. The shrimps especially, slippery little buggers. It’s delicious and reasonably healthy. Really low carb too if you forgo the noodles that you’re supposed to add  – and eat – at the end.

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Hot pot lunch for two. Came with tea and OJ. We helped it with hot sake.

As a very special treat Steve also got a raw egg that he didn’t know what to do with. Maybe because of the crutches? He wanted to drop it in the broth but I recommended against it. He eventually asked the waitress who signaled that he should beat it with the chopsticks. He did. Now what? Eat it, she signaled. He did.

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Steve enjoying his raw egg.

We eventually made it to Chiang Mai and to the condo, which was basically new to me.

I had bought it in September and had it painted after I left. Steve went there in November and fixed it with the musts of modern living: Internet, AC, TV, fridge, induction hot plate, and even a funky microwave/toaster combo with Thai instructions only. Oh, and floor lamps and a mop and a drawer organizer to organize our 2 spoons 2 forks and the chopsticks. Why? Because he’s an engineer, that’s why.

Be prepared to be cold here, our friends told us. Down to the 70s at night. They even had to wear socks! We had left Plattsburgh at minus 12.

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Baby it’s cold outside!

Eventually, after about 5 days of travels we walked in by midnight to find a soft breeze coming through the open windows, fresh flowers and bananas on the table, passion fruit and eggs in the fridge thanks to our friends here, and of course rum, gin and Thai spicy sausage in the freezer thanks to Steve.

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New Vietnamese liquor. Smooth. Coincidence you think?

When daylight came I finally got to see the paint job I commissioned. It’s not for the faint of heart. Walking into my studio is like jumping in a pool of Mango sorbet, just warmer. Peachy.

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The resurrected guitar in the mango room.

The journey wasn’t short and it wasn’t easy, but boy, was it worth it! Let’s talk again after the jet lag settles, shall we?

Stay in touch.

The Joneses.