Chiagmai, Thailand

To most people Thailand is the miles-long beaches of Phuket, area of the 2005 tsunami, or the hookers of Pattaya, a city literally built around this industry or Bangkok which is only slightly less famous for same. But Thailand has more to offer than tans and trannies. The food is outstanding, shopping is cheap (including medical services) and there is a lot to see off the beaten path. Chiangmai is the capital of the northern part of the country, a small city set in the center of tropical jungles that have been partially tamed by the hand of man who has pockmarked the region with rice paddies and temples. I'm here for a few days looking to buy some textiles for resale back in the states and in my spare time enjoy some of Thailand's lesser known charms.

A visit to a buddhist temple definitely counts as a charming experience. While the one nearby, up on a hill visible from the city, is a little too commercialized all the same it's a real and functional temple filled to capacity with yellow-robed monks and pilgrims who come to clutch flowers, light candles and do their prayers.

Other than its religious structures there's a lot of other stuff to do in this part of the country. I missed going on the elephant ride through the jungle for lack of enough time - plus it's not exactly cheap - but hardly can complain about the pleasantness of walking around and ducking into small shops, or taking advantage of yet another dirt-cheap tasty snack or attending the bazaars to join a sea of other people out doing the exact same thing. When the sun overhead had baked me to within an inch of heat stroke and my feet blistered from so much walking I always welcomed going back to my guesthouse for a cool shower and a nap. At night, nothing in the world so relaxing as an hour or two of massage at any of the dozens or maybe hundreds of parlors everywhere in town. Because lodging, food and relaxation is so cheap it's little wonder that so many European and American expats come here to retire. Learning Thai is practically impossible but somehow you get by.

Side trip to Burma