Elephants, ceramics, markets: Which would you choose?

9 Feb
Eastern & Oriental Express

View from Eastern & Oriental Express compartment window. Photo by Jim Butkus

I knew I was going to like the Epic Thailand journey we are offering next year on the Eastern & Oriental Express.  But little did I know the incredible array of choices our travelers will enjoy. In Chiang Mai alone, there are two all-day choices and 10  half-day options. Each sounds more tantalizing than the next.

I leave next Thursday for Bangkok to prepare for our 2012  Owners’ Choice Epic Thailand journey (Feb. 26-March 3). Which of these included off-train experiences would you choose if you were doing this trip?

This is just a partial list:

  • A full-day visit to the Pang Song Nature Trails Project, a new collaboration between tourism interests and a local village working to protect the stunning Mae Lai Community Forest
  • A Day at the Mandarin Orient Dhara Dhevi Resort, with its spa and two swimming pools
  • Antiques and textile shopping
  • An introduction to Thai ceramics, meeting a ceramics expert John Shaw, educated at Oxford and a lecturer at Chiang Mai University, at his home and viewing his personal and private collection
  • A visit to an elephant camp, where visitors can see them at work – or even ride one
  • Tour of Doi Suthep Temple, an important monastery and symbolic landmark of Chiang Mai.
  • Tour of Pak Chong “wet market,” a truly “authentic” institution that is giving way to supermarkets and convenience stores, says the ground operator in Thailand “But be prepared for some strong smells and sights: all parts of animal produce will be on display.  This is ideal for those who wish to see a slice of daily rural life in Thailand. Due to lack of refrigeration in the old days, most Asians do daily marketing at the wet markets.”
  • Khao Yai National Park will be the obvious choice for nature and adventure seekers,. Khao Yai was Thailand’s first national park. Today, it is the second largest in Thailand, and along with the surrounding mountains was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This will include hiking one of three trails, each lead by a highly qualified park guide.

What would you choose?

Of course, the Eastern & Oriental Express is one of our World’s Top 25 Trains™ — and reason enough to go by itself — as shown in this short, experiential video:

2 Responses to “Elephants, ceramics, markets: Which would you choose?”

  1. Paul Makosky February 9, 2011 at 11:36 PM #

    The ceramic kilns just outside Chiang Mai date back to the Ming period. When we visited in the late ’60s, we visited a working kiln that was cut into a hillside so that the fire, set at the mouth at the lowest point, would produce hot gases the would wend their way up and back thru the stacked pots and bowls, as though thru a steeply inclined chimney. By varying the mixture of woods that he fired with and varying the draft, the potter could control his temperatures to + or – 50º C. This would the determine hardness of the piece and the degree of vitrification, while varying the amount of oxygen would vary the color of the glaze.

    The Thai porcelain largely was utilitarian, but some small religious figurines and animals were produced as well. Some of it is quite lovely. I like most the Thai celadon, which tends to be a paler green than that of the Chinese celadon. A variant on the green glaze, obtained by firing in a reducing (absence of oxygen) mode, will produce a brownish gray finish. Seeing Mr Shaw’s collection would be a rare treat. He might be able to arrange for a visit to a working kiln.

    The ceramic collection at the national museum in Bangkok was just being built the last time I visited there in the mid 60s, but it was worth seeing.

    If, by “wet market” you mean the floating markets in the waterside and water born communities that are or were part of Bangkok, they are unique – and well worth seeing. Make sure it is first thing in the morning – cooler and less debris in the water. There was a wonderful small museum in Bangkok that was the home of a Thai princess ( can’t recall her name, but I think it started with an “s”, which was a wonderfully crafted modest size teak home, with finely scaled gardens and a fine collection of Asiatic art and sculpture. Drinks in the garden of the Oriental Hotel, along side the river, is a good way to end an afternoon of sightseeing – in fact. it is a fine place to stay. Somerset Maugham frequented it, among others.

    Getting back to the mountains around Chiang Mai, what makes trekking there so attractive is that the altitude moderates the temperature and the humidity so that you can move around without melting.

    When we were living in that part of the world, I recall that the Malaysian Railways train that ran from Singapore up to the Thai border was named “the Golden Blowpipe” – which I thought perfectly married the technology of the railway with the exotic quality of the Orient.

    A safe journey and an interesting one.

    Paul Makosky

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