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Adventures in Thailand
Part Three: The Golden Triangle

By Gyn Gerhardt

The cool of the morning was welcome as our bus headed north to the Golden Triangle. The country was more mountainous now, and the morning sun glistened on the gold and shining temples half hidden in the distance by the trees. They were just as ornate as they had been in the city, and a sense of peace emanated from their upswept eaves. There are over 30,000 of these Wat throughout Thailand, each uniquely different from the others. As always, our driver "Kop" ensured our safety with his skills as he maneuvered the winding uphill highway.

When I first stepped into the bus in Bangkok and saw Kop, I felt insecure as he looked to be about sixteen years old. The Thai people enjoy a youthful appearance that belies their chronological age. His expertise in driving and care of his bus made him one of the most expert drivers I have ever had on a tour. He was much older as he had been driving buses for over 12 years.

Kop and James BondKop's sidekick was called James Bond and I suspect it wasn't his real name. James had that winning smile that never wavered thoughout our trip. Hand extended, he helped us from the bus and upon return furnished us with chilled jasmine-scented washcloths to refresh ourselves from the heat of the day. Once on the bus, he would bring us cold bottles of water to enjoy while we rode along. When arriving at a new hotel, it was James who made sure our luggage was delivered to our rooms and when we departed, he made sure our luggage went with us. He cleaned the bus each time we were out and each night the two washed the bus so it was sparkling clean in the morning. Here at home there is a cleaning company with a slogan "If it isn't clean, it isn't Thai clean." Now I understand what they mean.

And our guide Nu was the glue that made this team work together. Always on time, never hurried or harried our group followed suit without a complaint. Each day, Nu had not only a bag of local snacks for us to enjoy, but little adventures beyond those listed on our itinerary. Along the road we would see strings of vendors selling their treats. Large woks with fried the strips of bananas and yams, some plain, some with a sugar or coconut glaze. Nu knew what Americans enjoyed and sought out the best for us.

Hoes lined upThere was a lighthearted spirit in the air as we approached a school for a stop. Outside in the courtyard stood the young children watching us alight from our bus. They were arranged in perfect rows by grades in front of their principal, awaiting their instructions for the tests they were about to take. Cameras clicked and giggles emanated from shy, winsome faces. It was not just a day for American visitors, but also a day for testing their knowledge. Were we a convenient delay for the inevitable?

The students retired to their classrooms and we visited them seated in their places, asking polite questions and them proudly answering in English. Outside the youngest class, their rows of shoes placed neatly by their owners sex, reminded us of the cultural difference. Other than that, children the world over are much the same and seemed to enjoy us as much as we did them. I found myself thinking about my grandson at his school and what he would think of visiting Thai tourists.

The bus pulled into the 13th century historic town of Sukothai meaning "Dawn Of Happiness." It is the place where the Thai nation and Theravada Buddhism was born. The striking monuments were awesome and reflected the deep spirituality of the people. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the four square miles until recently was a bustling community. We rode by tram through the area, stopping to admire the statuary and ancient tombs. The only walking Buddha sculpture is found here in Sukothai.

On the way to the hotel, Kop stopped to get a couple arms of bananas and Nu asked if we minded a quick stop to see some old friends of Kop's. Of course we wanted to visit his friends. The bus swayed as it pulled onto a dirt road leading into the jungle and as we approached, a young saffron clothed Monk appeared and ran to the courtyard of the Temple to ring the bells announcing Kop's arrival. Bananas in hand we made our way to the courtyard to be greeted with dozens of wild jungle monkeys. The Monks fed them rice and we fed them the bananas, their small hands eagerly snatching them from us as they downed them skin and all. They filled the small pouches in their cheeks with the meat to enjoy later after downing the skins. The monkeys feel free to enter the temple as they know it is a safe area and no harm will come to them.

We said our farewells to our new friends and were on our way again to Sop Ruak and the Golden Triangle. Along the way, Nu had us stop at a roadside stand that offered cooked small birds and enormous rats, but we passed on the tasting venture. Quick pictures and we were once again on our way.

Before long we saw huge piles of what looked like huge green grapefruit being sold along the highway. Nu stopped and bought a couple for us to try. Peeling the thick skin we recognized the wonderful palmello that we had been enjoying with our dinners. This fruit was readily gobbled up when ever it was served (fresh fruit followed every meal). So, if you should see what looks like a super large green grapefruit in your supermarket, it is a palmello. Give it a try. It is a very refreshing fruit (served with salt) without the tartness of the grapefruit and also less juicy, more like the texture of a navel orange.

Another noteworthy fruit you will never see in our supermarkets, is the darian. At one of the hotels I had the joy of eating a delicious pie made from this notorious fruit. But, each hotel displayed a letter from the management that the fruit was banned from being brought into the hotel. It seems the skin emits a horrid odor that permeates an entire premise.

I recall a few years ago when I was returning from an assignment in Taiwan, my plane was delayed for boarding. I was in the holding area, ready to board when the United Airlines flight arrived from Bangkok. Everyone got off the plane and we waited there 10 hours while they tried to remove the odor from the air-conditioning system caused by a darian fruit someone had smuggled into the cargo hold. I was finally offered to change planes to a different airline and did so. However, I will never know just how much longer my fellow travelers had to wait before heading to San Francisco. How can something taste so good yet be so vile?

After a delicious lunch we discovered the battery on our bus was too weak to both get us to our hotel and run the air-conditioner. We had about one and a half hours to go to our next hotel. While our bus was fairly new, the windows were fixed shut and the air-conditioning system only furnished us with warm outside air. Nu said we would stop every 20 minutes for relief. Kop was almost in tears, but James quickly brought us ice cubes to wrap in our
washcloths and more water. Nobody complained and we said one short stop was plenty enough. The next stop was our beautiful resort hotel and the morning would bring a fresh battery and another adventure.

We arrived in Sop Ruak near Chaing Rai and our beautiful resort hotel in the Golden Triangle. Our rooms overlooked the Meikong River and in the distance we could see Myanmar and Laos, out next adventure. But tonight a marvelous dinner and Thai dancers to entertain us was waiting.

Part One: Bangkok
Part Two: The River Kwai
Part Three: The Golden Triangle
Part Four: Saffron Robes and Elephants
Part Five: Reflections