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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
Part Five: Reflections