Sunday, February 24, 2008

Makha Bucha Long Weekend in Mae Hong Son

Among the many blessings 2008 has bestowed upon us so far, is the 4-day weekend we enjoyed in the quiet, remote town of Mae Hong Son. The Makha Bucha holiday is an important Buddhist celebration that occurs on the full moon of the 3rd lunar month to commemorate the day on which Lord Buddha recited the Fundamental Teaching to his disciples.
We took a short 30 minute flight north over the mountains to arrive in Mae Hong Son, a little town tucked away in a valley, surrounded by forested mountains.
We stayed in a nice, somewhat rustic guest house just outside of town that was run by some Germans. Mary got to dust off her Deutch that had layed dormant for close to funfsen yahren (15 years).
Our first night, we wandered into town to do some exploring and eat dinner at a recommended restaurant. The directions we were given by a dear friend included the landmark of a dog lying in the middle of the road, directly in front of the restaurant. We chuckled at thought of using such a common sight in Thailand as a landmark, and tried to make note of the more conventional directions. The conventional directions, however, led us to many parts around the town other than the area of the restaurant. Then at long last, strangely enough, it was the dog lying in the middle of the road that led us to the restaurant. We will never doubt again.
After dinner we visited the little night market. It was simply a small street cut off from traffic with various tables or mats layed out with local handycrafts. It was not crowded and very pleasant. At the end of the night market street was a small lake and two wats, Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang. They were all lit up and filled with monks and other worshippers walking solemnly around the wats, praying and placing offerings at their chosen religious icons. We joined in too and payed our respects to Lord Buddha with an offering and a little prayer from Maeve.
The following day, we teamed up with some other guests, a Danish family who actually live near us in Mae Rim, and a Chinese/Aussie couple. We hired a guide with a truck to take us around to some of the nearby sights. It took a fair bit of time to get on the road, however, because they were working on the wheels of the truck, butting in brake pads or something else important.
We first visited the "fish cave" which was a nice park where there were indeed fish swimming in and out of a cave. Next, we went to a waterfall that was rather short on water during the present dry season. We hiked down anyway to the river bed and took in the beautiful rock formations, imagining the roar of a powerful that was currently a calm trickle over the cliff. We then visited some hot springs with mineral-rich volcanic mud. The site was converted into a spa and we enjoyed getting mud facials. We all felt
invigorated and younger than before after the treatment!

video
Our last stop was at Wat Phai Doi that sits atop Doi Kung Mu overlooking Mae Hong Son. We arrived in time to enjoy the sunset and witness the monks preparing for the evening's chants and prayers.
We arrived back at our guesthouse in time for supper and to find the place invaded by many French guests. We enjoyed a delicious home-cooked dinner with lively conversation in French. Mary welcomed the opportunity to use "big people" French instead of communicating in simple words and sentences as she is accustomed to in her French classes.
During our final day, we made a short trip to the nearby "long-necked' Padaung village of Nai Soi. We're not huge fans of "people zoos", but wanted a quick trip to somewhere to pass the day before we flew out that afternoon. The village is home to about 160 people and 35 families, many of whom are refugees from Burma. We walked around, took a few photos, and stopped to visit with the locals and a few of their farm animals. Maeve particularly liked the baby chicks and piglets. Before too long, we were on a plane flying over the mountains back to Chiang Mai.

All in all, it was a very nice, easy get-away, and we'd be happy to return there again.

Friday, January 4, 2008

NEW YEAR TRIP TO SUKOTHAI, THAILAND

Hello everyone! Happy New Year! We wish you the health, happiness, and good fortune that we enjoy.

Life in Thailand continues to agree with us. Any mention of snow or northern climes brings shudders to Mary. Maeve has been walking around today with a sweater... very disappointing for true Canadians. And while Maeve talks about visiting friends in Japan to go toboganning or Canada to go skating, Mary and I believe that one small arctic blast of chilled air would bring her quickly back to her adopted home and paradise: Thailand.

We enjoyed a wonderful New Year's Eve drive south of Chiang Mai to Sukothai; a former capital of Thailand and major site for temples (wats) and palaces dating back to medieval times. Time and earlier civilizations have a different connotation to those of us from the west. All you have to do here is see a modern village tucked around a thirteenth century buddhist wat to appreciate how ancient is the east.

We were tuckered out from the beautiful drive and headed to bed early - a trend we have developed over the past few years. We were awakened by the thunderous crash of fireworks for midnight. Andrew was awake anyway as the bed was essentially composed of bedrock! I think we all kissed for a happy new year, but who knows!




Sukothai and several of its secondary surrounding sites enjoy the status of being UNESCO World Heritage sites. This means they are well cared for. They have good facilities and make access for tourism easy.

At Sukothai we rented bicycles and explored the tremendous grounds. Dozens of sites exist within and without its ancient city walls and double moat. Maeve loved riding with her mom. We took so many photos that we filled all of our camera's memory cards! Two nights at a wonderful little guesthouse were enough, and then we headed further south.

Near Kampaeng Phet there are further satellite ruins of the Sukothai period. Outside of the city is also a wonderful national park called Klong Lan which possesses the most beautiful waterfall. We had a great picnic here, saw some wild gibbons swinging down from the trees to take a few food offerings from the picnickers, snapped pictures, tested the cold waters, and headed back to Kampaeng Phet to explore the temples there. We stayed over night at a hotel and then headed back north.





North of Sukothai is another satellite medieval ruins site of large proportion. We stopped off to stomp around some more wats and then had a lunch where Maeve fed some more gibbons. They loved mandarin oranges. Maeve felt that they must miss their families.

The drive home was not too long. The secondary highway we took was beautiful and had little traffic. It was a good trip all around.

And so we are back home. Maeve is playing with some of her friends. She has her dolls and toys to surround her. Mary and Andrew have their most comfortable bed and their favourite spots on the couch and the reading chair. We have the weekend to enjoy and then it is back to the trenches. We are recharged.
Happy New Year to all.

We look forward to hearing from you this year. We hope to see you this year. We also expect to have more visitors to our humble home; make reservations while you can!


Love,


The MacLachlans - Mary, Maeve and Andrew

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Maeve's Thai Portraits 2007/2008





Every year we live overseas, we hope to convince Maeve to have her portrait taken wearing local clothes. We have been successful every year. This year is no exception. In fact, every year gets a little easier! Meave loves to get dressed up. She loves to have someone do her hair. Add in a personal makeup artist and a flashy photographer and you have heaven on earth for Maeve. Mom and Dad broke the bank too! Five hundred Thai Baht is about 15 dollars... But the results are worth all the pampering and a few pennies!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mac Year in Review 2007

The Christmas season is once again upon us, and it's time to recap the events since our last end-of-year letter. The year 2007 brought its share of trials, triumphs, adventure, and accomplishments.

The first news worthy item came toward the end of February when Mary noticed a significant lump in her left breast. Thanks to the medical facilities here in Chiang Mai, she was quickly diagnosed with breast cancer and on the operating table in less than a week. Poor Andrew was on a camp with students at the time, and had to come back to deal with this shocking news. Mary recovered quickly enough to attend our school's PSA (Parent Student Association) dinner and dance evening --an event we were glad not to miss. We're always happy to find opportunities to cut some rug and revive those dance moves that brought us together those many years ago.

Mary started her chemotherapy in April, and found that by the end of the term, she needed a lighter teaching load. Our school was very supportive, and relieved her of her senior school classes.

During our spring break, we headed up to the Golden Triangle region in the north of Thailand where Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and China intersect. The Thais were having their biggest celebration of the year: Songkran. This holiday marks the Thai New Year and the beginning of the rainy season. We spent it in a sleepy town on the Mekong River, bordering Laos where we were able to partake in the festivities (one huge, two-week water fight) on a more gentle scale than found farther south.

The last term of school went by quickly. Mary was busy with directing a musical production of Alice in Wonderland in the junior school; which was a grand success. This production was a big change for her as she had a good deal of people to help out and share the load to give the show real panache.

In May, Andrew made a quick and arduous journey to Canada to attend Andy Hackett and Kathleen Lang's wedding. It was a great opportunity to reunite with the clan as all his brothers were in attendance as well as our new niece, Molly. We also took advantage of the opportunity to get some cool new toys for Maeve!

At the end of May, we celebrated Andrew's 39th birthday, and our tenth wedding anniversary. Where has the time gone? Andrew marked the end of his thirties by going paint-balling with a group of friends, and we stayed at a swish resort in a deluxe honeymoon suite for our anniversary.
For the summer holiday, Andrew and Maeve traveled to Canada, and Mary stayed in Thailand to finish her chemotherapy treatment. Maeve celebrated her 5th birthday with her many cousins at a party hosted and master-minded by her Aunt Jane. There was a big yard, playhouse, kiddie pool, and a hand-crafted ballerina cake -- of which birthday dreams are made. Maeve got to meet her new cousin Meg, as well as cousins from the Weiler end of the family, whom she hadn't met yet or seen for a long time.

Next, Andrew and Maeve hopped on yet another plane to fly out east to visit the MacLachlan side of the family. They were warmly received at Braycroft by Grandma and Bagpa, and the new addition to the family, Devo, a young Irish wolfhound. Ian, Amy and new cousin, Molly came out to visit from Ontario, so there was a good clan gathering. Maeve enjoyed playing with her uncles, exploring along the beach, and listening to Bagpa play his pipes. Meanwhile, back in Thailand, Mary was enjoying her holiday. In between chemo treatments, she dusted of her scrapbooking and worked on Maeve's baby book. She took a five-day Thai cooking course, and visited an elephant sanctuary. She also checked out some local riding stables and got herself back in the saddle again. It was great to have the time to relax and have no demands on her time or attention.

Term One was partly taken up by Mary's radiation therapy which consisted of driving into town every day after school. The rush-hour traffic was more taxing than the treatment itself, but certainly served to hone Mary's combative driving skills. The biggest perk, however, was getting out of committee and staff meetings!



For our term break, we headed to Bangkok to take Maeve to the aquarium and to Dream World (a smaller Thai version of Disney Land). Afterwards, we headed south to the island of Koh Samet to take in a bit of beach therapy.


November was a very busy month. Andrew hosted the first Model United Nations conference at our school with 60 delegates from international schools in Chiang Mai, including our own. Then our school had its annual International Day where we headed up the Canadian booth. Andrew lead kids in exciting games of ball hockey, and Mary performed a Highland Fling. Immediately following International Day, our school underwent a week-long three-way accreditation visit from the Thailand Ministry of Education, Council of International Schools, and New England Association of Colleges and Schools. Phew! Next came our favourite holiday of the year, Loy Kratong. This festival marks the end of the rainy season and people make wishes for the coming year as they launch lanterns into the night sky and release Kratongs down the river.


video

Mary threw a big dance party to celebrate the end of her cancer treatment on December 1st. Andrew arranged for a super fireworks show with a few floating lanterns thrown in for good measure. Great party!

Now we're kicking back, enjoying our time off work. We plan to use the time to recharge our batteries and explore some more sights in Thailand. There are a good number of people around campus this year, and we are getting together to have a Kantok (Northern Thai traditional) dinner Christmas Eve with fireworks and lanterns.

To friends and family all over the world, we wish you love and peace the whole year through, and may our paths cross again in the not-so-distant future.