Treasures of Thailand - Plants, People and Places
Thursday, 22 March 2018 | Alison
Treasures of Thailand - Plants, People and Places
Thailand - A kingdom of mystery, exotic plants and a completely different culture - Well, it was certainly all of those things and more, much more, with exciting new places to explore, huge tropical plants growing where they are most at home and charming, smiling Thai people with, above all, a sense of fun and a live and let live mind set. ! I loved it! ….. The added bonus was that our daughter is working in Thailand for a few months and you have to catch up with them where you can, but, all good things etc. etc. ….
It is a treat to fly away to ‘paradise’ in February to escape the British winter, and there was I thinking I would be returning to see early spring flowers out, hear the birds chirping and fully expected to listen to the nocturnal croaking of frogs in the pond to herald the arrival of spring. But, with basking temperatures of +30˚C having been my ‘norm’ for the past month, arriving back in the UK to a fierce weather front from Russia, ‘the beast from the east’ has prevailed and I have come back down to earth with a bump, and a rather parky -5˚C is certainly a jolt to the system.
Best of all though is that I have some lovely memories to keep me warm as I reminisce and share my tropical travels with you. Incidentally, I have just looked up on google maps to check how many miles it is from England to Thailand but all it came up with is that it would take me 98 days to walk there. At a later date I may be up for a new challenge, thanks google. (Daughter has just informed me it is over 6,000 miles).
A bit of background - Thailand, formerly known as Siam*, is in South East Asia and two 7½ hour flights away from Birmingham. It is bordered by the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean to the west, Myanmar (Burma) to the north, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia to the east and Malaysia to the south and is 15˚ north of the equator which puts it firmly in the northern hemisphere, with the UK, but there the similarities end.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned over the kingdom of Thailand for some 66 years, only passed away in 2016 and was highly regarded by the people of Thailand and it was touching to see that when the National Anthem was played over a P.A. system at 8am and 6pm in public places, the Thai people stood still. Literally everyone stops what they are doing out of respect for the King. It is rather like pressing pause on the TV remote and then restarting it a few moments later. This was another factor that for me added to the charm and customs of Thailand. (Daughter has also just added that before every movie is shown in cinemas, the Thai people stand to hear the National Anthem and see photographs of the both the old and new King on the big screen.
*By the way, the classic 1956 movie set in Siam, The King and I, starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, was banned in Thailand, as it was deemed to be derogatory to the then King. It is still not allowed to be shown but whether the new King will alter this rule remains to be seen.
Over 95% of the 80+ million population of Thailand follow the religion of Buddhism which, in a very quick nutshell, makes for a calm nation on the whole with the Buddhist philosophy of kindness to others, respect, mindfulness and developing wisdom and understanding, being at the heart of Buddhism and the Thai people’s way of life.
Revered Buddha statues are common place in Thailand, being visited by locals and tourists alike. Some are huge like this one perched on a hill, Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri, known as the Phuket Big Buddha, which stands 45m tall and 25m wide and can be seen from most spots in the south of the island.
Although our base was in southern Thailand on the island of Phuket (It is linked by a bridge to the mainland), a two hour domestic flight took us north to Chaing Mai city for a few days, away from the alluring white beaches and warm, transparent turquoise seas.
Among the many highlights of the visit was a trip to Bhubing Palace, the winter residence of the Thai Royal Family when they come to visit the people of northern Thailand and also to escape the hot temperatures of the south. In fact, a widely known travel tip is to take jumpers and warm clothing up to the north of the country as it is cooler in the mountains. However, coming from the UK, we were still very warm with temperatures dipping to only ‘a decidedly chilly’ +25˚C. Look what this cat had been attired in to keep warm up in the frozen north…..
Actually, everywhere we went it was amusing and somewhat bewildering to see locals in jeans, shoes, jumpers, anoraks, hats and gloves, even whilst selling their wares on the beaches in Phuket and us in swimwear, dashing into the sea, (hot sand) to try and get slightly cooler for a few minutes.
Anyway, the gardens were ablaze with the colours of our summer, with bedding plants galore and I was surprised to see so many UK flower favourites amongst the floral displays. One display had tiered layers of colour starting with blue delphiniums at the back, then osteospermum & verbena, and next, ornamental cabbages interspersed with small hydrangeas and Cineraria and on the ground masses of bronze leafed pink bedding begonias. Another tiered display was packed with roses, foxgloves, salvia, lobelia and at the back you can see the yellow flowers of Brugmansia Candida, often known as Angels Trumpet.
Sacred sites with highly ornate temples (Wats) abound all over Thailand, especially in the ancient northern city of Chiang Mai, where the old walled city has no fewer than 300 temples, some over 700 years old. They are visited daily by orange-clothed Buddhist monks and locals taking time out of their day to give thanks.
One can wander through quiet(ish) lanes and around every corner there will be one or two highly decorated golden temples with equally highly decorated interiors. Some temples have gardens around them with small fish ponds, tropical palms and colourful flowering plants. Other temple entrances have terracotta pots filled with bonsai specimens, palms and succulents and there are many ceramic pots filled with water and, floating on the top, lotus flowers or water lilies.
In under an hour’s drive from the cities, over 60% of the population is engaged in agriculture. Flat land is irrigated and is where rice, the most widely grown crop in Thailand, is produced. Interestingly, Thailand is one of the world’s biggest rice exporters. Other crops widely grown throughout the country are rubber, maize, fruits, cashew nuts, cotton and sugarcane.
The many bustling street markets are completely intoxicating and hit every one of the senses. They have an abundance of colourful fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and salad leaves alongside Thai favourites of lemon grass, ginger, chillies, limes and galangal and oddly I think, broccoli. There are many tropical fruits available like mangoes, (but beautifully textured and flavoured, not stringy), coconuts, dragon fruit, water melon, bananas, rose apples and lychees.
Durian fruit, apparently sweet tasting, smells rather disagreeable once cut open, and is a favoured fruit in Thailand, but be cautious if you buy some, you are not allowed to bring Durian fruit into any of the tourist hotels or airports. That is perhaps an indicator of how unpleasant and how far reaching the odour is. My other half, a chef, tried some Durian fruit ice-cream and he will try almost anything once, and even that defeated him so I guess it is an acquired taste.
For all the loveliness of the places I saw in Thailand there was an element that was a sorry sight and is a problem, not just in Thailand, but the world over. Litter, mostly plastic in particular was strewn on and around the islands of Ko Phi Phi, where The Beach, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, was filmed. It is a mecca, visited by thousands of tourists on a daily basis and all arriving by boats trying to get the best position in the shallow waters, and snorkelers , who in the past had probably not realised they were damaging and killing corals. Whilst over there I heard that some of the area is to be closed to give what sea coral is left, a chance to stay alive. This will also help the appalling plastic waste to be curtailed.
Of course I must mention orchids. I know they are readily available in all parts of the world now but they still look fabulous in their more natural setting - hot, sunny, humid and tropical. Orchids, although grown in Thailand, are imported into the country too, and can be seen in most restaurants, hotels, gardens and apartments either in hanging pots or bound to trees and growing happily without soil.
Thai people seem to love and care for their gardens, their pots filled with plants, their pets - dogs (always asleep) and cats – (with warm coats on, sitting with the ladies outside the ubiquitous and wonderful massage parlours) and I can’t wait to re-visit Thailand in the future to discover more.
Oh and I haven’t told you about visiting the ethically run ‘Elephant Jungle Sanctuary’ or my terrifying, and highly funny, according to the present husband, zip-wiring adventure up in the jungle, on the aptly named ‘Flight of the Gibbon’.... Another story, another time!