Thailand - Business Vacation
- December 2010
After 7 days of high pressure buying in Hong Kong for freshwater
pearls and semi precious stone beads for export back home, we
were looking forward to relaxing in the tropical heat of Thailand's
winter season. But it wasn't all play by any means
was business like you've never experienced!
We landed in Bangkok after a 2 hour flight from Hong Kong.
The first thing I did was pop a beer at the airport, J-ME had
an exotic fruit drink. Then we roamed around while waiting for
our connecting flight to Chiang Mai. We could feel the decompression
kicking in right away. The temperature was 86 degrees and just
right. Back home it was icy and cold, with Artic freezes coming
in and shutting down the roads.
Boarding our plane to Chiang Mai, we were guided every inch
of the way by beautiful, pleasant, exotic gate and flight attendants
of Thai Airways, all with a smile and a calm, serene welcome.
Even the security checkpoints didn't seem so stressful. Maybe
it was the beer.
Landing in Chiang Mai, we were met by our driver/hotel clerk,
Nok from the Riverside House Bed and Breakfast Hotel. Nok loaded
us up and drove us to our rooms at the hotel on the banks of
the Ping River, right in the middle of Chiang Mai; but a mile
from the bustle and chaos of the streets themselves. The hotel
was an oasis of tropical plants, orchids, with a swimming pool
and breakfast bar just waiting for our attention.
We checked in and unpacked in our rooms, then hit the streets.
We were energized!
Walking into town, we immediately entered a night bazaar just
setting up. There were many mobile booths being driven down a
side road by a scooter and rider holding them with a hand.
was being cooked; merchandise hawked; money traded. It was fabulous!
We were the only Americans to be seen or heard. Even better.
Trading some money at a local trading station, at 29 Baht to
the dollar, we felt rich.
Money in hand, we
began shopping. Mostly gift items, but we kept an eye open for
Hills Tribe silver beads, which was the main reason we chose
Thailand to visit.
How can you vacation
and not buy for your business if that is the business you are
in? It's just not possible. Anyway, we didn't see any right away,
but we did see lots of hand made artifacts such as clothes, hats,
fans, pottery, jewelry, etc
. at really good prices. Really,
really good prices. Did I mention that we felt rich?
We stumbled into this very cluttered and wonderfully fun store.
It had so many bells hanging everywhere, you could not help but
to turn and bump into one.
Our visit coincided with National Father's Day and the King's
birthday for the King of Thailand's rule, and parties and celebrations
were happening all over Thailand.
We walked into one
such celebration in old town Chiang Mai, near the wall and moat,
where singing, dancing and speeches were going on.
were being lit, and released into the sky, along with powerful
Food was being cooked and sold - some recognizable, some new
to us. It was all good.
Quail eggs being cooked. And plate of bamboo rice
the next few days we roamed the city
walking, riding taxis
including one such vehicle called a tut tut, which is a moped
with 3 seats meant for 2 people.
We were able to load 4 people onto one such vehicle, as well
as the driver. Besides being hilarious, it was also quite painful,
so we later used it as an excuse to get a massage.
So off we went to get a full body and foot massage, for 2
hours and just for 200 baht each. That's $6.80 a person! Remember
that rich feeling I alluded to earlier? By now, the "I love
this place" mantra was being echo'd by all of us, at least
once a day. (Every hour by me.) Daily massages were being called
for every day now, by some of the people in the group. Not me,
it felt too decadent. Maybe by next year I won't think so.
Some time during our stay in Chiang Mai; we met Phun and her
husband, Munn. They owned a taxi, and basically took us under
their wings and became our tour guides and researchers of anything
we were looking for. Their first assignment - find us Thai silver
of the Hills Tribe variety. After a full day touring the handicraft
section of town, where we found silver jewelry factories and
showrooms, laquerware factories, gemstone cutting factories and
showrooms, silk textiles, ceramics, pottery showrooms, statue
manufacturing plants, furniture warehouses (the list goes on
We finally arrived at a small family run factory/ showroom
that specialized in Hills Tribe silver beads. Not only were we
able to buy beads, but J-Me was able to sit down with the owner
and design her own beads for production.
the handicrafts section of town was fantastic, and useful from
a buying standpoint (we did buy, and will buy into the future
as the products the Thai people make are wonderful and inexpensive),
the excitement generating off J-Me at this point by being able
to design her own line of Thai silver beads with the factory
owner was fascinating to watch. The language was a problem, and
at various times the wife was involved, the cell phone used to
speak to a translator, then the silversmith himself at his studio,
then a worker who happened to walk by, and finally Phun and her
husband contributed to the conversation. Anyway, it got done.
We think. Many drawings later, and 10 or more photographs, we
left his showroom exhausted. J-Me was still excited. I had to
go have a beer.
Silversmith working on a elephant placard.
Two days later the
owner phoned us to say the main silversmith was coming into town
to go over J-Me's designs and show us samples. He lived 3 hours
away in a rural village. When we arrived, he was just arriving
in his 4 wheel drive SUV, with his entire family in tow. They
had dressed themselves in their best tribal clothing and looked
beautiful. We felt honoured.
The silversmith and his wife were both designers and manufacturers
of the Hills Tribe beads, and they had 5 children. All seven
were involved in the visit with us, and we all had fun taking
photographs and asking questions. J-Me played hand games with
the youngest. Then she tore herself away from the kids and got
down to business going over her designs with the husband and
wife (both were beadmakers) and choosing even more beads from
their samples they brought. At this point the owner nailed down
the quantity of silver we would need to actually make the order,
which was 4 kilos of silver. He told us he planned to buy it
from a dealer who he knows has a large quantity of old Burmese
silver at excellent prices. Having said that, he still quoted
us the current spot price, which was 31.5 Baht per gram. He then
wrapped up the deal by getting on the phone and placing the order
which he would receive that evening.
If you can believe it, J-Me was still vibrating with excitement.
I was exhausted. However, I forced myself to have another beer.
I was on a working vacation after all and wasn't going to forget
this blur of buying, designing, massaging, eating and drinking
we caught the night train to Bangkok to see the big city and
have some medical work done on ourselves at the BKK hospital
in Bangkok. The train left Chiang Mai at 6:30pm and rode through
the night, arriving in Bangkok at 7:00am the next morning. We
had booked second class sleeper tickets which entitled us to
sleep on upper level bunks above the seats we sat on during the
The bed maker came
by at 7:30 to make up the beds, basically forcing us to lie in
our beds from that time on until 6:00am when she broke down the
beds before arriving in Bangkok. We stopped at many stations
during the trip to pick up travelers and drop off travelers.
It reminded me of my time in Africa when I used to travel by
steam locomotive. This train was a diesel.
Bangkok is not Chiang
Mai. (that's an understatement!) It is overcrowded, polluted,
dirty, too built up and the driving conditions are insane! Scooters
swarm the intersections like crazed locusts, and there appear
to be no rules. I could not imagine driving in Thailand in general,
and Bangkok in particular. Although Thais are energy conscious,
and attempt to conserve anyway they can; they are not recyclists,
and throw everything into the streets. It seems their solution
is to burn their garbage, which they do by gathering it into
piles and setting it on fire right there on the streets.
BKK Hospital is by contrast a first rate International Hospital,
very clean and first rate. Well organized and reassuring to its
cliental. In 3 hours we were seen, diagnosed, treated and released
for a grand total of $248. In the States that would have taken
3 to 5 visits with at least 3 doctors and 2 nurses (all with
their hands in our pockets) and 4 weeks of our time for an estimated
$10,000 and proof of health insurance. There is something wrong
with our system here in the U.S. It is broken.
After the visit to the hospital we decided not to explore
Bangkok; but to head back to the railroad station and wait for
our ride back to Chiang Mai. Besides thinking Bangkok was ugly,
we were feeling under the weather from the recent surgery, and
didn't feel up to being tourists. Maybe at another time we would
think differently and enjoy Bangkok.
The trip back to
Chiang Mai was very different, as we went first class in our
own private sleeper cabin. Still two bunk beds, but no through
traffic between our beds. We were fed from the dining car and
had our own bell to call for service. The beds were made up at
9:30pm and broken down at our request at 8:30am when breakfast
was served. The last hour of travel was in daylight, and the
mountain views as we approached Chiang Mai were exquisite.
Arriving in Chiang Mai, Phun and husband were waiting for
us at the train station to drive us back to the hotel. They really
did take good care of us, considering our train came in 2 hours
later than our scheduled arrival.
resting for a day, we decided to be real tourists and drove up
into the mountains to ride elephants and ox carts, ride bamboo
rafts down rivers.
also bought handmade artifacts from various hill tribes such
as the Pai Dong Karen Long Neck Tribe where the women wear brass
rings around their necks and legs, and the Akha tribe where they
chew Betel nuts that turn their teeth red. These tribes are considered
by the Thai government to be alien, and are not welcome or assisted
by the government. Their children do not attend school, and are
basically living outside of the Thai society.
went on a late night ride to see the local zoo, where they have
several tigers being housed and bred. The entrance fee we pay
went towards taking care of all the orphan tigers. J-Me was able
to touch, pet, hold and bottle feed one of the baby tigers.
Finally, all things must come an end, and with bulging suitcases
and in some cases newly purchased bulging suitcases, we all were
driven to the Chiang Mai airport by Phun and her husband and
flew home. As we boarded the plane I was missing Chiang Mai already.
Here are some of the beads that
Guy and J-Me own Wild Things Beads and Working Bead
arrived when we got back home.
They can be reached by phone at (530) 743-1339 or on the web
Their warehouse is located deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
of Northern California and is available to visit by appointment