I had to wonder what she was thinking. I had made it clear that we were only dropping by to say hello. She was the mother of Ting's girlfriend. Only she didn't know it. Ting had forbidden me to mention to her that he was dating her daughter. He said we could contact her for information about Chiang Rai.
Ting had been my language teacher in Chiang Mai. I had managed to squeeze in a few classes between swimming laps at the enormous, seemingly eternally empty, pool at the Lotus Hotel and wandering around the gigantic mall that was attached to it.
She blazed onward like a stubborn cow. For a teacher she seemed to have a big problem with listening. I was finally able to wrangle a few tips out of her. They would all turn out to be worthless. We beat it back down the lane and onto the strip of bars, hotels and cafes it adjoined.
"I can't believe that it cost the Thai people 1500 baht to travel to the King's Mother's Palace." I said to Sasha. "that's a fortune here, there's got to be another way."
We went to the bus station to check it out. The attendant at the information window spoke perfect English. She told us we could get to Ronkoon "The White Temple" for 15 baht on a local bus. The base of Doi Tung could be reached for 25 bhat. Once you were there however you would be at the mercy of the pirate Tuk Tuk drivers for the final ride to the top.
That night we ate at a little restaurant we found while looking for luxury hotel swimming pools we could sneak into. There were only Thai people at Tong Thung, a garden restaurant located on a strip of roadside bars and hotels. I saw a little stage at the back and asked if there was a show. The waiter's face lit up.
He literally skipped out back to tell the performers that they would have an audience tonight. The audience would consist of two. Me and Sasha.
They seemed pleased to perform for the tiny assembly anyways. Two Thai women and a boy who was aggressively competing for the prize of the most beautiful of that threesome. They danced with swords, flames and parasols, coveying a story hundreds of years old in the stylized movements of their ancestors. At the end they encircled our table in the empty restaurant blessing us with flowers strewn at our feet. We liked it so much we would return the next night with two doctors from Tennessee.
The next day we saw Ron Koon. I was surprised to see that it was new built. It embraced an esthetics of a Vegas Casino, with the exception of the stunningly verdant mountain setting. On the interiors was a mural of a golden Buddha. As I followed the horde of school children out the entryway I noticed the artists were working on an equally enormous mural for the back wall. It contained a representation of September 11th. One tower was aflame. A lone plane was about to strike the other. A tiny Superman flew haplessly by the Brooklyn bridge. A Pepsi truck was making it's way over that span. A gas pump, like a coiled cobra, dripped petrol into the mouth of a ravenous consumer.
"What's that all about?" Sasha asked the artist. He played deaf to her query.
The next day we saw Doi Tung. The Tuk tuk's charged us 300 bhat to go to the top and come back. Pirates. Still it was only a fraction of what the school ma'rm had thought was reasonable. The gardens were ok. Beautiful, yes certainly. The memorial for the Queen mother? Well, perhaps it is only for Thai's. Her house however, stunning. I could imagine Frank Lloyd Wright gazing at it, his face twisted in a jealous rage. It was everything he ever aspired to. It blended perfectly with its environment. It's wrap around balcony offered a postcard view of the northern mountains of Thailand. It had large airy spaces, was completely constructed of wood and stone and minimally furnished. The main hall had a representation of the solar system surrounded by the zodiac carved into the ceiling. I could get a lot of work done in a space like that.
We were the only foreigners at the tin roadside bus stop. It was raining. I flagged the bus town and we jumped aboard. Sasha soon slept on my shoulder. The broken down bus, gaily colored with innumerable pictures of the royal family, buddhas and temples rattled down the highway toward Chiang Rai. We wouldn't be able to lounge by the pool at The Legends which bordered the Mae Kong river. Still, not a bad day.