Chiang Mai – Thailand

1. In Chiang Mai (part 2 below is trekking in the hills north of Chiang Mai)
After the sprawl and rush of Bangkok, arriving in Chiang Mai was a welcome change of pace. Smaller, and nestled against the northern hills, this city has many artisans, cooler temperatures, and new but equally excellent foods. My excellent traveling companions (Ma and Pa Braden) and I are staying at the Amata Lanna boutique hotel, a “small, well-appointed hostelry” – Pa Braden.

The clip below is my Sound Journal entry for Chiang Mai, where I give a brief spoken account of my experience here. The rest of the page has sound clips and photos. Use good speakers if you can (especially for the gong and the quiet jungle sounds)! Enjoy – next entry will be from Phuket, Thailand.

The walking market on Sunday closes a section of the old part of the city, surrounded by a moat and old brick gates. It is full of clothes, handbags, food, carved elephants, trinkets, shoes, jewelry, more food… There were lots of buskers, many were blind or elders, and throngs of tourists with wide, greedy deal-seeking eyes.


In one corner of the market, this huge gong was next to a small wat, or temple. The clip below is of another girl hitting it softly; I am 10 meters away.  When I hit the gong, I heard the Frequency of the Universe.


Psycho insects! The clip below is what Hitchcock really should have used – the djacatchan (spelling is phonetic, and the name is in Thai). They were up in the trees, and are like cicadas. One single bug makes the sound and I measured it at 95 decibels at 5 meters (on the ipod decibel app). One of the staff at our lodgings managed to catch one to show us. The sound would swell up in the night like a phantom. WARNING – IT IS LOUD.


We took a Thai cooking class for a day: tom yum goong soup, spring rolls, papaya salad, green curry chicken and sweet rice + mango dessert. For the curry, we used dry spices and fresh vegetables and spices and ground them with a stone mortar and pestle (clip below). To our Yellowknife-raised tongues that grew up on trucked-in produce, the availability of fresh vegetables and spices is the ultimate culinary heaven.

Here is a bird I heard at the cooking school, about 15 km south of Chiang Mai. Yes, I am a huge fan of recording bird songs.


During our visit to the Doi Suthep temple, a thunderstorm rolled over. This place, already powerful with the gilded sights and bell-tolling sounds of a large Buddhist temple, became ethereal. It is now one of my most morable sonic experiences.

Also at Doi Suthep, our guide vehemently broke out of his explanations to tell a wayward transgressing tourist to remove their shoes. Oh, the sounds of cultural ignorance!

On one adventurous day, we went elephant riding and rafting on a bamboo raft.


The elephants first performed a show where they demonstrated how they used to be used as logging animals, shifting huge logs with their trunks, tusks and feet.  Now they are also trained to paint, and can produce a much better picture of a tree than I could ever do with my hands, let alone my nose. Sonically, the act of painting was not audible, but the running commentary from the audience is fun to listen to. Why do tourists always want to describe exactly what they see in front of them?


Elephants are surprisingly quiet animals; they are incredibly graceful and their padded feet barely scuff the ground. Their mahouts, or drivers, sat on their heads nudging them forward when they stopped to eat foliage, and grunted and shouted commands at them. The elephants did tend to blow air from their front and rear ends quite often, but only once did I hear one trumpet, and it was in the distance. The clip below is of the part of the elephant ride when we forded a river and climbed the bank back onto the jungle trail. The one sound the elephants constantly made was the quiet clarking of wooden knockers hung round their neck in case they took off into the jungle, and had to be heard to be found.

The clip below is of our guide, Pom, singing a song about the elephants, or “Chang” and describing what he is singing.


The sound on the raft as it floated on the slow river: bamboo creaking under us and long bamboo poles hitting the sandy river bottom.  I am trying to record a whoopwhooping bird, and speak to our raftsman about it in broken Thai.


In a park along the old city’s moat in Chiang Mai, we bought a bag of fish pellets and fed the fish in a pond. I recorded the clip below with my Jez Riley French hydrophone. You can hear the pellets sprinkle on the surface, the feeding frenzy shloshing and the appetizing crunch-crunch as they chew!

2. On the Trek

We went to the hills north of Chiang Mai for three days. It is a much more rural area where the indigenous ‘hill tribe’ peoples are from. Their culture is very different from he larger urban centers, and seems to follow a pattern common to indigenous peoples all over the world. Within the last 100 years they have shifted from animistic beliefs to Christianity thanks to the influence of missionaries. access to government-run education is increasing but still difficult and it is rare for youth to go past elementary due to distance from the school, cost of the uniform and transportation, and the need to help the family in the fields. Also, women still marry in their mid to late teens. The sale of crops or souvenirs is now their main economy.


Here is the sound of the Lahu Outpose at sunrise: dogs, chickens,  pigs, and the village waking up.


We stayed in the Li-Su village and trekked for one night into the territory of the Mong, Lahu and Akha villages.  They spoke different dialects than ‘official’ Thai and lived on the steep sides of the hills in bamboo houses on stilts. The hills are not an easy climb, especially during the day when it was definitely above 35 Celsius with some impressive humidity and not a cloud in the sky. Steep uphills and downhills on small dirt roads became single-file paths through the jungle under bamboo, high grasses and thick brush. The path would open suddenly onto a cultivated patch of banana trees, coffee plants or corn. We passed small villages with 6 families, 25 families, empty bamboo houses alone in the forest. We stopped to rest several times and bought more water and colorful souvenirs made by the local women.


We spent the night at Lahu Outpost, a lodge with 10 rooms in Lahu village. The image above is the view from the bathroom throne. There was no electricity, but they had solar cells for water heating and pumping. Gas lamps or candles were used for light, and the night sky was full of more stars than I’ve seen in a long time. The air is not clear, however; pollution from Bangkok and Chiang Mai drifts up from the south, all the villages use fires for cooking and burning garbage, and at this time of year they slash-and-burn the forest to prepare for the next crop. Haze and humidity make the view dulled, but still amazing.


At Lahu village, other lodges hosted enthusiastic young tourists who added to the beautiful night sounds of the insects, frogs, geckos and birds by singing out of tune versions of American pop songs at a volume rivaling the cicadas. In a place as far from motors and 60 volt hum as I’ve been in a long time, this sound was noise to my ears. Here it is below- see how long it takes your ears to move away from the voices and hear the other sounds.


The next day on the trail, we found our seranaders cavorting in a beautiful waterfall.

At the Li-Su village herb garden, insects buzz in the trees. These are more like the cicadas I am used to hearing.

We visited one of the shaman in Li-Su village who still practice traditional animism. He played a song on a windy flute pipe with one mouthpiece going into a gourd that opened into 5 bamboo pipes. Here is a small bit of his song.


Here is a cool bird I heard on the trail. I don’t know the name and didn’t see it. The view above is on part of the trail that was more in the open where the slopes have been cleared for cultivation.


Here is another bird, this one imitates a ratchet nicely. The tree above is massive, and you can see a line running up the trunk where a ladder has been fashioned to climb to the branches to collect honey from the hives.


This is a sound from the jungle that I think was a bird. The image above is proof I was not intended for life in 40 degree temperatures.

This is another birdsong, this one our guide identified as a bulbul.


One of my favorite Thailand sounds: bamboo creaking. Bamboo is used for so many things, especially in the rural areas. I saw bamboo walls, floors, trusses, house frames, chairs, beds, cups, scaffolding, rafts, pilings and pipes, and it all creaked. The clip below is of bamboo in the jungle creaking in the wind.

Above: bamboo flooring, in a house on bamboo stilts 12 feet off the ground.


Here is a typical short clip of what it sounded like on the trek at any given moment. Insects, birds, voices of fellow trekkers, bambo… And not a motor in sound.


Local wildlife: gasnorfphing pigs, cluckering chickens, peepeepeeping chicks, howling beautiful roosters and stray dogs  and cats who didn’t make a sound except to snarl at each-other. Below are the pigs.


And here are some of the fowl.


We also overnighted at Li-Su Lodge, a very comfortable resort-style nook in Li-Su village. Below is the sound from the lodge in the evening. The village chief is making an announcement over a loudspeaker, children are playing, dogs are barking, and the night insects are in full swing.

Here is a clear recording of one of my favorite birds that I call the Whoop-whoop.

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