CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR IN THAILAND
Sandra Barr and Alan Macdonald
We flew to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand right after all those pesky exams were marked in mid-December and stayed to mid-January, 2001-2002. We left "the farm" and its remaining inhabitants in the tender care of our sons, Colin and Eric, and one of their friends. [We should note that all inhabitants survived, although the chicken house blew over in a storm the day after we left and got buried in a snowdrift, and the chickens consequently had to spend the rest of the winter living upside-down.]
We had not been to Thailand since 1990, so expected (and found!) many changes. Most were not particularly to our liking - huge hotels and a booming tourist industry, housing developments and factories occupying what we remembered as rice paddies and rural villages, and four-lane highways filled with traffic going at incredible speeds. On the other hand, it was a pleasure to find new road access to remote, geologically interesting parts of the country that had been very difficult to reach during past visits. And the beautiful weather, fantastic food, and wonderful Thai people had not changed at all.
The purpose of our visit was two-fold - we wanted to visit former students and colleagues in the Department of Geological Sciences at Chiang Mai University where we had taught from 1974-1977, and again in 1984-85 and 1990 during previous sabbatical leaves, and we also wanted to do more fieldwork related to on-going research projects in northern Thailand.
We were settled into a very comfortable guesthouse on the university campus, within easy walking distance of the geology department, as well as restaurants and markets. It was a beautiful spot, on the edge of the university reservoir and adjacent to the high concrete walls of the Chiang Mai Zoo. As a result of the latter, we were treated to amazing squeals, screams, and roars from unseen animals and birds, especially at feeding time!
We had only been in Chiang Mai for a day when Boonsong Yokart (MSc Acadia, 1993) appeared at the door with his Toyota Land Cruiser and driver. Boonsong is now a senior geologist with the Thai Department of Mineral Resources, and he offered to help with our fieldwork. Needless to say, we were pleased to accept, as this luxury was a far cry from our field work in the 1970's when we used bicycles, or a motorcycle that could carry both of us or one of us and a day's collection of rocks (guess who normally returned to Chiang Mai from the field on the bus!). Boonsong helped us with one of our field projects, mapping and sampling the very young Cretaceous-Tertiary "gneiss domes" that underlie the mountains west of Chiang Mai, and we spent several very pleasant and productive days in the field with him, including Christmas Day!
After Christmas, we travelled by train to Bangkok, where we were treated very hospitably by Adoon Wunapeera (MSc. 1992), his wife Archara, their parents, and their sons, Bodeethuck and Matthuei. Also joining our various expeditions to restaurants, Bangkok's tallest skyscraper, the Royal Palace, and the ancient city at Ayuthya, were DMR geologist Dr. Suporn Intasopa, her husband Justin Hickey, and her son, as well as various relatives of Adoon and Archara. So it was generally quite an entourage that required several vehicles, and numerous cell phone conversations to ensure that everyone arrived at more or less the same place at more or less the same time. One particularly memorable dinner took place on an evening cruise in an open boat along the Chao Praya River that flows through the Bangkok waterfront. The food, the night-time scenery, and the weather were beyond description.
A second project during our visit was to sample a belt of Triassic(?) volcanic rocks in northern Thailand for dating and geochemical studies, a project in collaboration with a former student, Dr. Prayote Ounchanum of the Department of Geological Sciences, Chiang Mai University. To accomplish this work we set off by van with Prayote and several CMU students to Chiang Khong, located on the Mekong River at the border with Laos in a very mountainous and beautiful area. We spent several very hot days locating and sampling volcanic rocks, including a memorable morning walking the banks of the Mekong River, looking across the mist-shrouded mountains of Laos and watching long-tailed boats roar past on the river.
Sandra and Alan at the Lansang waterfall (underlain by mylonitic gneiss and marble).
One of the biggest problems after collecting large numbers of samples in Thailand is how to get them back to Wolfville. The best way seemed to be by mail, so the rocks were packed into boxes (each of which had to weigh less than 20 kg!) and taken to the post office where they were last seen sitting on the floor in the back room after we had handed over an enormous amount of money in postage. We were told that it would take 2 months, and we were relieved when the boxes began to arrive, one or two at a time, over several weeks in April. They all made it - we lost only one rock as one of the boxes had broken open, apparently as a result of dismantling during customs inspection (one can image that Custom's officers might look pretty carefully at a bunch of rocks that someone would pay $800 to transport from "the Golden Triangle" to Wolfville, Nova Scotia!).
Our journey back to a frigid, snow-blanketed Nova Scotia was a reluctant 35-hour marathon involving five different flights and various long airport interludes, but the trip had been worth it!
Boonsong Yokart carefully taking field notes and about to be disturbed by some heavy traffic.