There comes a time in every boy’s life when he comes face-to-face with a giant panda playing a violin who invites him to spend the night in a giant white grand piano — at least, that’s what Noe thinks, I’m sure.
So, yeah, this is an actual thing. Rajagarindra Institute of Child Development (or simply RICD) is a state-of-the-art facility and training center in Northern Thailand focused on providing care to children who struggle with development delays and disorders, and behavioral problems. The center has been around in one form or another since 1991, but the piano building was just completed in the last couple of years.
Despite what most of the people here probably thought, we weren’t here for Noe, but for Noe’s mommy. Nope, not to address her raging candy addiction (I wish), but as part of a work trip. The institute also has a training facility with accommodation for trainees, which is where we stayed for three nights (4th Floor, right below the sound board…) — the balconies of the rooms are visible in the photo below, as are the solar panels that provide much of the building’s power needs. The original facility is on the right and still part of the complex.
There are two bright-pink castle-like gates at both the western and eastern entrances of the complex, complete with a matching castle-themed play structure to boot!
Mr. Giant Panda reinforces the musical theme of the structure, complete with butt hatch…
…though I’m not really sure I want to know what’s on the other side.
And…if you’ve ever wondered what a guest room looks like in a giant piano, wonder no more:
Noe had a lovely stay in his first piano, though I’m starting to wonder if the novelty and absurdity of the whole thing might’ve been lost on him…
The next morning, this had appeared in the doorway. Mr. Giant Panda had been working hard, apparently.
Tributes like this have been springing up all over in the wake of King Bhumibol’s death.
Another view of the RICD piano building as Noe and I prepare to mount an expedition to a very special place. Yes, another pilgrimage of sorts, but this time my trekking party has doubled in size.
While Lori is doing her work-thang, Noe and I plan to trek 3.8 miles, mostly due south following the irrigation canal.
The first 2.5 miles are pleasant — shaded (which is important, as it’s already mid-morning and quite hot here), along a wide and unobstructed sidewalk. Noe sleeps during this entire segment. I probably would too if someone was carrying me.
The last mile, however, is exposed, sidewalk-less, and very hot. Noe awakes and is pretty cranky, likely from the heat. He’s completely protected by the sun, and the carrier affords some good airflow, but still, it’s bloody hot. By this point, I’ve exhausted my two liters of water reserves and am ready to get this 15-lb. heater off of me.
Then, just shy of four miles (one of the longest flat, four-mile stretches of my life), we spot the magic word: Hohm.
Hohm Cafe, an oasis hidden deep in a residential area a couple miles north of Old Town is unlike any cafe I’ve been to. It’s sprawling and neatly manicured garden abuts the funky, two-story purpose-built cafe owned and started by Neung — a friendly and low-key English-speaking Thai guy — on his family property. After noticing Noe he was all smiles and wanted to introduce his young son to Noe (who was a few years older). It’s been funny to me to see older toddler boys interact with Noe. Both in the U.S. and in SE Asia they’re main concern with Noe is always whether he has something to play with. They seem quite concerned and very protective of him in that respect.
Neung set us up with a nice area in the loft so that Noe would be comfortable. Obviously, the Mister took this very seriously.
I’ve been talking about some great iced coffees over the last several post, but this one might just be the best, the Hohm Signature, served in two parts, a glass full of ice and frothy milk, and a ceramic pourer holding the espresso goodness. Pour one over the other and you’ve got yourself a masterpiece.
Hohm is also known for its Pork Toast. Delicious.
And the post-pork toast food (and heat) coma in the garden.
Not crazy about the walk back, I asked Neung if he could give me the number of a cab or tuk tuk to take us back. But no matter my insistence, Neung would have none of it and insisted on driving us back, himself. It wasn’t a long drive, but was incredibly kind of the proprietor, himself, to go out of his way to give us a lift. I offered a few times something for his trouble, but he was adamantly opposed to it. This exchange wouldn’t have surprised me in Laos, where people are known for their generosity and generally less inclined to see money-signs over foreigners heads. But in Thailand, my experience has generally been quite the opposite. But this time was very different, and I am grateful, not just for the lift, but for this exchange with a businessman who didn’t just see me as a farang with deep pockets. I’m sure Thailand is full of people just like Neung, but when you’re traveling in places like Thailand, which are heavily frequented with tourists and travelers, such encounters can be few and far between.