It is an ancient city surrounded by remnants of the old walls and a moat. It was this area I concentrated on exploring. I was booked at the Banh Mi guest house and the owners, Paul and Aay welcomed me like an old friend. The room was spotless with a super efficient fan and a/c both.
This is the view from their restaurant and that is the width of the soi it is located on. The purple lights are the bar across the soi! I loved the location in the bottom East section of the old city, their street meandered around past many little restaurants, laundries and drinking establishments. The old city was very easy to explore, there are main streets with schools, hotels and stores but then you can go on the tiny access sois and think you were in the countryside-if in your country they had adorable tiny coffee houses every block. Here are a few more views of the street. See how narrow it is! Motorcycles and tuk tuks race down them.
This delicious concoction was from Dash, a really fun restaurant just steps away-
A view of the moat that surrounds the old city
One thing I love about the Thai is their sense of humor...
Yet another example of Thai whimsey in this elegant Temple
Chiang Mai has been inhabited for over 2,000 years and it enjoyed its golden age when it was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom from 1296 to 1558. Many important temples are within the city walls. I happen to love the Nagas, or Snake guardians at the foot of most temple stairs. Legend has it that a cobra protected the Lord Buddha during a storm with its hood and so they have a major place of honor in Thai temples.
Wat Pra Singh
Wat Chedi Luang
tiny Wat Inthakhin
People do get temple fatigue seeing so many spiritual places but if you can take the time to really look, no two are alike and have their own special energy.
Wat Buppharam- very old Stupa
Wat Phan Tao
Wat Pra Singh
Wat Chedi Luang
The grounds of each Wat are also very unique-some are like parks and others have many other lovely buildings. Even if you just peek inside the main hall where the principal Buddha images are, you will see huge differences, for each pose and posture of his hands or if he is sitting or standing has meaning.
Another thing I love about Thailand is even the smallest little coffee shop or restaurant is always wonderfully decorated or styled to be inviting and interesting. They put a lot of thought into decor. Miranda's is a perfect example, it had little alcoves amid the greenery to make you feel like you were all alone.
The street was right in front but you felt totally secluded. Here is another favorite of mine, the Fern Forest cafe. I could move into this place in a heartbeat! It had waterfalls, ponds, birds and also completely screened off from the street with bamboo and palms.
My idea of a perfect oasis. Food was good and they must have thought I looked like I was going to keel over as they brought water immediately. (I was!)
This is a tiny little back soi that passes by people's backyards but there is a hidden coffee shop.
Needless to say, Chiang Mai with all its touristy, English speaking, expat-heavy feel was a kind of balm to the soul. So many plants and birds and even a blue sky which is rare in Bangkok. Lots more roosters, however-I heard them every morning.
So I went to several markets, ate right on the river, checked out the modern mall and also made it up Doi Pui (the mountain) to see Wat Doi Suthep. There is a famous temple on top but getting there is interesting. First, you go to the Zoo- then wait in front of it for 9 more people you never met to fill the songthaew. There is no public transport in Chiang Mai but these small pickups with seats along the sides work great. Just tell the driver where you are going and if he is headed in that direction, just hop on for only 20 Baht. (65 cents) If he isn't, just keep trying or change streets. For the mountain trip, it is all set up in advance with regular pickups. Once they have 10, they are off!
photo by Kenneth Robert
Then it's a hair-raising ride up to the top, about 15 minutes of swerving and hanging on.
The drop off place is still below the temple, it is another 309 stairs or there is an inclinator, which I opted for.
Once you arrive, there are more steps and then you see the blinding golden stupa.
The devoted walk around and say prayers, like this monk.
Everywhere you will see other shrines, and though very crowded, it is possible to find some small areas of peace.
I decided to brave the stairs and going down was not that hard. See, more snakes! I made some new friends, these girls are from the Hmong tribe.
I said goodbye to Chiang Mai and went further North to Chiang Rai-and I am sorry to say the little town was not as charming or fun as Chiang Mai, but it is here that Jimm and I were so looking forward to seeing some famous temples. I signed up for a 12 hour tour (gulp) but had a wonderful, LONG day. A few of the stops were not high on my list and of course turned out to be favorites. The major place was the famous "White Temple" or Wat Rong Kuhn. An artist we love named Chalermchai Kositpipat owns and designed and painted this outstanding place as an act of devotion.
Here, you cross the bridge over hands representing greed and temptation...
Here's the main entrance but no photos allowed inside.
Every inch inside is filled with colorful murals showing bombs and pollution, destruction, and then oddly--outer space with Michael Jackson, the Enterprise, a tentacle monster and lots of other "characters" flying around.
Here is another example of current day references-
Hanging on the tree outside are the heads of Gollum, Pinhead, Hellboy and others.
It was very meaningful as it was a kind of pilgrimage for me. The next stop was also jaw-dropping and very new, designed by a student of the artist from the White Temple. The main hall opened 2 years ago and it is still being completed. Wat Rong Suea Ten is the "Blue Temple", and you are first greeted by this immense Guardian:
It's hard to tell scale but a person would just reach the bottom of those horns. He is magnificent, and they accented the blue paint with glitter. My kind of place! Here is the main Hall:
And inside, murals all around of the life of Buddha
SO beautiful- they are building a matching green Guardian on the other side.
I have lots more to this trip so in order not to overload with stories, Part 2 will be out shortly-Thanks for stopping by!