Chiang Mai – just a few temples (I promise)

There is no shortage of temples in Chiang Mai, and you can feel duty-bound to visit them  all. Mainly, they look the same – pagoda roofs, dragons, Buddhas – but each one has its own distinct features. They are interesting until they’re not, and at that point, you call it a day and go for a beer. To save you, dear reader, I’ll just include some highlights – quirks and observations, and spare you pointless identification and details that you’re not likely interested in anyway. To begin, a massive gold chedi:

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A long line of people, both Thai and foreign,  who with flowers and prayers in hand, walk the circumference of the chedi. For tourists, it can be a rite of passage; for the observant, it is deeply moving and solemn.

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Young girls in costume position themselves on the stairs leading up to this mountaintop temple.  People take photos, the girls run over to their parents with the cash, and then resume position. We had no idea what the significance of the costume is, but found the whole thing upsetting.

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This almost life-sized elephant offered a quiet spot for a couple of the local dogs.

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While most of the temples are golden and jewel-encrusted (well, coloured-glass
encrusted), we found this pretty little teak temple  that outwardly, was far more modest.

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Inside, another story. A donation box the size of a bank safe was prominently situated.

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On the opposite side of the temple was  a line-up of donation slots, according to the day of our birth.  The sign promised that a donation would ensure a better life and fate. Naturally, the Mother Goose rhyme “Monday’s child” lodged itself in my brain. (I’m Saturday – “Works hard for a living”, and Stephen is Thursday – “Has far to go”).

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We marvelled at the wealth of the temples in contrast to the poverty of the faithful, and how the constant outreached hand for donations, alms, flowers, candles, incense and monk support must put a financial burden on the country’s neediest inhabitants.

The temples do provide a serene and contemplative setting, even for the tourists who simply want to admire their surroundings, and find a break from the street.

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This magnificent carved structure held a command post overlooking the whole city. Each column was carved in great detail and we noticed the symbols of the Thai zodiac, which is similar to Chinese. An interesting observation – the Thai (or Buddhist) calendar is different from ours – we noticed that with a hotel receipt, the year was marked 2560!

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There have been so many unusual signs at the temples – sometimes a case of lost in translation, like the one below:

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This sign was actually bearing itself out as we entered the grounds. We could hear a dog barking rather fiercely, and then giving a couple of final little “woofs”, as dogs are wont to do, before circling back and lying in the shade – his guard duties complete. Presumably, he has given chase in the past.

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And finally – the no-go zone for women – monk territory.

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 Often, we notice locals wearing T-shirts with messages that are either inappropriate or so Western that the connection can’t possibly mean anything.  We loved this one, and so did its owner -he proudly posed for me. Whether he is being deliberately ironic or is simply the recipient of a nice shirt, we have no idea.

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A couple of days ago, we were walking through a museum just behind a very scholarly-looking young Chinese couple. The girl had on a shirt that read, “Rollin’ with my Homies”. It didn’t quite seem to fit her personality and style, but – one should never judge.

This sign, outside a Thai (non-western) restaurant, is missing a verb. Very clever – it got our attention.

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Last night, the main street just down the road from our hotel, transformed into a pedestrian-only night market. We ignored the advice of the hotel owner, who advised us to go early because of the crowds, but crowds and all it was a lot of fun. First, we ate:

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Then, we shopped around – there was some really lovely stuff. I bought a blouse and dress that are suited to this climate – light cotton  – about $11 for both. Many other things were calling out, but we had to walk by.

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This little girl took great care to stack and present her soaps properly.

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The evening’s excitement proved to be a bit much for this lady.

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Musicians and entertainers were everywhere. This group of (mainly) farangs swung by in their robes, chanting “Hare Krishna. Hare Krishna.” It took me back about 40 years, and then suddenly this lovely young woman swung toward me, (feeling my energy, I’m sure). For one awful moment, I thought she was going to pull me in, but they moved on.

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We stopped to listen to these musicians – Eastern instruments, Western fedoras.

We have had a really wonderful time in Chiang Mai – it has been a highlight so far. Tomorrow we head up north to Pai, now billed as being Full Moon Party central, without the beach. We’ll see how we do! We know we want to investigate some hill trekking, and some caving, and enjoy the time in the mountains.

Stephen has been chomping at the bit to ride a motorbike (or scooter), and so far I’ve resisted, since the city traffic is so scary. Up north, we may just go for it. I’ll leave you with a final photo of Stephen checking out the merchandise.

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Chiang Mai: How I Imagined Thailand

You know how you imagine a place you’ve never visited before, and then, when you arrive, it is nothing like the pictures you had in your head? Thailand has been like that for us. It has been very different from anything we’ve seen before. However, as soon as we drove into Chiang Mai, the images in our heads were lining up with what was unfolding in front of our eyes. Now you’re talking – this is the Thailand we had imagined.

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Chiang Mai is a fairly large and modern city, but the downtown area where tourists congregate is old and charming. Contained within moats and stone walls, the core has easy and picturesque walking distance to everything – temples, markets and street life.

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Chiang Mai has become extremely popular with tourists of all ages. It has a pleasing combination of traditional old-world Thai and new-agey kombucha bars. Yoga features prominently, as does buttery croissants. This is the city where ex-pats came for a visit and stayed for a decade. The streets and narrow lanes are full of unexpected little scenes, like this one – someone’s dainties hanging out to dry in full view of passers-by.

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Restaurants cater to locals and tourists, with everything on offer from fried morning glories to Belgian beer. The food is pretty much guaranteed to be great, whatever you eat and wherever you eat it. Street food is a bonanza of choice and flavour – if you are tired of Pad Thai, you can try fried pig intestine.

Thai coconut soup – so fresh and delicious.

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Local fruit and local yogurt.

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There are Thai cooking schools on every corner – we met new friends here (from Nanaimo!) who spent yesterday learning how to make chili paste, spring rolls and chicken with cashews. It was tempting to consider, but by the time we have a kitchen again, my newfound Thai cooking knowledge will likely be long gone.

Another service we will not be taking advantage of – custom-made suits or dresses. Tailor shops and massage parlours have cropped up like mushrooms after a rain to meet the demand of farangs (tourists, or foreigners) who are in the market for a $100 suit or a $10 massage. In Bangkok and Hua Hin we were chased by aggressive sales people; here in Chiang Mai their marketing approach is far more mellow – this store has simply posted written testimonials from satisfied customers.

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What I did try was the fish pedicure – much hilarity ensued. We have walked past a number of these shops, with tanks of tiny fish just waiting to nibble the dead skin from tourist feet. Yesterday I decided to give it a try. First, I was instructed to rinse my feet in a tub of clean water. Then, I hoisted myself up on the bench, swung my legs around and dipped my feet in. Well! It was not the tentative little nibbles I had anticipated – a GANG of fish swooped in on my feet and just went to town. The sensation was almost unbearable at first – an intense combination of tickling, almost electric, kind of annoying and quite relentless. These fish were going after my dead skin like it was their life’s work. After five minutes or so I got used to it, but 15 minutes was more than enough.

We’ve had a wonderful time mixing it up – visiting a few temples and then just wandering the streets. We turned a corner and came upon this universal scene – children feeding (and chasing) pigeons.

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More pigeon fans.

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The architecture of Chiang Mai is an intriguing mix of new and old. The traditional old teakhouses are still around; many in varying degrees of decrepitude. We wonder how much longer before they start to disappear, or if there is a movement to restore them.

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Some of the newer buildings are replicating the teakhouse style,
but in a more upscale fashion.

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I always love to discover the street art in any city, and while Chiang Mai does have some great examples, you have to look a bit. What else would you expect to find here but elephants?

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Northern Thailand is famous for its hill tribes, especially the Long-necked women, and there is considerable controversy about whether popping by their villages for a photo op helps or hurts them. When we walked past this image, I was struck by the art – the work looked very familiar. Sure enough, I Googled Facteon, and discovered he is a Mexican artist – we had seen his work in the Yucatan. Here is a link to his FB page for more examples of his incredible art : https://www.facebook.com/facteone/

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On one of our walks, we came across the Police Station with this attention-getting statue. So open to interpretation – I wonder if the body in his arms is just unconscious.

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We’re in Chiang Mai for another day before we continue our way north. I have a few more images to send your way about this area – just way too much to include in one blog. Blog part 2 in a day or two. There’ll be temples…this is one of them. I wanted to leave you with an orange Buddha and a sleeping dog who appears to be obeying the sign.

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