Published: September 12th 2012September 12th 2012
Five days in Chiang Mai and we saw the sun maybe a total of 5 hours. But, the rain gods were with us and ceased for the times that we wanted to be outdoors exploring. Thank heavens for umbrellas!
Chiang Mai is the second largest city, after Bangkok, in Thailand, but somehow it seems much smaller. Being inland, nestled between mountains, it is flat which makes it lovely for walking. It is an ancient walled city, older than Bangkok by about 1000 years. So, there is much deterioration of buildings, temples, roads etc. The wall that once surrounded the city has now disappeared in all but a few places, leaving the wide moat to encircle central Chiang Mai.
We interacted with the local people here...our hotel (Rachamanka Flora House which provided a very clean, garden setting, with startling white rooms and linens) was staffed and owned by extremely gracious and friendly staff who provided us with tour ideas, drivers and friendship.
The temples..which are a sightseeing requirement, are either older and being restored, completely run down, or relatively new and splendorous. But in any case, they provided opportunities to interact with the culture and Buddhist
religion. We circled Chedis three times clockwise, with our hands holding a lotus flower or bud, reverently chanting the provided chant...and thinking blessings, petitions, and renewal of spirit. Kneeling in front of a monk, trying to stay lower than him, is something my (M) old knees can almost not do, but to receive the sacred splash of water it is necessary...so I did it. We could feel the separation of children (boys, age 7) and their families, as the family watched the little guys learn their monastery lessons and receive yet another level of their education. I could not conceive of sending my 7 year old son to live in a monastery, but here it is commonplace among the poor as education is provided free of charge for as long as the young man stays in the order. Such sacrifice!
Did you say shopping? Oh Lordy. A half day with a driver took us to the umbrella factory where everything, right down to the paper made from bamboo, is hand crafted. We both had elephants painted on our clothing...a fun souvenir. The silk, cotton, and jewelry craft centres were interesting, but we refrained from buying. Then...the hill people (from
Burma and Genghis Khan Mongolia) have settled in small communities in the mountains and created markets for tourists. Here it is difficult to say no...cheap prices, handmade goods, and a sense of supporting these people. Too bad....I had to shop! But the best shopping was at the Sunday Walking Street...what fun!..blocks of booths, lots of music, and great prices.
Food...well, we are not overly thrilled with Lanna (north) food...reasonable tasty, reasonably varied, but somehow lacking spark (ie spice) and emphasizing sugar. We are a little concerned about the lackof calcium in our diet so have resorted to yogurt for breakfast. Eggs are abundant in every meal...a cheap source of protein. Chicken is the meat of choice...pork being forbidden by many, beef being expensive. We did find a very good Italian restaurant where the pizza was great and my birthday dinner of melazane, bruchettas, and pasta was lovely. Other than those indiscretions, we ate the Thai food. One experience was memorable...a Lanna Kahn dinner where we sat on the floor (3 hours!), ate 8 different dishes and watched a cultural show which was very lovely indeed.
We did the “If you haven’t done this, you haven’t seen Chiang Mai”
tour to Doi Suthep temple...absolutely gorgeous. Fortunately for me (M), it was raining which meant we could use the funicular to the top rather than climb the 306 slippery stairs. The rain stopped and we could descend the stairs...gave us the feeling of having done it.
So...our favourite day? Without question.,..yesterday when we did the Maiwang tour to Doi Ithanon. We lumbered through the jungle on Moonie, a 57 year old elephant, encouraging him on each time he requested another banana with his trunk. What a lumpy but FUN hour. Next we drove to the Maiwang River to board our bamboo raft. This was the first day of safely rafting as the river had flooded during the heavy rains of the past week. The water was not the tranquil canal I expected...it rushed and gushed and tumbled over and between giant boulders and under branches fallen in from the shore. We were told to sit, not stand (I wasn’t really sorry about that!) so the water rose around us up to our thighs...my camera stayed safe in my bra, under my life jacket! I am eternally grateful that we decided to pack a pair of shorts and water shoes
for this adventure! And a towel! Such for sight! After a good lunch ..anything would have tasted good at this point..we drove to our final activity..a jungle walk to a waterfall. Here again, the rain blessed us. The bridge we would have crossed, thus providing a longer, more arduous trek, had been washed out by that flooding river. So we hiked along the rice paddies, through the jungle (No LEECHES!), and down a zillion steps to a very abundant waterfall. Beautiful. Hiking back up those slippery, mossy stairs just about did us (W and M) in...but we did it. I really couldn’t have asked for a better day for my birthday....adventure, pushing the envelope just enough to get the adrenaline pulsing, and new, probably once in lifetime experiences.
Now, sitting in the airport, waiting for our Air Asia flight to Phuket, we can reflect on our days in Chiang Mai and feel that they brought us closer to the people of Thailand. And that’s a good thing.
There are more photos below