Chiang Mai, Thailand – February 5, 2017
I arrived at the airport in Singapore with plenty of time to spare. I cannot stand to be late. I do not like the drama that comes with being late. It was lunchtime. I opted for Sweet and Sour Chicken at Central Thai.
With my belly full, I went through passport control and then sat down to wait for my flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was on my way to a training class. The seating area was in the concourse as opposed to at the gate. There was an unmanned security checkpoint at the gate. That meant no one could sit in the waiting area. Once the security team arrived, I went through and sat in the gate area.
While I was waiting for my Silkair flight, a woman wearing a non-descript uniform approached me to ask if I would participate in a survey. I agreed. She read the questions to me from her iPad. In total, the survey took about five minutes. At the conclusion, she gave me a box containing a very nice pen engraved with “Changi Airport,” the name of the airport in Singapore.
Onboard the plane, I found my exit row aisle seat had more legroom than I think I have ever experienced. I did find it odd that those sitting in the exit row cannot place anything under the seat in front of them. All carry-on items went into the overhead bins. The second thing I found odd was one of the flight attendants sat in the exit row aisle seat across from me. I think it is much more common to see the flight attendants sitting in jump seats. Regardless, the three-hour flight was uneventful.
The Silkair flight arrived in Chiang Mai at about 17:40 local time. I quickly went through passport control and customs. With my baggage in hand, I arranged for a taxi. The taxi boss said the cost for the trip from the airport to the Le Meridien Hotel was 200 Baht (just under US$6).
The driver did not speak English. I certainly do not know the Thai language. Luckily, the driver had a translation app on his cell phone. He spoke into the phone in Thai, pressed a button, and I heard the question or statement in English. I responded in English, speaking into his phone. He played that back in Thai. We had quite a good conversation on the way to the hotel.
About an hour after landing, I was at my hotel. Here comes the snobbish part…my room was lovely; but the room, bathroom, and entry area could have all fit within just the bedroom I had in Singapore.
The view from the room was generally to the west. The air quality was not good. Through the haze, I could make out Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep near the top of a mountain in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Periodically, various commercial jets rose diagonally across the face of the hill; ultimately rising above the horizon.
One afternoon, a group of us decided to walk to a Buddhist temple. I thought we would walk to the temple, go to a restaurant, and then return to the hotel. Little did I know the adventures that lay ahead.
A few blocks from the hotel, we arrived at the Tha Phae Gate that allows passage through the ancient wall that surrounds the old city of Chiang Mai. The wall provided protection, and the accompanying moat added to the level of security. This gate only allows for pedestrian traffic. Other portals allow vehicle passage.
We continued west along Rachadamnoen Road. Although it was not our final destination, we stopped for a quick look at Wat Phan On. A wat is a Buddhist temple. In Chiang Mai, there are around 300 wats; literally wats everywhere.
Entering the wat compound, one immediately sees a gilded chedi. A chedi is a burial structure. Those buried in the chedis are in a seated position. The chedis become a place for meditation. The chedi at Wat Phan On is directly across from the main temple. We took a quick look at the temple and left to continue our journey.
Our 2.5 kilometer (1.5 miles) walk concluded at the wat we sought, Wat Phra Singh ( วัดพระสิงห์ ). I included the Thai spelling because it is such a beautiful and unique alphabet. The wat dates from the mid-14th Century. It is one of the most revered wats in Chiang Mai.
The beauty of the wat is stunning. One of the things that immediately caught my attention was the gilded dragon (nāga) at the entry to the main temple (viharn luang). The level of detail and ornamentation are incredible. An interesting point about this dragon and others I saw during this trip; they emanate from the mouth of another dragon.
In the main temple, the gilded Buddha was huge and imposing. I must admit I do not fully understand the Buddhist religion, so a lot of the items and décor in each wat left question marks above my head. Regardless, the beauty was such as I had never seen before.
When we left Wat Phra Singh, we began walking east. I thought we were heading to dinner. I was wrong. Along Arak 5 Road we found Wat Inthakhin Sadww Muang. The wat is very small. That did not deter the decoration. Although tiny, it was beautiful inside. At this wat as well as at many other locations in Chiang Mai, one saw portraits of Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej the King of Thailand. The King died on October 13, 2016. The country was still in mourning during my trip. I believe the period of mourning lasts for one year.
At Ratvithi Road and Ratchapakhinai Road, we came to 48 Garage. It was like a German beer garden plopped in the middle of Chiang Mai. My mates and I ordered a beer. While we sat there, a woman came to the table holding dozens of woven fabric bracelets. Those on display were country names; like Canada, U. S. A., and Sweden. However, she also twisted by request. One could select nearly any word or phrase, and she would weave it into a bracelet. Her work was fascinating. She completed a bracelet in about ten minutes. I did not get one. Many others did get bracelets with words and phrases that I will not bother to list here.
Besides 48 Garage, there were several other bars and street food vendors. A couple of my favorite names were New York Pizza and Tacos Bell (yes, there is an “s”). Some of the guys ate various fare from the food vendors. I opted out. I had no desire to have a run-in with a runny tummy.
We went into a bar across from New York Pizza. What drew us in was the live band. Of all things, it was a Reggae band. The group consisted of three guitar players, a keyboardist, a trumpet player, and a drummer. They played very well.
Leaving the bar, several of my mates spotted a bar touting a “Shot Gun Beer Can Competition.” Much like the bracelet incident, I opted out. The bar employee willingly prepped beer cans for anyone wishing to compete. The preparation was putting a small hole on the side of the beer can, near the bottom. The competitor places their mouth over the small hole while holding the beer can upright. Then, pulling the tab open, the beer shotguns through the small hole and into the mouth in a matter of seconds. For those keeping score at home, the U.S.A. is in the lead with 322 cans downed. Several countries; such as Cyprus, Gambia, and Armenia, are tied for the last place with one can each. This is a popular sport. The leader-board tracks a total of 64 countries.
Continuing in the general direction of our hotel, we ended up at the Tha Phae Gate again. This time, the plaza on the east side of the gate had a didgeridoo band playing. Much like the Reggae band, they played very well.
About a half-block down the road from the plaza, we found the THC Rooftop Bar. THC is one of the chemical compounds in marijuana. I was a little worried that we might encounter a marijuana haven. We did not.
In addition to the sign, there was some wild graffiti on the walls. One of my mates and I stayed at that level for a few minutes. One of our other mates came back to the top of the stairs/ladder and coaxed us up. As I took off my shoes and climbed the very uncomfortable stairs/ladder, the horror of completing my walk to our hotel in my stocking feet continued to play over and over in my mind.
Having risen those last few feet, we were at the bar level. Much to my chagrin, to get to the final level, we faced one more stair/ladder. As if that were not enough, once I reached the last level, I saw dozens of small tables about 18 inches above the floor. To use the tables, one sat on pillows on the floor. As I squatted down and left my fate to gravity, the next horror show played in my mind; wondering how would I possibly get back to my feet.
When we prepared to leave, somehow, I made it back to an upright position. My mind was not on the very uncomfortable rungs, but rather on the actual location of my shoes as I descended my favorite stair/ladder. I could not have been happier if I had won the lottery; my shoes were still there!
From the THC Rooftop Bar, we began our walk again. Surprise, we stopped at yet another bar; the Baba Bobo Music and Restaurant Bar. Luckily, I recognized the street was the same one on which our hotel was located. Since it was well past my regular bedtime of 20:30, the entertainment value of our trek was waning. I decided to hit the eject button and walk the final 800 meters (one-half mile) back to the hotel.
Later in the week, I decided to walk to Wat Chiang Man. It is one of the oldest in the old city, dating from the late 13th Century. My planned walk was about four kilometers (two and one-half miles). On my way, I walked by Wat Mahawan. I walked through the wat quickly and went on to Tha Phae Gate.
That day at the gate, there were many sights; tuk-tuks waiting for fares, a divey looking bar (probably one of the best places in town), and monks walking through the plaza.
After passing through Tha Phae Gate, I walked to Wat Phan On. For those keeping track of what’s wat; Wat Phan On was the first wat I visited during this trip. It is the first wat I had ever seen. On my own, I had much more time to wander through the wat compound. It is beautiful. A few items I saw there that I had not seen in any other wat included small brass bells near a chedi, two large gongs near a chedi, and several inspirational signs. The signs are in both Thai and English. I think my favorite is “Self-winning is pretty good.”
It was a warm afternoon, so I was hot when I arrived at Wat Chiang Man. At the main temple, as was the case with all the other wats, one had to remove one’s shoes before entering. At this temple, there was a guard dog of sorts. Actually, “guard” may be a bit of a stretch. The dog lay on the marble, not paying much attention to shoes or people. Odd, but at the temple, I did not have the same feeling of dread with leaving my shoes behind as I had at the THC Rooftop Bar.
I thought the Chedi Chang Lom was fascinating. It is the oldest structure at Wat Chiang Man. That means it was built in the late 1290s. The many elephants emerging from the chedi at the base are all full-size.
The small side of the temple had two very beautiful dragons alongside the stairs. They are every bit as ornate and beautiful as the dragons at Wat Phra Singh.
I walked back to my hotel and took a nap. Shortly after waking up, a friend and his wife invited me out for dinner. We went to a food court about two blocks away from the hotel. I did not do any of the ordering, but I certainly helped with eating. The main course was a huge seafood boil served on some new paper used for printing newspapers. Rubber gloves helped one stay somewhat clean while eating the boil by hand. It reminded me of the meals I have had in Louisiana. To say it was delicious does not do it enough justice.
While I sat at the table with my friend, his wife and her friend continued bringing different fare from the various food vendors at the food court. If I had known the Thai street food was so good, I would have joined my buddies eating during the night of the “death march” and shotgun beer competition. I enjoyed every morsel of food I tried that evening; and best of all, no runny tummy!
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for some shopping at one of the tourist bazaars. I found a wood-carved dragon that I had to have. I think it cost US$10. I bought several other gifts; such as embroidered bags, and various small, painted, ceramic elephants. My friend’s wife is Thai. That made it easy to “negotiate” with the vendors. They all spoke some English, but I am sure the back and forth in Thai helped make things easier.
For my last afternoon in Chiang Mai, I decided I would see something different; the Flower Market. I set out from the hotel on a sunny afternoon. Before going too far, I walked by Wat Upakhut. It was not “different,” but I am glad I decided to go in and explore.
In the main temple, two or three monks were wearing plastic gloves. They were mixing something in some large metal bowls. I am not sure what it was, but it must have been edible. From the ceiling hung what must have been donations. Ribbon-like holders were hanging from the ceiling. They each contained varying amounts of Thai baht. Each also had a card at the bottom with something written in Thai, possibly a prayer.
I took some interesting photographs in the compound. I think one of my favorites was that of two men working on restoring one of the dragons at the entry to the main temple. I enjoyed watching their handiwork in plaster.
I walked on to the north. As I approached the Flower Market, I found several gold shops. There was so much gold jewelry for sale; it was hard to see the individual pieces because of the bright glare.
The Flower Market was in a structure that one might liken to a department store. The flower vendors were on the Ping River side.
After all of my walking over the last few days, I was tired. I spent very little time in the Flower Market. When I emerged, I flagged down a tuk-tuk. I took my first ever ride back to the hotel. It was entertaining.
That night, I went back to the food court by myself for dinner. I arrived a little early, so I partook of a Thai foot massage. At times, it was much less than relaxing. A 30-minute foot massage was 120 baht (US$3.43). In Auckland, the only other place where I have seen Thai foot massages advertised, 30-minutes go for NZ$45 (US$32.64); ten times the price!
For dinner, I tried some of the grilled items. The pork and chicken on a stick were delicious. I had two of the pork on a stick and one of the chicken on a stick. To wash it down, I had one liter of Leo beer (a Thai beer). The total cost of my dinner came in at 220 baht (US$6.29).
On Saturday, I caught my 200 Thai baht taxi back to the airport. From there, it was back to Singapore for another rest stop before flying back to New Zealand.