Chiang Mai was easily my favorite location we visited in Thailand because of all the culture (and elephants of course). Disclaimer: I am not a huge history buff, so some of this information will be relayed as best I understood it/the internet can refresh my memory. Chiang Mai was part of the Lana kingdom (among others) before it combined with Sukhothai and other kingdoms to form what is present day Thailand. Thailand has been occupied by the Burmese (present day Myanmar) and still holds a great deal of enmity towards them, but they were somehow able to avoid colonization by any western powers. Thailand (also formerly known as Siam) was instead left as a neutral territory between the French and British with the freedom to govern themselves. The current ruling dynasty of Thailand was established in 1782 when the capital was moved to Bangkok and has continued to evolve into their current system of government (a constitutional monarchy of sorts which I believe may currently be under military rule). The king is well loved by the Thai people and there are even laws against disrespecting the king or his image. For example, their currency is to be handled with care and never stepped on because it bears the kings image. While in Chiang Mai we got to see several temples (Wats) that have been around for several centuries. It is amazing how well cared for some of these facilities are, but as one of our tour guide told us “hardly anything is original anymore because they keep repairing and replacing everything that breaks to keep it looking nice.”
The day after we arrived we had scheduled a private temple guided tour and David decided he would tough it out while I was pretty much recovered at this point. The first stop: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep located partway up a mountain around the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Usually the view of the city from up there is pretty cool, but we were there right before it was time to replant crops for the year, so some farmers were burning their fields which made the scene of the city below mostly hazy.
We found our “birthday” Buddhas! Based on the day of the week you were born there is a specific Buddha for you. Mine is the standing pensive Buddha and David’s is the reclining Buddha, or as our guide referred to it jokingly: “lazy Buddha.” I got a good laugh out of that one.
After surviving a long half day of temples and history tour compliments of our fantastic tour guide we tried eating a late lunch (mostly successfully) and relaxed in our hotel room the rest of the day. David was still a little sick and I had a really sore neck/back at this point that probably was not improved by slipping down the steps of one of the temples…oh the hazards of socks on slippery tile combined with gravity. Later on I got restless and decided to take a stroll a half mile down the street where I had seen some shops and food stands earlier to check out the evenings entertainment while David slept some more.
After a few hours of wandering about by myself I headed back to the hotel because the next morning we had to get ready to get up for our cooking class. Fortunately when we booked our cooking class a week in advance they were full the day we wanted so we had to sign up for the following day. That gave us just a bit more time for our bodies to recover from our food poisoning incident and actually look forward to eating food again!
While at the market we got some free time to browse and I took the opportunity to continue with a shopping mission for a family member and found some fun elephant related souvenirs. I asked the shop owner the price and it was so much lower than what I had seen in the islands that I didn’t even think to haggle and just accepted the price. The older woman who owned the shop was so thrilled with this that she lowered the price slightly (voluntarily to avoid finding change) and even offered me two of her bananas in thanks. This was one thing I appreciated about Thailand (and Chiang Mai in particular), I never felt harassed or badgered when browsing. The shop owners did not follow me all around their shops or chase me down as I tried to leave. They allowed me to take everything in at my own pace. Some things I got better deals on than others, but it wasn’t like China where the prices start off ridiculous or Vietnam where I was slightly afraid of the shop owners assertiveness. I also decided if I was willing to pay a certain amount, I would not worry about continuing to ask for a lower price. I remain surprised that with David’s competitive streak he is really uncomfortable haggling still, I just get tired of it sometimes. That’s when it’s time for a snack. Back to the cooking class!
After the class we took an hour or two to relax and then I was able to convince David to join me for a smoothie at the restaurant area I had found the previous evening. While enjoying our smoothie I was reading something on facebook and bless you whoever said something about going to see Deadpool that evening because as it happens I had heard that movie will likely not be coming to China due to its content…but it was currently playing right across the street at that massive mall I saw the day before and if we ran we could make the next showing. So we ran and even managed to get the last sofa seat right before the movie started. For $6.50 each it was TOTALLY worth the sofa seat. There was a lot of extra room and even a reclining option. The movie was hilarious, I totally understand why China would block that movie from coming to their theaters, and as all other sensible internet propaganda for this movie has stated, it is not a super hero movie for children. There is a reason it is rated R. If an entire country will not allow it to play in their theaters because of adult content, you should not be bringing your children to see it *end rant*. Fun fact: before the movie started we got to stand for the king’s anthem and a montage of his new years greetings from the past several years. Thailand celebrates their new year in April, but they also celebrate the traditional western new year as well as Chinese New Year. They just like an excuse for a party.
Fast forward two days (don’t worry, those will be covered in the next post) and we were wandering around the Sunday walking street (night market), trying all sorts of food, and exploring some new Wats. They block off two major streets from traffic every Sunday evening and the assortment of different souvenirs and original art you can find at this market is amazing. We found items we had not seen in any of our previous “touristy shopping” endeavors and got a pretty good deal on most things because, let’s face it, the north is much more affordable than the south (even when your bargaining skills are as poor as ours at times). I was very glad I did not do all my shopping in the islands when we found this gem. There is also a Saturday walking street, but we were told the Sunday one was larger. We were also still in a van on our way back from Chiang Rai Saturday evening, so Sunday was our best option.
Next stop: Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan. Unfortunately we were unable to enter either of the temples, one because it was closed, and one because I am pretty sure it is not open to the public at all. Unfortunately you will also have to deal with the iPhone6 quality photos below because, in the interest of traveling light, I left my big girl camera in the hotel room. I had to save room for shopping at the market ya know…
Stay tuned for the last installment: Chiang Rai & Elephants!