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Chiang Mai

Community Highlights Asia Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was different from Bangkok - in a good way. It's still a busy city, but significantly smaller, a mere 1,000,000 folks in the metro area. It's up in the 'foothills of the Himalayas' (broadly defined) so it gains a bit more comfort. Although temps were in the high 80's to 90's, the oppressive humidity of Bangkok is moderated quite a bit. In fact, if you travel up into the hills a bit, maybe another 1,000 feet, it is extremely comfortable this time of year. Traffic is also not quite as insane - but please don't take that to mean that it approaches sanity!

The really good news about Chiang Mai is that I actually know someone there. Julie is a friend I hadn't seen since junior high (!) and she kindly invited me to visit her. Having someone along who knew the town and spoke Thai was extremely helpful and the fact that we had a fine time together made it a truly excellent destination.

But enough - let's get on to sights and flavors!

First, a look at some temples

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This is one of the oldest wats and one of the most imposing with this huge stone stupa in the middle. There was severe damage after a recent earthquake and a significant fraction of the structure simply slid to the ground.

Here's the wat associated with the stupa above and another, smaller wat from down the street

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And a couple of interiors - they are less picky about photographing inside in Chiang Mai. They even have their own version of the reclining Buddha. In the temple on the left you can see monks who were chanting while we visited. We also got a blessing from one of them while we were there.

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We also traveled up the mountains above Chiang Mai to visit a famous temple with a great view, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. One thing the wat is famous for are the offering bells that you can purchase, write a request on and hang from the temple roof. And here's a picture of Julie and me at the wat.

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And here's the view of Chiang Mai from there

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Wrapping things in cloth to show respect or decorating them is a common practice in Thailand. Likewise, many houses and businesses have spirit houses out front that can be small or elaborate and usually include offerings of food or drink.

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and who can resist a good elephant?

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On a more poignant note, I spotted this statue of a monk with his begging bowl. Monks (including the very young boys) are expected to wander the city in the morning with their begging bowls; they may not ask for a contribution but are there for you to have the opportunity to act charitably.

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Chiang Mai has over 700 wats (Buddhist temples). I wondered about the amount of effort and resources called for to build and maintain them, so I tried to put it into perspective. I looked up the number of churches in Ingham County Michigan, and there is about 1 church per 1000 people, which is a higher ratio than Chiang Mai. Of course, there are non-Buddhist churches as well in Chiang Mai, but I'm inclined to doubt that there are enough to make up the difference.

On a lighter Buddhist monk note (really?) we were enjoying some really delicious chicken (chicken breast pounded flat and grilled just right with crispy skin and moist meat) and Som Tam, the classic Thai papaya salad, at a small restaurant adjacent to a Buddhist school for young monks

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when we heard their brass band practicing. It was pretty hard to tell what they were playing, but eventually I figured it out. They were rehearsing the US Marine Corps hymn, the Halls of Montezuma! Go Buddhists! Fight Buddhists! (no wait, I don't quite think that works)....

We ate very well in Chiang Mai. I will say that I violated most of the standard traveler's warnings about food - ate drinks with ice in them, ate salads, roamed into places that you would never think were safe to eat in (with Julie's guidance) and had just plain delicious food for very little money. Here's another example. It's a rice flour shell and a whole variety of ingredients including tofu, peanuts, hot chiles, coconut milk, fish sauce, cucumbers and more. Thai cuisine focuses on blending very disparate flavors, almost always something sweet, hot, umami and more. This was hanging in a plastic bag outside a market stall and cost about $1. To eat it you carefully put the ingredients inside to your taste and then take a bite, whereupon the whole thing disintegrates. Such fun!

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(Oh, yes - I mentioned food rule violations; now, several days out of Thailand, I can safely say that I emerged with an intact and functional digestive system.)

Chiang Mai is a big market town serving villages for miles around that send small trucks in in the morning to pick up supplies. Just a few quick market pictures. The first is of some largely unidentifiable vegetables and, of course, crunchy cricket snack.

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We visited the new handicrafts museum in Chiang Mai and it really was pretty well done. It has individual rooms for each craft and some nice pieces in each section. Here are a couple that caught my eye.

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On another cultural note, here's me with another Chiang Mai cultural institution - ladyboys! What a rascal I am!

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Well, it wasn't all food and sightseeing (actually it was) but we did manage to squeeze in another Thai institution; more massages. Foot massages are extremely popular and shops are frequent. You just drop in and they go to work washing your feet and then spend an hour or so giving you really nice footrubs. Here's me getting washed up prior to my first foot massage.

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We did that a couple of times (2-3 times per week seems to be the norm) and then I had an additional treat of getting a full spa treatment 2 hour massage. Again, traditional Thai massage, so pretty vigorous in parts, but overall mesmerizing.

I gave myself another treat - I had a custom suit made! That was fun as well, especially since Julie went along; her Thai and the fact that she has experience doing this (unlike me!) made it a pretty fun time. I had 3 fittings and I think it came out pretty well. Of course I now have to drag the thing halfway around the world, but not really a problem. I weighed my suitcase at the last airport and it was just over 25 pounds - not bad for 2 months' supplies!

After all that, I headed to the airport for the next adventure, a great visit to Chiang Mai behind me. Thanks, Julie!

This featured blog entry was written by tdeits from the blog Tom's Travels.
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Travellerspoint has an extensive range of accommodation in Chiang Mai.

By tdeits

Posted Fri, Nov 21, 2014 | Thailand | Comments