Chiang Mai Friday 2 – Wednesday 7 January 2009
As - with various detours and stops typical of us - we got to Chiang Mai (CM) later than planned we really owe a big thank you to Juliet and Jeff our Belgian overlander friends. As they had already been to CM they emailed giving us a heads up of a really good camp spot in a beautiful wat right in the middle of town.
Thus we drove straight there and were settled very quickly! The wat (one of over 300 in CM) was Wat Phan Tao and though we are biased we thought it one of the nicest here ..having a section made out of beautiful old teak. It is the oldest teak wat in the country. The first night we received a warm welcome from the monks, parked the car and headed off to eat. Generally we are in bed by 9pm at the latest …camping tends to be an early to bed early to rise type of lifestyle! - but CM was an exception ..we never got in prior to 11 ..we either got looking at the many markets or talking to other travellers and time got away!
This first night we got back after 11 to find that the gate was locked. We had to do an unceremonious clamber over the gate ..to find we were surrounded by growling dogs!! We got to know the temple dogs well over the next few days and found that in general (other than one slightly nutty one of which we were always wary!) their bark was worst than their bite ..but this first time we were very nervous. I have just read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - superb book read it if you get chance- and I kept remembering the scene where he got attacked by the slum dogs in Mumbai! I tried to avoid night time movement during my time at the wat!!
We loved CM and over the next few days walked miles exploring the city as we had a good central place to leave the car. We walked all around the city gates and walls and saw numerous wats …too many to recall I got wat exhaustion but they were very lovely. Bizarrely we found Donald Duck complete with bowl of noodles at one of them ..not sure quite what he was doing there but no one seemed to mind!
The Three Kings Monument is an imposing structure reflecting Thailand's royal focus. We were lucky enough to see a party of indigenous ladies there when we visited who quickly assembled themselves for our photo!
We also saw many inner city parks and statues. It is a very well set out "liveable" city with lots of greenery around.
The entire city is surrounded by walls and the old city where we stayed by a moat. We saw some boys enjoying a dip though it looked a bit murky to me! The water looked beautiful at night with all the fountains lit up. The river was very pleasant too, CM is a fairly affluent city and there were some serious mansions set on the river.
CM is renowned for its Night Bazaar (a custom which grew from the 15th century Yunnanese trading days) and particularly through the holiday period it was amazing. The standard of handicrafts was very high - it is a uni town and a lot of the stuff is made by talented art students so it is a bit different- from clothes, to lights to wood carving.
There was a great food market on for the Xmas period with incredible foods from all around the world at good prices - the CM food was good but we had loads of sushi as we'd not had any for ages!
The market on Sunday night was the biggest we'd ever seen. Just as well we didn't arrive then as it took up our entire street and we wouldn't have been able to get to "our" wat.
Funnily the dogs know to be good on market night and didn't bother anyone, even after dark, just as well as people kept coming in to have a look at the temple and see the in house fortune teller who was doing her stuff..I wanted to have a go but sadly she had no English.
There were lots of incredible goods for sale..and interesting examples of local crafts ..a guy making a hat out of palm fronds was particularly impressive. The guy in a loin cloth and not much else was living in a wigwam to draw attention to global warming …or something like that ….he was a friendly bloke anyway! Everyone seems to get on fine - punks, indigenous people, lady boys farangs ..a good mixture of the melting pot that is Thailand!
The city was overrun with great 2nd hand book shops which Andrew had to drag me out of at regular intervals! The best was Back Street Books..run by George an Irishman who'd swallowed the blarney stone whole!
We did a couple of day trips ..one to Bor Sang. This little town has run the industry of making umbrellas for over 100 years since a monk who had visited Burma introduced the skill here. We visited a factory and saw each stage of this careful handmade process.
We also went to Ban Thawai - a big centre for wholesale wood carving ceramics and antiques ..lots of great stuff.. they tend to be very camera shy though so no pictures. We also managed to buy some teak Andrew needs for the car roof (don't ask!) at a yard which is something we've been trying to accomplish for ages.
We met a charming lady running one shop who invited us to stay with her family. Whilst we didn't have time I feel I have to mention the hospitality we've met in Thailand ..particularly the north - is quite overwhelming. People have invited us to stay given us food and generally been welcoming to an extent which is quite incredible.
On that note we sadly said goodbye to our monks (and the dogs most of which we're now on good terms with after buying some doggy treats!) they gave us a special travel blessing (the monks not the dogs!) and a gift of a huge jar of ovaltine to help us on our way!!
So, on Wednesday 7 January we headed north to our next destination the town of Pai.