Day 68 / Day 27 of ATID – transfer to Chiang Mai
In the morning after checking out of our border-crossing town, we travelled to Chiang Mai. Now on the way to Chiang Mai, we stopped off at a very interesting, psychedelic (there’s seriously no better way to describe this place) temple in Chiang Rai. Obviously (and it’s been pointed out to me they’re mentioned a lot) we had seen LOTS of temples up until this point and yes they were super fascinating at the start and we did appreciate all the different styles but by this point it was getting a little disenchanting (bit like when I went on a tour of Europe with the family years ago as a teen and did not want to set foot in another church/cathedral by the end). However this place was truly something else, very different, and if you’re in that part of Thailand – go see it. Seriously. It WILL NOT disappoint. Even if you’re a bit ‘blah’ about culture, history, temples etc from the start, go see it. If you see ONE TEMPLE in Thailand, make it this one. Others may disagree but yeah.
I don’t usually go into much detail about attractions here, I just provide a link, and here is one for this temple, which is called Wat Rong Khun. I think I will just mention, this time, a bit of the history, though – it was opened in the nineties (it’s a rebuild on an older, more ancient site) and designed by a bloke called Chalermchai Kositpipat who has spent a ton of his own money (talking millions of Baht) creating what I can only describe as a very bizarre ‘vision’.
I will let the photos do the talking for the outside, but as for the inside, we weren’t allowed to take any, and the inside deserves a very special mention. It’s full of swirly, very colourful wall paintings depicting stories from the Buddha’s life interspersed with – wait for it – all sorts of modern pop icons, recent events and comic book characters, including but not limited to the Angry Birds and Spiderman.
Anyhoo, we jumped back on the bus after that excursion and headed on to Chiang Mai. After checking in and a bit of a chat about various options as to what we could get up to, the group split and we went our own ways. After being given street maps and being told what there was to do in Chiang Mai, ranging from temples (yep) to ladyboy shows, the group split to explore the city.
There was a really rather excellent bakery just around the corner from the hotel, from which a few of us purchased some warm, fresh-prepared sandwiches to fuel us for our walk into the old town to explore one of the many Buddhist temples that Chiang Mai has to offer, called Wat Chedi Luang.
There seemed to be some sort of festival on, as there were many groups presenting offerings at various shrines within the complex, including a lot of school groups, and there were more than the usual number of market vendors you might expect to see at a temple in Thailand. Not sure what festival it was but all of this marked for a fun atmosphere in which to explore.
Later in the afternoon, we returned to the hotel lobby to join some more members of our group to hop on board a pre-arranged (from the morning) tuktuk-truck (I’m sure at some stage I will recall or have pointed out to me the actual name for such vehicles) which took us a little way from the main town to probably the most famous temple at Chiang Mai, Doi Su Thep.
There is an entry fee at this temple unlike most of Chiang Mai’s other temples in the main town, but it isn’t high from what I recall. Then there is a climb up several steps – nothing too strenuous (and I am easily ‘strained’ so it really wasn’t) – leading to an ornate, rather golden temple complex.
We had specifically arrived at a time that afforded us the opportunity, after some pleasant, peaceful exploration (a contrast to the festive atmosphere earlier), to witness the chanting of the monks. It was heartening to see that all the visitors, including our group, were respectful and quiet whilst this was ongoing.
After, we headed to a viewpoint to view the sunset – however, it was so cloudy, that it was soon evident this hope was futile, and after snapping a few photos, we returned down the steps to our waiting tuktuk-truck driver in order to be driven back to our hotel.
There is a shuttle bus service every evening from the particular hotel we stayed at that takes guests to Chiang Mai’s famous night market. Dave and I had no use for the night market, but we did want to check out a ladyboy show that was to take place close to said market, a little later on in the evening. We had been reliably informed that though an open air setting, it was really good fun, and much better value for money than some of the poshest shows in Bangkok. As it is the done thing in Thailand, we knew we wanted to check out one just for the experience, and given the recommendations, this seemed a great opportunity!
Most of the group piled on the bus to the night market after ascertaining directions to the show from our tour facilitator. Walking through the night market itself was actually quite fun – yeah, as always, it was bustling and we were encouraged to look at lots of wares, but such products on display as the one below more than made up for that.
Once we reached the correct spot for the show, we decided to have dinner first, nearby, and found an Indian/Pakistani restaurant (seriously, I was so happy by this point that so many in the group could be persuaded with ease to dine on the cuisine I prized above all others) which promised to serve up food in the mere thirty five minutes we had to spare – yes, slightly poor planning on our part – and, much to my surprise, they delivered as they had said they would, and really good food at that!
After eating to our hearts’ content, we headed on to the ladyboy show. I seriously had no apprehensions or expectations, I was just simply curious, but was delighted to find that the show was actually really good fun.
I learnt that you have to accept it is performed by men in (excellent) drag who are often lip syncing (fantastically) to rather cheesy (brilliant) lyrics and that male audience participation (cringe-worthy to watch but in the end didn’t leave the bloke traumatised, also he got a free beer) is sort of mandatory…if any of that bothers you then I wouldn’t recommend any drag shows, ever. I loved it, and noted that if guys are sat strategically (as two of us girls positioned our partners between us!), then they can avoid being victimised…
After we walked back via a longwinded sort of route (due to the street map being a bit dodgy) and got some nice pics of the old town wall on the way…
Day 69 / Day 28 of ATID – Chiang Mai / Bangkok
We had a bit of time in the morning and afternoon in Chiang Mai prior to catching our last sleeper train of our travels to Bangkok, and a few of us headed to the old town again to visit the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man, which was built in the 1200’s.
Again free (like most temples in the old town) to wander around, we passed a pleasant morning there. Especially liked all the elephant statues ‘holding up’ the above building within the temple complex. Note – not all parts of the complex were accessible whilst we were there (like the above building, which is the oldest bit), but the main halls clearly still used for prayer today were.
We also spotted some the famous ‘pigeon’ scam. Have just asked Dave if they were, indeed, pigeons – he says yes but that the same scam may involve doves (!). Basically two women were sat outside on the temple steps with caged birds and tourists can pay to ‘set them free’ – only they’re trained to return to the women, later. S’pose it’s kind of obivous. So that was interesting.
On the walk back, we stopped by a postcard shop where I picked up a wooden postcard! The concept excited me greatly and I wanted to post it until my companions pointed out the stamp might come off and there was no guarantee it would reach home. So, I kept it as a souvenier instead.
We picked up some sandwich-baguettes at that stellar bakery we had discovered earlier in the day and returned to the hotel right just in time to avoid a massive rain shower (note grey clouds above) – much of our group were not so lucky.
Then we transferred to the train station and hopped on the sleeper train back to Bangkok. This sleeper train was unlike the others we had been on – rather than several compartments of four beds to one carriage, each carriage had several regular seats – we were assigned numbers – that could be changed into a ‘bunk bed’. Then each ‘bed’ had its own curtain. Although there weren’t compartments are such I much preferred this system as once my curtain was drawn that whole space was mine. Also, the beds were really big! There were Western toilets and sinks to each compartment, same as the previous trains. The conductor was in charge of making the beds and dismantling them and I remember he was extremely grumpy and we were all turfed out of the beds at about 5am – for a 7-ish am stop in Bangkok. That somewhat ruined the whole ‘whoa, privacy and huge bed’ novelty.
Next post about our time in Bangkok, before we headed onto Phuket 🙂
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