Chiang Mai, Thailand – Temples, Tuk Tuks, and Tea

After curing our jet lag on the beach in southern Thailand, Phuket and Phang Nga Bay, we hopped a one-and-a-half-hour, one-way flight to the northern province and city of Chiang Mai. Joel was a tad hesitant to do so given the recent track record of Air Asia and its affiliates, but it was the same price as a 12+ hour overnight train ride and so we braved it. It couldn’t have been smoother and more efficient. Whew!

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As an aside, I thought this sign in the Phuket airport was interesting.

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Chiang Mai was a favorite for all of us – easily navigable on foot, interesting, and, of course, great food. We walked out of the airport to a taxi stand and was to our downtown hotel and checked in 20 minutes later. Nice. Even nicer, our hotel was across the alley from a laundry shop that did a superb job for a great price and so we left Chiang Mai with clean clothes.

And even more wonderful than laundry was the rotee stand at the end of the road. Rotees are thin, crepe-like pastries filled with all things delicious like bananas, nutella, and eggs. I wanted this lovely woman and her husband to adopt me so I could eat rotees and hear their life stories all day long.

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A photo of this magnificent ‘street’ our hotel was on.

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The historic center of Chiang Mai has remnants of the fortress wall with Tha Phae Gate as its entrance.

Walls of Old City (1) Walls of Old City (2)

Inside the gate and walls, the main attraction is Wat Chedi Luang – ‘wat’ is Thai for Buddhist temple and ‘chedi’ is a stupa or bell-tower-ish structure. Temples and their adjacent buildings are generally behind a stone wall to set them apart, but they’re still visible.

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One of the temples near Wat Chedi Luang was breathtaking on the inside.

Wat Chedi Luang (4) Wat Chedi Luang (6)

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Wat Chedi Luang (14)

That last photo is of a group of young monks receiving instruction from their wise elder. They were totally oblivious to the tourists and worshippers coming and going. Here is a closer look.

Wat Chedi Luang (16)

This temple was so beautiful we actually thought it was all there was to see until we went around the outside of the building and saw the REAL Wat Chedi Luang – the ancient temple originally constructed in the 14th century and shored up to preserve it in the 1990’s.

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Wat Chedi Luang (18) Wat Chedi Luang (20)

You can’t enter this temple anymore due to its fragility and sacredness. We also couldn’t enter this smaller building on the site – well, at least some of us couldn’t.

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Joel and I are suckers for our year of the rabbit birth year. Here’s the version from Wat Chedi Luang.

Wat Chedi Luang (23) Wat Chedi Luang (24)

And last, we wrote a blessing on some fabric that will eventually be used inside the temple – one word from each of us as a ‘donation from our minds.’

Wat Chedi Luang (17)

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Wat Chedi Luang (21) Wat Chedi Luang (22)

Lest you think all we did in Chiang Mai was hang out at Wat Chedi Luang, we also had our first tuk tuk ride (as well as our second, third and fourth.)

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A typical start to a tuk tuk ride, was showing them the map on the phone to see if they understood where we wanted to go. Several times they would shake their heads and motor off and we’d hunt for the next one. Our inability to speak Thai was a bit of a barrier at times.

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We got our first Thai massages. (Before photo only. Afterward we were too relaxed and refreshed to remember to take a photo.)

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We had our first amazing tastes of noodles, sticky rice with mangoes, and Thai iced tea all in one glorious spur-of-the-moment lunchtime meal. By the way, that Thai iced tea is topped off with sweetened condensed milk. We decided not to calculate the number of calories in each one we sucked down. Better not to know.

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Oh boy, sticky rice. We never missed a chance to refresh ourselves with it. One Chiang Mai afternoon we settled into a roadside restaurant booth to have a dose (as well as a glass of tea – let’s just say we sugared up) and lo and behold a parade went by. We’re not sure what it was for, but suspect it was for the Flower Festival that was happening at a local park.

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In case you want some interesting live-action views of the parade here are two videos.

We attempted to attend the nightly Night Bazaar, but found it far too touristy, overwhelming, suffocating and pushy. I did manage to discover this sweet soap carver in the midst of the chaos and happily bought some of his wares before we headed for a quieter part of the city.

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Speaking of artists, we stumbled into this unassuming gallery one evening and fell in love with the artist and his simple yet powerful pieces. The artist’s name is John Gallery. (Note the cut-off sign next to the gallery greenery – that’s one of many Chiang Mai silver shops. Yep, we bought some of that too.)

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We were too busy shopping to take some photos of the inside of his shop, but it was one-of-a-kind. Here’s a YouTube video from another customer who captured it well.

A few miscellaneous pictures from our Chiang Mai adventure. Joel sitting on a balcony while the tuk tuks, buses, motorbikes and cars sped by below.

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The layout of colorful Thai Bhat that made us feel like we were bankers in Monopoly.

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Joel and me at an outdoor, riverside restaurant.

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And last, Alex and me in the courtyard of an Indian-Thai restaurant one evening.

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One of our days in Chiang Mai was spent hiking atop nearby Doi Inthanon, the tallest peak in Thailand, and another two were spent visiting an elephant refuge.

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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