Firstly, it’s the closest thing Thailand gets to being trendy in the Western sense, at least. It’s got American-themed burger joints, cute cafes run by Americans, sports bars that show Premier League football, and places to hang out in and listen to live blues or jazz.
Chiang Mai is the cool, trendy kid at school, the one with the best trainers who doesn’t have spots and gets the latest gadget the same day it’s released. But it’s also friendly, lets you come round and borrow its computer games, and makes you wish you were cooler, so you could have an excuse to spend more time together.
Secondly, it’s got great temples, but while we did do a bit of temple-hopping, we didn’t do too much. My three-temple maximum depends on how many days the temples are seen over, and how long we spend in each one. And, as I’m interested in Buddhism, whether or not Buddha is the main feature of the temple in question.
The highlight of Chiang Mai’s temples is the remarkable Wat Phra That which is located near the top of the mountain known as Doi Suthep. Consequently, people often call the temple Doi Suthep also. The top image was taken there.
Its location is interesting – among the many legends attached to this place, the strongest one is that a white elephant was given a religious relic to carry. It then walked up to this lofty spot, trumpeted three times, and died. The temple was built on the spot where it passed away.
You get up to it via a twisty, windy songtao taxi ride, and then you have to make the final part yourself, via the Naga Serpent Staircase.
The serpents look like this.
These bells are commonplace, and it seems as though you can write your name on the hearts that dangle from them. A variation on the theme of love locks, I suppose
People frequently make candle offerings and pray at various points around the temple.
And you can be blessed by a monk in at least a couple of the smaller temple buildings on this site. My nephew Thaisaac, (Thai-Isaac, geddit?) who was still on his odyssey in Thailand with us at this point, and we were both blessed by another monk.
I grabbed a hip-height and therefore blind photo of this blessing. These people had bought a basket of goods from inside the door, and offered it to the monk, who then blessed them. Note the monk’s many tattoos.
This chap gave an interesting insight into the life of a monk, at something called a “monk chat” where anyone can come do as the title suggests. The holy men get to practice their English and the foreigners who attend get an insight into monastery life. Several monasteries do this, apparently.
Our monk told us that he didn’t have all the answers to Buddhism, so he entered the monkhood to try and learn them. “I’m still learning,” he said.
He also said he shaved his head once a month, didn’t eat after noon, went to bed early and got up very early in the morning to pray, and missed being able to play sports, which he did prior to his life as a monk.
Disturbingly, he also told me that while on a trip to London, he’d visited the Emirates football stadium, and therefore supported Arsenal. I fear for his chances of enlightenment with allegiances like that.
Here’s more monks at prayer in one of Chiang Mai’s many temples. They are worth a look because they’re small and very beautiful, crammed with ornate decorations but you can be done with one in about 15 mins, so temple fatigue won’t set in too quickly.
Another site worth seeing in Chiang Mai is Wat Chedi Luang.
This was my favourite – an image of Tan Pra Maha Kajjana who was a monk so handsome that people mistook him for Lord Buddha. Once, an enlightened monk became corrupted because of thoughts he had upon seeing Tan Pra Maha Kajjana.
To stop all the trouble he was causing for being too handsome, our hero turned himself into a fatter, uglier monk so that no-one would fancy him.
Here he is, post transformation. I think he looks rather jolly.
But I was more taken with the shadows they were casting, and I’m mindful of the fact that you can keep taking pictures of Buddha until the day you achieve enlightenment. It’s worth trying to think of different ways to photograph a similar subject. I liked how this one turned out.
And I managed to get some SOTM action in there as well, thanks to the excellent Michael Dewey, who blogs as Wanderlust Mike.
An American living in Thailand, he organised a meet up at the Focus Gallery, a coffee shop and bar, which was well attended. Thaisaac and I set about the crowd and we got a number of shots between us.
Here’s Michael’s SOTM.
This is during the two-and-a-half hour journey, so it’s a lot in a short space of time. Thaisaac was worried about yakking in the bus, but we were all fine, except for one lady who threw up in a bag.
Apparently, there’s always one.
When in Pai we hired motorbikes. Thaisaac was a bit wobbly at first, understandably, but the roads around Pai are good quality and quiet, so we were all able to ride around safely.
I’d never driven a bike myself until I was on Koh Lanta island a few weeks ago, but since then have fallen in love with two wheels, having never been much of a fan of bicycles. I now dream of getting a red Vespa when back in England.
While in Chiang Mai we met fellow travellers Josh Haftel and his lovely wife Natasha. Josh is a tour de force, and with the best beard this side of the Mississippi. His story comes from his time at the Burning Man festival, held in the Nevada desert.
I must also mention the trip Thaisaac and I took to the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai. It rescues and cares for elephants who are often abused by their owners.
There is nothing, quite nothing like seeing a happy elephant.
This baby was hugely entertained by this loop of cord.
This is one of the elephant mahouts. Each one has a human assigned to it, and they spend all day with their animal, keeping it out of trouble. Occasionally, however, the elephants get rumbustious and the mahouts bear the brunt of this.
One had just been put in hospital for two days after it was thrown about by its elephant.
This chap was carving out an elephant as a group of them frolicked about nearby.
You see, in South Korea couples who have been dating for 100 days are allowed to dress the same. And I mean the same – exactly matching outfits. Shops will even sell his ‘n’ hers t-shirts, trousers, shoes etc. It’s taken very seriously and only after 100 days would a couple be ready to take this next important step in their relationship.
Pai seems to have cottoned on to this, for some reason. Maybe it’s not just a South Korean thing, although I was led to believe it was. But in Pai you can also buy his ‘n’ hers t-shirts.
So Kate and I bought a couple, which don’t exactly fit us but what the hell. Best 500 baht we’ve ever spent.