Seeing a Bit of the North: Chiang Mai (and a stop through Chiang Rai)

Being back in Thailand at this point feels like coming home.  After being in Myanmar, it’s very clear just how Western Thailand is – the Thais know the value of cold (cold drinks, good A/C, icy fruit shakes sold on the street everywhere), and with a 7-Eleven on every block you can very easily find the necessities.  It almost felt like I was back in the U.S. compared with Myanmar, except with the easy Thai vibe that makes this place so relaxing. 

We spent a good week in Chiang Mai and I still don’t feel like I saw all of it.  We stayed right in the old city, just a block from the Sunday walking street.  A great location and ground zero for Songkran (Thais New Year).  We spent a good amount of time outside the city proper.  We drove out to Mae Ngat dam, and spent the day on a houseboat – eating whole grilled fish and swimming in the cool water of the lake.  We also went to cooking school (Thai Farm Cooking School), where we spent the day on their organic farm, trying new fruits and vegetables and eating way too much (we made 5 dishes!).  And, what I was most excited about — we did a day with elephants! 

We spent a whole day riding, bathing, feeding, and hanging out with some very sweet Asian elephants.  At first I was a little intimidated by them, but they were totally docile.  It was actually a decent amount of work to ride them bareback (holding on with your legs and giving them the commands in Thai that we learned on the spot) and hacking down sugar cane to feed them was a bit rough.  In the U.S. we’d never be set loose in a field of sugar cane with machetes and told to have at it.  But in Thailand, they do exactly that.  With minimal instruction and a warning about the thorns in the outer husk, we were put to work.  (Unfortunately the elephant place hasn’t posted the photos for us yet, so I have no good elephant photos to share yet). 

That sure is a dam fine lake
That sure is a dam fine lake
Pulling up to the houseboat
Pulling up to the houseboat
Chillin' on the houseboat after a swim
Chillin’ on the houseboat after a swim
Dog!
Dog!
One of the many wats we found wandering around town
One of the many wats we found wandering around town
Don't mess with Buddha, he's got a mean body guard
Don’t mess with Buddha, he’s got a mean body guard

Chiang Mai

Who knew you could get a visa for hand-to-hand combat...bad ass!
Who knew you could get a visa for hand-to-hand combat…bad ass!
Word!
Word!
The three kings statute - those are some tight skirts, boys!
The three kings statute – those are some tight skirts, boys!
Happy Happy!
Happy Happy!

 

Cute tattoos!  (I have the owl, Ilene has the elephant)
Cute tattoos! (I have the owl, Ilene has the elephant)
Eating a Thai eggplant right off the bush -- a little bitter, but good
Eating a Thai eggplant right off the bush — a little bitter, but good

Chiang Mai

Rose apples  - pretty tasty!
Rose apples – pretty tasty!
Making the curry paste - it's hard work!
Making the curry paste – it’s hard work!
Time to enjoy our labor
Time to enjoy our labor
Now we know how to make mango and sticky rice!! Good thing, since we've become addicted to it.
Now we know how to make mango and sticky rice!! Good thing, since we’ve become addicted to it.

The New Year celebration – Songkran – seems largely about getting into epic water fights in the street.  Although I understand it is also a time to set intentions for the coming year.  We did a bit of both.  We visited Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, high above the city on a hill, and received a good luck blessing from a monk, which he commemorated with simple string bracelets and a sprinkling of water.  

The original stair master - at the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The original stair master – at the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The emerald Buddha
The emerald Buddha
Lots of murals
Lots of murals
Our New Year good luck bracelets from our friendly local monk.
Our New Year good luck bracelets from our friendly local monk.

Chiang Mai Chiang Mai Chiang Mai

The ubiquitous pile of shoes outside temples
The ubiquitous pile of shoes outside temples
All these temples and this is the first fat Buddha I've seen!
All these temples and this is the first fat Buddha I’ve seen!
Phew, lots of stairs for a hot day!
Phew, lots of stairs for a hot day!

Chiang Mai

She makes a mean ice coffee!  I love the convenience culture on the streets here -- this was half clothing store, half coffee shop.
She makes a mean ice coffee! I love the convenience culture on the streets here — this was half clothing store, half coffee shop and right across from the temple

We also ended up engaged in a four-hour long water fight outside a bar we stopped in for a drink.  They graciously let us use their extra water cannons and buckets, and I reciprocated by buying the blocks of ice to add to the water supply.  Once you’re completely drenched, it’s pretty fun to take turns dumping water on strangers.  I preferred the water cannon, and I mostly only attacked those who were armed with water guns or hit me first.  Well, maybe not always 🙂

Already soaked, a block from our hotel
Already soaked, a block from our hotel
Watching the action from our bar stools
Watching the action from our bar stools
We've been ordained with talc for Songkran (it was quickly washed off)
We’ve been ordained with talc for Songkran (it was quickly washed off)
A direct hit!
A direct hit!
Just a bucket of ice water over my head, nbd.
Just a bucket of ice water over my head, nbd.
Ilene getting in on the action
Ilene getting in on the action

But at Songkran no one is safe.  We travelled to Chiang Rai and were still doused with buckets full of water while riding defenseless in a tuk to and from the Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple).  Ice water is pretty shocking, especially as it gets toward evening and it’s not quite as hot out.  I guess it was all pay back for what we doled out in Chiang Mai. 

At the White Temple (totally soaked from our tuk tuk ride during Songkran)
At the White Temple (totally soaked from our tuk tuk ride during Songkran)

Chiang Rai Chiang Rai

Passing through suffering on the path to enlightenment
Passing through suffering on the path to enlightenment
Nice nails!
Nice nails!

Chiang Rai Chiang Rai

So many tributes
So many tributes
The Buddha mobile over the wishing well
The Buddha mobile over the wishing well

Chiang Rai Chiang Rai

Even the traffic cones are special
Even the traffic cones are special

 

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