Thailand · Travel Tales

An ode of sorts to Chiang Mai

I’ve been in this city for less than three days and this may be a little premature, but I really, really like Chiang Mai.

A lot of people like the gritty appeal of bustling metropolitan cities such as Bangkok, but I like the idea of a smaller, more relaxed city so much more. Even in the Philippines, Manila (and even Baguio) stresses me out. I would rather be in cities like Puerto Princesa and Iligan, and towns like Donsol and Pagudpud.

I like Chiang Mai’s laid-back vibe in spite of its being the largest city here in Northern Thailand. It’s a city that appears to embrace its culture, both ancient and modern. Just a leisurely walk for thirty minutes would take you to at least three centuries-old wats, a couple of art shops, glitzy restaurants, and cozy guesthouses.  Moreover, tuk-tuk drivers aren’t as persistent, sidewalk fruit vendors charge only 10 baht (as opposed to 20 baht in Bangkok), and I feel safer crossing its streets. For me it’s like Siem Reap with a strong arts scene, and instead of finding temples a few kilometers off the city, they’re all in the middle of the city, nestled between restaurants and guesthouses.

We’re staying at Top Garden Boutique Guesthouse, which is located in a soi just outside the city walls. The owners, Victor and Thunya, and the staff are always so friendly and helpful. The guesthouse is lined up with other guesthouses, laundry shops, and other such conveniences, and the moment I step out, I could already see an ancient chedi nearby. For two mornings now, I wake myself up with sweet and strong Thai coffee (20 baht) I buy from the sidewalk vendor not too far from Top Garden. I could buy a siopao (5 baht) as well at the stall next to it. For lunch and dinner, it’s most likely at Chit Chai, near the 7-11 on Chaiyapoom Rd; it sells rice and noddle meals for 50 baht or less.

Tha Pae Gate on the east side of the inner city
Tha Pae Gate on the east side of the inner city

On my first day here, I set about exploring the inner city by myself. The inner city is surrounded by a moat and what remains of a red brick wall. My exploration involved a combination of leisurely strolling and power-walking for two to three hours. I entered through the Tha Pae Gate and took the main road (Ratchadamnoen Rd.). The streets aren’t as busy as I’d expected.  On some streets, it seemed as though I could find a wat every five minutes or so, some of which advertised cheap Thai massages.

Wat Phan On, near the Tha Pae gate
Wat Phan On, near the Tha Pae gate
Wat Phan Tao. I love this gorgeous wooden wat.
Wat Phan Tao. I love this gorgeous wooden wat.

Wat Chedi Luang was, of course, the most magnificent of all, and it was so surreal to find it inside the city. I spent the sunset here, sitting on the benches around the huge old chedi and watching young monks step out of their school (next to the temple) and walk around in their bright saffron robes.

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang
Inside the temple
Inside the temple. Yes, everything is pretty much inlaid with gold. The banners hanging are decorated with signs of the Chinese zodiac.
The ancient temple
The ancient temple
Some reminders...
Just a friendly reminder.

I also visited the shops that sold silk, art, and handicrafts. They are certainly modern, but still retain a distinctive Thai element, such as stylized elephant paintings on postcards and lovely silk scarves that can be used with casual day wear. Then there are fashion boutiques, some with cheeky names as “Nok Em Ded”.

Somehow, in spite of my partially incomplete maps saved on my phone, I still found myself unsure of where I was, especially when I was the only pedestrian on the street. I checked myself every now and then and found that I felt calm and safe. I made some wrong turns, and while I did find the wats I was looking for, I somehow ended up leaving the walled city through the north instead of the east. Walking aimlessly led me back to the eastern wall and to a more familiar neighborhood.

Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh

The next day, we went to the Elephant Nature Park, an hour’s drive north of Chiang Mai. In the evening we went to the sprawling night market, east of the city and a thirty-minute walk from where we are staying. It was a lovely night, with a crisp breeze after having rained just toward sunset. Even at 9 pm, the place was still bustling with activity. On the sidewalk there was a violinist who was playing Beethoven, and then on another block there was a man singing Oasis’ “Stand by Me” while wielding an electric guitar. There was so much food; pad thai stalls sat across those selling gelato. I I bought some clothes and a bracelet, and had a banana roti on the way home.

DSC_0023

Before we leave tomorrow, we have a couple more things to do: get a massage and go to the temple at Doi Suthep. Meanwhile, I’m just taking it easy here in Chiang Mai. It really can’t be helped.

 

Accommodation Info

Top Garden Boutique Guesthouse
13 Chaiyapoom Road, Soi 1
T. Sriphoom, Chiang Mai
Email: info@topgarden-chiangmai.com
Website: http://www.topgarden-chiangmai.com/

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