The first question was - Are we not going to Pattaya? I replied - But we have already planned Phuket for your sake. Why again Pattaya. They are going to be the same. And the response was "What place is that - Chiang Mai? I have never heard. None of my friends mentioned it ever. They told me not to miss Pattaya! Not again!
Anyway, I made sure Chiang Mai was in the list. Chiang Mai offered more than what I expected and definitely made Velu very happy and glad that we visited Chiang Mai. It is nestled in the northern highlands and is close by to Laos and Myanmar; among rolling highest mountains along Ping River, a tributary of Chao Praya and has rain forests in abundance.
Though being second largest city after Bangkok, Chiang Mai offers serenity, experience to be closer to nature and has its ancient distinctive Lanna culture, old tradition and century old temples preserved. Its is more greener and quieter; surrounded by mountains, rivers, valleys and country side. The 4 days spent at Chiang Mai was perhaps the best of the Thai experience to me. The city is divided into two - historic old city where most of the temples are; is bounded by remains of ancient walls and moats on all four sides. The new city outside the city walls along its perimeter. There are heck a lot of activities one can indulge in being in Chiang Mai. Its also expat's haven. Most of them relocate to Chiang Mai after retirement as the city is friendly and closer to nature than probably others.
The temples of Chiang Mai date back to the founding years - during 1100s and 1200s, are very distinctive than what you could see at Bangkok. The temples have a combined Lanna Thai, Burmese, Sri Lankan architecture, decorated with beautiful wood carvings in teak, intricate Naga stair cases, angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced in gold fringes.
We opted to visit these temples by foot as the old city is only a mile square. Went around from one temple to another by walk, stopping at times to refresh ourselves. The old city is where the tourists crash in, there are lot of budget accommodations and guest houses. Since its also the place where expat stay, one can find many coffee shops offering English style breakfasts alongside Thai food, laundry shops and many bike and motorcycle rentals. You can rent a cycle for a whole day for 50 Baht and go around the town.
There is lot of activities to do at night. There is a 365 nights non stop night market offering array of street food, apparels and other knick knacks on offer and cabarets. Walk around the hundreds of shops, shop till you drop or just take in the atmosphere, when you are tired, find a table among hundreds of restaurants on the street. Choose from the fresh supply of sea food array - crabs, sappers, shrimps. Order a lemon grass sapper or if you are vegetarian - a simple thai style stir fried veg. Swig a couple of Chang beer while watching the crowd and the street, enjoy your meal and walk back to your guest house. If you are tired, hire a Songthaew to drop you.
Chiang Mai is home to around 300 temples. Each one older than the other and of significant historical importance.
A prayer bell
Wat Chiang Mai - the oldest temple built in 13th century by the king who founded Chiang Mai
Lanna style chedi supported by rows of elephants
Inside the temple with the Buddha image of Phra Kaeo Khao. Don't ask me what it means. Each temple has an image of Buddha more bigger and larger and they are all sacred with a distinctive name. I could understand only until this level.
The moat along with city gates are 900 years old and still functional. The moat here divides the old city to the west and new city at its eastern side.
Walking along the moat
One of the city gates - Chang Phuak
Wat Lok Moli temple located near Chang Phuak Gate
A typical Lanna style temple with intricately carved vicars and Naga stuccoed figures of teak
The Naga staircase
Inside the temple.
Details on the ceiling
A castle styled pagoda behind the temple
Statue of Ganesha in the compound. I didn't know what they called in Thai, the plaque was in Thai
Sea food - squid rings, octopus, mussels.....
Prayer flags inside the temple
I have always been obsessed with photographing monks with no other noise in the frame. I do get lucky very often
Wat Chedi Luang - a 14th century temple with enormous pagoda, we could see it from a distance. The pagoda has massive give hooded Naga staircase on all 4 sides. Seems the spire collapsed in 1545 during an earthquake.
Inside the old city
A parrot going for a ride.
Wat Pan Tao - Monastery of Thousand Kilns; originally a royal palace.
Streets along night market. Tuk-tuks and Songthaews waiting in line to pick passengers.
Knick knacks on sale
Pick your food!
The market had a Pakistani restaurant where we had a good Biryani.
Entrance to the Night market
An enormous old bell. Such ones were commonly found in every temple
Bought rabutang, dragon fruit, yellow and red watermelon. No dearth for fresh fruits!
Mobile Cocktail bar. Imagine if such a concept existed here!
Exploring on the 50 Baht per day rental bicycle.