First Stop in Thailand: Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep Entrance

Chiang Mai is the land of temples.  I arrived into Chiang Mai from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by air. My ride between the airport and my hostel was a short 15-20 minutes (see Taxi Talk ), in that time I saw at least 5 temples go by without even paying attention that much. Chiang Mai’s old city is encompassed in a moat which makes the city very easy to get around. If you are at all good with directions, you will be at ease.  I stayed just outside the old city on the north side in a pretty fantastic hostel. I loved staying outside of the main tourist area because it made me walk more and I was able to find plenty of things and places that no other tourists were visiting. I even became a regular at a local noodle shop.

I liked Chiang Mai so much more than I was expecting. I had heard good things from a lot of people who had visited before me but I always need to see things for myself.  I extended my stay twice, something I have never done in a hostel before ( I ended up staying for a week).  The last place I remember feeling this much at ease was Kinvarra, Ireland. It was cleaner than I expected, the people were nicer than I expected and it was overall calmer than I was expecting, even though you take your life in your hands every time you cross the street. (Where do those motorbikes come  from?!) 

Spicy Thai Hostel 
After feeling particularly out of sorts and antisocial in Kuala Lumpur, I had resolved to meet some people in this hostel. I couldn’t have picked a better hostel to have that intention. It was one of the most social hostels I have ever been in. It is set up to meet people. They have different events during the week and something is always being organized, a venture to the Sunday night walking market, a trip to the ladyboy show, karoke, you name it. I stayed in the girls dorm and everyone that passed through during the week I was there was interesting and willing to chat and share their stories. It is fascinating to see what a little directed effort can do for an introvert on the road. I made fast friends with a number of people and am thrilled to say I would happily travel with a lot of them. I told one girl that I am shy and she scoffed at me not believing me for a second. It’s just a great reminder to me that I can put on the extrovert face and enjoy it. I had mostly forgotten that since I’ve been in Southeast Asia. I still went off on my own each day but it was a pleasant return to the hostel each night. The big table facilitated a coming together at the end of the day. Stories of the day were told, stories of lives were told and it was an all around general enjoyment of friendly company. The people make the experience.

On my first day in Chiang Mai I saw six temples. I went overboard. It was like a tourism blitz. I know by now that this is 100% my M.O. Practically every  post of a new place says that I did something like that…again. When will I ever learn? A lot of the temples are listed on the maps but when you arrive at number of them they do not have the English translation of the name so sometimes it is hard to know which ones you actually saw since there are soooo many. You could literally temple yourself out for the rest of your life in Chiang Mai. My advice is “slow and steady.”

I particularly enjoyed two temples. The “temple on the hill,” Doi Suthep, and the temple in the middle of the city.  Doi Suthep is a red taxi ride, or a hike away up one of the many hills surrounding Chiang Mai. The day I visited the visibility was about 0 but there is normally a panaoramic view of Chiang Mai. The temple itself is reached by a set of stairs with huge dragon railings. Foreigners pay 30baht to go in and I think it was worth it even on a cloudy day. The main temple encompasses a large gold pagoda. People from all over the world visit this temple to be blessed by the monks and walk in prayer around the gold pagoda in the center. Smaller  temples exist all around the complex with their own unique characteristics which include the resident monk who you will most likely think is a statue for a few minutes before you realize there is a very low movement of his chest.

The temple in the center of the city is called Wat Phra Singh. It is a complex with a few different temples actually. It houses a garden with Buddhist sayings posted on trees. I took a picture of every single one. Garden might be a misnomer but it’s a sitting area with the trees. I would think people go there to meditate but most people were sitting around talking. If you head right around the first temple when you walk in, you will find one in the back next to the aforementioned garden. Upon entering, you will find people standing around staring at something. They are staring at the stone still monks who are not visibly breathing. There are seven total monks in this particular temple, four on one side and three on the other. One thinks of someone mediating with their eyes closed but that is not the case with most of these monks. They sit eyes open. It is unbelievable. A number of Asian tourists were going right up to them and getting really close and in their faces. I thought this was rather rude but it did showcase how deep in mediation they were. They did not even hint at a flinch or movement. I would even venture to say they were barely in body at all. I have been to a lot of Buddhist temples but have never seen anything like this before visiting Thailand.