Chiang Mai – Part 1

We returned from Chiang Mai late Monday night, and while we’re glad to leave the squat toilets behind us, we miss the fresh air of pretty Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a northern Thai city that’s about 500 miles  from our homebase. It’s a place truly charming. I will do my best to describe the feelings and sights we took in while visiting, but it’s a beauty best considered by all the senses.

It was during this trip that Colby and I first experienced the backcountry of Thailand–the chirping jungles, the low screens of cloud atop hazy hills, the canopies of palms and the tangles of vine and stream. We took to the tempo of this small city nestled in the highlands, one not so overrun by traffic and smog.

Of course Chiang Mai has its share of the regular Thai attractions, namely temples and markets. Have you seen enough temples on this blog? Probably. And we’ve likely seen enough as well! Truth is, it’s hard not to visit the temples in Thailand–they’re free right off the street and each one is slightly different, so why not?

So we visited the easy-to-get-to temples, and some other unique ones around town. However the temple I really wanted to see in Chiang Mai was Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which is located at the tippy top of Mt. Doi Suthep. Of course for a Colorado couple, this mountain is not that high, but it’s still considered a Chiang Mai must-see.

We took the Chiang Mai equivalent of public transportation, an open-air truck, and headed to the top. Yup, we and about 10,000 Chiang Mai University freshmen! Unbeknownst to us, it’s tradition for the Chiang Mai University first years to trek up the mountain, visit this very sacred Thai temple en masse, and then hike on down. It took well over an hour for our truck to dodge the students and the other traffic, and even then, we decided to leave the truck part-way up the mountain and finish the remainder on foot. Once at the base of the temple, we climbed the additional 300 steps to the top. Here are some shots of the throngs of pink-shirted people taken on the steps to the temple. It was CRAZY.

Once at the top, we breathed, took in the cool air, admired the view, and then decided to head out before the crowd started their descent. Because our truck was stuck in traffic for much of the drive up the mountain, we had little idea of how long it would actually take us to get down. We could have taken a truck, but students were packing into those and we thought it would be hours before we’d get a seat. With the best of intentions, we decided to hike on down. Seven miles, two hours, and a whole body of aches and pains later, we collapsed at the base of the mountain. As we learned, the Doi Suthep descent is a sheer-faced one, and our bodies are still paying for it. 

Of course the soreness convinced us that we deserved a nice meal and lots of beer at the end of a long day. Dehydrated, tired, and in no shape to be drinking, we enthusiastically took advantage of the very common buy-one-get-one happy hour. Do they know this is crazy? We once got a bogo pitcher of margaritas. Pitcher. Not even Colby can keep up with this deal!

Anyhow, after “hydrating,” we hit up the famous Chiang Mai night bazaar. The prices and selection were far better than Bangkok, which is saying a lot. I dragged poor Colby all around, buying shoes and bracelets and purses and shirts. By this time he wanted yet another beer, and we compromised by having end-of-the-evening drinks at the cabaret. This might go without saying, but most cabarets in Thailand are of the lady-boy variety. It was quite fabulous! The drag queens caught me dancing in the aisle to “Take a Chance on Me,” told me I danced better than the performers, naturally, and then asked me on stage to join them. Mission. Accomplished.

Though there were not any good pictures from my dancing queen appearance, there is this gem of a pic of Colby with the lady-boys. Yes, take it in, have a good laugh, print it for your own satisfaction! Really though, I’m so proud of him for jumping in and letting me take this picture. It was such a good time and this is a great memory!





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