What’s Chiang Mai Really Like? Wat Phra Singh & Chedi Luang

Day 10. Diary date: 11th October.

Quite the day yesterday. Catch up here if you missed it: From Bustling Bangkok to a Warm, Weary Morning in Chiang Mai.

…And so the tenth day of travel begins. We wake up today in sun-soaked Chiang Mai at Family Home Hostel after sampling the city’s night-life. Slightly hungover, but nothing too bad. Feelin’ stirred, not shaken.

Time for some (preferably unhealthy) food. I lazily scroll through Google Maps, searching for “food near me”. Something catches my eye: “Munchies Vegan Fast Food“. I hadn’t eaten any fast food since arriving in Thailand—although pretty much all Thai food is cooked in a quick, high-heat process—and those words spoke very directly to the hungover side of my brain. Not that I’d been missing fast food—the cooking here has been consistently amazing. But sometimes, someway, you’re gonna break. Time is nigh.

Walking down the street—not sleep-deprived like yesterday—I’m struck again by this place’s quaint beauty. Our hostel is outside the city’s perimeter, so you can quickly walk into the centre, but you’re away from the hustle and bustle. Seems like a lot of locals live around here too.

A daytime backstreet outside of Chiang Mai's centre

Oh, to be carefree and wandering through Northern Thailand in beautiful weather (…I write bitterly, in the midst of a UK winter)

Munchies is this kinda Western-style outfit with an eclectic menu ranging from burgers to burritos to bao buns. Bright decor, outdoor seating, personalised art hanging up around the place, wind chimes. They seem to love wind chimes around here. All of the food is prepared in front of you, which I think is what separates it from a lot of the vegan diners we have in the UK. There was no thrills, no table-service—just order something cheap and junky and have it ready in minutes. I miss here.

I order a BLT, and it’s honestly one of the nicest vegan mock things I’ve ever eaten. Something tells me I’ll be back.

We head to a nearby restaurant named “Morning Glory” and have a fruit shake with satay tofu curry. Super nice. What, you thought one meal was gonna be enough? Come on.

 

Visiting Wat Phra Singh

 

Next up is Wat Phra Singh, the Golden Temple. It’s a 14th-century Buddhist temple with some of the most striking gold-work I’ve ever seen. It’s awesome, even.. dazzling:

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh is located right in the heart of the city, so it’s easy to access (unlike Doi Suthep, which I’ll tell you about tomorrow!)

Oh, and people in Thailand take decorum very seriously around temples. No exposed knees or shoulders. I think they took it a bit far with this one, though…

Sign at Chiang Mai temple prohibiting "menstruation"...
Come on, Thailand…

“Women are prohibited to enter because they menstruate… It is believed that any disobeying of the rules will cause social instability”.

Wouldn’t want any social instability, would we? *Laughs in Thailand October 2020 events*

 

Wandering through Chiang Mai’s old city

 

From there wander over to Wat Chedi Luang—a must-see in Chaing Mai. Our route looks like this:

Google Maps Wat Phra Singh To Wat Chedi Luang
You can vaguely see here the square moat layout of Chiang Mai here

It’s a quick walk, but we meandered through side streets and looked in shops. Walking through somewhere new, seeing life in motion, remains a favourite pastime. I’ve always been an avid people-watcher. Doesn’t matter if you’re in the London, Tibet, or Thailand—everyone’s got their own shit going on. A vast, interconnected web of struggles and friendships and dreams and fears.

There’s an amazing quote that’s escaping me. I’m sitting here, trying and trying to remember or find it online, but I can’t. So, to paraphrase, it’s something like this:

It would be impossible to observe a person’s interior life, their tears and fears, worries and laughter when no one is looking, and to not to sympathise—to love them

When I see people walking by, sometimes I think of that concept, and it makes me smile. If anyone knows the quote, please tell me! (I think it’s a Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy one.)

It’s important to escape the life led in your own head and look outward—to be suddenly and intensely aware of everything happening around yourself. It’s not all about you. Everything’s constantly in such frenzied and miniature motion. Stop for a moment and see.

This feeling is compounded by being somewhere so unfamiliar compared to where I grew up. Treasure it. I hope I have many more opportunities like this.

The sun beats down, languages you don’t understand fill your ears. Vibrant green-leaved trees stand confidently overhead—there’s no worry of wind on the oh-so-common days like this. Food sold on every street corner. Laughter. Everything’s just so alive.

Things are much less intense here up North than in Bangkok, and while I found Bangkok fascinating—even electrifying and intoxicating at times—I feel that I’m much better suited to slower-pace-of-life places like this. You still get a lot of people selling you things, though. The tuk-tuk dudes are particularly persistent here. They lounge in their vehicles, either talking in circles amongst each other or chilling with one leg in, one out of the tuk-tuk. Some even steal some sleep in the backseats under the midday sun. I know this is likely a product of something more sinister, like incredibly long work hours, but it’s kind of refreshing to see people take a nonchalant attitude while working. Can you picture that in the UK?

I’m careful not to paint an overly rose-tinted picture of the surroundings. But this is how I feel here, what I notice, how I feel.

People shout as you walk by. I learnt how to say “no thank you” pretty quick (I find it physically impossible to ignore someone, even if I really don’t need to take a tuk-tuk nine minutes up the road… but you have to say something, right?)

One driver even kindly corrects my pronunciation as I walk by: “mai ow kraap”, not “MAY ow kraap”. My bad!

Visiting Wat Chedi Luang

Anyway, we arrive at Wat Chedi Luang and find ourselves awe-struck. It’s almost surrealistically picturesque. I’ll let 2000-words worth of pictures paint the scene for me:

Wat Chedi Luang 2

Wat Chedi Luang

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, we actually end up chatting to some monks here. Wat Chedi Luang is not only a temple but also a monastery, where monks choose to come and live. They study here, too. According to the monks, joining a monastery in Thailand is seen as a sort of life-stage for some, and they will often be monks for a while, learn, and then rejoin society. Many stay for a lifetime, of course.

The conversation strolls down a clichéd direction: we start talking about happiness and Buddhist emphasis on the present moment—”right now is the only thing that matters”, one of them says. You can’t change nor experience tomorrow nor yesterday.

But we break ties with cliché quickly, though, as they suddenly start asking us about Brexit! They were just trying to get an insider’s perspective on it I guess. We just confirmed that it’s all pretty stupid (and came fairly unexpectedly). First time I’ve spoken to a monk actually. Ten out of ten, overall.

An evening in Chiang Mai

We go to a nearby 60-baht gym and do some bench and deadlift. Not too shabby of a session in view of all the drinking/walking/poor sleep recently—serious under-recovery. I fully expect to return from travelling looking look a noodle, though.

The evening is spent at Chiang Mai’s night bazaar. We see some wild sights!

Picture of a dog laying down at Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Still not sure if this was a dog or a hog tbh

Expect countless stalls with clothes and trinkets, people spilling out into the streets, the smell of sizzling food, Thai silk, spices, souvenirs (who could resist a shirt with “Same Same But Different” on, or a Chang stringer?). There were even some Muay Thai fights going on. Too much live (and very exotic) seafood crammed into tiny tanks for my liking. But, then the world isn’t structured around my liking.

We have a responsibly sober night, but I couldn’t end up sleeping until 6am. Don’t know what happened there, but I just stayed up in my stifling hot 12-person dorm watching the ceiling—tossing, turning, pitying myself. Everyone around snores or sleep talks. Ugh.

Good day, though.

Tomorrow? We go explore Chiang Mai’s weekend market, and go to an amazing Thai/Akha cooking class (and learn how they work their magic!)

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