Everyone said I would love Thailand. People raved about it. They said the food is delicious and cheap, the people are supremely kind, and there’s a wide variety of things to do and see. Come to think of it I haven’t met a single person who has been to Thailand who was just “meh” about it.
Everyone was right. I absolutely loved it! Thailand might very well be my favorite country so far.
My love affair with the Land of Smiles began in Chiang Mai; a place so great that I can’t write just one post about my favorite city. This will be a twofer.
Oh, Chiang Mai.
Our first couple nights were spent about 45 minutes northwest of the city at a resort called Relive Resort. Madison found it on Airbnb and insisted we stay there because in addition to its tranquil setting, the resort also has a restaurant that uses organic produce grown on the property. Oh and it’s only $21 per night for two people. It was not a hard sell. So many wins. It has 5 bamboo huts but we were the only guests.
The staff was incredibly kind and catered to our every request (I drank a Thai iced tea with every meal…and in between most. Yum!) One afternoon while I was getting a Thai massage, Madison flew kites with the staff. I felt like we were living in a dream world, tucked away from the chaos beyond. It was a great way to recuperate from 24-hours of travel with very little sleep.
I arrived in Thailand with the goal of making friends with Thai strangers and trying as many things as possible. Opportunities for new experiences abound everywhere, even the strangest times and places.
You’d be surprised what people will say yes to if you only ask.
While walking to a waterfall near Relive we came upon a road crew painting street lines. I wanted to try it…and they let me!
This nice man showed me how to line up the edge of the sprayer with a string line and push the machine forward at a steady speed. All of this was accomplished with pointing and gesturing.
Also I’m pretty sure I own that stretch of road now.
We left heaven, aka Relive Resort, and stayed in Chiang Mai proper for four days.
There’s a moat surrounding Chiang Mai that forms a square around the old city, separating it from its expansion beyond the moat.
It is further separated by a four-lane one way road that circumnavigates the moat. I use the term lane to describe the width more than a prescribed flow of traffic.
Crossing that road was a real life game of frogger. Motorbikes loaded with 3 people and baggage (no helmets) come whizzing out of nowhere, weaving between slow-moving songthaews (tuk-tuks) and exhaust spewing pick-up trucks.
There is no rhyme or reason to anyone’s speed making crossing even more challenging. We’d stand there for 10 minutes waiting for a break in traffic and/or the courage to take the first step off the sidewalk. The first step is the biggest. Sometimes you just had to close your eyes and put one foot forward, trusting in the laws of physics or the timing of the Universe or pure dumb luck that you would make it across. I never thought crossing the street could be such a rush!
We stayed two nights within the moat and two just outside. Despite the increased potential for getting squashed, next time I will stay outside the moat. That way I can access the old part of Chiang Mai but more easily explore the surrounding area.
Highlights from Chiang Mai
We made the most of our 96-hours, really only stopping to sleep.
Saturday Night Market
The market is a very popular tourist attraction. It stretches for nearly 1km and was a great place to buy a few souvenirs and try street food.
These performers brought it! They had so much energy and you could see how much fun they were having. It was a pretty tame show, too. The couple in front of us brought their two daughters who had to be under the age of 10.
Visiting Temples & Monk Blessings
Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples! The temples (“wat” in Thai) are essentially walled compounds comprised of several ornate buildings for worshipping and austere living quarters for the monks.
Before I continue, I should mention that I find monks spellbinding. I’m completely fascinated by their existence and way of life. Theirs is ancient custom that has managed to transcend time and co-exist with modernity. I can’t get enough.
As I was wandering around Wat Srisuphan – known as the silver temple because many its buildings are covered from walls to roof in silver – I noticed a couple kneeling before a monk who sat on a short stage with a few people waiting in line behind them.
I got in line not knowing what this was about but figured if I wasn’t allowed to participate he would shoo me away. Yet again, you never know what people will say yes to if you only ask. Or get in line.
My turn came and I walked across the mat on my knees, as I’d seen the others do. Kneeling before the most radiant man in orange robes, my hands pressed together at heart center, I was bowled over by his presence. He smiled with his whole being and I was completely transfixed.
He proceeded to sprinkle my head with water and recite a prayer in Thai over me before tying a white bracelet around my wrist. I was blessed by a monk! Then he spoke to me in perfect English.
Before arriving I read that some temples have a Monk Chat program where you sit down with a monk and talk about their way of life, beliefs, how they arrived at this place, etc. I asked if this temple hosted such chats and learned they were hosting a special chat the next morning and was invited to join! I left the temple practically skipping back to Madison.
On the appointed morning, I spent two hours chatting and meditating with Sarang, a Vietnamese monk residing at Wat Srisuphan. It was a great conversation; profound and moving one moment, silly and funny the next. We laughed a lot. I cried a little. The experience will get its own post.
That covers about, oh, the first day and a half. More highlights to come in the next installment!