Temples, night markets, and fights in Chiang Mai

Today’s forecast: 38°C, smoggy ⛅️

Mosquito bite tally: 5

Up in the smog at Doi Suthep

We arrived today in Chiang Mai in the early morning after our 13 hour overnight ride on the sleeper train from Bangkok. In the end, I had an okay sleep but I think Mr. Chuckles had a rougher time. The train is definitely an experience, but I’m happy to be in a proper bed again.

Upon arrival in Chiang Mai, we were picked up by our private minibus and taken to breakfast. I enjoyed a delicious bowl of pork congee, and then we headed up the winding roads to Doi Suthep mountain.

Atop Doi Suthep sits Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This temple has been around since 1383. Its origin is based on the legend of the white elephant, which tells the story of a white elephant that was released into the jungle and went up Doi Suthep carrying a relic of Gautama Buddha’s shoulder. The elephant is said to have died en route up Doi Suthep, and this was interpreted as an omen that inspired building of the temple at this site.

Getting up to Wat Phra That requires climbing up 309 steps, so we have again met our quota of one uphill climb per trip.

Once at the top of the stairs, you can find the aforementioned white elephant.

I also found ‘Mom’.

The temple is well known for its sweeping, panoramic views of Chiang Mai city. Unfortunately, we’ve arrived in the midst of Chiang Mai’s worst period of pollution. Between February and April, farmers across northern Thailand engage in a practice of slash and burn while preparing their fields for the growing season. This obviously creates a huge issue with smoke up in the hills, which results in a hazy smog that engulfs the city. The level of pollution varies from year to year, and it seems that this is one of the bad years, as evidenced by what we saw (or didn’t see) at the viewing point. Luckily, nobody in our group has respiratory issues and I for the most part haven’t really ‘felt’ the smog. However, I definitely wouldn’t want to be living here for an extended period during this time of year.

After admiring the smoggy view for a couple seconds, we had the opportunity to visit one of the monks to participate in a short blessing ceremony. Then, following Buddhist tradition, we circled the central Chedi (stupa) three times to show respect for its relics. Hopefully I’ve now been blessed with no more mosquito bites on this trip!

Exploring old town and a broken temple

After settling into our hotel, we went out on a walk around Chiang Mai old town, starting at Tapae Gate.

We ambled down the streets and stopped at a little cafe for some beers (coconut smoothie for me).

Then we found Wat Chedi Luang. This temple was constructed sometime in the 14th century, but later partially collapsed during an earthquake.

We spotted several young monks around there running a program called Chat with a Monk, where visitors can sit down with a monk for an opportunity to learn about all things Buddhism, in exchange for a chance for them to practice their English.

Night bazaar and Muay Thai (pa pow!)

In the evening, we checked out the night market beside our hotel. Mr. Chuckles and I shared a bowl of tom yum soup, which I found quite yummy. The market is large with all kinds of trinkets, and surprisingly not too crowded. I’ll have to make a visit back before we leave to pick up some souvenirs.

We came across an advertisement for a Muay Thai fight taking place just beside the market. For 500 baht each, we had the chance to watch a bunch of people pummel each other, including these two tough teenagers!

We’ve done a lot and it’s only day 3 of the tour. Tomorrow we’re off to see some elephants!