Over the last week we have explored a good amount of Chiang Mai and what the city has to offer. From temples in the old town, to luxury shopping malls and finishing with the biggest markets either of us have ever experienced.
After seeing a lot of the inner city sights we have now planned a couple of excursions into the more rural areas of northern Thailand, including into the amazing mountains west of Chiang Mai. The first of the adventures being an epic two day road trip to north of Chiang Rai, with unique temples, waterfalls, forests, rice paddies, national parks and scenic views on the way! More on that to come.
We started out this week’s exploration by visiting the old city for the first time. Only a short car ride away from our apartment the old city is almost a perfect square and surrounded by the original moat. In places the original wall still stands, which was the main defence of the city beyond the moat. Using the northern entrance we first visited the oldest temple in all of Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man.
Built in 1296-1297 A.D. this royal temple paved the way for the abundance of temples in Chiang Mai today. The temple itself is as grand as you would expect a royal temple being, with intricate gold leaf designs, priceless artefacts littering the grounds and everything being perfectly maintained and preserved. Although the day we decided to visit probably wasn’t the smartest decision we have made, 35 degrees in the shade and closer to 40 in the direct sun!
Once we had recovered from the heat in the shade for a while we took a TukTuk ride out of the old city via the north gate again to visit one of the lesser visited temples, Wat Lok Moli.
The motivation for visiting this temple was purely from a photographic standpoint, so photographers, take heed. Tom has always intended to capture a late blue hour / sunset composite of a temple. Most of the temples are illuminated at dusk. This means there is an opportunity to capture an illuminated temple, showing off the intricacies of it’s design, as well as a beautifully lit sky with hopefully lots of colour and texture. However most of the temples around Chiang Mai close at 5pm, and a lot of them are locked away behind gates, this means the hope of capturing the envisaged image was lost. However this is where Wat Lok Moli comes in, accessible at all times and with visible sky behind it Moli is the perfect candidate. Tom is yet to capture his sunset image due to the weather being overcast and rainy since our reconnaissance mission, but is confident of success at some point during the next 3 weeks.
Our next trip of exploration was heading to the west of the city from our apartment, again just a short drive we were dropped off outside the Maya shopping mall. This area of town is a complete contrast to what we have been seeing for the majority of our time, going from sharing our dining experience with rats to an ultra-modern shopping mall filled with the worlds latest and greatest designer brands, technology and restaurants. The prices inside the mall do reflect this stark contrast, however still reasonable with respect to the food and restaurants. There are night markets outside the mall in the evenings, which mainly offer food or textiles. Their food was a much cheaper alternative to that inside the mall. Tom was reliably informed the best Pad Thai in Chiang Mai was served by a particular stall, his review seems to suggest that claim could very well be correct.
Rounding off the week we attended the traditional Sunday markets, known as the walking markets. The main street inside the east entrance to the old city through the Phae Gate is closed to traffic from 5pm onwards to accommodate the market stalls. Dedicated to pedestrians only, it stretches over a kilometre and is known as WalkingStreet. The entire length of this street is crammed with stalls and makeshift shops. This weekly market has grown to such levels the stalls have swelled into the neighbouring and adjacent streets, every metre is being accounted for, ensuring that everyone who wants a stall has one.
The atmosphere of the markets is amazing, with locals, visitors and families coming together to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells. We got the impression these markets are the weekly social highlight for people living in Chiang Mai. Later in the evening it seemed as if the entire population of the city was crammed into these streets. As darkness approaches all the stalls use either halogen or LED clip-on bulbs to illuminate their items. At very regular intervals the power would drop, all the lights would dim and brighten again in unison flooding the area once again in light.
Whilst at the markets we had one of the most surreal experiences, the entire area was so chaotic, trying to navigate through the crowds of people was slow going. It was like exiting a football match except everyone was going in different directions and displaced by oddly placed musicians and stalls. This coupled with the constant loud music, shouting and the sound of food frying made it a busy atmosphere for the senses. However all of a sudden everything stopped, and when we say everything, it was like someone had hit the pause button. Thousands of people froze on the spot. The music stopped, food cooking was halted, negotiations and bartering ceased, all at the same time. We were stood there like statues, looking around, wondering what on earth is going on. We could hear music from distant loud speakers, we weren’t initially able to distinguish what it was. After straining our ears, we realised it was the Thai national anthem. The level of respect the Thai people showed and demanded of their national anthem was humbling to see. Once the anthem ended the markets buzzed back into life as if nothing ever happened, back to the chaos and the sensory overload. Megan and I were stood still in the same place, still trying to comprehend what we had just witnessed.
We ate at the markets, Megan opted for us to try what seemed to be their interpretation of a Sunday dinner. It was meat with mashed potatoes and a sausage in gravy! It was Sunday after all and it went down a treat!
This week we have also decided on our next destination. We have booked to fly to Vietnam in 3 weeks time. The exact itinerary of where we are going, for how long and what we’ll be doing is still under consideration. However Tom is extremely excited as Vietnam was the number one country on his hit list for this adventure and he is already plotting his scenic and street style photos!
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Megan & Tom