With so many choices and so little time, I decided that I would check out the north of Thailand. I flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and since it was a weekend I got to see the Saturday and Sunday markets.
The entire road shut down around 5 PM and was packed with people. I had to step through somebody’s shop to get in to my hostel.
Since I was considering doing a day trip out of Chiang Mai, I figured I’d better see as much of it as I could so I spent the next day walking all around the city.
Chiang Mai’s old section is surrounded by a moat, and some remaining walls.
I was quickly impressed with Chiang Mai, beginning with the Phra Singh Temple and its golden stupa.
The main temple here is an example of Lanna architecture, which is unique to this region. The Lan Na empire existed in Northern Thailand and parts of surrounding countries, and had its capital in Chiang Mai for most of its history. At one point it was a rival of Ayutthaya, but after the fall of Ayutthaya they united for defense against Burma.
I continued on my path, stopping at temples (or anything shiny) on the way. One such shiny temple was Wat Thung Yu; I liked the windows.
I then arrived at the complex in the centre of town, and it was truly amazing. Wat Chedi Luang is the large building with the elephant statues.
If you’re curious about the many snakes then good, I was too. In Hinduism and Buddhism, there are serpent deities known as naga. For Harry Potter fans, a female naga is a nagini.
When the Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi tree, a great rain descended for 7 days. A naga known as Mucalinda protected the Buddha from the elements with his hood until the rain had passed and the Buddha had attained enlightenment. So, as much as it might first appear that a seven headed snake is about to eat the Buddha, he is actually protecting him.
The rest of the complex was impressive as well, but it was that central temple that really got me.
All of the temples here were so beautiful, and though I understand how you might not think they’re that special if you live here, I didn’t get tired of them. This one was interesting because of some writing inside. I noticed it wasn’t Thai, but thought it was Burmese and wondered what it was doing here. It turned out to be the Lanna script!
I think the travel motto that I stand by the most is: when you’re walking, you aren’t spending money.
Chiang Mai showed me that I really do like the solo backpacker lifestyle. Being able to start the day when I want, finding a cafe, and then walking at my own speed around a new city for 7 hours is really nice. I certainly miss my friends, and appreciate the days where I can explore with new friends, but it was reassuring to feel that the style I signed up for still appeals to me.
The next day I went on a day trip to Chiang Rai because it seemed thematically consistent and sure to confuse anyone not paying attention. Also, the White Temple.
The White Temple is a temple/art project that is still under construction. The main temple is finished though and fit for visitors. You begin by approaching the temple by a bridge that seems to take you over hell. There are hands reaching out (including one female one) symbolizing unrestrained desire.
You then pass under the Gate of Heaven and into the main hall where pictures aren’t allowed.
The main hall was surprising because of the way the walls were painted. I promise this is true: characters painted on the walls included but were not limited to Pikachu, Neo, Spiderman, Yoda, Sailor Moon, Michael Jackson, Elvis, and Hello Kitty. Furthermore, in the eyes of the giant face whose mouth you entered through are the faces of George Bush and Osama bin Laden.
A lot about this place was just creepy.
It definitely had the fanciest bathrooms I’d ever seen. The bathrooms are in the gold building.
From the White Temple the tour continued to Rong Suea Ten Temple, the Blue Temple.
I had a strong urge to lie down and become one with the universe here.
Finally, because Chiang Rai was about consistency, we were brought to the Black Houses.
Also an art project, it was probably the most beautiful place I’ve been that also looked like a place where I could be murdered.
Those doors and this circle of stones just screams ‘human sacrifice’ to me.
On that note, I shall leave Thailand.
I absolutely loved it here, and it is one of those countries where my list just expanded after visiting. I’m sure I’ll be back someday, it was a fantastic start to Southeast Asia. Next stop, Laos!