Chiang Mai is an interesting city in the north of Thailand. We visited Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of Thailand’s most sacred pilgrimage sights perched on the hillside of one of the mountains overlooking the city of Chiang Mai. The name of the temple is derived from the hermit who inhabited the area before the shrine was built (Suthep) and the Buddha relics enshrined in the temple – namely his incus (a teeny anvil shaped bone in the middle ear). The relic is said to be inside the large golden chedi in the center of the temple. While we were there, Lauren gave alms according to her day of birth.
Another interesting experience in Chiang Mai, is a Khantoke dinner. This was a serious culinary experience. In this formal Northern Thai meal, diners sit on the floor and use their hands to eat from bowls placed on a low tray table called a khantoke. The dinner typically consists of glutinous rice, two meat dishes and two vegetable dishes. You can eat as much as you want (and we did!) and the dinner is followed by traditional Thai dancing. Following the dinner, we were escorted to a nearby auditorium where local villages perform their traditional dances in their traditional costumes. As you can see in the photos, these people really do wear these costumes in the villages.
The following day we set off early in the morning for a trek through a region famous for its hill tribes and their fields of opium producing poppies. The opium is gone but the countryside is littered with rice fields, corn fields, waterfalls and temples. During our first day of trekking we visited the Lisu,Lahu and Akha villages. We stayed overnight in an Akha village with no running water and electricity and experienced village life firsthand. We were awoken to the sounds of cockerels crowing, drank local moonshine made from corn, saw a pig get slaughtered and flayed, had an authentic Khantoke dinner, and made friends with the local children.
During our time there I realized how many of our modern conveniences I take for granted and also marveled at the ability of these villagers to get by with so little. Even cooking was done the local way – in an open pit! Without electricity and no lights, we slept at night (approximately 7 p.m.) and rose early the next day to the sounds of cockerels crowing (approximately 4 am). We typically showered using still water and used the same source for drinking as well! We watched the hilltribe people at their daily chores: killing animals and livestock, tending their elephants, heading to the fields, pounding rice by hand, and weaving textiles. After trekking through the countryside and Karen villages, we took an elephant ride (for about 1 hour) to a Palong village, Pang Deang, were we stayed overnight. The colorful Palong tribe originate from Myanmar (Burma). During our stay in the village, some Australian tourists actually mistook us for Thai locals and took a photograph of us on an elephant (go figure?). Some of our pictures include a local Karen boy and Palong villagers who were kind enough to sing for us.
Further along our trek we visited the Chiang Dao Caves. These caves were filled with old Buddha images, bizarre cave formations and thousands of bats. Outside the temple there were ponds filled with scores of carp, a symbol of prosperity.
After breakfast we started trekking for about 2 hours to the Mae Taeng River. There we took a bamboo raft for a trip on the river for about 1 hour. The water was relatively clean and extremely shallow. Some notable sights along the way included people fishing, trees covered with hornets nests, and a dead dog floating in the middle of the river.
Wat Chedi Luang was a temple built by King Saen Suang Ma in 1401 holds the remains of Chiang Mai’s largest chedi (monument/stupa) which once rose 86m above the ground. A naga (serpent) staircase adores the bot (chapel) which houses a gold Buddha and 32 story panels depicting the life of Buddha.
Wararot Market Shopping is quite an experience in Thailand. Markets are typically located in dilapidated buildings with food products on the lower floors and textiles on the upper floors. As with every market in Southeast Asia, bargaining is a way of life. Don’t ever pay more than 50% of the opening price unless you’re stupid or you feel charitable!