Farewell Chiang Mai

The internet here has gone into overload. The hotel is full and it seems everyone is busy downloading stuff so no photos no music just some prose today.

Tomorrow we leave Chiang Mai after 8 days here and drive North West up to the Burma border.

From my point of view I am glad that we didn’t, as we planned, spend a month here . We have done the temples of real interest and have walked the old city. We have eaten in many of the more mentioned tourist restaurants and eaten and drank in the Thai local places as well.

Last Friday we ventured up past Tesco to try what turned out to be only Thai bars and restaurants. The first we hit was a barn of a place with tables everywhere. we sat at a table for four and ordered 2 large beers by sign language. However a guy with an earpiece in his ear like a secret service man bought them to the table. Are you waiting for friends he asked in perfect English . No I replied . Well would you mind moving over there to that table for two. I looked around this huge bar at all the empty tables and chairs and almost laughed. Why was he being so difficult did he not want us there. We moved and drank our beers. As we did motorbike after motorbike turned up and the riders came in. By 8 p.m. the place was jumping and there was not a seat to be had in the place . There must have been 150 people in the bar drinking.

We moved on to another bar and our seats were pounced upon by a mob. The next place was smaller and quieter and proved to sell the cheapest beer we have had outside of a supermarket price off the shelf 60 Baht a large one. Not only that the beers were carefully placed on a small table alongside us and after a few sips one of the staff would race over to top it up. Now my local bar in Puglia could learn a thing or two from this place !

Eating on the strip proved problematical as no menu was in English and no one spoke it. We managed by pointing to get things but had no idea what we had ordered and what in fact it really was.

For me Chiang Mai is really a 3/4 day visit to see the key bits and away. But I am very much a beach person and without sand between my toes I am not really a happy bunny. Culture is okay in small doses but I shy away from the other tourist stuff much on offer up here.

Tiger shows with the poor farm bred beasts jumping through hoops do nothing for me at all. There are about 250 tigers left in the wild in Thailand and civilisation is slowly killing them off as their habitat is encroached on. But I would prefer to see them in the wild or not at all.

I’m afraid I also cringe at visits to hill tribes and the like and there are plenty of those on offer up here. I’m sorry but to me it is like Disneyland and I always feel that once the bus pulls away everyone in the village breathes a sigh of relief and puts on old Levi jeans and UK football jerseys and goes about their normal business until the next bus is sighted. You can almost hear some of them saying if I have to drink another cup of that awful goats milk I’ll throw up.

One time in the Masa Mara we had visited a village on a tour and then a few days later following a leopard looking for it’s young we found ourselves going very close to it again. sure enough the villagers we could see were all in jeans.

Elephant training camps also do nothing for me. If you come across a logging area with elephant working or on a road construction site where they use them it is fascinating to stop and watch these huge guys lifting stuff but to sit in a river while they spray you with water because the mahout prods them, well again just not me.

So three quarters of the tourist attractions in Chiang Mai aren’t for me and I miss the beach as well.

Hopefully a few jungle walks and a safari into the wild will be good though the hill tribes will have to do without my company up there as they did down here.

One word of advice for anyone planning a trip here and that is to stay nearer the old city, unless you can drive a scooter or motorbike. Being out here especially at this Opium Hotel is murder to get around if you want a tuk tuk as they have to come from town so you pay a penalty and of course if they drop you say at Tesco there is no way to find one to get you back. From that point of view The Grand Napat is a better bet as it closer to things.

Bangkok as you ail be reading over the last few days is a scene of much protest. The government voted in on some populist measures such as no tax for a first car purchase and the huge rice subsidy that is costing billions of dollars a year is no longer popular and so it  seemingly must go. In 2008 during similar protests they seized the airport for a time so lets hope they aren’t allowed to repeat those tactics.

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Doi Suthep Temple

Went back to being a culture bunny again today to visit the Doi Suthep temple or to give it it’s full name Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Rajvoravihare which is a bit of a mouthful for someone who is used to saying St Pauls or St. Johns when giving directions. Actually in the UK it is normally pubs isn’t it. A problem I have found throughout the rest of the world is that they seem to find it almost impossible to give good directions and I’m sure it is a lack of pubs ” turn left at The Fox and Hounds etc” and clearly church names like the one above. By the time you got that one out the enquirer would have driven off in the hope of finding someone more sensible and who could blame them.

This temple though is impressive. It sits on the top of a hill 3,500 feet above Chiang Mai and the road up is a torturous drive of hair pin bends up to the top. A few brave souls cycle up and the monks of course walk up but the rest of us humble mortals take taxis of varying types to the top. The view back down is spectacular

Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

 

Well okay maybe not spectacular but it is quite a vista and shows you the growth of what was a few years ago a sleepy northern town. They project that in 5 years time with the development going on Chiang Mai will be as big as Bangkok is today so I’m quite pleased to have seen it this year.

What I try to do in tourist locations is find a group with an English speaking guide and kind of tag along staying within earshot but a little separate from the group who still give you the ” we’re paying for this ” types of looks while I pretend to gaze intently at some relic or another. It worked quite well today again though the guide only seemed to regurgitate a load of history I had read about anyway. so maybe there’s not a lot to say about it.

The first thing to know is that there are 306 steps to get up to the temple so if you’re coming get on the step machine in the gym straight away.

Main Staircase Doi Suthep temple

 

This is the main flight of stairs but there are about 60 that are below it where hawkers have stalls on the steps as well so you battle them and the steps for a time. The view from the top down is probably better to give you an idea of the climb

Top of stairs Doi suthep

 

Now you’re looking at that and thinking wow he walked all the way up aren’t you. Dream on my trusty Luxe guide told me there was a funicular railway on the other side of the hill  that for 50 baht whisks you to the top . I was on that but unfortunately it was totally enclosed and you could see nothing as you and about 40 others ascended. So no super pictures ( thank god I hear you mutter).

Once up there there is a kind of outer area where you can get coffee etc and where there are a few minor temples and the bells of course which you can ring.

Ring Bells Doi Suthep

On one side are two entrances up some steep stairs to get into the main event. why do they like all this climbing I wonder. Oh it’s on a hill I guess.

Now I’m sure you have seen Buddhist monks with their saffron robes and robes is a fairly loose term to describe them as they are really a sarong leaving a bare shoulder and plenty of bare leg so imagine my surprise to see this sign

Shorts notice

 

We looked at our shorts and at the guy at the top of the steps looking at the tourists filing in and thought all this way …. but then 10 Americans hove into view all in their shorts and with cameras  a plenty. We tagged on and sauntered past. Safety in numbers always seem to work doesn’t it. Thank god for American tourists sometimes.

So the iconic picture that is in every guide book is of the Stupa Pagoda ( my thanks to the other groups guide for the name) and this is mine

Doi Suthep Iconic Picture

 

Two temples flank the pagoda but the faithful walk around it saying prayers

Reciting Prayers Doi Suthep

 

dotted around the edge of the top complex are lots of buddhas like this jade one

Jade Budda Doi Suthep Temple

 

I did walk back down the stairs as did many of my fellow funicular riders and found our driver Kob waiting at the bottom as planned. After our spiritual experience it seemed a little odd to be fair as we drove back down to be listening to the Eagles Hotel California on his stereo but probably a fitting tribute to the Americans who helped us storm the temple so successfully .