Chiang Mai is a sprawling city nestled in the foothills of northern Thailand. It has a comfortably cooler climate and a more laid back atmosphere than frenetic Bangkok so it's a popular getaway for Thais as well as a favourite for expats and tourists.
The city was a trading centre and in more recent history became an administrative centre. It has a special significance with Buddhists and today one can see many elaborate temples as a component in the quilting of the city.
Visitors to Chiang Mai can orientate themselves using the nicely preserved, age old, man-made moat that makes a square of about 1.5 km across. The city inside the moat is more relaxed than outside and a good place to just hang out at a sidewalk eatery or stroll as if time is irrelevant. There are vehicle and pedestrian accesses at various points around the moat where you can return to everyday life of the outside. At one time, a brick wall formed a second security barrier but only small parts of it remain.
One section of wall and moat
I wanted to try the so-called signature dish of Chiang Mai, a curry soup called Khao Soi, so we took a short stroll from our quirky guest house to John's Place that overlooked the moat. The restaurant produced a delicious vegetarian version that included coconut milk. Khao Soi is served in parts of northern Thailand but originally came from Burma (now Myanmar).
On Doi Suthep Mountain overlooking Chiang Mai is a shrine claimed to be the holiest in northern Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, parts of which date back to 1383. After driving up a steep 8 km winding road, our final assault was made by climbing the 309 steps to the top. The centre piece of the area was the huge golden Chedi (another word for Stupa) and all around it were elaborate shrines and temples filled with all forms of Buddha including some made of green glass.
Famous golden Chedi
Green-glass Buddha covered in gold
In one quarter, beautiful girls played a variety of instruments while dancing in their finery of traditional skirts with white blouses draped with blue shawls, and their long black hair held up by elaborate jewelled clasps. The site also gave us beautiful vistas of Chiang Mai and the valley below.
In our travels, we see a lot of construction of Wats and wondered where the money comes from to fund them. But that question was put to rest after observing the money collecting strategies in and around these temples. Here we saw an entry fee, various fees for renting appropriate dress covers (shawls to cover bare legs or shoulders), fees for devotees who needed flowers or incense to offer, as well as numerous donation boxes throughout the site stuffed with money.
The evening was spent sauntering through the night market, a few blocks out from the moat. It was a venue of shops and stalls selling all kinds of crafts and foods and was a nice way to spend the last few hours of our visit to Chiang Mai.