Chiang Mai 1: temples, temples, temples, Thai food.

Chiang Mai is one of the most important cities in Northern Thailand. The metropole is fairly large and sprawling, but the old city and its immediate vicinity, where most tourists spend most of their time, is small and, by Thai standards, quite pleasant to walk around in. It is also famous for its night market, which I did not visit this time around. And the weather is cooler than in the south.

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The original 13th century city is still surrounded by a large water moat, with the main circular road on either side. The inside one runs counter clock-wise and the outer one in the other direction. Driving in and out of the old city, you often have to first travel in the opposite direction, depending on the location of the bridges and the one ways. I won’t tell you anything else about the place, just show you some pictures.

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The old fortifications can still be seen, mainly on the corners.

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The main attractions are the innumerable temples. If you go early, they may not be open to visitors, but in my opinion you see them at their best. Plus, I find the exterior usually more impressive than the interior.

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Instead of hordes of tourists, you may run into a monk. In this case perhaps a novice, or a skinny little monk. Actually, it’s early and he’s the one who has to fetch a bucket of water. Definitely a novice.

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I don’t know if the sites close at night, but I did read somewhere that very early visitors could be met by stray dogs who, by nature, adopt a guard dog behaviour at night. This one didn’t seem too dangerous.

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Chiang Mai tourists are a lazy bunch. You don’t have to get up at 4am to have the sites all to yourself. I probably took most temple pictures on two separate days, around 6:45 – 8:15.

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Some temples are hard to photograph, having been encircled by development.

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Parts of this temple, aptly named Wat Chiang Mai, date to the founding of the city, more than 700 years ago.

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Children don’t need to be told not to slide down the banisters around here.

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Like anywhere in the world, the most spectacular temple is usually undergoing renovations when you visit.

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And not a temple! A stupa, which usually contains remains of important monks or nuns. I guess if you are not buddhist, it’s pretty much a temple.

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Another great place to visit early in the morning is Nong Buak Hat Public Park, the only one within the old city (not sure about the spelling, I saw a few versions). While not particularly spectacular during the day, reflections on the ponds and streams are very beautiful at dawn.

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Just young people jogging and old people chatting.

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A popular touristic activity is “cooking classes”. I put it in quotations because it is more about fun than learning, unless you are clueless in a kitchen. I had done it years ago right here in Chiang Mai, but decided to try it again. I actually remembered the name of the place I had been to, but read recent reviews suggesting they had become very large and a bit institutional. So I chose a business only a few months old that promised small classes. I sure got what I asked for, 2 instructors and me! I was actually dissapointed, as a great deal of the fun is joking around with other tourists, especially if you have the chance of being joined by a guy dragged by his girlfriend, who has never before in his life attempted to cut a vegetable. I had also had a great time doing such a course in Bali.

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In any case, another great part is going to the market, as you get to buy all sorts of things you only look at as a tourist, since generally you don’t have a kitchen. The last time I also had the chance to watch the process of making coconut milk (A big grinder crushes up the nut, coconut water – in the nut – is discarded, and the coconut mush is rinsed with fresh water. That water becomes the coconut milk).

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But since the courses adapt to a tourist schedule, i.e. hotel pick-up around 8:30, by the time you get to the market, most locals are gone and all the customers are from Germany or Australia!

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Still, it was fun and using stuff like this…

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I made stuff like that. Tom Yum soup and spring rolls, Khao Soi, Pad Kee Mao and fried bananas. All yummy and I took leftovers to my hotel.

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My brother-sister instructors / business start-ups. Much more serious and in-depth training can be had in Chiang Mai, in things like Thai language, massage, music, religious stuff or serious chef training.

Next time, some – I think better – pictures from around Chiang Mai.

#Thailand

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