Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thailand, Part 2

Going back to the hotel Wednesday afternoon, I encountered this temple/shrine combo. It was flashy enough that I decided to take more photos than otherwise. Not really sure why there is string on the statues.

After getting back to the hotel, we rested a bit, then set back out to see the night bazaar. This is a large outdoor shopping area about 1 block wide and 4 blocks long, on the opposite side of the river heading to the main downtown area. It's about a 10 minute walk from the hotel, over the Iron Bridge. The tables are staffed by one or 2 people, sometimes members of the same family, and setup starts right around dusk. Some of the tables don't open until 7 PM, though. Products include t-shirts, soaps in phallic shapes, leather bags, silk and silk items, and jewelry. There are many food stalls and a few restaurants, and some "fish massage areas". Fish massage is when you sit in a chair and stick your feet into an aquarium for the tiny fish inside to nibble on your toes. There are many fish massage parlors throughout the city, too.

At about 7 PM, the drag queens start appearing, posing for photos and trying to attract people to watch the cabaret show at 9:30 PM. I wasn't quite interested in that, so I didn't watch the cabaret during this trip. In part just because I didn't want to spend the money. Maybe next time.

Part of the bazaar.
We stopped for ice cream, which is kind of like a gellato. I wanted to get the durian, but the shopkeeper stopped me and suggested that I try a sample spoon first. Durian is a large, spiky, gourd-like fruit that has a horrible, pervasive aroma reminiscent of sweaty gym socks. Hotels in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand all have signs up prohibiting durian in the buildings. I had durian ice cream once before, at a Sri Lankan restaurant in Minneapolis, so I know what to expect. This time, the smell wasn't that bad, and the fruit itself tasted rather creamy, like a brie cheese. The shopkeeper was very surprised, and happily gave me a large cone for about $1. After this, we headed towards downtown to try to find Sushi Ichiban, a Japanese restaurant near the moat. Oh yeah, the moat. From the hotel, you have the Ping river. You cross that at the Iron Bridge, then keep walking. After about 10 minutes you get to the night bazaar, and another 10-15 minutes you hit a drainage ditch that used to be a creek at one time. Keep going and you'll eventually hit the ruins of the old city walls. There's a moat that runs along the wall and forms a big square around the inner city. Sushi Ichiban is at the closest corner of the moat. It's run by a Thai family, but the menus are in Japanese and Thai. Their sushi was good and comparatively cheap. The only downside was having to fight the street traffic in places where there were no sidewalks, and choking on all the exhaust fumes.

I've been told that Chiang Mai is primarily an agricultural region, producing a lot of fruit and rice. The fruits that I had, especially the watermelon, mangos, strawberries and grapes are very good. But, there's also a big market for carved wood, and apparently there's a carver's community outside the city, although I never had the chance to visit that. So, anyway, lots of wood carvings.

(Entrance to the 300-step climb to the top.)

We finally had a full day with nothing scheduled, so we asked the hotel landlady for recommendations. She suggested the temple at the top of the mountain on the other side of the city - Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Just getting there was an adventure by itself. First, you need to take a tuktuk to the "bus terminal" at the other side of the city. It's about a 30-minute ride and costs 50 baht per person. The "terminal" is a street corner where several red taxis sit and wait for passengers. It's 50 baht one way to the top of the mountain, but with a 10-person minimum. When we arrived, there was only one couple from France, who couldn't speak Thai or much English. Eventually, a Canadian woman, and a Chinese couple that had been living in Canada showed up, and the driver offered to take us for 150 baht round trip if we left at that moment. The others didn't want to spend the extra money, and the Chinese guy tried to talk the driver down. Then, a Malaysian couple arrived, and the driver said that with 9 people, he'd take us up and back for 100 baht each ($3 USD), but that he'd only give us 90 minutes at the temple, and he wanted the money in advance. Since crime is fairly common in Thailand (the temples have signs warning tourists from talking to overly-friendly strangers), the majority of the group expected the driver to abandon us after we got to the top. The Chinese guy insisted that we pay only after finishing the round trip, so the driver insisted on only giving us 90 minutes to look around.

The road up the mountain was very windy and the view was obstructed by the trees. It took at least another 30 minutes to get to the top. The driver told us to be back at the road by 1:30 PM, and to look for bus #4. Then we all went our own separate ways. The hotel landlady had mentioned that there was a 300-step climb from the souvenir shops area to the temple at the very top of the mountain, but that there was also a cable car if you wanted to avoid the climb. To me, the stairs didn't look that bad, and I didn't see cables for a cable car. As we went up the stairs, various Australians were running laps up and down, and timing themselves.

(The tourists like banging on these bells.)

Lots of statuary, lots of paintings and decorations, and lots of donation boxes begging for your pocket change to help pay for building upkeep and food for the monks.

Dragon handrails are a very common motif here. Notice that the dragons are coming out of the mouths of alligators, or other dragons.

(Strong snake motif here.)

On the plus side, the weather was good for most of the day.

This is the highest vantage point overlooking Chiang Mai. Notice the airport runways in the center of the photo. The city itself is the other side of the airport.

The main shrine in the middle of the grounds. A few people walked around this shrine, praying and doing short laps.

I do have to admit that I ate well on this trip.

I love the snake headdress here.

It's been a long trip. So I'm going to break here and finish tomorrow.
I'll add a comment, though. Looking at the photos I realize that they might be more interesting if I added a short description or historical background for them. The problem is that there's almost nothing in the way of historical markers, or descriptive tourist brochures for visitors to Chiang Mai. This is the complete opposite of Kagoshima.

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