Chiang Mai, Thailand
Day 1, 93 degrees
I knew a cold front was going to cool temperatures down in the next couple days, so we started our vacation with a dip in the hotel pool. As described Yaang Come Village was quite the oasis, nestled just outside the old city but resembling a tropical jungle resort. We wanted to enjoy the pool while we had a chance. After the swim, we cleaned up and headed into town. We ate a cheap and yummy Thai dinner then strolled the Anusarn Night Market. I’m not a big shopper or market person in general, but I loved the markets in Chiang Mai. First, the lights of the night market are quite magical. Second, the vendors are more polite than I’ve encountered elsewhere. I never felt hassled, and I appreciated prices being listed. You could negotiate but at least you had a starting place. Third, I also felt there was more variety and more beautiful things than I’d seen in other countries. I think if we’d had more room in our bags, we would have uncharacteristically bought a lot of stuff. So far, I was loving the vibe of Chiang Mai.
Day 2, 90 degrees
The sky was still sunny and warm Sunday morning. We headed to the old city for a self guided walking tour. At the entrance to the city, Will made friends with a little Chinese boy nicknamed HaHa. Will was delighted when they were also at our first temple stop. We lingered longer letting the two boys play without the need for a common language. We spent the morning exploring four different temples and grounds. Will quickly and happily learned the Thai rituals including taking off shoes outside the temple and sitting on your knees to bow to the Buddha inside. There were smaller buildings Mike and I were happy to skip, but Will would be on the steps pulling his shoes off and begging to see inside. The temples were all beautiful, but I was a bit disappointed that the old city’s most famous temple, Wat Phra Singh, was cloaked in sheets and scaffolding for restoration. We then ate a late Thai lunch before hopping in a Tuk Tuk, a three wheeled motorcycle taxi, to head back to the hotel. It was still hot and we wanted to reward Will’s good behavior with another swim. He loved the “Tuk Tuk car”, and we probably could’ve left that as the reward. At four, we headed back into the Old City to the insanely large Sunday Walking Market. We easily got overwhelmed which was fine since we couldn’t stay long as I had a surprise for Mike. I’d booked a sitter at the hotel and signed us up for the Chiang Mai Street Food Tour. Ever since I got really sick on a trip to Peru, I’m hesitant about culinary adventures in developing countries. However, after reading lots of positive reviews, I figured this was a safe way to try lots of delicious Thai food. Tom, our tour guide, would order a few things from a stall then divide it up for all to try. We sampled at least 15 different things like Ao Pad Gra Pao (stir-fried duck, basil and chilies), Khao Soi (curry noodles), soy-barbecued eggs, and rotee (stuffed dessert pancake). It was a lot of food, and I got to a point where I couldn’t eat another bite. Tom was informative and entertaining. Mike and I laughed every time he said “Oh My Buddha”. This happened frequently as Mike loaded more chilies on his food. And again, when he served us some homemade Thai whiskey, reminiscent of moonshine or rocket fuel. Mike thanked me for the tour admitting he never would have thought to sign up but thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great night until I realized that I felt sick. I’d had a tickle in my throat all day but figured it was due to the drastic weather change between Thailand and Japan. I now recognized that familiar head and body ache that signals an illness. At least it was not from the food, but a cold or flu I must have brought from Japan. Not a great way to kick off a vacation. Oh my Buddha.
Day 3, 59 degrees in Chiang Mai
46 degrees in Doi Inthanon National Park
Will woke up with mosquito bites all over his face. I had a fever of 101.1. Oh my Buddha.
I knew the weather report was less than favorable, but Sunday had been much better than expected. I’d gone to sleep optimistic about the weather, but the cold front was blowing in strong in the early hours. We’d scheduled a tour at Doi Inthanon National Park and temperatures were forecast between 42-50 with a chance of rain all day long. These were extremely cooler temperatures than normal. At least we had some warm clothes for the train ride to and from the airport in Japan.
We started our tour at Sirithan Waterfall. Rain poured on the hour long drive, but had at least slowed to a drizzle as we made the short trek to view the falls. We then drove to the top of the mountain, the highest point in Thailand. Lots of other tourists were also there, many shivering in shorts and rain ponchos likely purchased at 7-11. I was grateful for the layers and rain coats we’d brought. We followed a short trail to the highest point–the roof of Thailand (8415 feet). A sign displayed the temperature: 6 degrees Celsius (~42 F); the visibility nonexistent. Oh My Buddha. Our guide led us to Ang Ka Nature Trail for a short hike. As chilly as it was, I really enjoyed this walk. It was virtually deserted. The fog enveloped us in a mystical way as we mostly walked on a wooden elevated bridge surrounded by tall moss-covered trees.
Next we drove partially back down the mountain to the King and Queen’s Chedis (similar to a pagoda) and Garden. The Chedis were built to commentate the 60th birthdays of the King and Queen. I’d seen pictures of this enchanted place hanging on the side of a mountain. It looked straight out of a storybook. Unfortunately the visibility was still very low and we could hardly make out the Chedis when more than 10-20 feet away; we couldn’t even tell we were on the side of a mountain. Still we explored the beautiful gardens, and Will loved hopping on the stones and playing on the bridges. My cough was getting worse so after a late lunch in the park, we opted to skip a longer hike and head to one more waterfall instead. Closer to the base of the mountain, Wachirathan Falls was a bit warmer. I felt our spirits rise at these beautiful falls. Will was very excited by the crashing noise the falls made. We walked downstream to view the lower cascades and lengthen our stay. Mike was carrying Will and trying to scramble across the creek onto a large boulder. I suggested I go first and he hand Will to me. Will and I were safely on the on top when Mike slipped climbing up. He fell into the water and hit his lower back on a rock. Mike lay there for a minute not moving which totally freaked me out. Luckily the water was calm between the rocks where he fell, and he slowly got up. “Are you ok?” I asked. “I don’t know”, he answered. Oh My Buddha.
Day 4, 50 degrees
It was pouring when we left our hotel at 6:30 am for our Buddhist Cultural Tour. And cold. There is no heat at the hotel (or anywhere) since it is very rare for it to be this cold in Chiang Mai. Mike was still in major pain. The day was not off to the best start. The first stop of our tour was giving alms to Buddhist monks. The only way monks receive food is through offerings. A guide explained that normally the street is lined with monks waiting to receive a meal. With the bad weather, we found two. Our tour guide bought food from a local stall, and Mike and Will placed it in the monk’s bowl. Then we knelt on the ground and received a blessing. At this point I felt it was much needed.
The fog was thick as the car climbed Doi Suthep. The driver blasted the AC in an attempt to defrost the windshield. I was so incredibly cold. We arrived at Wat Suthep (Wat is Thai for Buddhist Temple). It is said that you haven’t visited Chiang Mai unless you go to this temple. Our guide suggested we take the cable car up since it was raining. Normally I would’ve declined and opted to walk up the 300 steps, but I welcomed the short break from the elements. One positive was the weather was keeping the crowds at bay; there was hardly a sole present when we reached the top. We walked over to the viewpoint. Through a few small breaks in the clouds below we could see faint glimpses of Chiang Mai.
Our guide suggested a cup of coffee, and I enthusiastically accepted. We sat at a café on the temple grounds and sipped a latte while pop music videos blared from a TV. Mike and I raising eyebrows at the noise blasting in Chiang Mai’s most sacred place. I’d read the temple was quite touristy, and I could envision the mayhem on a busy day. With a bit more caffeine in my system and some feeling returning to my hands, we continued on the tour. Our guide encouraged Will to ring the bells along the temple paths, which he loved. We stopped at a statue of a white elephant. A white elephant carrying a bone from Lord Buddha allegedly chose the location for this temple explained our guide.
We then walked to the main part of the temple complex. A few other tourists now milled around. Our guide directed us to a seating area to take off our shoes. I looked at the cold wet marble realizing that unlike other temples, we had to take our shoes off for the outside part too. We obliged and I tiptoed trying to limit contact with the freezing cold surface. I tried my best to enjoy the ornate temple but I felt each step was bringing me one step close to pneumonia. Will received another blessing and a yarn bracelet from a monk inside on of the buildings. “This will keep me safe,” he proudly boasted showing off his new treasure. “Let’s hope so,” I thought.
Our final destination is known as the Hidden temple, located further down the mountain. We pulled into an entirely empty dirt parking lot. Surrounded by trees (and fog of course), we walked into the peaceful grounds. This temple didn’t have the flash of Doi Suthep, but it definitely had the zen. Built over 600 years ago, it was a one of the most lovely and tranquil places I’ve visited.
Will and I spent most of the rest of day huddled under the blankets in the hotel room. I could not shake the chill of the day. I’d booked a babysitter for that night and really debated cancelling. Ultimately I decided to keep the sitter if for no other reason than to have her get Will to sleep. He’d been difficult the previous night. It took some searching, but Mike and I found a completely indoor restaurant. It was a swanky Italian place inside a boutique hotel. A glass enclosed wine cellar really made me wish I was feeling better. I wasn’t even hungry and ordered a pizza hoping my appetite would be revived with a couple bits. I felt so awful and couldn’t finish one yummy slice. after dinner, I sent Mike out to find some fun and headed back to hotel. It was 8:00 pm. Will should’ve been in bed for an hour. But no, he was wide awake watching a Thai cartoon. It took me an hour to get him to bed. I was exhausted, and we had to check out at 4:30 am for our flight south. Oh my Buddha.
I wish we’d had better circumstances on our trip. Temperatures 30-40 degrees below the average temperature wouldn’t have been as bad if I hadn’t been sick. I feel like I spent 2 days wrapped in fog outside and inside my head. In spite of it all, I really like Chiang Mai. It’s a lovely, smaller city with great restaurants, warm hospitality and lots of fun things to do. Don’t let our less than stellar experience discourage you from seeing it yourself.
- Buddhist Cultural Tour: http://www.untouchedthailand.com/product_detail.php?port_id=204
- Chiang Mai Street Food Tour: http://www.chiangmaistreetfoodtours.com/
- Doi Inthanon Tour: http://loolutour.wixsite.com/loolutour/private-transportation-service
- Yaang Come Village: http://www.yaangcome.com/