Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chiang Mai, Vol. 2

When we returned from the trek, we stayed several more days in Chiang Mai, as there's so much to see there.  This also gave us the chance to spend some time with Dean and his family.  We spent some time visiting several more temples in Chiang Mai the first day we were back there.  Since there are so may temples sometimes they tend to run together in my mind, and looking back on the pictures, often they seem to be just lots of the same things.  But while we were there, we could really notice differences in various temples, but mainly they are just so beautiful, it's hard to get enough of them.  When you see the intricate detail and excellent craftsmanship with all the hand work it's just amazing to think of the effort that not only went into the original construction, but how much is required for upkeep and maintenance to keep them in good condition and appearance.  Just very impressive.  And ever since I became interested in Buddhism when I studied at the Zen monastery a number of years ago, it's fascinating to me to contemplate how so many follow the monastic tradition and lifestyle.  When I was at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Temper, NY, I met two monks who had been physicians, but had left their practices to devote their lives to the monastic way.  My first inclination was to think "What a waste of their lives, all the good they could be doing,"  but the more I got to know them and think about it, I realized that this was just my judgmental projection of my ideas onto to them.  Who's to say what's the best way to live one's life?  Certainly I react with defensiveness to anyone who has told me better ways to live my life, so who am I to judge?  My sense is that in Thailand, as in many Asian countries, the monastic way is different--many leave home at a pretty young age to go live in monasteries, often as a place to study.  Indeed, Manit, our guide on the trek, told us his older brother was a monk, and when Manit was a young boy, he went to live in the monastery where his brother was for several years, though he did not end up taking monastic vows himself.  Sometimes I think this may be a matter of economic necessity for some, but nevertheless the monastic life is not an easy one.  While my training at the Zen monastery seemed a good deal more structured and maybe stricter than in Thailand, I know it is not an easy thing to do.  All in all, it was a fascinating thing to talk to the monks at the "monk chat" I posted about earlier, and just to observe them as they would make their early morning rounds with their begging bowls, not knowing exactly how much or what they would all have to eat for the rest of the day--pretty good example of faith, I'd say!

We loved visiting the various markets and never tired of seeing all the things they had on offer to sell.  And of course everything is ridiculously cheap!  Not only are prices pretty low to start with, but the tradition is to bargain for everything.  It was hard to resist just buying lots of stuff, but we had to keep in mind not only the practical realities of what we could carry home, but also what we really needed to bring back.  We got some gift items for folks, but I was fascinated by the loose fitting pants that are so ubiquitous.  I found a pair with lots of elephant prints--red, of course--that I use mainly for pyjamas, but we saw lots of locals for whom these were just ordinary every day wear.  When I found a pair I liked, I saw the price and just made a bit of a show of putting them back, as too much; the vendor immediately started coming down on the price, but after several back and forth offers, I gave him my price but he seemed not to budge--but as I started walking away, he called after me and made the deal at my price--$3!!  And I found a gorgeous embroidered silk shirt for about the same price!  Couldn't believe it.  We stopped at one stall in the big market where a man was hand painting bowls and platters.  These start out with a solid color lacquer finish, like black, red or green, and then he would use a fine tipped brush to paint on row after row of intricate, detailed designs.  It was tedious work, but he was so fast and so skilled, just very impressive.  We had read about a particular vegan restaurant so we were excited to eat lunch there one day--Jeremy a bit reluctantly, and he actually just nibbled on some appetizers until we were finished, and then he found a street vendor with the carnivore menu he preferred!  If you've ever been to a Thai restaurant in the States, you've probably seen how much effort is put into presentation, with flowers carved out of carrots, for example.  But in Thailand, this is so much an art form and part of just about every restaurant meal we had, and it's at a whole new level.  At this particular vegan restaurant, I ordered a rice and bean curd curry dish, but it was presented in a ring of very thinly sliced grape tomatoes.  I could never imagine taking the time to do that, but it was really beautiful, not to mention very delicious!!

In my first post about Chiang Mai I mentioned the store next to our hotel that carried crafts and art from the hill tribe peoples.  Well, once we were back from trekking, we had time to peruse the store in more detail and we really loved it.  In some ways it was as much like a museum as a store, and we found some really beautiful fabric and leatherwork.

We toured some more temples in Chiang Mai, and spent about a half of one day visiting Doi Suthep, probably the most famous temple in Chiang Mai.  It's up on top of a mountain (doi is the Thai word for mountain)--some people walk all the way up from the city, but it's pretty steep so we decided to take a cab to the base of the temple.  Once you get to the base, there is a long stairway up to the temple compound itself, with several different levels where there are food vendors, as well as vendors selling flowers and "worship packs,"  which include incense, candles and flowers.  Once in the temple complex, there are several places where these are used.  In one ritual, there is a large outdoor square promenade sort of configuration, around some statuary, with the walkway being enclosed by a low fence.  People would do walking meditation around this path, holding the incense, candles and flowers; upon completing the walk, there are rows of trays where you can light the candles and leave them, and places to do the same with the incense and places to leave the flowers.  This is a way lay people can "make merit," as they pray and meditate.  The temple complex here is quite large, with several small chapel like buildings where people go in to sit and meditate before statues of Buddha, and there are usually monks there to dispense blessings.  It's quite impressive to experience this whole phenomenon, as Doi Suthep is quite famous, and an important place for Thai people to visit.  Just to watch families with little children, as the parents show them how to sit and bow, once again reaffirms the universality of all humankind.  No matter what religious beliefs we have, or rituals we practice, parents the world over continue handing down these important aspects of faith, generation to generation.

One evening we went to Dean's house to have dinner with him and his family.  It was such a wonderful evening, and we were so happy to meet his wife, Mod, and his two children, Namkang and Maphrang.  Mod has a very good job at the airport and her English is excellent, as she deals with so many different nationalities, and English is generally the universal language.  Dean teaches and coaches sports at a local school.  Mod's mother and aunt live with them--not an uncommon tradition in Thailand--and though her mother speaks and understands English, Dean had told us in advance that she rarely uses this ability, so she only spoke Thai to Dean and Mod and they would translate for us.  Can't remember if I mentioned this earlier but Dean studied Thai language in college, and has been in Thailand ever since he graduated ten years ago.  Even though he took the language in college and thus was not starting from ground zero, he said it took him two full years of concentrated effort once in Thailand to truly master the language, particularly since the tonal aspect makes it more difficult.  But we were with him in several different contexts and he sure seems completely fluent to me, judging by the ease with which he communicated in Thai with his family, shopkeepers, etc.  His father was our dentist when we lived in Atlanta, so it was good to reconnect with him, and to meet his beautiful family.

One day he and Jeremy took his kids and a neighbor out on a day adventure and Trisha and I just took off on our own for some exploring around Chiang Mai.  We found a Thai massage place not too far from our hotel so we both had wonderful massages--they started by washing your feet in a pan of warm water with soothing bath salts, along with slices of lime, then they worked on us for about an hour.  Thai massage is pretty intense, and sometimes feels almost a bit too harsh, but you sure feel good when it's done.  That evening, Dean took us to a restaurant overlooking the river and the city and it was really spectacular!  Mod had a late shift at the airport, but she joined us before the evening was over--just a hoot to me that, while Dean had driven their car, she just hopped on their motorbike to zip through the traffic to the restaurant!  Motorbikes are just everywhere--at first it's so unusual to see so many people using them, but we got used to it.  Jeremy told us that when he was in Vietnam there were even more motorbikes than we saw in Thailand!

We also had a wonderful outing with Dean and his family spending the day visiting what they call the "Sticky Waterfalls."  Mod had the day off, so we hired a van big enough to hold us all, along with the neighbor's son, who's Namkang's friend, and drove about an hour out of the city to this park where there is the most unusual waterfall I've ever seen.  There are a series of falls that flow over these smooth white rocks, where apparently a heavy concentration of calcium makes the surface somewhat sticky, enough so that you can actually walk barefoot up the rocks, right in the falls!  It was a weird sensation on your feet--felt like there were thousands of little fibers not the surface, sort of like you were walking on a stiff carpet.  At first I found it hard to believe them when they said you could easily walk up the rocks without slipping--just seemed so counterintuitive, but it was absolutely true! I've never experienced anything quite like it, but it was a lot of fun.  And I must say that for a geezer, I think I did okay--while I did not dash up and down like Dean and Jeremy and the little guys, but taking my time I was able to negotiate the rocks fairly well!  There was also a pool of what the locals consider to be holy water--just crystal clear and beautifully colored.  There's a little deck where you walk out over the pool, along with some poles with bowls attached to the ends, so you can gather up some water--Trisha really wanted to bring some home, so we put some in an empty water bottle, and then transferred it to a container small enough to make it on the plane.  A really fun day!  And Dean and Mod are so kind to this little neighbor boy, to take him on outings like this and include him in many of the fun things they do as a family.

Breakfast on the deck by the pool at our Chiang Main hotel:  Jeremy's traditional Thai breakfast with lots of meat . . .
Trisha's french toast . . .
and my salad!   Always the beautiful fresh flowers and fresh fruit!
What a gorgeous setting to begin each day!!

Just another of the beautiful flowering plants around our hotel grounds

Chiang Mai street scenes
At an intersection by the police station

Statue in front of the police station, depicting a police officer as the friend of the people--note the flower garlands that have been hung on the statue
At one of the temples--sorry the first picture should have been with these
As you see, you always take off your shoes before entering any of the temples

Where people can buy these flowers to place at the altar
Statues of particularly revered monks

I just love all this intricate filigree work in gold

On the grounds of a temple complex

Walking through these gardens we saw several of these signs with proverbs and sayings on them

Very large reclining Buddha

Lots of temples have major renovation work ongoing
Right after I snapped this picture, the heavens opened up and it rained very hard for about 15 minutes, then cleared; fortunately there was a shelter nearby

Buying some street food outside the temple
Like I said, there are vendors for just about everything!!
The big spirit house on the grounds of our hotel

At Dean's house--Maprang on her toy

Mod and Maprang--she loved this little stuffed kitty we brought her!  She is just so cute!!

Telling Mommy and Daddy goodnight before heading up to bed
Namkang--their son who is completely bilingual--showing us his flips in their back yard

At the entrance to the steps leading up to Doi Suthep

The staircase

Vendor stalls before the entrance to the actual temple complex

Right at the main entrance to the grounds

There were some young women performing traditional dances out in the patio
People had strewn flower petals all around them

In lots of places along these halls throughout the grounds you could see rows of similar statues

Another group of young dancers, in a particular tribal outfit
their leader
The main plaza--the walkway I mentioned earlier goes around this tower
This is the walkway around the tower

Trisha has bought flowers and candles and is about to start walking; the woman kneeling to her right is placing her candle in a tray in front of her
As Trisha is doing here

The incense sticks are placed into the sand in the large tray in the center of this pic at the bottom
Often temples have images of the reclining Buddha

This one is jade
People walking, saying prayers

In the picture above, a young man is lighting a candle

Rows and rows of these small bells hung around the roofline of one building

There were a series of different sized bells, making different tones when struck; people would walk along, using the clapper to strike each bell as they walked by, like this woman is doing--apparently another form of meditation
Beautiful mural carved from teak

Oops, some duplicates

Loved these fuchsia flowers!!

Looking down on the city from the wall surrounding the large plaza at the top

People finding a bit of shade under this tree, trimmed to resemble a gumdrop
Sort of whimsical and humorous collection of little Buddhas!

Parents showing their little girl how to ring the bells

Walking back down the staircase
Trisha covering her nose while in traffic in an open cab
Delicious mango smoothies at this fabulous vegan restaurant
That red ring around my plate is composed of about a hundred thin slices of grape tomatoes!

Sign outside a river front restaurant where we ate, advertising that they sell Jack Daniels--loved the way they worded the sign!!
This is the same design of the tree of life that was on the smaller wall hanging in our suite at the hotel
At the restaurant table, looking out over the river

At the Sticky Waterfall park--we had just changed into our swimsuits
Namkang showing us his dance moves!
Namkang and Maprang--brother/sister love!
This huge worm on the path, that's now a feast for the ants!
But the kids were fascinated by it!

Walking to the falls

Here's the spirit house by the pool of sacred water; when you looked into the interior of the spirit house, you can see lots of animals, reflecting the blending of Buddhism with the earlier traditional, nature/animal based religious practices of the people who were here before Buddhism arrived

the pool of sacred water

Namkang and his friend helping us retrieve some of the holy water

Closeup of the interior of the spirit house

Mod and Maprang

Dean and Maprang--she and her brother had matching swimsuits

the picture below is a closeup of the rail along the path in the picture above

Looking down on some of the sticky rocks

Here's Dean, showing us how it's done
Jeremy and Dean--talking about how to walk up or reliving some of their Grady High School soccer glory days??

Yes, I'm the King of the World!

And here comes the geezer!
As you can see, I'm a bit more interested in holding on than Jeremy!!

These rocks were just so unusual!


these are a bit out of order, but some of the pictures I took on the phone and some with the camera--these are back at the spirit house by the pool of sacred water

In the van on the ride home--Jeremy's on automatic pilot here!
One of the big markets in Chiang Mai


  1. Looks like a great time. This post is impressive, this would be the volume of several months of my posts:(

  2. Thanks, Chuck--sorry for the lengthy post, but trying to condense as much as I can remember from October! It's so much easier to do it contemporaneously, but it was such a fabulous time there, on so many levels. Hope you get to visit there someday!