Saturday, May 19, 2012

Around Chiang Mai--Doi Suthep

By day two in Chiang Mai we still hadn't exhausted our ability to take in temples. We hopped into the back of a couple of "truck-taxis" and scooted up Doi Suthep, the mountain that rises up from Chiang Mia, to see its temple.   

{Riding up the winding road}

Once we got there (and of course had something to eat from the venders) we started our climb. There were 309 steps to the top, which called for several "photo breaks" along the way (you know, where you pretend like you need to take picture after picture of the view, but really you just need to catch your breath).

{At the top we were greeted by little dancing girls}

{Prayer bells}

{The golden stupa and "umbrella"}

{The emerald-esque buddha}

Supy and I found a nice piece of shade to relax in for a while--which just so happened to be the most photogenic spot in the temple. We watched person after group after person come through and take their picture in our little corner. Terrific people watching. 

{A group of tiny monks}

{It was a nice spot}

Then we had to take a few pictures ourselves:

{I forget if this is the stinky fruit (I think it is) or the fruit that just looks like the stinky fruit but actually tastes like apples}

{For you, mom!}

{We were talked into going up to the top of the mountain to see a typical Hmong village and other things which didn't exactly materialize, but it was nice anyway.}

Back in Chiang Mia we debated another massage, but we ended up walking around and capping our evening here: 

{Don't judge! We were lured in by the 9 baht (29 cent) ice cream cones (OK, and the air conditioning!).}

{I also enjoyed scoping out the Thai section on the McD's menu}

We still had a few (!) more temples to see in the trip, but we definitely got our temples worth out of Chiang Mai. Next stop: Chiang Rai and the Thai/Lao border!  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chiang Mai

After a couple of fast and furious days in Bangkok Supy and I zipped up our backpacks and took to the road. In a first-time-for-everything experience I got to spend the night on my first sleeper train. 

{My bunk}

{Supy across the aisle}

It was a pretty decent experience over all. I love traveling by train. The 12 hour ride that was an additional 3-4 hours late, the French tourists getting their drink on, and the fact that the train swayed significantly at night (making me paranoid I was going to fall off my upper bunk) distracted me a bit from the journey--but not too much.

To top things off, as soon as we got off the train we were in lovely (and warm) Chiang Mai.

{In Chiang Mai temples abound. This is the one that was directly across from our ($12) hotel room.} 

{A banana for each elephant} 

This particular wat (temple) was built during 1296-1297 AD 

{You can buy gold leaf to place on the buddha}

At another temple in town we got a chance to take part in some "Monk Chat." They have a time set up where you can talk with the monks--they get to practice their English and you get to ask them anything you want. We met a nice young Karen monk. We didn't quite muster the courage to ask anything to terribly interesting (like how they get those robes to stay on) but we did learn a bit about the monk life.

They also had a garden with words of wisdom on the trees to aid in enlightenment: 

{One of my favorites}

{A giant stupa}

{Probably my favorite meal of the trip, which included the very best Thai tea I've ever had. The grand total for the meal? One dollar.}

{Temples galore}

{More enlightened words}

While we were in Chiang Mai we also decided we needed to visit the women's prison...for a massage! It sounds a lot sketchier than it was--They have a training program for the women where during the last 6 months before they are released they get to give Thai massages to clients. They receive their earnings to get them back on their feet once they are released. It was a great experience overall (and only set us back about 5 bucks for an hour long massage). The funniest part though was trying to get the outfits they gave us on. Neither one of us could figure out how to tie up the one-size-fits-all pants. Tired, dehydrated, and a little delirious, we couldn't stop laughing about our inability to tie on our giant pants.

To cap off our evenings we hit up the night markets to browse, drink fruit smoothy after fruit smoothy, and eat whatever we came across. 

Chiang Mai just had a good vibe overall. It was a city, for sure, but didn't zoom past you too fast--there was plenty of time for temples, good eats and the slow life.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Big BKK

Welcome to Bangkok!

I landed in Bangkok groggy from jetlag, but found my friend Supy and his adorable aunt and uncle at the airport without a hitch. We headed back to their house to drop off my bag and then started right in on the city. My time in Bangkok was split up between the beginning and end of my trip, but all of it was jam packed--with temples, kings, boats, traffic, every means of transportation possible, 6:30 AM runs through to park (and communal hula-hooping sessions), markets, and lots and lots of eating!

Some highlights below:

{Wat Phra Kaew}

{The Emerald Buddha is Thailand's #1 Buddha image. This chapel is more or less the national, and royal, temple.}

{So much bling!} 

 {The temple complex was full of so many buildings you couldn't even take them all in} 

{Apparently Bangkok used to be connected almost exclusively by canals. Many of them still survive today.}

{Riding with the commuters and tourists to Wat Arun and Wat Pho}

{Wat Arun}

Supy's friend showed us around most of our last day and just happened to be a major history buff. He filled us in on a lot of the major points in Thai well as some of the more interesting (and controversial!) tidbits.

This temple was built back in the previous dynasty by King Taksin on the other side of the river from what would later be Bangkok. Originally it housed the Emerald Buddha which is now on the other side of the river in Wat Phra Kaew. There's lots of Indian influence in the style of the temple, and most of the tiles decorating the temple originally were from the bottom of Chinese ships. Apparently the china was dumped into the bottom of ships (along with lots of Chinese statues that dot the grounds) in order to balance the ships. One man's trash is another man's temple decoration. 

{You can climb up the tower (up big steep stairs!) and have a look at the city. Wat Phra Kaew is on the opposite side of the river.}

{The "Santa Clause" Buddha}

{And of course we couldn't leave Bangkok without seeing the "reclining Buddha" which stretches out to 160 feet at Wat Pho}

{The Wat Pho temple grounds were huge and included lots of stupas like these, which held the ashes of royals.}

Overall Bangkok was a huge, hot city--full of people, temples, interesting stories, and (even better) old friends. Not only did I find Supy and his old friend, I got to meet up with a good friend who was a foreign exchange student way back in my high school days. Pleasant surprises all around!