Chiang Mai Day 1: Temple Spotting and the Sunday Walking Street

Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples, or Wats, so on our first day we put on our walking shoes and set off to see what all the fuss was about. Our first stop was Wat Phra Singh, one of the most venerated Wats in Chiang Mai, to check out some classical northern Thai architecture. After this, we headed north to visit Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai.

Wat Phra Singh. According to Thai culture, the feet are the dirtiest part of the body. Therefore, one's feet should never point towards Buddha upon entering the temple. The feet should always remain below Buddha's head, as the head is thought to be the most sacred part of the body. This means no handstands, cartwheels, or back flips in front of Buddha.

The staircase ascending to the Bot, or the ordination hall housing the Buddha, is flanked with sea serpents known as Nagas. According to Buddhist scripture, this creature guarded Buddha while he was meditating.

This large dome shaped structure known as a Chedi is one of the most striking architectural features of the temple. Chedis contain relics and ashes of important spiritual leaders.

Dave spotted the cylindrical canister on a rope and pulley system and wondered what the hell it could be. Our only clue was a small and vaguely translated sign that read "Do not pull down water bucket." So, apparently it's a contraption used to collect water that has gathered in the dips of the Chedi and carry it down to the monks. What happens to the water after this, one can only speculate.

If you know, please respond to this post and we will be appreciative and greatly amused.

A Naga at Wat Chiang Man.Notice how the Naga is coming out of the mouth of another Naga. This is a common feature among Nagas. Sometimes, there are Nagas within Nagas within Nagas within Nagas within get the point.

  Bird lady sits on the steps of the temple. Pay her 80 Baht and you can free a "family" of birds. "Mama, Papa, Baby, make them free and good luck to you!" One glance at the pitiful birds stepping on each others' heads in that tiny wicker cage and my hand was in my pocket fishing for some change. I freed the birds, got my luck, and went on my way to see what this great temple had to offer. 
Three days later, a tour guide in Bangkok told me that after the birds are freed by sympathetic bystanders such as myself, they fly away merrily-only to return later to common feeding ground where they are again captured by the bird people. Should I feel duped? Is this a valid profession? Do I still get my good luck even though these birds fly right back into the hands of their trappers? 

One of the birds shit on Dave as it was flying away. Maybe in that action I have found my answer.

Apparently if you are stray dog in Thailand, the best place to be is at a Wat. Dogs can sunbathe, people watch, and even score bites to eat from the temple's patrons and monks who are inspired by Buddhism to show compassion for all living things. If I was a doggy tourist agent, my brochure would read something like this:

Come bask in the sun and roll in the mud in front of this glorious Wat. Take refuge in a place where Buddha's glow shines on your face-and the shaggier and more worn you are, the more you're loved.

I'm not sure if this is the infamous durian fruit or not, but it looks a lot like one to my untrained eyes. Let's pretend for a moment that it is.

The durian fruit is common in Southeast Asia and has developed a reputation for being one of the stinkiest, most pungent fruits around. It's overbearing odor has caused it to be banned from some hotels and forms of public transportation in Thailand. I was looking forward to trying the durian, I really was. I heard that if it's frozen first, it loses some of its pungency and has the consistency of custard. Doesn't sound too bad, right? Plus, I've endured the stinky tofu of Taiwan, so this exotic fruit pales in comparison!

The sad end to this story is that I actually didn't get to try the durian. I couldn't find it for sale anywhere-and I certainly didn't want to consume one of these durianesque fruits in the wild for fear of poisoning myself.

The closest I came to this misunderstood fruit was at Iberry, where I tried the durian ice cream. It was sweet and musky, much like an overly masculine mango, with a good douse of skunkiness that Heineken lovers may find refreshing. I ate a couple spoonfuls and then turned my attention to the other accompanying flavors in my dish.

*Gade from Elliebum Guesthouse just confirmed that this is not a durian, but a jack fruit, which smells much more pleasant :) CS 2/15/10

Every Sunday afternoon, a major street in Chiang Mai is closed off and vendors begin to prepare for the Sunday Walking Street. This is a great place to buy local handicrafts and try some typical Thai street food.

This was one of my most pleasurable shopping experiences in Thailand. I felt that the quality of the crafts were higher than what you would find at other night markets, but prices were very reasonable! There were many foreigners in the area, but the vibe was more sophisticated and relaxed than other night markets I visited.


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