Dazzling Sights in Chiang Mai

It has been well over a month since we returned home from our nearly three week trip in Southeast Asia.  With the holidays, building a home and life just getting in the way, I haven’t had the time yet to write about this experience.  Lack of writing aside, I have had plenty of time to reflect and be grateful for such an amazing trip and hopefully this next series of blogs illuminates which moments were most significant to us.  I considered breaking this blog series up into two parts: activities and food (the food was just incredible and so different everywhere we went, it deserved it’s own post!).  In the end, however, I decided to continue writing about each, individual place as a whole experience.

On my list of places I would most want to revisit Mykonos (from a trip I went on without Scott in 2011) and Chiang Mai would be at the top.  I hope that the photos throughout this composition make the excellence of this place obvious and fully explain why we would want to return so badly.

Scott and I traveled for 30 hours before landing in Chiang Mai.  This is BY FAR the longest day of travel I’ve ever had.  We flew EVA Air from Seattle to Taipei, Taiwan to Bangkok and then took a regional airline to Chiang Mai.  For the longest leg of our flight, we took Advil PM and we will now be doing this for any flight we have that’s over 7 hours.  We were dead asleep for 8 straight hours.  One thing of note during this travel was the Taipei airport:  it’s full of themed waiting rooms and shops that make it quite obvious you’re in Asia.  The most popular of which was a Hello Kitty waiting lounge which looked like something straight out of the cartoon.  We also had some of our first Asian cuisine while waiting in the Taipei airport and it set me off on a dumpling obsession that continued for the rest of the trip and likely for the rest of my life.

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Finally arriving in Chiang Mai, we couldn’t find the car that was supposed to be waiting for us to take us to our hotel so we ended up waiting in the WORST taxi line of all time.  We checked in at Amata Lanna Village Hotel after dark, but even without light we could see that it was an incredibly beautiful place to call home for the next three nights.  We walked over a koi pond on cement stepping stones to a lobby with traditional Thai architecture.  The doorways to each room were fully carved and each feature seemed to have detailed artwork incorporated into the design.  Most exciting of all was that we could see the first night of Loy Krathong (the Thai paper lantern festival) taking place in the background.  It seemed as if Chiang Mai was greeting us as we watched thousands of paper lanterns drift through the sky and over our hotel from the doorway of our room.

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Our view of the lanterns from right outside our room
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View from our hotel room towards the city during daylight
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Our bathtub
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Our room was second from the right on the top floor!
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These sculptures were placed throughout the hotel property…so cute!

On our first morning in Thailand, we were scheduled to visit the highest peak in Thailand, hike some waterfalls and visit Doi Inthanon.  We ended up getting so much more out of this day.  The hotel we were staying at was owned by a family and they were amazing hosts.  Breakfast begins at 6AM with a menu of fruits, sticky rice, bacon, sausage, eggs, porridge and more.  We were given an appetizer of Chinese fried bread and fresh fruits.  I had my first taste of Mango Sticky Rice and I will now be seeking this out for breakfast whenever I can.

 

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To-Die-For Mango Sticky Rice

 

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My daily tropical fruits fix
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Enjoying my coffee and Chinese bread

After breakfast we were picked up by our tour guide and started our first day of sight-seeing in Thailand.  Our first stop was going to be the tallest peak in Thailand, but we stopped and purchased some fresh fruit from a street vendor on the way up the mountain.  Our tour guide wanted to make sure we got to try everything.  Our first new fruit to try was called a longan (a small version of a lychee with a tough peel and squishy, grape-like insides).  We also tried persimmons, Thai sweet potatoes, fruit wine, and several different dried fruits.  We ended up purchasing plenty of samples for our family back home.

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One of the many markets that lined the streets
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Peeling and tasting a longan in our karaoke/tour van

My favorite thing of all, however, was a sweet pork dumpling that our tour guide bought us from another street vendor.  I spent the rest of the trip looking for more of these delicious, warm, sweet rolls filled with ground pork.

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Next, we arrived at Doi Inthanon National Park and peered over the tallest peak in Thailand.  There was pretty dense forest surrounding the peak, so there wasn’t much of a view to show off, but stay tuned for some killer views of Chiang Mai we got the next day!

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After leaving the highest spot in Thailand, we traveled winding roads towards the stupas of Doi Inthanon.  Along the way, we saw several Buddhist offerings nestled into the forest and I was fascinated by the intricate details and the effort put into these works of art.DSC_0001.jpg

The primary attractions of the day were the stupas and gardens of Doi Inthanon built for the king and queen.  Each stupa was the same number of feet tall as the monarch was old.  Inside each stupa were statues of Buddha corresponding to the day of the week the queen/king were born.  Each stupa and corresponding garden were designed around the personality of the queen and king.  The queen’s was ultra feminine with purple glass tile decorating every surface while the king’s had more of a brown and brass tone throughout.  It was truly something to behold and it is difficult to pick any number of pictures to represent it’s beauty because Scott captured so many gorgeous images of this place.

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A view of both stupas over the garden pond

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A close up of the king’s stupa
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Scott and I in the gardens
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The view from the gardens over the cliffs
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Some of the tile work outside of the queen’s stupa
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The Buddha inside of the queen’s stupa
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More of the incredible view from the gardens
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Some of the tile work outside the king’s stupa
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Inside the king’s stupa
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The garden was getting some maintenance
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About to head up the long stairway to the stupas

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After spending a lot of time gawking at these masterpieces and wandering the gardens, we were off to have lunch and visit some waterfalls.   Lunch was at a huge gathering place with several restaurants and one communal outdoor cafeteria with a covering.  We had cashew chicken, a Thai omelette, steamed veggies, and one of our favorites: Thom Kha Gai (a spicy coconut based soup with chicken, mushrooms and lemongrass).  On our way to the first waterfall, we got to hike past farms and rice fields and were able to see some of the canal systems and methods for farming in the region.

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A close up of some crops
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Rice fields amongst the jungle

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The tour guide prompted me to test the strength of the vine so I pretended to be Tarzan over a farming canal.

The first waterfall we visited was called Siriphum Waterfall.  After Costa Rica, we had seen our share of jungles and waterfalls, but there was something truly special about this national park and we loved hiking over the rickety bridges to get closer to the powerful spray of Siriphum.

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Resting by the river
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Trying to show Scott something cool from the bridge viewpoint
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Hiking over to the bridge

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The next waterfall we visited was the largest in Doi Inthanon National Park: Wachirathan Waterfall.  After seeing this beauty, we continued on a path that followed the flow of the water and found some of the most vibrant rainbows I’ve ever seen.  Usually rainbows are hard to capture on film, but these were not camera shy one bit.

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Not our best photo, we were getting hit directly in the face with cold waterfall spray

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Wachirathan marked the end of an amazing first tour and we were driven back to our hotel.  We decided to rest for a brief period, change our clothes and head out on the town to get our first taste of an Asian city.  We decided to go on foot (which we would later regret) and walked over the river towards the Nawarat Bridge which was supposed to be the center of the town.  As soon as we started our walk we could tell something special was happening in the city.  There were street vendors set up everywhere selling toys, sweets, lanterns and other celebratory wares.  We decided to get dinner at River Market Restaurant so we could stay near the bridge and watch as the celebrations picked up in fervor.  We enjoyed spring rolls and massaman lamb curry (YUM), and Scott had a Chang beer (this would soon become one of his all time favorites) and I had some Chardonnay.  As we ate, we began to see people practicing the lighting and releasing of lanterns.  We were shocked to see lit lanterns landing in trees or lawns and continuing to burn and then just going out.  The vegetation was so wet that fires just never started.  Coming from Washington State this went totally against our prevent-forest-fires nature!

Finally, the sun went down and we went to the bridge to join in the festivities.  We chose not to purchase a lantern because we had no clue what we were doing or what was being celebrated and felt like imposters.  We truly felt lucky just to watch.  We had a great viewpoint on the bridge and watched several people try and fail to set off lanterns (who knew it would be a challenge?!).  Eventually, lanterns started successfully taking off all around us!  After watching several successful launches, we decided to help a group of young travelers from San Diego launch theirs after many failed attempts.  They were gracious enough to give us a lantern to launch of our own.  We succeeded on our first attempt thanks to all of our observing.  We learned that the releasing of the lantern symbolizes letting go of negativity and sending blessings into the New Year.  The festival takes place on the evening of the full moon in November which is the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar and, therefore, the end of the lunar year.  It was such a happy accident to arrive in Chiang Mai during this festival and getting to share it with the local people is something we will never forget.

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View from our restaurant

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That’s our lantern!

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When we felt it was time to leave the festival, we walked all the way home.  We dodged traffic (mostly scooters and tuk tuks) and walked through narrow unlit streets for what felt like several miles.  I was wearing sandals and ended up having blisters on my feet for the rest of the trip, but it was totally worth it.

The next day, we had another jungle hike and temple tour booked.  Again, we were served a delicious breakfast and then we were off to Doi Suthep.  The previous day, Scott and I were the only members of our tour.  This day, we were joined by four Asian Canadian students and a Dutch couple.  Unbeknownst to us, we actually had quite an extensive hike through the jungle to arrive at today’s temple.  Luckily, we were both dressed for the miles we had to trek through dense forest and my blisters decided not to give me too much trouble.  At Sai Yoi Waterfall we did get to take off our shoes and frolic in crystal clear waterfall pools and climb some giant boulders to cool our feet.  During the hike we were surprised to come across monks leading individuals into the jungle.  They are portrayed very accurately in art and media and seem to radiate a kind of peace and tranquility in their mannerisms.  Eventually, we arrived at a kind of cabin resort for temple visitors at the top of the hike and were able to rest before exploring the temple itself.

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Our group at the first waterfall before the hike began
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Jungle trekkin
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Waterfall pools with small catfish in them!

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Barefoot, wild and free

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Finally arriving at the cabins with one of the temple’s gold pagodas in the background

Since we had just hiked straight up a mountain through the jungle, our group was starving.  At the bottom of the stairs into the temple there was a huge, bustling market where we found a cramped noodle place and had our first authentic phad thai and thai iced tea.  Honestly, they were quite like what we were used to in the U.S. and super delicious!  We enjoyed getting to know the Dutch couple and learned that they were from Amsterdam so we got all the travel tips we possibly could for our upcoming 2018 Europe trip!  Finally, it was time to enter the temple.  Everyone made sure there knees and shoulders were covered (most of the girls had to buy sarongs to enter) and started a secondary hike up a long, ornate stairway.

The temple was so stunning it’s difficult to describe.  There was genuine worship taking place all around us and the smell of incense was sweet and heavy as soon as we crested the top of the stairs.  Every square inch of the structure was decorated and dazzling.  Gold, jade and other precious jewels were everywhere you looked.  This is by far one of the most incredible manmade sights I’ve ever beheld.  I hope these photos can portray some of the wonder this place instilled in all of us, but it’s definitely something difficult to capture.

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The long stairway to the temple
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A close up of the dragons on the stairwell
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An epic entrance way
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Each of these Buddhas represents the day of the week you were born.  You are supposed to pray to your own Buddha.  I was born on a Sunday so I am the first buddha called “in pensive thought Buddha”.  He stands upright with his hands clasped low contemplating his wisdom.  Scott is Thursday so he is the meditation Buddha (fifth from the left).

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Elephants represent good luck in Thai culture
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We love goooollldddd!
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You have to kneel inside of the prayer rooms, we were fortunate enough to watch a monk lead a mass blessing in a similar room.
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A jade Buddha
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A close up of the gold pagoda
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Some realistic Buddhas

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The breathtaking gardens outside of the temple’s exit

After exiting the temple we walked through stunning gardens like the one above and went up some more stairs to a gazebo that looked over the entirety of Chiang Mai.  It was an incredible view and the underside of the gazebo was decorated with carvings of the different Buddhas.  I became a little obsessed with learning about my Sunday Buddha and seeking him out in religious artwork.  The tour ended with a bathroom break in a ginormous store full of anything you could imagine made out of jade from chess sets to bangles (unfortunately, it was such a quick stop we didn’t get any photos).

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Another elephant sculpture on the way up
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More stunning architecture outside of the temple
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An incredible view of Chiang Mai
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Our tour guide helping me find my Sunday Buddha
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The whole gazebo
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Looking out over Thailand

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I didn’t even know I was doing my Buddha posture!

It was a really intense day of hiking and sensory overload at the temple, but this was our last night in Chiang Mai and we weren’t done with this city yet!  After we rested off our tour, we got changed and ordered an Uber (no more walking) and went to the Chiang Mai Sunday Market.  We were instantly struck by how busy this place was!  Crowds filled the entire width of the street and the smells of street food wafted out from behind the people selling their trinkets.  Even more shocking was the price of this stuff!  So inexpensive we could hardly believe it.  We ended up buying clothes, lanterns, art, and other gifts for people back home.  Then we stopped at a restaurant called Cooking Home and I ate one of my favorite Thai dishes to date:  Khao Sui.  This is a yellow curry soup that you can only get in Northern Thailand and it’s to die for.  When the night was over, we took our first tuk tuk (basically a chair rigged to the back of a moped) ride back to our hotel and so ended our time in Chiang Mai.

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The huge crowd in the market
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Not the prettiest picture but the most delicious dish:  Khao Sui
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Tuk Tuk Driver!
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Feeling a little nervous on our super fast tuk tuk ride

Chiang Mai was our favorite part of Thailand and we can’t wait to go back.  BUT I can’t wait for my next installment in this series where we visit the insane and massive city of Bangkok!

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