The fact that Chiang Mai is over 700 years old (despite it’s name meaning the new city) is clear from the 300 wats (temples) that dot every main road and nook of the city. While we didn’t have enough time to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and its 300 steps since that is nearly a half day activity, we did do an evening walk through the old city, to orient ourselves and peeped into the vastly different collection of wats along the way.
Starting point: The Miami Hotel Chiang Mai where we were staying.
1. Wat Chai Si Phum is a 1967 wat that is utterly gorgeous. It was an instant sense of calm just to walk through the wat grounds where we saw a young monk meditating at the water.
2. Marlboro House was our second stop.
Located in the tiny lane next to Wat Chai Si Phum, it is a discreet biker bar that is owned by the very affable Joe – a bike enthusiast affiliated with most biker associations in the area. We were shocked to find two bikes parked bang in the middle of the garage shop cafe. It is homely, yet tastefully merging a mix of interior styles, with his volley of small dogs adding to the ambience. A coffee, heartwarming conversation and a cheese sandwich later, we were all set to go on our walk that would pretty much take us right through the city.
From Marlboro House we took a Tuk Tuk to Wat Phra Singh. The 10 minute Tuk Tuk ride cost us a pre-agreed upon amount of 60 baht.
3. Wat Phra Singh is the main temple in the old city.
A buddhist temple that is guarded by two singhs (lions) at the entrance. It houses a Buddha statue that is paraded through the streets on the festival of Songkran and sprinkled with water. Like most pieces of architecture built in the Lanna empire, this one too has seen terrible days of demolition at the hands of the Burmese. Sights that you shouldn’t miss at Wat Phra Singh are the copy of the Emerald Buddha at the Ubosot, and the lions emerging from the mythical creature Makara guarding the entrance to the library. The temple was shutting as we entered, and we caught a marvellous sight. Lots and lots of monks, creating a sea of saffron drapes. Against the rich golden interiors, it was a spellbinding sight.
We walked out of the gates of Wat Phra Singh and strolled down the road right in front of it, Ratchadamnoen Road. This seemed like a more upscale tourist area compared to what we had seen in Bangkok. Older, well heeled tourists sat around at bars and restaurants, in the verandahs of the various boutique hotels, or getting massages in the spa/ massage parlours along the road.
I was following the walk on a route I had marked out and saved on Google maps, and I quickly realised how short the distances really were, even though they seemed so far apart on the map. This walk really is a breeze and you can do it in a couple of hours, even if you go real slow and stop to take in every little thing like we did.
4. Wat Pan Tao was like nothing we’d ever seen before.
By this time, we had just begun to think, a wat is a wat, I mean in what way could one really be much different from another? At Wat Pan Tao, we found out just how wrong we were. What stood before us was a gargantuan teak structure. Teak panels, teak pillars, all crafted with beautiful and intricate Thai motifs. The Wat Phan Tao means the monastery of a thousand kilns, probably because it was originally a place for casting Buddha statues. At the entrance, don’t miss the beautiful peacock looking over the dog.
We continued walking further down the road, until we reached Wat Chedi Luang.
5. Wat Chedi Luang is over 600 years old, and the structure and it’s grounds resonates that fact right through.
Behind the newer temple, you’ll also see ruins of the older structures. There are two temples round the back, one with a glittering mosaic and the other with the famous wax structure of the Forest Monk that everyone comes to see.There are tales like you can earn good karma by chatting with the Monks and helping them with their English to getting good luck by ringing the bell three times.
6. Chiang Mai Gate is a remnant of the old city that stands even today. The city had four gates at the time, which could be accessed by crossing the moat. This is the south gate that was considered the rear gate to the city.
From Chiang Mai Gate, we walked through the gate ruins and turned right to find ourselves standing in the middle of a crowded and busy street that was bursting at the seams with food carts and card tables.
7. Street Food smells brought the air to life and the sizzling sound of fresh food being cooked really whipped up our appetites.
We were entranced for a while, as we walked down the road, unable to pick. Orienting ourselves, we figured out the right side of the road had full pre-cooked meals, many of which were Malay cuisine, which we saw people picking up as take-away parcels. On the opposite side of the road were Thai food carts, where we settled down to a scrumptious meal of fried chicken, Pork Noodle Soup and Fried Beef with rice along with some beers we picked up from the 7 eleven across the street.
With our tummies full, we hopped into a tuk tuk back to the Miami Hotel and slept a very contented sleep.
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