Song of the Day: Time of the Season by The Zombies
Yesterday we took a minibus back from Pai to Chiang Mai. It was three quid each and a much more relaxed journey than the previous one, as at no point did we fear we were going to plummet off a cliff at 70mph. In the morning we thanked Connor the Brummy expat for his fantastic hospitality, and said an emotional goodbye to Reg, who may very well be the most intelligent dog in the world. We were given a lift to the minibus by Connor’s wife Maaw in the motorbike and sidecar, and part of me wanted Reg to repeat her antics of the previous day and jump on the moving vehicle – we could have taken her all round South East Asia and dropped her back off before we move on to India.
After checking into the hostel yesterday we didn’t do much. We were knackered so we got an Indian takeaway and watched Friends on youtube – the one with Marcel the Monkey and Jean Claude Van Damme. Today we took a songtheaw from Chiang Mai old town up to the mountain temple of Wat Doi Suthep. It was another nice’n’nauseating journey on a serpentine road up the mountainside – but so worth the journey once we got there. We were dreading having to ascend the advertised “300 steps” up to the temple in the hot afternoon sun, but as it turned out it wasn’t that bad – maybe they couldn’t count, cos I reckon there were only 150 at the most. Either side of the staircase were statues of fearsome-looking serpents with several heads each. Their bodies formed the banisters at each side of the staircase. We climbed the stairs and paid the 30 baht foreigner fee before entering the temple complex under a gilded golden arch. In fact, the term “gilded golden” applies to pretty much everything I am about to describe in the temple, so in order to save me from repetitive strain from re-typing it over and over again, just assume that everything that I don’t describe as otherwise in the next passage is covered in gold.
We took off our shoes and left them with about four hundred other pairs, earmarking where ours were just as you might when parking your car up in a large supermarket carpark. In this courtyard were huge, gnarled trees that must easily have been 500 years old, covered in prayer flags and little trinkets of various colours, but most of them were (see above paragraph). We went through an outbuilding and into the inner courtyard of the temple, where all sorts of shrines were bedecked with candles, incense and more precious-looking trinkets. We entered a room with a gigantic statue of Buddha with various smaller statues crowded all around. This kind of room seems to form the main font of worship in all of the Wats we have visited and I suppose the best comparison would be to that of an altar in a Christian Church, only much more grand and expensive-looking. To the left of the room sat a very amiable monk in the lotus position, who indicated for Hollie and I to kneel, along with about 8 others. We did as he asked and recieved a blessing much like the one I described in Pai – he dipped a kind of split bamboo cane into an ornate silver tankard containing water, which he proceeded to sprinkle all over the assembled tourists whilst repeating various incantations in a language I didn’t understand, though it didn’t sound like Thai. He said in English “Good luck to you all and always be happy” and that was our cue to get up. I think I will take this Monk’s advice. In the centre of the inner courtyard was a huge stupa (a kind of large bell-shaped tower, with a prominent spire pointing to the sky). I know I told you just to assume everything was golden, but the gold on this stupa deserves a special mention. It was possibly the most golden thing we have ever seen, and it’s irridescent gleam was amplified by the sunlight so that you could swear it was glowing.
All of these buildings were impressive. The constant presence of orange-robed monks and the din of huge cast-iron bells added to the other-wordly atmosphere in the place. But possibly more impressive than all of this was the view over Chiang Mai. A long balcony at the far end of the temple presents a view over the entirety of Thailand’s second city. Though the air in the valley below is a constant hazy grey from a combination of pollution and farmers burning their fields. You could clearly make out the perfect square of the old city in which we are currently staying, divided from the rest of Chiang Mai by an ancient moat and a highway either side of it. You could see the various domes and pagodas of other temples miles below, and you could see the whole airport including the landing strip. A distant rumble every now and again indicated a plane taking off or landing, and it was amazing to see how long these tiny, cigar shaped streaks took to get to an altitde that levelled the mountain on which we were standing. Of all the ruins and modern temples we have visited, Doi Suthep has been the most impressive. As with the Temple of the White Buddha at Pai, I don’t think you need to be religious in any way to appreciate these Buddhist temples – the people who design these things seem to go to great lengths to ensure that everything you see, hear and feel in these places provides a calming, meditative effect on the soul.
The good vibes of Doi Suthep were quickly dissolved by the cheap gasoline fumes and roaring complaint of a tuk tuk engine. The sleeper train we had tried to book for Saturday had turned out to be fully booked, so we had to rush to the station to try and get the next train we could. By far the quickest way of doing so in Thailand is to scythe through the rush hour traffic in a glorified sardine tin mounted on a motorbike engine. The Chiang Mai to Bangkok sleeper train has turned out to be a nightmare to book during the tourist high season. We ended up having to take beds in seperate carriages on the 23rd February, meaning that we’ve had to extend our stay in Chiang Mai by three nights. It’s a pity because we have so much that we want to fit in and we wanted to be in Cambodia by Sunday, but this is what we’ve learned about travelling. Stuff goes awry in the blink of an eye and you just shrug your shoulders and get on with it. There are far worse cities to be stuck in than Chiang Mai – Hollie and me agree that it’s our favourite destination in Thailand.
Tomorrow we’re going on a day trip to Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, paddle about in some hotsprings and go to the “Golden Triangle” – the exact point of the land where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet.
Have a cracking day, whatever you’re up to.
Tommy and Hollie x