We arrived bright and early in Chiang Mai, a city in Northern Thailand relatively close to the Myanmar border and nestled against beautiful blue mountains. Unlike Bangkok, a clearly metropolitan city that felt extremely familiar, Chiang Mai is a true southeast Asian experience. The skyline is dotted with the golden and red roofs of Wats across the city, and the streets are slightly less paved and less crowded than in Bangkok. However, they are filled with incredible street foods, and very easy to walk through to get to the different temples.
We spent the majority of our early afternoon slightly lost (of course) looking for one of the few restaurants open, called the Whole Earth. Almost everything is closed here on account of the Buddhist holiday. In Bangkok, the holiday only manifested in a prohibition on the sale of alcohol (a rule either disregarded or casually *wink wink* circumvented in clever ways – oh, we aren’t “selling” you the alcohol, as a guest at the hotel, you are entitled to an adult beverage in your room… for a small fee). However, in Chiang Mai, a clearly religious center, people actually observe and respect the rules and at almost every temple we saw, Buddhist monks young and old were gathered at the temples, along with a variety of locals for religious festivals.
On our way to lunch, we walked by several beautiful Wats. The first was unoccupied as the monks were eating lunch.
Then, we went to a Wat on the grounds of the Imperial Mae Ping hotel, which had an interesting Chinese influence to it.
Finally, we arrived at the restaurant (after someone at the Imperial Mae Ping watched us circle for the second time and called us over to help with our map). After taking off our shoes and leaving them on the lower level, we walked up the beautiful wooden stairs of the restaurant and into the most serene dining space I’ve been to in a while. Beautiful meditative music played softly over the speakers, and the wooden walls culminated in a ceiling painted in soft lavender and green lotus leaves. We ordered spring rolls, pad thai, and a steamed seafood curry in banana leaf bowl as our meal, topped off with a couple of Thai iced coffees.
Needless to say, the food was great. The steamed curry was unlike anything we’ve had – it was the consistency of a souffle, with the seafood mixed into the batter and baked into an almost custardy consistency. After some mango ice cream, we headed back out to venture to the Old City to Chiang Mai where the majority of the dozens of Wats are.
Almost all of the Wats are decorated beautifully, inside and out.
They also are a beautiful relief from the buildings in the city – for example, this one is across from a department store.
Once in the Old City, there is a much higher concentration of Wats, including some of the most famous and historic Wats in town. We headed first to the Wat Phra Singh, which is a complex of several buildings dating back several hundred years to the Lanna empire. If anyone read back when we were in Cambodia in early 2016, the style and design of some of the more ancient temples here is similar to those in Siem Reap with Hindu, Buddhist and other early religious iconography and design.
The detail work and designs are beautiful throughout the complex.
We then went around back, where there is space for religious practice and several beautiful areas covered in gold leaf.
We then headed over to Wat Chedi Luang, which is the home of the reclining Buddha. One the way, we saw a couple smaller Wats as well, and got a great view of Phra Singh from the street.
Wat Chedi Luang is another larger complex, with an older temple in the center, and then several houses of worship around it.
The design and detail of the surrounding chapels and the reclining Buddha were beautiful.
It started to rain, so we rushed to find shelter in a coffee shop, where we enjoyed some Thai iced tea to cool off. As we waited out the rain, a small street food fair started to set up right outside, which we wandered by on the way back to the hotel before dinner.
One thing Chiang Mai doesn’t have a shortage of is food – and the portions are quite sizable at dinner as well. We went to the 1921 Restaurant, which is modeled after a spy organization and has a fun but upscale vibe to it. We ordered the Chiang Mai sausage to keep the portion down. Well, not to leave anyone hungry, of course the sausage came with a huge portion of cracklings, fried chicken, a tomato based dipping sauce, and a sambal dipping sauce, along with veggies for good measure. Oh, and this was after a free starter of two kinds of crispy rice and boiled peanuts.
Then for our mains, I tried the Khao Soi Gai, the local curry broth noodle dish, while Perry got the beef dish.
Overall, we could not have been happier as we waddled back to the hotel via the night market.