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                              CHIANG MAI, Northern THAILAND

Overnight Train Bangkok to Chiang Mai

We boarded the train in Bangkok at 9:30 PM ready for another adventure. We had first class seats (not cabin deluxe) and you sat facing each other for the first part of the journey. Then the porter came and transformed your seats into sleeping berths, one upper and one lower. There were curtains you could pull across for privacy, although it didn't cut out the sound of your neighbors snoring!

The night train proved to be a rough go and Gord especially, being in the top bunk, could not sleep for the jerky side to side motion and the constant clickity, clickity, click of the train along the tracks. The train stopped at a multitude of stations and Gord said that is when we was able to catch a few winks. I was anxious to see the countryside so perched myself up to look out the window at first light. The countryside had transformed to lush hilly terrain, totally different from the flat floodplains of Bangkok.

The Old City

May 19   We arrived in Chiang Mai at 9 am and we hailed a Tuk Tuk to take us to our hotel. We were fascinated by the drive that led us into the old town of Chiang Mai. The city is surrounded by a mote. A one way street skirts the outside of the mote, landscapes with trees and flowers along a walkway. Inside the mote a one way street going in the opposite direction circumnavigates the city.

Along the banks of the mote are ruminants of the old brick and stone walls  that surround the 700 year old city. Many parts of the original wall and mote have been restored, primarily at the five gateways that provide entrance into the area.
There were no highrise buildings in this historical old city. Many of the traditional style architect is still present among the cobbled red brick roads. Everywhere there are shops, guesthouses, markets, all bustling with activity.

The first thing we noticed was that the climate was cooler and very pleasant. People of Chiang Mai were significantly darker complexioned, more of Chinese and Indian heritage. The culture is unique and quite removed from that of the central plains, the northern hill tribes people in abundance.

Doi Suthep

After our check in at the CM Bluehouse, a guesthouse run by a couple of expats from Hawaii, we caught a songthaew (pick-up truck) to take us up a steep series of hairpin turns rising up to the flanks of Doi Suthep, the huge form that looms over the city. According to legend, holy relics discovered in the 13th century were place on the back of white elephants which carried them to Wat Phrathat, then dropped dead of exhaustion. This is the site where the temple was built.

 

There are 306 steps leading to the upper terrace. We encountered a couple of children from one of the surrounding hill tribes dressed in their traditional garb. The top of the stairs were guarded by a huge gold inlaid dragon, its tail flowing down the length of the stairway to form the railing.

The courtyard was surrounded by beautifully decorated buildings with engraved gold plates and walls painted with murals depicting the life of Buddha. 

Everywhere, excessive amounts of gold.
Below was the impressive view of Chiang Mai sprawling to the horizon.

 

Buddha's and Bells

Doi Suthep was chockers with statues of Buddhas in keeping with Thailand's reputation of having more Buddha images than people.Most of the Buddhas were gold but some were carved from jade and other stones.

 

The succession of bells, each having a different tone, can be heard chiming over Chiang Mai.


Of course there were the usual stalls selling souvenirs from the temple but there were also many items that we had not seen before and we purchased a few trinkets from the over-exuberant women, all trying to compete for our business!

Shopping Paradise

We discovered a number of markets around Chiang Mai, all encompassing blocks and blocks of vendor stalls. There was the Saturday Market with numerous streets of crafts and jewelry and other handmade items for sale, very reasonably priced. The Night Bazaar a great experience even just for the atmosphere, consisted of rows of stalls lining the streets, some permanent structures. Nothing carries a pricetag and haggling is the order of the day. By far the largest was the Sunday Market where locals and tourists packed the streets of Chiang Mai bustling with cheap souvenirs, food, hill tribe products, ethnic garments, woodcarvings,  and every craft imaginable.


 
There was even Siamese fighting fish for sale.

Somehow in the crowded frenzy we bumped smack into Jim and Penny from Ali Kai II whom we had not seen since New Zealand. Again.....small world!

 
 

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