Sunday, 7 January 2018


27th Dec 2017 - 2nd Jan 2018

Wat Phra Singh. Chiang Mai
I had intended to go to Chiang Mai by sleeper train, but it was fully booked, so I travelled by 'VIP' bus from Bangkok instead; an 11 hour overnight journey. Not very VIP, but reasonably comfortable with air-con, 'entertainment screens' for which you had to provide your own headset and which I did not have, plus a supply of water, cup of tea and a bun filled with custard given to us by a rather hatchet-faced 'stewardess' at the start. The seats semi-reclined but were not very spacious. I had the misfortune to have a very well upholstered Thai bloke sitting next to me and he did rather overflow his seat somewhat. He had a headset! We stopped mid-route for a complimentary food break. It pissed with rain for the whole journey and I did not get much sleep. The road was motorway for most of the way and, being night, there was not much to see. Indeed I doubt if there would have been much to see even in daylight. Buildings and/or trees lined the road most of the way. We arrived at Chiang Mai bus station at 7.20am and it was still raining.

Tuk-tuk into town and by good fortune I found a cheap and cheerful hostel/hotel called 'Smile House 1 Guesthouse' which offered single rooms for 350 Baht per night (£9). Better than the standard 1200 Baht (£30) offered at most other 'cheapo' places. OK, the decor was fairly rough and ready but my room has a comfortable bug-free bed, hot shower, decent loo, several power points, a good fan and resident Gecko which I have named Gordon. Also a charming staff at the desk and a very cheap and efficient laundry service; plus a pleasant sitting out area around (left) a swimming pool, until the mozzies fly in at dusk. It is also conveniently situated in the centre of the old town. What more could you want?

Whats in Chiang Mai? There are lots of Wats (Buddhist temples), thats what. Right: Wat Kainda Phoolamai. These and massage parlours, tourist information offices (for that read tour sales), tattoo parlours, bars, restaurants and many tourists, ex-pats and, what I am told are called, 'digital nomads'. For some reason there is a preponderance of Americans here, some wearing baseball caps on back to front; a greater concentration than I have seen anywhere else in this part of the world.

This is a big city, but the tourist/ex-pat area is contained mainly within the old town surrounded by a rectangular moat and to an area just east of that.
Left: Part of the moat on the eastern side. There was an engaged couple here having their romantic pre-wedding photos taken, as is compulsory in the build up to any Asian wedding.

I joined the photographer and his team. A stumble or one small push........I was quivering with anticipation of a display of pre-nuptial synchronised swimming.

Left: Part of a reconstructed section of the old city wall and eastern gate inside the moat. Not much of the original wall remains.

Right: Another Wat. Wat Skookin Gudlukin.

Left: Much praying goes on inside these elaborately decorated places despite hordes of tourists (shoes removed) taking photos from behind. 
The monks do 'chanting' sessions in the evening which, I am informed, are very hypnotic. I've yet to witness that.

....Praying not only in front of an image of Buddha, but also in front of very realistic sculptures of, I assume, deceased high ranking monks (right).

Left: These 'images' are incredibly lifelike.

In one Wat, Wat Snieu Pusikat, on New Year's Eve, someone (in civvies, not a monk) was unwinding a white cord which he was draping over and around the large congregation so they were all symbolically joined together, I suppose. 

Left: The remains of what was an enormous stupa at Wat Chedi Luang near the old town centre.

Outside which rows of chairs were awaiting occupants for a service of some sort on New Years Eve.

Left: An example of elaborate decoration around the Buddha at Wat Thai Missit.

Right: Wat Gosup Muscumdauwn. A less extravagant Wat with a more modest stupa somewhere in town.

Left: Monks outside Wat Dyoowan Neow, again on New Years eve, hanging bits of rolled up cloth on an extensive string matrix. I didn't find out the reason for this but I'm sure it was an important one.

Right: Wat Sitalabow Talphee. There were many many more......

...and I think that is quite enough about Wats for the time being.

Left: A curious statue outside the regional traffic cop HQ of a policeman carrying a dead body with a small naked boy grabbing his trousers. I leave you to think of a suitable interpretation.

Right: The river Ping flows through the city. There are river cruises on offer which I might take up. Hopefully, unlike the Perfume river in Hué, Vietnam, there is not a pong on the Ping.

Left: One of the many markets and bazaars around the east of town.
There is a Night Bazaar on Loi Khro St. which features two or three vast semi-covered markets and an uncountable number of bars, massage parlours, tattoo shops and 'tourist information' offices and appears to be very popular. Trouble is, most of the stalls sell much the same things; T shirts, fabrics, sunglasses, wood carvings, jewellery etc. etc. I don't understand how they all manage to make much money. 

Right: However one enterprising stall-holder obviously caters for one-legged women.

I mentioned the proliferation of bars and massage parlours. On Loi Khro, the street leading to the Night Bazaar, I counted (yes, nothing better to do!) on a 300 yd stretch no less than 49 narrow fronted bars and 21 massage parlours. There are countless others on the surrounding streets. Incredible! Perhaps I should go on a massage parlour crawl.

New Year's Eve featured lots of celebrations in Wats, fireworks and swarms of flying lanterns released non-stop all evening (left). They drifted off into the wooded hillsides beyond. I expect the Chiang Mai Regional Fire Service was kept busy putting out forest fires somewhere to the north-east.

Ending this episode on a sad note; the lovely staff of the Smile House Guesthouse own a very old dog, a cross between a labrador and Thai ridgeback. It is 19 years old and a bit blind, deaf and wobbly on it's feet (I know how it feels), but much loved. Anyway, sometime on New Year's Eve it disappeared; they suspect spooked by the fireworks. It hasn't been seen or heard of since despite lots of 'missing dog' posters displayed in the streets. I have been helping them search. Great sadness all round.

Right: A correctly dressed stall-holder preparing for the Sunday night street market on the main Ratchadamnoen Street. This proved to be so packed later on with stalls and punters it was difficult to move.

BTW, they have weird licensing laws here (not noticed anywhere else). No alcohol can be served or sold in bars or shops between 2pm and 5pm. Strange, inconvenient and rather pointless as people just stock up beforehand.

Off on a looksee around the local countryside next................

Pop can mai.

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