Connect the dots

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chiang Mai Kind of Town

I found a new place to call home. No, not Bangkok. There's too much consumerism with mall upon mall scattered throughout the city-scape and smog-choking traffic congesting the streets.

Chiang Mai is more my style. (Although the month of March fills the air with slash and burn smoke from the countryside farms.) In particular, the old town is a place where you can leisurely take a bike ride, get a traditional Thai massage (120Baht or $4.00/hour) at a temple, shop for local produce at a market in one of the winding sois, and order a bowl of khao soi, a creamy Chiang Mai curry noodle soup, at one of the many down to earth restaurants showcasing northern Thai cuisine. Also a university town, you won't be out of place taking a Thai language course, kicking butt at a muay thai boxing lesson, or savoring the fresh flavors at a cooking class. Those needing some retail therapy can revel in everything hand made. This is the heart of handicrafts in Thailand. Typically on offer: Thai celadon, batik and silk fabrics, hill-tribe embroidery and crafts, lacquer ware and silver jewelry. As the former capital of the Lanna kingdom (13th-15th century), it maintains a distinctive architecture and culture.

Live in a Lanna/Colonial home

Take a walk (or bike) around town and you'll no doubt come across one of the many temples in the old city. You see hints of the Hindu influence where the nagas or serpents adorn the entrance to every temple. However, colorful tiled three tiered roofs, with gold bird-shaped silhouettes on its tips, house the Buddhas in the main temples. And as in Sri Lanka, a chedi or stupa, often with a lotus topping its spire, can be found on the temple grounds. The well-maintained gardens at the temples are a great way to cool off in the middle of the day or chat with the local monks to learn more about their way of life. 


For good luck, you can release birds at Wat Chiang Mun, the oldest temple in the old city.

The city (as much of Thailand) is meticulously clean. I can probably even say that it's cleaner than most of NY! There is rarely garbage on the streets and recycling can be seen from the temples to a center that sorts the various plastics, electronics and paper. 

Temple recycling bin

Street treats are found all over the city. In between temple visits we snacked on fried crab bites and fish tofu.

A filling bowl of Chiang Mai noodles or khao soi

 At the end of the day, treat yourself to one of these:

Many of the local temples are ready to pamper you! But beware, if you've never gotten a traditional Thai body massage, it's not exactly a relaxing experience, think more along the lines of passive yoga workout. Stick to the hour long foot massages if that's what you're looking for. The best are at Wat Sum Pao and Wat Mahawan. 

There are even massages on offer at the women's prison. Inmates that are scheduled to be released within 6 months give massages (and get paid!) in a rehabilitation program that prepares them to work when they are back in society. 

Relax, you're at the women's prison!

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