On thursday night we set off for Chiang Mai. This was the first time I had been north of Bangkok in Thailand - when I visited four years ago we went down south and did the islands so this time I as excited to see a whole new side of Thailand. And we certainly did. Within an hour of arriving in Chiang Mai I had decided that I loved it. After checking int our htel we set off for the night bazaar nearby and had a lovely wander round before grabbing some food. I also had my first experience of a banana roti - a kind of banana pancake which is completey amazing!! Then we jmped in a tuk tuk - the first of many - and set ff for a night time tour of the city walls. Chiang Mai has a central walled section which is exactly square: each side is 1.6km and inside is the old part of the city. The walls are surrounded by a moat, which contributes to the city's general prettiness. Straight way I decided that Chiang Mai is far prettier than Bangkok. It has much more of a small city feel and while is very Asian it manages to produce a feel of a more European city too - a really nice combination. We finished our first evening ith drinks at The Riverside, pub/bar which is as the name suggests, on the riverside and is really lovely, with a live band playing and a very pleasant and chilled out atmosphere.
We were up and about on our first full day, setting off for the Tiger Kingdom which is just outside Chiang Mai, in Mae Rim. Ed had taken my mum to the Tiger temple in northern thailand the year before and I was also keen to stroke a tiger! From people I have met and spoken to while travelling I have heard a lot of different opinions of these tiger places, surrounding the morality of keeping the tigers n captivity and used primarily as a tourist attraction. The only way I would know what I thought would be to go. We did have a great time. We opted to see the biggest tigers and the smallest, whic were apparently only about 5 months old. We could lie down with them and stroke them and even rest our heads on them, and none of them minded. At first I was concerned that they were tranqilized but then I remembered what I had read on the leaflet, that none of the tigers were drugged in any way. Also, lets be honest, cats in general do have a habit of sleeping a lot and every single tiger we saw stood up and moved about and looked thoroughly awake, even if we had to wait until they were sitting or lying before approaching. Also, there wasn't a single tiger that looked underfed or unhappy - in fact they all looked very healthy. Nor were they chained as apparently they are at the tiger kingdom...yes they were in cages, but spacious cages around which they could roam free and jump in pools of water to cool down. Of course, they are nowhere near free but at least by places like this caring for them, the tiger numbers are prevented from getting too low. There are lots of ways to look at it and it certainly isn't natural but it could be a lot lot worse.
And getting that close to a number of tigers was amazing! They are so beautiful and feel as strong as they look. Although at one point I just couldn't help but think of the tiger in the Hangover and for about 5 minutes culd not stop laughing. They really are just big cats though...I rubbed one's tummy and he rolled over to tel me to carry on, just like my cats would at home. Not sure I would one of these big ones sleeping in my bed though!
From the tigers we set off to visit Wat Prathat Doi Suithep - a gorgeus temple set high in Thailand's eighth highest mountain, at the top of 300 steps. It is one of the country's most important religious sights and once I had covered my legs and shoulders with some heavy and very hot shawl things we tok off our shoes, went inside and found out why. It is meant to be a spiritual guardian over the city and was built in the 14th century - way before they had any sort of machinery to carry all the materials up the mountain to make it. It did have a very spiritual atmosphere about it, despite it being fairly busy with visitors, an there were lots of Thais walking clockwise round the chedi with their hands clasped together - making merit. The whole place is beautiful and we were lucky enough to have a sunny day making the gold shimmer even more in the sunlight. We each received a piece of holy cotton round our wrists which suposedly will give us good luck This is when I was reminded that women are not supposed to get too close to monks, and monks are not allowed to touch women. I tried following Ed over to the monk to have my cotton tied on and he gestured strongly for me to go to the other man who was not a monk. It took a while for me to realise what he was on about, but thankfully didn't embarrass myself too much.
Before leaving we spent a few minutes taking in the stunning view from the temple, right over Chiang Mai. We could make out the walled square section and watched a plane take off from the airport runway far below us. This showed us how high up we were, it was quite a while before the plane was actually level with us. We then headed back down into the city we had just admired from above and as we wandered through the old part of the city, in the walled section came across the Three Kings monument which is situated in a large square which roughly marks the centre of the city. Here our attention was caught, firstly by a large elephant with gold shimmery stuff all over its head and neck, wandering about with a man on his back, as if waiting for something. then we noticed all the people sitting waiting along the side of the square, stretching down the road, all in various types of uniforms and looking expectant. Lots of other regular people seemed to be milling about waiting for something too...we decided to hang around and see if something happened. After asking a woman who looked as though she knew what was going on, we found out that a procession was about to take place to mark the something thousand year anniversary of the Buddha's Enlightemnent. This sounded exciting and sure enough, after a few minutes waiting, everything started happening. The procession got underway, with lots of music and drums and flags, and difficulty getting the elephant and his rider under the electricity cables above the streets. We followed the stream of noise and colour all the way down a long street, unable to believe our luck that we had just stumbled across such an event. I don't really know who everybody was, except for the group of monks and a group of what looked like navy officers, but I assume they were important people in some way. The procession was making its way towards a temple we could see ahead in the distance and we managed to get a good spot in the crowds that had formed there to see them all file in. Then it got even more exciting as Ed worked out from the commentary that the Thai Prime Minister was present, which explained all the television crews and camaras. We caught a glimpse of her being escorted past, which was more exciting for Ed than it was for me, as he sees her on television and hears about her every day. But I just couldn't believe we had come across this event totally by accident. It was just such a wonderful, colourful, exciting and incredibly Thai event, and it felt nice to have been able to be a very small part of it.
After a glorious thai massage we ate dinner at a cute little restaurant draped in greenery which did amazing thai food. Cocktails followed, at a variety of very nice bars, making our way down the road and also finding two bars that literally only had one choice of drink, despite the menu...very strange. After a last cocktail watching a live band at a bar called Social Animal we headed back to our hotel to bed.On our way we encountered a totally crazy tuk tuk driver. He was off literally as soon as our bums touched the seats; there was no waiting until our arms and legs were in too. He jumped red lights, flew across 4 way crossroads with just a beep of his horn and generally hared his way through the winding, narrow streets as though his life depended on it. When we got off at our hotel, about 3 times sooner than it would have been with a sane driver, I think Ed's legs were as shaky as mine.
Our second day was so full it needs its own post. so skipping ahead to our third day...after the antics of thr day before we were exhausted so slept in and then after a hearty breakfast headed off in search of the Chiang Mai museum and cultural centre. After walking for what seemed like hours, and stopping off for a very necessary iced smoothie along the way, we found ourselves going round in circles, eventually stopping to ask a security guy at a promising looking building. He told us that the museum was closed because it was sunday. How annoying. He did tell us that there was another museum down the road though, so we set off for that. When we found it however, it turned out to be the museum we had been looking for. I have no idea what the other place was. But we spent the afternoon looking round and learning about the history of this lovely city. What I found most interesting was the part about the theory behind the layout of the city, particularly that when it was founded in 1296, it was thought to resemble a human body and as a result only 'good' things could enter by the north, and everything left by the south.
Time was getting on and we had a flight to catch that evening so we eventually left the museum and wandered back in the general direction of our hotel through the old town, in the walled square. As evening was approaching, peple were setting up stalls all along the streets selling so much tempting stuff that it was a good job I wasn't on my own as I would probably still be there. It did mean that as the sreets now looked totally different we got completely disorientated trying to find our way out, but we did eventually and ate at a street side place where we watched our food being freshly prepared - always makes it taste better. For the first time since I had arrived we got a taste of the thai tropical rain...it poured with warm rain for about twenty minutes and then stopped, the air thankfully fresher and cooler as a result. All too soon, it was time to get on the plane and leave this gorgeous city behind.