Temples, Elephants and Waterparks in Chiang Mai

On the 22nd April 2018 at 8:30am, we got on a flight to take us from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. It had worked out cheaper to do an hour long flight compared to an overnight train or bus so it had been an easy decision for us. Our flight was uneventful with us both sleeping for the duration and we arrived in Chiang Mai just after 9:30am. We had booked to stay at Hug Hostel which we were happy with. They had helpful staff, quick WiFi, an entertainment room with Netflix and comfy beds. It was also within walking distance to most of the attractions in Chiang Mai which was ideal.

We couldn’t check into our room until 2pm so we rested and then as soon as we were checked in we went out to start exploring. Chiang Mai’s old town – the main area to stay and visit – is full of Buddhist temples of various ages and styles. Niall compared it to Kyoto in Japan which is right as it’s the place to come to get your temple fix and you’ll probably never find them all as there are so many! When I googled it, it said there was over 300 temples throughout the city.

Chiang Mai is in northern Thailand in the mountains but we never really got to see the views of this as we were there during burning season where farmers burn their land to promote new growth so the air is quite smoggy and it makes it look like it’s always cloudy. Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 and the Old Town still has the moat and parts of the wall from that era although they have been severely damaged from the Japanese removing bricks during the Second World War.

As there were so many temples we were never going to see them all but we managed to get to a lot of the main ones that were mainly situated in the old town where we were staying.

Wat Saen Muang Mai Luang

Our first temple was probably one of my favourites due to the big statues and colours. Wat Saen Muang Mai Luang was a really nice temple with lots of gold carvings, tiered roofs and wooden carvings of elephants. The complex was quite big and was our first introduction to the many temples in Chiang Mai which I think was nice as we just stumbled across it and it isn’t as well known.Wat Chiang Man

I liked this temple for the heavy feature of elephants in the stupa. This is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai and was built in 1296 when the city was founded. The temple was also the residence of Chiang Mai’s founder, King Mengrai for a while (I imagine while he got a palace built).Wat Phra Singh

This is a busy temple that’s visited throughout the year but has special significance during the Thai New Year festival called Songkran. During this time the statue of the Buddha that’s housed here (which is claimed to have great significance in Buddhism) is carried through the streets whilst locals sprinkle water over it. Unfortunately we missed being in Thailand for Songkran by a few days (we were at the IPL cricket though so it’s ok really) but it would have been cool to see this big Buddha being paraded through the streets here!Wat Phan Tao

Wat Phan Tao is a large wooden temple which made it quite different to the other temples we had seen that day. The Prayer Hall is made from a dark type of wood called teak which was donated as an offering to the Buddha during the peak of the teak trade in the area. There is a large golden Buddha inside of the temple which was very nice and it was relaxing to go and sit in the temple for a while.Wat Chedi Luang

I think this was one of my favourites in Chiang Mai just for its sheer size. As well as a pagoda, the main site is a giant stupa which was originally 80 metres tall and 60 metres across. It was built sometime between 1385 and 1402 and was severely damaged during an earthquake in 1545 so it’s not quite the size it once was.

Despite losing its top, this is still an enormous structure and it would have been amazing to see it at its full height. Around the stupa there are the remains of some statues of elephants which I can only assume used to be like that the entire way around the stupa. If that was the case then it would have looked really impressive! The middle has a section cut out of it to make the temple area and was used to hold the Emerald Buddha that now lives in Bangkok’s Grand Palace. There are steps that’s lead up to this platform and a different Buddha statue is in their now guarded by statues at the foot of the stairs which are still intact. I always love the details on the statues and can never believe that people were able to sculpt them when they didn’t have nearly the advanced tools that we have today – there were some very talented people out there!

Around the stupa there are smaller temple halls and statues of the Buddha that people can also worship making the whole complex very City Pillar

Before getting to Wat Chedi Luang there was a smaller temple called the City Pillar. Only Niall was allowed in here as women were banned. This is because a woman’s ability to menstruate is considered to be embarrassing towards worshipping the Buddha (or so said the sign). It didn’t matter if a woman was menstruating or not at the time of visiting the temple so I had to wait outside. Niall said it was nice but that I wasn’t missing out on not seeing it compared to the other temples around. We have seen this rule in some other places but it’s not normally a blanket rule for women but often more specific to certain times of the month (if you catch my drift) and so I was surprised to see that women were never allowed into this one. Oh well.Tan Pra Maha Kajjana

The focus of this temple was on an enlightened monk called Tan Pra Maha Kajjana. From what I was able to find out, this was an enlightened, very handsome monk who was often mistaken for the Buddha because of how good looking he was. Apparently this was causing some issues as people were starting to think bad thoughts due to his good looks. For example, one man wished that the monk was a women so that he could marry him which was seen as very evil towards an enlightened monk and so the man was instantly transformed into a woman himself as punishment. The monk decided that to stop these issues he would become ugly and so became a “fat, ugly monk” instead. There are a number of statues of the monk around this complex and some of them have an incredible likeness to the pictures to the point you could be mistaken to think it was real person sitting there at first glance.

That evening we went to the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market which was so good. I’m so glad we could be there on a Sunday to experience it as we got to try loads of food for really cheap prices. There were meat skewers, bowls of noodles and ice cream to name a few all for 10 baht (25p) so for the same price of the meals we were having in Bangkok we got to have fruit juices, a grilled pork skewer, ice cream, spring rolls and noodles all for (£2.70). The market doesn’t just have food but is also full of stands selling art, clothing, toys, woodwork, soaps and, really, anything you could think to want. If this was our last stop on our trip or we had just come for a holiday that market would have sorted us for any holiday gifts for people back home and I’d have likely spent a lot more money as I do love to shop!

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Our second day got off to a late start but then we hired a bike and went to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. As we hired the bike later in the day we had been able to get a 100 baht discount and so it cost us 150 baht (£3.40) for the day which made it a cheaper option than getting public transport. On our way to the temple we got pulled over by the police along with every other person on a bike. The police in Thailand are very corrupt and so we knew that this was going to be a way for them to get money off us. They asked for Niall’s driving licence (he was the one driving) which we had and then, once we showed them it, they said it wasn’t an international licence and so we had to pay 1000 baht (£23) as a fine. We said it was international and that we didn’t have any money on us (which we did but we weren’t going to give them it!) They said about going to the police station to pay and that they would keep our ID until then – all a tactic to try and scare us into paying them. We knew they were just trying to get money from us so we called their bluff. We maintained that we had no money and said that we would go to the police station to pay after getting money from our hostel if that was what they needed us to do. We knew for sure it wasn’t legit when at one point one of the policemen asked us how much money we did have if we didn’t have 1000 (I didn’t know fines were so negotiable?!) We wouldn’t let them keep our ID as we didn’t know how we’d ever get it back if we did and in the end they just let us go realising they couldn’t get any money from us! It was a surreal experience really and they must make a fortune from scaring tourists into giving them money.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep was up Doi Suthep mountain and has a few stalls near to the entrance where you can buy fruit shakes and trinkets. On our way up to the temple we stopped at a lookout although the views weren’t exceptional due to the haze from the burning that I mentioned earlier. It did allow us to see just how big Chiang Mai actually was which I hadn’t realised as we had only been in the old town of the city which is all within walking distance as it’s quite small.The temple is at the top of some steps that are lined with jewelled dragons which were very pretty. You had to pay to get in but it was only 30 baht (70p each) so it wasn’t a problem. Inside the temple there are a few buildings with the main complex housing a bright gold stupa surrounded by statues of the Buddha. As well as this there were orchids and roses in small gardens and a viewpoint to see over the city (you can see the gold stupa of this temple in town) but, again, we couldn’t see much of the views. We liked this temple and I particularly liked that there were flowers around the place too. It was very busy though but I think that was because we got there in the afternoon and that’s when the large buses with the Chinese tour groups arrive – it wasn’t an issue to stop us enjoying it though!For tea that evening we went to the Chiang Mai Gate Market as we’d heard that it did a really good range of food and that it also had a lady who did the best fruit shakes in town for just 20 baht (45p)! We found the lady who made the fruit shakes and they were very nice as she used a lot of fruit when some places use more ice. We got a mango, passionfruit and pineapple shake each which we enjoyed and then Niall got crispy pork with rice for his tea and I got a big bowl of noodle soup, something I’d been craving during our full time in India! The market was good and it’s on every night and is used by tourists and locals. There are a few markets like this throughout the old town and it was nice to see as it reminded us of our time in Malaysia and Vietnam where we ate street food every night in local markets.Our day on Tuesday 24th April was spent having an amazing time at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary where we got to feed, wash and play with rescued elephants. I’m going to talk about our time here in my next post as I have a lot of pictures I want to share but will leave you with a few pictures as a taster here.After a nap (we had been up since 6am for the elephant sanctuary) we went to get another fruit shake and were heading towards another temple when it started to get ready for a huge downpour. We decided to leave the temple for another day incase we got caught in the rain but it was still good to get out and get some fruit shakes (I wish I could have one every day)! Niall got his hair cut and then later on we went to the street market that was just by our hostel near the Chang Phuak Gate which is also on every night like the one we visited the day before. This market wasn’t as good though with much more of a focus on seafood and a lot less stalls so we ended up having fruit crepes for tea which were really nice. Thankfully the rain had lessened enough for us to get out to the market without being drenched!The next day we hired a bike again and went to the waterpark that was in a flooded quarry known as the Grand Canyon. This is not like the famous US wonder but is actually an old quarry that was created when the Chiang Mai Airport was built. Over the years this quarry filled up with rain water and a few years ago someone decided to put in an inflatable waterpark into a section of it. It cost us 450 baht (£10.25) each which allowed us to go on the inflatable course as much as we wanted and also gave us a ride on a zip line over the water.

On our way to the waterpark we were pulled over by another police road block which was very annoying. We managed to get out of the fine again but it took a lot longer than the last time. We just hoped it would be the last time we’d come across the police in Thailand! This road block was strategically placed and had loads of people pulled over paying fines so they must have made a lot of money that day!

Eventually we got to the waterpark and met a group of people from Gateshead (Newcastle’s neighbouring city in case you didn’t know) in the queue to buy the tickets. It was great to hear some Geordie accents again after being away from home for so long and we ended up spending a bit of our time at the waterpark with them.We had a really good time here and it was lovely weather which made it even nicer for us. I did leave covered in bruises though (standard for me really) particularly as I slipped on one of the obstacles and fell back down it hitting every plastic handle on the way down and leaving me covered in scratches and bruises which I have to say was very painful. It didn’t ruin my time here though and it was more on the following days that I felt bruised and stiff from our day at the water park. The zip line was also fun and took you over the canyon a couple of times which is what we did to end our trip here. I’m really glad we went and we enjoyed racing each other around the obstacles and trying to stay on!That evening we went to see the new Avengers film, Infinity War. We had been looking forward to seeing the film as the promotions for it had been very secretive and we knew it was a big film for the Marvel franchise. The screening of this film was made even better by the enormous bucket of popcorn I was able to get (it cost around £6 for the popcorn and two drinks)! I have never seen a popcorn serving so big and it ended up lasting us for two days (we thought it would last us a week) and probably turned any water in our body into sugar syrup as we ate so much! The film was really great and it was also nice to have such a normal day where you could almost forget what country you were in!Our final day in Chiang Mai was used to see the last few temples that we hadn’t got around to seeing.

Wat Kuan Ka Ma

Our first stop was to Wat Kuan Ka Ma which was a temple built in 1492 AD and was built on the garden of a horse groomer for a respected soldier. When the horse died the groomer was so sad that he donated the garden to have a temple built on it. Along the walls of the temple and in the grounds are statues of horses to commemorate the horse and the horse groomer – really not what I expected to see a temple about!Wat Rajamontean

This was a pretty temple with a big Buddha statue and lots of dragon carvings and statues.We crossed the moat bridge which is a little bridge covered in leaves and flowers to reach our next temple of the day, Wat Lok Moli.

Wat Lok Moli

Wat Lok Moli is a very old temple although the exact time the temple was built is unknown. It has a big stupa in it which gave us a bit of an indication of what the stupa at Wat Chedi Luang would have been like had the earthquake not destroyed half of it. It was a nice temple and quite busy when we were there.Wat Sri Suphan

After sheltering from the heat and the rain respectively back at the hostel we headed to what was probably our favourite temple of Chiang Mai even if I wasn’t allowed inside of it (being a woman and all). Wat Sri Suphan (also known as the Silver Pagoda) was a beautifully carved temple covered in silver and looked a little bit like a ship with blue, swirling tiles leading up the stairs to the entrance. It was 50 baht (£1.15) to get into the temple complex and we were also given a cold bottle of water which was very nice of them. Every single bit of the temple had something to look at from a carving of a giant ship, a picture of the king on a bank note or famous landmarks from all over the world such as the Eiffel Tower or Leaning Tower of Pisa. The place was amazing and Niall said that the inside was just as carved and really incredible.Next to the silver pagoda was a Gold Pagoda which was also pretty but not to the same level as the silver one. We really enjoyed it here and it was also very calm as it was on a street off the main road. I’m really glad we went to this temple complex to see the silver and gold temples and it was definitely a highlight for us.We ended our day back on one of the street markets and then headed to a Night Bazaar later on in the evening but we left it quite late and so it was quite empty by the time we arrived. The Night Bazaar was enormous though and would be a shoppers heaven for getting any gifts or souvenirs. It was further out of the old town but it was good to go and meant we saw a bit more of Chiang Mai as we had mainly stuck to a pretty small area.

We really liked Chiang Mai and enjoyed seeing all the temples as well as the other great activities we got to do. I’m glad we got to spend so long here and it would be somewhere I’d be happy to visit again in the future.

Next stop: Pai

Sending love x

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