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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

The Rose of the North

Updated: Jan 21

I don't know if it's just me... but I find an abnormal amount of people here are dressed the same. Seriously. It's a real thing. 


Tourists. Not locals. Let's make that clear.


I see so many couples, families, friends, mother-daughter, father-son... dressed EXACTLY the same. Maybe they find it cute. Maybe it's so they don't get lost in a crowd, though I fail to see how that would help? I find it bizarre. If I was traveling with someone and all of a sudden we showed up, wearing the same thing, I would definitely change... after I finished laughing.


Maybe I'm the odd one.

Anyway...


I LOVE Chiang Mai.


Apart from a few minor catastrophes along the way... it's turned out to be incredible. Stupendous.


I made a minor mess-up mistake with my accommodation, but other than that... all good! Not thinking, obviously, I accidentally booked a place in Chiang Rai... when I was actually flying into Chiang Mai. Ok... I have to touch briefly on this whole fiasco. I am FULLY aware that the blame lies solely with ME. I messed up.


Me.


When I realized the gravity of my mistake, I sent a very apologetic message to the hostel in Chiang Rai, letting them know that I was, in fact, a complete moron, and I was actually in Chiang Mai... and NOT in Chiang Rai. Stupid. For any clarification, the two cities are approximately three hours+ apart. 


Not close. At all.


I accepted total responsibility for my error... but gently & kindly inquired as to whether I could trespass on their generosity and perhaps move my booking on a few days. 



"May I possibly switch my original reservation from December 9th-14th to December 13th-17th."

Pretty please? Same amount of days... just a wee alteration.


They wrote back simply saying, "It impossible. We full 16." 


Hmmmm... Ok. Not one to give up that easily, I wrote again.


"What about if I take December 13th-16th then?"


That seemed a reasonable negotiation. I would move my reservation along a few days... and vacate before their massive rush on the 16th. I agreed to pay the full amount I'd previously committed to for the five evenings... but instead, only would stay for the three nights. They agreed. Money definitely talks. They actually agreed so quickly that the payment was deducted from my bank account almost simultaneously.


Ok. 

That was sorted.


Phewf...


There is a little bit more to that story... as usual, the beat goes on... but I'll have to leave you hanging until the next blog...


So back to Chiang Mai... my new very favourite place in Thailand. From the moment I stepped out of my taxi, I just knew I would love it here. There was a certain air about it.


A wonderful ambiance.


Could it have been the vibrant culture? The comfortable and relaxing atmosphere? Maybe it was the multitude of temples?


NO! NOT the temples... 🤭

Anything but the temples.

I don't mean to sound desolate or unappreciative, but there are a LOT of temples here. I think I'm seriously wat-ing myself right out.


It's a real thing.


I recently read of a syndrome in Thailand, aptly named Wat burnout. There are temples (wats) everywhere! Apparently Chiang Mai's Old Town is home to over 300 temples. It's ONLY 1.5km square. If you think that's insane, I can even top it. There are meant to be over 30,000 in the entire country.


My bucket list is NOT to see them all.

I'm good.


"You've seen one temple, you've seen 'em all?" Is that how the saying goes???


Of course, I'm only having a laugh... but after spending a significant amount of time in & at a bunch of temples, they all seem to mesh together. It takes a lot of time at the end of each day, trying to decipher which wat was what after spending three full days going temple to temple, wat to wat... 


Each temple has its own somethin' somethin' that makes it unique... but many share a lot of the same characteristics. Buddhists believe that the universe is made of five main elements ~ earth, fire, air, water and wisdom ~ and all of Thailand's temples are designed to specifically symbolise these. 


Baan Kang Wat – Chiang Mai’s Artist Village
Baan Kang Wat – Chiang Mai’s Artist Village

Many are glimmering & shimmering with gold plated ornaments, animals, mythological creatures and decorative Buddhas. The colours are always vibrant & glorius... and almost lure you in with their bewitching sparkle and spirit. Many have ancient manuscripts and stylistic murals depicting colourful scenes of the life of Buddha. There are always open pavilions and outdoor galleries, displaying statues, art pieces and other assorted majestic images. They all have the typical columns, chedis, prasats and prangs, very common with the architectural style of Thai temples. The roofs are all steeply inclined with curled, pointed extensions. The entrances or the stairs leading up to the temple usually have the intimidating and ferocious nagas, the serpent that protects the temple. There might even be the yakshas (giant ogres) and kinnaras (half man, half birds) to ward off the evil spirits too.


... and you have to take your shoes off at ALL OF THEM before entering.


Reminds me of airport security. 


I walked all over the old city... temple to temple... until I finally experienced what could only be described as wat-wearout. This resulted in me finding myself walking past temples without even casting a glance in its direction. That sounds harsh. I shouldn't be so harsh... BUT in my defence, I did visit (and photograph) many... and I still am, as I type this. To name only a few WITHIN the vicinity of historic Chiang Mai... I visited Wat Chiang Man, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Prasat and my favourite in the old city, Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan.


I think it quickly became my favourite, due to the copious amounts of multicoloured lanterns hung up throughout the grounds. I was completely and utterly mesmerized by them... and I just couldn't stop taking photos. They were all so rich in colour... and so very attractive to the eye. Like a kaleidoscopic of euphoria. When you see one of these 'floating baskets,' they are meant as a symbol of new beginnings.


Just wish all your problems and bad luck away and move on!


Maybe that's why I found them so alluring.

Time to let go of past trials and tribulations.



I found it quite unusual that at most temples, there is always someone (if not many someones) selling lottery tickets. I read online that one lottery vendor stated she could sell as many as 2000 tickets in one day, due to the huge rise in temple visitors. Lottery fever meets Buddha temple worship and charitable donation. It just doesn't seem to fit properly. With one hand they're placing coins on the Buddha as a symbolic offering to create good karma... and with the other, they're buying lottery tickets.


So... let me get this straight... Buddha frowns upon killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and the taking of intoxicants. But not gambling?

Interestiong that the harms of gambling have lead to crime, loss of work, broken families and even suicide. Very interesting, indeed.


Ok. 

Whatever works. I'm just here to take pictures.


Known as the "Rose of the North," Chiang Mai is truly an enchanting city.


After my debacle with the hostel, I had been desperate to book alternative accommodation and happened upon a boutique hostel. Odd words to pair together. It's not often hostels are put in the boutique category, so I figured it would be a sin not to try it out. 


Was it boutique? .. not so much. 

Was it a hostel?  ... very much so... but still, that was a tough call too. Usually hostels are alive with hustle & bustle and chitter & chatter everywhere you go.


There was no one there. Absolutely no one.


I was in a dorm room with 12 bunks, ALL of which were empty for the entire duration of my stay. When I arrived, I inquired as to where all the people were?? The lady told me that they'd all just checked out that day.


Odd.


She assured me there was a whole crowd of people heading in the very next day.


Lies.


No one showed up. In fact, as far as I saw, I had the entire boutique hostel to myself. It's difficult to make friends when you have no one to make friends with. What an odd lie!


It was almost unsettling,


The boutique hotel was like a vacant vault. It was a strange place, but it still baffled me why no one was there. The town was positively alive with activity. It was heaving with tourists.


Well... it only took me one night to figure out part of the problem... It was the bloody beds.


They were the most excruciatingly hard and uncomfortable mattresses I have ever had the un-pleasure of sleeping on. Like pavement. Now... I'll be the first to admit, I love a good futon... but these took atrocious slumber to a whole new level. LITERALLY rock bottom. It actually worked out in my favour that no one was in my dorm room. Before bed, I would steal all the comforters from each bunk in order to make myself a top padding for my mattress. Then in the morning, I would fold them all up and replace them on the beds before anyone could notice.


It was makeshift, but it seemed to ease the discomfort... slightly.


I arrived in Chiang Mai on a wonderful day. A Sunday.


Chiang Mai is known throughout Thailand for its big & bustling Sunday market. What luck! I could not have arrived at a better time. The market was absolutely packed to the perimetres with delicious street food, souvenirs, artisan crafts and other assorted goodies and merchandise. It was a delightful experience, but busy to the point of being unbearably claustrophobic. That's how packed it was. You could only move as quickly as the people in front of you. Once you got into the market mob, there was no easy escape.


Riddled with enthusiasm, I walked all the way there, only to discover I'd left my money back in my empty boutique dorm tomb.


Stupid. Good thing I noticed right away. That would have been embarrassing to have ordered food without any funds.


Ok - here's another thing to ponder... If Sunday is the BIG night market in Chiang Mai, WHY would everyone check out on that exact date? Why pick Sunday for the mass exodus? TO pick up and leave town on what has been described as the BEST market in northern Thailand, if not ALL of Thailand... is nothing short of abnormal.


Somebody be lyin' to me.

Oh well.


My feet have since healed from their blisters & bruises & bites & bumps... so I was finally at the point where I would feel comfortable relaxing for a much anticipated foot massage. While I was strolling the streets of Chiang Mai, a certain sign caught my eye.


From the wave to the font... it's the same as Mission's old logo

I can't be entirely sure if it grabbed my attention because it was almost identical (apart from the colour) to our old Mission logo... or if it was that ex-prisoners were giving massages. Probably the latter, though the sign was interesting and a definite discussion piece. I had staggered across a small business made up entirely of female ex-prisoners.


A lot of women who fell prey to crime when they were younger were given the opportunity to learn a new skill to use upon their release. 


What a super way to support reintegration.


You can watch this video here. ⬇️⬇️ ⬇️


Sorry it's not so perfectly cut. I film everything in vertical mode, which makes it perfect for YouTube shorts, Instagram reeks and TikTok... but not so fabulous for YouTube videos. It usually results in a change of sizing proportions and unfortunately heads are often cut off in the process.


One of my days in Chiang Mai, I rented a moped. A red steel stallion this time. I was intent on exploring outside of the city, as I'd heard it was almost as equally impressive as the old city itself. 


In a nutshell... I was off to see more temples.


The girl at the moped rental shop asked me if I'd been on a moped before.


"Like... ya."

Duh.

I'm practically a pro.


I felt like a pro, anyway.

Honorary wild hog here.

Thinking of starting my own gang.


I had no time for trivial lessons. The road was calling. Then I realized I didn't know how to access the petrol or the compartment under the seat. They build them all differently.  How am I to know?


Once I was confident, I hit the road.


That was the hard part.

I sat there... staring at the road.


SHIT.


They drive on the left hand side of the road here...


Double shit.


Ok. I had to figure life out. Really quickly. I got this...


I waved an enthusiastic wave to the shop attendant and barrelled out into traffic. The last thing I saw was the very unconfident look on her face.


BYE!!!!


Wish me luck...



First stop... Wat Umong.


Wat Umong was built in 1296, by King Meng Rai. It was a peaceful atmosphere in a rustic setting, with ancient underground tunnels to explore and a large chedi. I believe it is now used predominantly as a meditation center for devout Buddhists from around the world.


My next stop was Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a true sacred point to many Thai people.


The girl at the moped shop had told me it was a winding, treacherous road to reach Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. She was right. She also told me to be very careful. 


I was.

Very.


I took full advantage of the places along the way to stop, eat some strawberries, stretch my legs and enjoy the view of Chiang Mai from the lush foothills of northern Thailand.


The temple was situated on Doi Suthep mountain, at an elevation of 1,073 meters

One of the first scenes to greet you at the bottom of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthepis staircase, was a pair of ferocious looking naga serpents.


There were a total of 306 steps leading up to the temple. Steep, giant stairs. It baffled me how social media influencers are able to get these picture perfect photos of themselves, alone and seemingly so put-together. I would have had to have been there at 4am had I wanted a photo alone on these hectic and humming steps. 


Perhaps people are just getting better at photoshopping the crowds out of their photos, giving the illusion that they're alone in the photo. I don't know.


I wasn't alone. 

At all.


It was a relief to finally reach the top and I can understand why it's considered such a sacred location. The jewels and the gold plated embellishments were literally blinding. The illuminating elaboration was beyond beautiful.


One of my serious pet peeves is random people in my photos.

One of my greatest annoyance, while traveling, is waiting for these randoms to get out of my potential photo. It's always been a thing... but it's gotten increasingly worse over the years, as the selfie has taken centre stage for most visitors.


You may notice that many of my pictures are void of stragglers. I stand there, patiently, waiting for people to vacate the frame of my photo. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of muttering to myself. It takes a lot of cursing. It takes a LOT of photos.


I usually manage to get my shot, though sometimes, pure exasperation, I give up and move on.


Pretty spectacular place, eh?



My next stop wasn't a temple at all. Phewf...


It was a charming, little artisan village.

Baan Kang Wat. A lovely, refreshing change... and what a find!


It was like I stepped into a magical world of art... a true oasis of imagination, creativity, culture and craftsmanship.


It was really nothing special in regards to structure, but the way the artists used their own ingenious vision to transform it into today's unique haven is what blew me away. Just a scattering of houses & simple sheds turned into craft centres and workshops and galleries... all surrounding a large amphitheatre area.


I found it such an incredible source of inspiration.

I think everyone did.



My final stop of the day was Wat Phra That Doi Kham temple, which translates to the "Temple of the Golden Mountain."


This temple sits atop a forested mountain, called Doi Kham, and features a 17 metre sitting Buddha statue. There is an incredible vantage point of the valley... but to be honest, it was a little tacky. It is absolutely littered with enormous lying Buddha, standing Buddha, sitting Buddha... and even massive statues of elephants and apes and other assorted beasts. There are a handful of social media selfies stations set up throughout the grounds, encouraging more tacky and tasteless photo opportunities... like hammock swing chairs, love benches, fake cherry blossom trees and even giant fruit.


Strike a pose. Everywhere.


I'll tell ya... everywhere you go, the entire place is filled with selfie takers. Everyone has a phone in front of their face.


Including me.


But... I really do put it away and baske in the moment of my location from time to time.

I really do.


It just gets to be too much after a while.


... and I didn't have it before, I definitely have temple-tire now...



And onto Chiang Rai...


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