One Week in Chiang Mai: Temples and Nightmar(e)ket

It’s a splendid little big town. There is a brand new mall, Maya, where I wasted some of the scorching daylight hours in virtually empty air cooled movie theaters and intermittently playing video games. At night, the air fills with jasmine, and the city moat sparkles from the headlights of speeding cars. Tourists pedal around on their cruisers, locals hide in the shade. The temple count felt as high as that temple saturated village of Luang Prabang. I like to visit them and look around, enjoying the calm gaze of Buddha and the gentle jingling of wind chimes.

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The temples elicit a certain lonesome euphoria, a knowledge of impermanence in this world, to crave less and give more.

The walking night market creates agoraphobic nightmares. It wasn’t even that crowded, it just wasn’t my scene. So much for sale, so much unnecessary goods, so many things I wanted to buy! That’s how I knew it was wrong. Nothing I saw was anything beyond a simple, silly luxury that would be fun to have or to give as a gift. Backpacking ensures you carry only “what you need to survive.” The bag has limits and trinkets don’t fall into the backpack’s purview. However, I suppose it’s a nice place to buy stuff that will eventually become junk.

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This girl was a highlight, she sang with confidence and used her arms to exaggerate emotion.

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Chiang Mai Cute

I didn’t actually learn the origin story, but these smiling faces set into chubby cheeks are everywhere. Temples, restaurants, massage parlors, hotels, crosswalks, markets and bathrooms all have some cute face staring at you. It’s kinda cute I guess.

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And finally, not to be filed under cute, but rather uncomfortably realistic is this:

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In most of the Chiang Mai temples, they have these pious (presumably wax, hopefully not stuffed) replicas of former holy men. It must be hard to be a monk and constantly feel watched by these simultaneously dead yet judging eyes.

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Chiang Mai ~ Babylonian Restaurant

Chiang Mai ~ Babylonian Restaurant

After stuffing myself with salty noodles and mango juice, I was aimlessly strolling through the same same stalls of stuff for sale and saw a small sign. It said “Iraq Restaurant.” It’s the kind of sign that you could chuff off as touristy or be intrigued. I was going. But not now, I was too full. In the hours leading up do my train departure, I ambled back to Babylon, in the bustling moments before the night market opens and ordered the 450 baht (<15US$) set. It included naan bread, rice, hummus, falafel, veggie curry, lamb meat, 2 chicken legs, tabuleh and a Coke. Each bite was delicious, but the falafel won best taste. This meal sustained me from 4 pm, when I ate it, until I arrived in Bangkok almost 16 hours later. Recommended.

Chiang Mai ~ Night Bazaar

I couldn’t find good food despite everything I read about this city. I ate a noodle dish that literally was without taste. I encountered a bite with some black pepper and nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement. I walked into a good looking place on Saturday night at 8pm, ravenous with hunger and delighted to find a clean restaurant, where I was immediately met with disappointment as they were closing the kitchen! At 8pm on a Saturday, good time to close down!? I was stuck eating Mexican burritos for the 3rd time in as many days. Because when you’re hungry and in a strange town, you take what you can get; especially when places are closing down an hour after sundown. I kept asking around and everyone said, “Night market, good food. Go there, many things to eat.” I went and it was cheap and salty. This city¬†doesn’t get my award for fulfilling the culinary delights for which Thailand is famous.

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You buy a coupon book, and find the food you want among the stalls. I went for soups.

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The first was Khao Soi–a noodle dish with spicy red curry broth.

The second was just called yellow noodle soup and recommended by the loquacious employee.

Here’s another nice Khao Soi.

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After all that salt and curry powder, I needed some mango. We took several pictures until she was pleased with this one.

Night Walk in Chiang Mai

The jasmine heavy in the humid night air, an almost soundless alley covered with potted plants, a group of troubadours singing Beatles’ songs in a bar. It’s a nice place. A moat surrounds the old town. Temples scattered throughout the streets. The first stop in Thailand offered my first rubber bodied Thai massage in years and too much Mexican food. Western food dominates the walking paths where I walked.

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Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai

They are the largest cat in the world. They are indisputably gorgeous. They are also killing machines capable of taking down elephants. They are now being stroked like an indolent kitty in a sunbeam. What a dream come true.

However, I was worried about how these majestic felines would be contained. I’ve heard the stories of drugging or over-punishment upon them, so research was necessary. Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai has a great system, and the animals seem happy. Some cages are still too small, and judging by their bellies, possibly over-fed for safety. But, unlike the Bangkok tiger sanctuary where the cats are kept on chains, these tigers are free to walk around (as long as it’s not in the direction of a visitor). I paid about 45US$ for the full package of tigers–smallest, small, medium and large. The smallest tigers were only 3 months old!

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Such a baby face, full of curiosity. We moved on to the small (5-6 months) and medium next.

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This tiger loved me! He showed me his belly and then started stretching his long legs and giant padded paws all over me just like domestic cats. So amazing to interact with these endangered creatures.

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This was the big girl. Our trainer said she was aggressive.

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My love for cats evinced.

Thank you tigers for making me happy. I hope you are too.

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