MARKETS & TEMPLES OF CHIANG MAI
Amongst other things, Chiang Mai is known for its lovely mountainous backdrop, its many Buddhist temples, and its multiple markets. Keen to see as much as we could of the city we set our early today and took a walking and songthaew* tour of Chiang Mai’s markets and temples. We started with a visit to Warorot Markets, the biggest day market in town; then on to 2 of the oldest and most revered temples in Chiang Mai: Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. We ended our day with a visit to the massive Chang Klan Road night markets and another awesome meal. Thailand is proving to be fantastic fun and, despite the constant heat and humidity, being a visitor here is proving to be a truly incredible experience.
*Half way between a bus and a taxi, these red vehicles are the most common form of transport here in Chiang Mai. They’re basically converted pick-ups or utility vehicles, with a couple of benches installed in the back to carry 8-10 passengers at a time. You flag one down, tell the driver where you want to go and he’ll let you know if he’s going that way or not. If he is, you pay your 20 Baht (about $0.80AUD), pile in the back along with everyone else, and enjoy the (bumpy) ride! Cheap, efficient, easy, and friendly – like everything else in Thailand really!
We woke refreshed and ready for another great day of sightseeing today…, or at least I did. Shane had slower start to the day as he was suffering a bit after last night’s dinner of chilli and basil chicken. Turns out the Thai version of “not very spicy” is still hot enough to cause some, …ahem…, detrimental side effects. A few trips to the bathroom later, however, and things had settled down enough that we could set off exploring for the day.
First stop: Warorot Markets. This open air market is huge, with hundreds of stalls, selling everything from food, clothes, ceramics, household goods, flowers, and handicrafts. It’s a favourite with the locals and there weren’t any touristy souvenir stalls to be seen, just a whole lot of stuff that regular people here would need to live their lives. Being a Saturday morning the Warorot Markets were a busy hive of activity by the time we got there at 8:00am. There were people buying their food for the day, mothers out shopping for clothes with their kids, and families sitting around the tiny noodle stalls having a traditional Thai breakfast of rice porridge or noodles in broth.
You could buy almost anything at Warorot Market. Many of the fresh fruits on sale were things we had never seen before, though a few of the tropical fruits we recognised – things like mangosteens, lychees, longans, custard apples, paw paws, sapotes, durians (yuk!), and rhambutans.
In the meat and fish section we saw freshly plucked chickens, piles of butchered pork, and still-living fish, all ready to be whisked off to someone’s kitchen and stir fried up. The still-living turtles and deep-fried insect larvae were unusual – not something we’ve seen at any other market!
The dried fish area of the market was definitely a bit of stinky section, but the rest of it was remarkably clean and tidy. It’s something we’ve noticed everywhere we’ve been in Thailand so far: things are remarkably clean. Despite the heat, humidity, and press of people, things generally aren’t stinky or gross. Even the public toilets we used today were spotless, and as every traveller knows: there’s nothing like a clean “happy house” to put you in a good mood for the rest of the day!
From the market we wandered through Chiang Mai’s old city walls, into the oldest part of town. Built in the 13th century to help protect the city from the invading Burmese armies, the old town walls were once completely surrounded by a moat as well. Sections of both the walls and moat have been preserved and give a fascinating glimpse into the city’s history.
In the heart of the old town is Wat Phra Singh (i.e. Temple of the Lion) is an important Buddhist monastery and temple founded in the 14th century. There is still a sizeable Buddhist community of monks living there – we saw a number of them strolling around the complex* whilst we were there, resplendent in their bright orange robes.
*As with all the temples here, there were a number of buildings within the compound and, after paying our 20 Baht entry fee, we were free to wander around the entire complex.
The temple is named after the Buddha image it houses, the Phra Singh (i.e. Lion Buddha), which still resides in one of the halls. The largest building in the complex, the central hall, dates back to 1345 and was extensively restored in 2008. It was beautiful inside, with a richly decorated ceiling and walls.
Many of the smaller buildings were equally lovely, and we spent a happy hour or so strolling through the gardens and walkways of the the temple complex visiting them all. Dotted around the gardens, pinned to trees, were signs with Buddhist sayings on them in both Thai and English. Some were quite profound, others mildly amusing, and a few just didn’t quite make sense in English.
Not far from Wat Phra Singh was Wat Chedi Luang, a historic temple, built around the crumbling ruins of an ancient stupa. When it was built in 1441 to house the remains of a king, the stupa of Chedi Luang was the tallest structure in ancient Chiang Mai. A century later, a severe earthquake toppled part of the great spire and 5 years later Chiang Mai fell to the Burmese. It was never rebuilt but remains an active place of worship to this day. The ruined stupa of Wat Chedi Luang rises to about 60m in height. It has as four sides, each with a niche approached by a monumental stairway guarded by stone nagas (i.e. mythical snakes, similar to Chinese water dragons). Elephants stand guard midway up the platform.
Several halls were added to the temple complex in subsequent years; the largest was built in 1928. We visited this central building to admire its grand seated Buddha statue and ornate decorations.
Finished with our visit to Wat Chedi Luang, we decided to take a stroll through town. We stumbled across a few more temples along the way, but didn’t go in – like visiting churches in Europe, there’s only so many religious sites you can see in one day before it’s just too much! Chiang Mai town was pretty modern and clean, with lots of restaurants, cafés, hotels, guesthouses, shops, and offices. Not overly exciting, but interesting to us none the less as this is our first time here.
By this stage it was approaching 1:00pm, which is invariably the hottest time of day here. With the sun beating down mercilessly on us and our supply of water just about gone, we decided to call it a morning*. We hailed a songthaew and made our way back towards our hotel. Lunch at a local place nearby (Shane: chicken pad thai; Me: stir fried garlic and pepper chicken with vegetables and steamed rice), a quick shower to refresh, and we were ready for a rest.
*We’re finding the best way to “tourist” around here is to divide our sightseeing into 2 parts: early morning to lunchtime, then late afternoon to evening. This keeps us out of the sun for the hottest part of the day when temperature get up around 35C and gives us a nice block of time each afternoon to just relax by the pool or in our room. Professional touristing sure is tough…
We emerged from the air conditioned comfort of our room around 5:00pm and headed over to the Chang Klan Road night markets to do a bit more stall-trawling, as we call it (like mall-trawling but more fun and interesting).
The night markets are huge, they go for about 1km down both sides of Chang Khlan Road and are packed full of souvenirs, clothing, sunglasses, bags, and cheap knock-off watches. It’s all very touristy and we’re not big shoppers, but we always enjoy meandering through markets, taking in all the lights and colours and doing a bit of people watching.
We had dinner at a place inside the market, where we got to choose our meals in Small, Medium, or Large portion sizes, something Shane was especially excited about as he is finding that Thai portions are pretty small. As we’ve come to expect, the food was fabulous and made a great end to a great day. Can’t wait for more Thailand tomorrow!