Monday, March 3, 2008

Nice and Easy in Chiangmai

Wat Chang Muin

The day before I leave Chiangmai, I decided to take it easy. No teeth-clenching skeds to follow, no out-of-town travels, no rigid itinerary. Just go where it’s nice and easy, I told myself. Breakfast was going to be at the Airport Mall, primarily because my friend Mario needed to have his camera repaired (he dropped his cannon back in Sukhothai, a camera that his dear mom gave him as a present. Though he could still take photos, he could not adjust the viewfinder and focus is sketchy at best). We took a sangtheaw southwards where a couple of British girls also got on. They were running late for a bus sked, so I told them, “you seem to be going the wrong direction.” The main bus terminal is located a rather far east away from the main central area, while we were heading south towards the airport. Of course the driver will take them to the bus station eventually, but he will have to go our way first – to the airport mall. Chiangmai sangtheaws are like taxis. They can take you anywhere for an agreed price, except those that ply the Doi Suthep route. After realizing this, the girls got off our ride, but not before saying, “We have to take another ride then. Thanks for your friendship.”


Upon reaching the mall, we had to kill time until it opens at 10AM. Breakfast was at a food court inside the mall. As was the practice in some Bangkok Malls, we had to purchase a meal coupon from a booth, then proceed to our restaurant of choice, where we order our food. Seems like a tedious process coz you have to keep returning when you have the wrong rate, or when you want an extra serving. After the meal, we went inside Robinson’s Camera Shop. As expected, they don’t repair cameras, so I requested the nice lady to teach us how to find the local Cannon Repair Center. After calling 2 of her minions to help, they finally found the place. They marked the street on my map, then I asked them to write it down in Thai for easier accessibility with the sangtheaw drivers. Mario thought I’ve been here coz we weren’t finding out way around like lost tourists. Of course it’s my first time. Though it seemed like I was going out of my way to help him, I wasn’t – not specifically. I wanted to visit a Chiangmai Mall, and this was on a checklist among 3 malls. Two more to go!


From there, we decided to head back to the Blue House so Mario can pick up his stuff. I helped him with his duffel. We took turns taking photos, then I saw him off a sangtheaw that would take him to the terminal. He is off to Pai. There was a short moment of sadness. I liked having someone to chat with, and he was a smart conversationalist. And he was a nice guy. Alone again. I turned to the fruit stalls at the day market and bought some reddish fruits that looked like cherries. Bought myself a Coke, then headed back to my guesthouse. For an hour, I just munched on my fruit and started to plan where I wanted to go. Lampang? Phitsanulok? Nah! It was too late to take any bus to 1-hour destinations and more. So I decided to check out the other popular temples. First off, I took a sangtheaw to the Ping River.

At the food court

At the airport mall.


Every big city has a major tributary. Chiangmai has the
Ping. At night, the riverside comes alive. Restaurants dot the place, and the riverbank turns into a pleasant walkway. It was a dead place in the afternoon. I just walked around, crossed the bridge, saw the U.S. consulate, then took another sangtheaw that would take me to Wat Chang Muin (40 baht).

Wat Chang Muin is the
oldest temple in the city, dating back 1296. The whole complex is composed of 4-5 fortifications. Upon my visit, he central temple was under renovation. One of the structures boasts of a crystal Buddha and a very small emerald Buddha.

Children and faith. A couple of kids praying.

Wat Chang Muin

Wat Chang Muin - elephants carrying the temple.


From there, I took another ride to Wat Chedi Luang, which turns out to be a huge complex of amazing fortifications. It is my favorite, among the central city temples. At the back is an enormous Wat that reminded me of the scope and grandeur of the Angkor Wat temples. This complex of temples also offered a new age idea: Monk Chat, an interactive tourist-meets-monk program. A signage reads: “Please chat with us. Do not just pass or gaze at us. If you do, we will be very disappointed if you do not chat with us. Ask us anything.” And this is a free service. I took forever to decide if I wanted to get into a chat with them. There were several tables under the shade, and some monks were available. I bought a leather artwork first (at an expensive 450 baht), then I turned back, and headed to the monk chat.


I sat with two young monks. I was offered a kalika ( I asked if this was tea.) I must have looked horrible coz one of them said, “you look very tired.” I asked what a kalika is. One of them started typing at a thai-english translator until he came up with a “jin-zher”. Ah, ginger ale! I liked it. It was relaxing. Let me call them Monk F (Friendly) and Monk S (Shy).

Here’s what I gathered so far. One can become a full-pledged monk between the age of
17 to 20. If you are younger, they call you a “novice monk”. Monk F has been a monk since age 7, and he desires to be one as long as he can. Monk S, however, plans to go to college sometime, and being at the University, he would have to give this up then. While being a monk, they will receive free education from elementary to high school. There is also a separate monk school for non-Thai monks. As a monk, they are not allowed to be touched or to touch/hug even their mothers. They cannot get married, nor smoke or consume alcohol. What other things can’t they do? They cannot sleep at high places (probably based on the precept that they cannot position themselves higher than Buddha). They initially thought I was a very inquisitive local. Once again, I was mistaken as a Thai (as I was mistaken for a Vietnamese back in Vietname; a Khmer in Cambodia; a Malay in KL and an Indonesian in Jakarta).


After about 45 minutes, I stood up and almost extended my arm for a sincere handshake. I said my goodbyes. I saw a donation box and dropped B20. To my surprise, I saw PhP20 on the transparent bottle. Mga Pinoy talaga! Mag do-donate man lang, yun pang di agad magagamit. I mean, sure, it can be exchanged into baht, but all the trouble for so little?! I just hope some Pinoys realize that such act was an unnecessary joke. Would have been better kung din na lang sya nagbigay. Kainis.

I got myself a boiled egg and a Coke, served with salt and soy sauce. Not a bad combination really.

Wat Chedi Luang

The majestic Wat Chedi Luang. Heavily bombed during the war, they have reconstructed a part of the temple. This grandiose fortification stands tall in the heart of the city - my favorite!

This teak-constructed (Indian-inspired) temple is part of the Wat Chedi Luang Complex.

Novice monks after school.

Leather sculpture and its artists (below). I bought my piece at 450 baht (from the original 650 baht selling price).

He wasn't enjoying himself. The craft is part of a family-tradition. He learned this from his father, who learned it from his dad. The one he's working on is intended for his family, he said. His father was close by watching. Earlier, he was in a better mood, texting someone until his father spoke with him (probably saying, "not in front of a possible customer.")

Monk F and Monk S, my chatmates @ Wat Chedi Luang.

The Ping River


I hailed another sangtheaw to take me to the older mall, Kad Suan Kaew located northwest area of the city (20 baht). We took several turns so I was surprised to pay just 20 baht. I saw the busy mall entrance. There were ambulant vendors all over the sprawl. It was a virtual tiangge. Food and chitchiria were also offered. I bought a spring roll (2 for 25 baht). As I walked hearer the entrance, there was another sprawl of cots, some 20-30 of them, offering massage (see photo below) right there. I window-shopped until I finally found some shirts. Cheap but looked like a great quality, kinda sily. I scoured for DVDs and bought 6 titles. I wanted to watch a movie but I have seen the ones that are being shown. I just sat for a bit, watching the trailer of Hayden Christensen’sJumper” at the lobby. A couple other Thai movies didn't have English subtitles.

It must have been 8PM by the time I decided to head back. I had an early night. Set my alarm very early so I can fix my stuff. Next stop: back to Bangkok!

Foot massage, anyone?

This is the Eye in the Sky.

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