Go to Razzle Dazzle welcome page. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai   |   markets   |   wat   |   zoo   |   Doi Suthep   |   etc.

June, 2004

Thailand photo.
1. Chiang Mai
Thailand photo.
2. City wall
Thailand photo.
3. Bhuddist monk
Thailand photo.
4. Sawngthaew taxi

— Index —

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Chiang Mai is the oldest city in Thailand, and its second-largest. Although it has grown dramatically in recent years (see photo #1, at left), in many ways it still has the feel of a large town rather than a city. The original walled city was enclosed inside a moat and covered about one square mile. The moat is still here, along with many sections of the wall (photo #2). In most places, the wall is a ruin, although the Tha Phae gate has been restored. The public square just east of the gate is the center of the tourist area of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai has building codes which generally prevent high rise buildings within the old city. This has helped to preserve some of the charm of the place. Although there are lots of modern buildings, there are also plenty of examples of older architectural designs, including some buildings that are very ornate.

Perhaps the one aspect of Chiang Mai that best defines the city for most visitors is the profusion of Buddhist temples (wats). There are at least 300 wats in Chiang Mai, about as many as in the entire city of Bangkok. Of course, after visiting a dozen or more temples, they begin to look much alike. But in Chiang Mai, the wats have a surprising individuality. One day we were walking down a narrow little street, taking a shortcut to a major wat we planned to visit, and we happened upon a little local temple (Wat Ou Sai Kham) where they were carving a beautiful new jade Buddha. This large block of jade came from Myanmar, weighs 900 kilos, and is quite impressive. The new Buddha image is nearly finished, and will be part of the temple for perhaps centuries to come. (UPDATE: In May, 2006, I received an e-mail from Phra Ratha Panyavudho at Wat Ou Sai Kham. He included the following photo of the completed Jade Buddha in its place at the temple.)

The temples are not just ancient tourist attractions, they are an important part of the lives of the local people. Buddhism is pervasive in the Thai culture. The monks and novices go out each morning collecting food from their neighbors — the food they will eat that day. We see the monks (photo #3) throughout the city. The architecture of the temples is often stunning. We particularly enjoy the naga (serpent) statues that guard many of the entrances. For more about the wats of Chiang Mai, follow the links at the top of the page, or the index at the bottom left.

Transportation in and around Chiang Mai is easy and inexpensive. A sawngthaew taxi (photo #4) is a pickup truck with two long seats inside an enclosed cover. They operate as a kind of shared taxi that will take you to your destination while picking up other passengers along the way. In order to accomodate everyone, you may be taken out of the way a bit, but the price is right. We pay 10 baht (25¢) to go anywhere within the city. The sawngthaew are color coded to indicate the areas in which they operate. It is a good, economical system. The tuk-tuk taxis, as in Bangkok, are too expensive and too likely to try to rip you off. We never use them.

The Thai language is incredibly difficult for westerners to learn. We are not the only ones who have trouble. The alphabet is complex, including 46 consonants and 31 vowels. The letters look much alike to us. The spoken language is as bad, with 4 tonal levels to distinguish otherwise identical sounds. Finally, one must use very different words when speaking with people of different social classes. We haven't got a chance. And, because Thai is so different from western languages, there is no perfect way to express Thai words in the roman alphabet. Place names in the guide books and on maps are often spelled several different ways, sometimes dramatically so. English language signs often use Thai grammar, as in this warning sign we saw at Wat Dok Eung.

Everywhere we go we see new and interesting sights. For example, we saw these snackfoods on display in a shop on Ratchamanka road. And there was this scene of youngsters learning to direct traffic on Ratchawithi road. We were told that all school children attend a class on traffic safety and laws. Part of the class is to spend a few minutes directing traffic.


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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
Website designed and created by Lois Richter, expanded by Jim.
Created 6/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.