When I look back, I think that Chaing Mai was the stop on our trip when we lost a bit of steam. We didn’t map out an itinerary as we’d done in previous cities, but this was probably just what we needed at this point.
Our first night we made our way into the walled city for a Muay Thai fight. The audience was filled with Thai locals and ‘farangs’ alike and the atmosphere felt like a youth tournament for volleyball or soccer or a Japanese basketball league ;). Young Muay Thai fighters representing the same organizations battling the various age and weight classes from different teams. The featherweights started at 105 lbs and are the first to fight every evening. I’ve never seen such sportsmanship and spiritual practice in the ring. Fighters enter through the ropes and bow their foreheads to touch all four corners of the ring. The fighters then drink from the same cup of their opponents at the end of the match no matter the outcome. Rather than the bandstanding and showmanship that we embrace in American boxing, it felt more like a team sport with individual performances.
Accompanying every fight is also a live ‘band’ drumming and ‘fluting’ to the pace of the match. The crowds post bets and call for beer from the wait staff between rounds. We saw a knock out in the third fight- very intense! The final fight of the evening actually featured an American fighter who was clearly a boxer before a Muay Thai fighter. He favored punching while his opponent was privy to kicking thus making it tricky for the American to get close enough to land anything. The Thai boxer took the victory, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. At midnight, it was an easy walk to get back to our hotel, as we filed out with the various parents, aunties, uncles and siblings of the younger fighters. This was my favorite memory in this city.
Chaing Mai is the city of 1,000 Wats (temples)! We visited three of the most popular temples on our first full day inside of the old walled city.
Wat Chiang Man was the first temple in Chiang Mai, built by King Mengrai in 1296, the king who founded the city. We heard there are two rare Buddha statues, the Crystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha, that live here but we didn’t see them up close. The monastery has a glorious chedi behind the main temple, flanked by elephants!
Wat Phra Singh is an example of Northern Thai architecture called Lanna, which has glittering designs to welcome guests. There are also restored murals depicting the lives of locals hundreds of years ago.
Wat Chedi Luang is well-known because it used to be the home of the Emerald Buddha. But after a large earthquake, the statue was removed. It is a temple that looks most like a ruins as it wasn’t rebuilt after Burma conquered Chiang Mai.
To distract us from temple fatigue we’d entertain ourselves by trying to make the ‘gong go’ at each destination. Annie and Steve, a couple traveling from Nashville, approached us and inquired about what we were doing with the gong. At that exact moment, I actually heard the gong starting to hum! Success! We shared our story about how we’d been trying to mimic the gongmaster in Luang Prabang at every temple we’d visited since New Years Day. We laughed at how silly we’ve been looking, but now that one of us could summon the magic, it became a fun way to show our skills.
Annie and Steve were on their third visit to Thailand, and Chiang Mai was a favorite stop between excursions in Northern Thailand. Annie suggested a massage spot which we gladly took up. The Lila Thai Massage center hires women who have been previously incarcerated at the Chiang Mai Women’s Prison. We learned the prison is now shut down, and the city is planning to remake the space into a government building. The concrete walls are currently covered in graffiti with a small section of photographs posted to show what the interior of the prison was like in the past.
Previous inmates take a massage training course from the Institute of Skill Development which meets the requirements of the Chiang Mai Public Health Department. The goal is to increase their potential to gain employment after their release. Our massages were mainly by women in their late 60s and 70s. Though slight in stature, their stretching, rocking, and kneading skills were ones that our muscles came to adore.
With another massage under our belt, we left the Old Town for a final meal at Krua Phech Doi Ngam. Much of the Northern Thai food is influenced from Burma and China, so definitely get a tea salad if you see one on the menu. We were a bit ‘night market-ed’ out so we chose to head back to the hotel early rather than shop the neon lit stalls.
Our ’36 hours in Chiang Mai’ was less eventful than our other city visits, but the Old Town is incredibly walkable and the frequency of temples means you can’t really take a wrong turn. For the last day, we found Granny’s Khao Soi and had to restrain ourselves from getting four bowls of soup each! It’s right between two wats that we hadn’t noted on our map. Corey got some great shots of these Wats before we flew out to Bangkok, the final stop on our honeymoon!