Chiang Mai: Day One

Perhaps there was turbulence during our flight to Chiang Mai, but given that it took off at six in the morning I slept like a baby the whole way. We landed about nine, checked blearily into Chiang Mai Thai House at ten, then promptly fell asleep till two. Not the most intrepid start to the holiday then, but hey, h-o-l-i-d-a-y.

Recharged at two, we sallied forth into the Old City (a five minute walk from our guesthouse) and headed for Wat Phra Singh, figuring that since it was at the other end we’d get to see lots on the way. People were setting up their stalls for the weekend market to be held later that evening – hence the photo in my earlier placeholder post.

Wat Phra Singh seems to have a fairly large population of young boyish monks relaxing picturesquely around its compound, which added to its already considerable aesthetic appeal.


Life-size monk statues covered in gold leaf sit in permanent meditation beside the main altar. Each is obviously modelled after a real person, presumably an elder monk who has passed away. Being more accustomed to the somewhat more monumental style of European church memorial statuary, I found the tender realism of these quite moving.


Here’s a view of the altar just to put the monk statues into context. There are about five but it was hard to capture all of them.


Candles in front of the chedi outside, which is in pretty good shape for something built in 1345.


Next to the chedi, each tree bears its own signboard with a characteristically Buddhist exhortation. We came across these in other wats during our trip, but Wat Phra Singh’s trees were the only bilingual ones.


This was just a nice moment I happened to glimpse between a young monk and his friend. The dogs you can just about see in the top right are only a few of the numerous dogs in the temple compound. At 5 pm (I think), temple gongs were sounded and in response the entire pack of dogs howled for about 30 seconds.


The walls of the viharn are covered with murals. I loved the light streaming through the sides of the door but assumed my camera wouldn’t be able to capture it, only to be proved wrong. Yay Canon Ixus.


Some detail of the murals on the walls. The woman in the middle with the cigar somehow made me think of Frida Kahlo, despite having two distinct brows.


More mural detail. I love the depiction of the waves.


Some detail of the door. While I was composing the photo the monks I photographed at the start of this post got up and started heading into the temple. Based on how damn slow I always am at sightseeing, they must have been chatting a long time.


We finally finished seeing Wat Phra Singh and walked around a little more in the roads around it. I love Chiang Mai’s profusion of wats, and how each wat we visited always felt like a distinct and active faith community. Kids were playing basketball next to this one. I don’t know its name or whether it has any historical significance, we just wandered round a corner and found it.


Aroon Rai looked like a good choice for dinner since it seems to have widespread guidebook and Internet forum acclaim for cheap authentic Northern Thai cuisine, but unfortunately we were rather disappointed with it. We ordered pork with ginger, chilli and tomato paste, which was supposed to be a Northern specialty but tasted a lot like a dish my Eurasian mum’s been cooking all her life. It was tasty, but not spectacular. Our second dish of stir-fried kale with crispy pork had no crispy pork whatsoever. Our third dish was so forgettable I don’t even know what it was any more. And, while I admit our taste buds have perhaps become too spice-dependent for their own good, all the dishes seemed quite bland – which is about the last thing you expect from the average Thai meal. I don’t know why this place is acclaimed, it was pretty much the sort of meal you can get from a decent economy rice stall in any Singaporean hawker centre. It was cheap and filled the belly, but nothing more than that.

After dinner we headed for the weekend night market, now in full swing. I’ll write about that in the next post since this one’s already rather long.


  1. I forgot to tell you about ‘Huen Phen,’ quite a gem of a Northern Thai restaurant. It’s in the old city too, did you come across it?

  2. Benny: Cheers for singlehandedly degrading my post about beautiful serene Buddhist temples and monks joyfully embracing chastity as part of their path to enlightenment. You’re so gonna be reincarnated as a horndog. I’m just warning ya.

    ci’en: We actually stopped outside it and wondered whether to go in or not, but because Aroon Rai seemed more universally acclaimed, we decided to go there instead! GAH!

  3. Doh!
    On the first evening we happened to stroll right up to it. We spent some time umming and ahhing but eventually opted for Aroon Rai instead. Thanks Ci’en, now we’re even grumpier about that choice of restaurant.

  4. Ah crap!

    I should have paid it forward, since we ate at Green Tangerine in Hanoi and -only- because you wrote such a great review about the place.

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