Chiang Mai: Day Two – Lampang

The usual elephant camp / handicraft village / long-neck tribal zoo day tours that most Chiang Mai travel agencies offer don’t appeal to us so we decided to go to Lampang instead to see Wat Phra Tat Lampang Luang. Our hotel wanted to charge us about 2000 baht for a driver to do this, so that was a fairly simple hell-no decision.

Alec in songthaew

Instead we did it ourselves for considerably more fun (and yes, also a little more difficulty and frustration) at these costs:

  • Songthaew to bus station: 30 baht
  • Return bus trip to Lampang: 142 baht each (284 baht total)
  • Return songthaew trip to Wat Phra Tat Lampang Luang: 400 baht
  • Tuk tuk from bus station into town: 20 baht
  • Total: 734 baht


Lampang, or at least the bits we saw of it, was really quiet considering it was a Sunday. We came across so few songthaews that I was worried the temple would be closed by the time we arrived, and visiting Wat Phra Tat Lum Pah Pah Lan as the sum total of our day’s adventures would have been a bit depressing. We probably didn’t haggle hard enough when one eventually arrived, which explains the slightly high price, but at least with some of the usual maniacal Thai driving our songthaew driver unleashed we arrived at the wat in good time.

Naga temple guardian
Sexy beast

It’s an imposing complex, situated on an incline and surrounded by fortress walls and you enter by an elaborate flight of stairs flanked by lions and nagas.


Candle wax residue

Once inside there was a real feeling of reverence, with Thai pilgrims outnumbering gawking tourists about 9:1. One group intoned chants in front of a chedi containing a relic of the Buddha as other worshippers processed around it silently with hands clasped. We snuck around trying to be discreet and respectful.


Boy at bullethole shrine

Another small shrine commemorated a historic battle victory against the Burmese, apparently featuring the bullet hole in the stonework from the actual bullet which killed the Burmese commander in question. Um, okay.


Being a woman, I was unfortunately deemed unworthy to enter a small viharn at the back of the complex to experience one of the most interesting features of the wat, but according to Alec it was really cool. It was pitch dark inside with light only entering through a small hole in the wall, such that a detailed, panoramic camera obscura image of the entire temple was projected onto the back wall. Ladies could glimpse a scaled-down version of this in another viharn to the left of the main temple where a colour image of the chedi was projected onto a concrete slab next to the entrance, again, through a chink of light in the window.


Very lame Catholic mass pun there in the caption, sorry. I don’t remember coming across this method of collecting donations from worshippers in Singapore’s Buddhist temples, though of course it’s possible I just didn’t notice or haven’t been to the ones where it’s done.


Money shot

Very lame porn pun there in the caption, sorry. Can you tell it’s been a long week?


Chicken bling

This is where the temple’s chickens live. I think it’s nicer than most of the backpacker hostels I’ve stayed in.


The shrining

I found the gold-leaf monks in Wat Phra Singh quite touching, but I must say the life-size, super life-like monk figure encased in this shrine creeped me out a little.


I don’t have any experience with taking, Photoshopping or appreciating black and white photography, but tried some out anyway with the bodhi trees in the temple compound. I’m not sure if the results are decent or just meh, but I do quite like them and how they work as a pair. Comments/advice from more clued-in photographers very welcome.


Chiang Mai Weekend Market

The weekend night market in Chiang Mai’s Old City is lovely. Just to make things clear, this isn’t the permanent Night Market which I suppose every tourist in Chiang Mai visits at some point. That one has built-in stalls crammed along a nondescript main road, this one has ad hoc stalls sprawling along the wide thoroughfares of the Old City (pedestrianized when the market is on) and spilling into temple compounds, where many of the prayer halls remain open and people sit outside eating on the grass. There’s a really laid-back atmosphere to the whole place, with absolutely none of the heat or claustrophobia that make Chatuchak a little trying even for a shopping junkie like me.

Plus, prices are great. The same slippers I saw here for 99 baht (as in, the sign said 99 baht so the real price would have been even lower) here were apparently 250 baht when I asked about them a few days later in the Night Market. I made smiley good-humoured attempts to convince the guy to match that price, but he wouldn’t go lower than 180 baht, so I walked away. S$7 is a bit much for slippers which will spend most of their time getting slept on by our 5 driveway cats.

I must admit I was a little more absorbed in SHOPPINGGGG! than committing myself to doing much photography at the market, but here’s what I did get.

I took this from the street surrounded by stalls and shoppers, but only a few metres away all is peaceful.


The market stays open till about midnight, which I guess is a little late for some of its stakeholders.


We passed these guys on the way home, playing chess on the fringes of the market. I don’t know if they actually knew each other or were just bonding through shared shopping avoidance.


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.

Chiang Mai: Placeholder

Yeah, as you might have guessed I haven’t quite got my act together yet for blogging about our trip to Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao. And with Russ arriving this Saturday and our, er, “happy” threesome trip to Siem Reap the Friday after that (heh, the boys are gonna have soooo much fun!), and the wedding planning hamsterwheel we’re constantly on, I’m afraid I can’t pretend I’m suddenly going to be the world’s best time-manager.

But in the meantime, here’s a display of bare flesh to make up for my dearth of content! Don’t say I never put it all out there for my readers.