Chiang Mai

Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Friday, May 30, 2008

700 km north of Bangkok on the Ping River lies Chiang Mai, the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai's historic importance is derived from its important strategic location on an ancient trade route. Long before the modern influx of foreign visitors, the city served as an important centre for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewellery and woodcarving. The area is still renowned for the production of such wares and thanks to the local night markets, each evening the city becomes an absolute shopper's paradise.

There are a number of things to see and do in this tropical hot spot and one of the most impressive places to visit is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. This temple stands on a hill to the north-west of the city and dates back to 1383. Its builders allegedly chose the site by placing a relic of the Lord Buddha on an elephant's back and letting the elephant roam until it came across a place where it trumpeted and circled before lying down. The onlookers took this to indicate the location to build their temple.

It's about a half hour's ride up to the temple by taxi or songthaew. Our group took the trip up to this remarkable site that afternoon to be greeted by the rumble of distant thunder and the typical late afternoon downpours. The stairway which leads from the roadway up to the temple is lined on both sides by two golden dragons which form the hand rails.

The views of Chiang Mai from the temple are superb and the temple itself is an intriguing and somewhat surreal sanctuary. Like most of the Buddhist temples here, the courtyard is lined with the bronze figures of the Buddha in various sitting and standing positions with hand gestures signifying the messages of peace, charity, protection, worship and other characteristics of Buddhist worship. Though what really made this place special, besides its vantage point, were the hundreds of tiny bells hanging from the rafters of the courtyard which chimed in the afternoon breeze. The significance of the bells is that a visitor may buy a bell from the temple, write a short message and hang it in the temple court, and then supposedly as the bell chimes your message or prayer rings out. The sounding of the bells was soon joined by the 6 pm chants and prayers of the resident monks.

The following morning six of our group set off back up into the hills of Chiang Mai to engage in some serious bamboo rafting. Well our boatmen did all the work in negotiating our way safely down the river which involved a number of cool rapids and drop offs. We also had the chance to jump off a rock into the river, which would have been about a four metre drop. This was a great trip and costs only 300 Baht pp, hich is about $10, plus transport up to the site and back which cost 100 Baht each.

That night we boarded our overnight sleeper train back to Bangkok. The sleeper trains in Thailand are very comfortable and convert from a sitting area to a comfortable double bunk. On reaching Bangkok we returned to the Viengtai Hotel where I was able to relax a little before my overnight flight back to Sydney Australia.
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