Well we made it to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city located in the mountains of the northwest. Unfortunately, getting here involved getting up at 5:30am today for our 9:20am flight. We wanted to get to the airport by 8am and the front desk advised us to leave at 6:30am just to be safe. We caught a metered taxi (Thailand Lesson #3,953: Never take a seemingly metered taxi if the driver quotes a price for you!) and made it there by 7:15am and had loads of time to kill, so we hit up a book store.
We flew Thai Airways International (THAI), who I flew to Chiang Rai (which is in fact a different city) my third day in Thailand to kick off my big adventure in Laos. Ah, memories. Well I did leave from a different airport then, as since then, Bangkok has opened a new airport. Our flight was delayed, but the service and snack was definitely good. It’s a nice change from the budget airlines, despite the fact that it was more than twice the price!
Upon arrival in Chiang Mai we checked into our guesthouse and then set out walking around. A little history here…Chiang Mai was founded in the 13th Century (I think) and was originally the capital of a City-State called the Kingdom of Lanna, which pre-dates the formation of a unified Siam under the Kingdom of Sukhothai, which I also previously visited. Because of its age, Chiang Mai has many spectacular old Wats, many of which have a different style than the ones further south in the country that I’m used to seeing.
Many of the Wats were spectacular, though one in particular stood out…Wat Chedi Luang. It contained an enormous stupa, also known as a chedi, which once housed the Emerald Buddha (now housed in Bangkok) prior to it being taken by what is now Laos…Rama I, the first King of the current Chakri dynasty, was a general before becoming King and he recovered it and returned it to Siam. Wat Chedi Luang also had this nifty feature called “Monk Chat,” where you could chat with the monks about Buddhism, life, being a monk, and pretty much anything, and they could practice their English. It was quite interesting.
After some rest at the hotel we set out to one of Chiang Mai’s most famous attractions…the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. This is like the granddaddy of all night markets, one that I found more impressive than Bangkok’s Night Bazaar next to Lumphini Park. They also carried many interesting Hill Tribe crafts as well, and of course your usual tacky souvenirs. It was a great place though and we all agreed we had to return tomorrow. Incidentally, for tomorrow we hired a car and driver to take us around to several tribal villages, which should be interesting!
Something I forgot to mention last time happened to us on Monday as we were walking across Sanam Luang, this large open space in front of the Grand Palace…we encountered our first scam, and actually the first I’ve seen in my nearly 5 months here. It was Monday and I decided to wear my new King shirt, which is yellow, and yellow is color of Monday, and the King, who was born on a Monday. A man stopped and mentioned something about the shirt (I’d been getting a lot of that…they were excited that a farang (westerner) was supporting the King). Then he introduced us to his friend, who was going to tell us all sorts of cool places to go. He told us that it was a Buddhist holiday and because of that, the Grand Palace and Wat Pho were closed because of something going on with the monks. He suggested a bunch of places we visit, and a great store that had great stuff. He told us to take a Tuk Tuk and pay no more than 40 baht for the whole thing. And conveniently, a Tuk Tuk driver happened to show up at that moment. We saw through this and left, and then visited the Grand Palace and Wat Pho!
So, Thailand Lessons #3,954-3,957: The Grand Palace is never ever closed. I mean, a friend of mine was there the day the King was coming to change the clothes of the Emerald Buddha, and that building was closed, but the Grand Palace was open. They even have a sign out front telling you not to believe anyone who tells you that it’s closed. Also, to the best of my knowledge, Buddhist holidays only fall on full moon days, which it wasn’t. You should never ever take Tuk Tuk’s as they are never cheaper than metered taxis and tend to rip you off and scam you. And even if you do take a Tuk Tuk, there is no way that trip would have cost us 40 baht. So…don’t let yourself be scammed, and don’t always believe everything strangers tell you. It was clear the three men were working together…not to unusual!