Old Town temples in Chiang Mai

After way more than one night in Bangkok (13 to be exact), I was chomping at the bit to head north to Chiang Mai. And what a lovely place it was! The pace was slower, traffic lighter, and navigation much easier. The Old Town is essentially a giant square surrounded by a moat, and things are either within its walls or north, south, east or west of it.

There are temples sprinkled throughout, each with its own mystique. A few seemed desolate. The silent figures, shuttered windows, and chipped paint of one we wandered into near the Night Market reminded me of the abandoned amusement park in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

The magnificent Wat Phra Singh, on the other hand, which had golden dragons flanking its entrance and stunning golden stupas, was a bustling microcosm of activity.

There were people praying before a giant golden Buddha in the main temple and monks sitting cross-legged in one of the smaller halls. With them there, I felt strangely shy about going in, even to make a donation, likely because of the temple signs instructing women not to touch the monks or even hand things to them. The signs also informed visitors that it was inappropriate to use Buddha as a decoration or as a tattoo.

Wat Chedi Luang was atmospheric in a different way. It’s towering, ruined ancient chedi (built in 1441) dominates the temple grounds. Each side of the crumbling pyramid offers new surprises: golden Buddhas, a row of stone elephants, a hall with a reclining Buddha, and donation boxes for various causes. Elise donated to the care of the animals of the temple and to the year of the pig.

Along the path of the Night Market, we stopped for a Thai massage, which come with bonus stretches (lazy man’s yoga).

Afterwards, we ate at a Japanese restaurant. Elise loved her tempura udon, but I was less excited about my zaru soba, which, oddly, arrived with ice cubes in it making the noodles soggy. Having had my share of zaru soba during a three-year stint in Japan, I gently suggested chilling the noodles in ice water and then shaking them out before serving.

After the blah sameness of the rooms of the Bangkok Ibis, we were delighted to have discovered Baan Saen Fang Hotel, a hidden gem with four northern Thai bungalows and views of Wat Saen Fang, which glowed in the night sky. For breakfast, they served bowls of fruit and muesli garnished with morning glories on our front porch. Just lovely.