Tag Archives: Pagoda

Travel Guide: Chiang Mai x2

After time in Hanoi and Sapa, my sister and I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand on New Year’s Eve. I was excited to be back as soon as we landed.

We dropped our bags and headed straight for Sunday Walking Street, one of Chiang Mai’s many night markets. It sells food, clothing, art, home decor, and just about anything else that one might need or desire. For those who love to shop, there’s a regular night market and a Saturday Walking Street, too.

It was busier than usual because of New Year’s Eve so we ducked out for dinner once the crowds became unpleasant. Once it was dark, we joined groups of locals and tourists setting off paper lanterns along the river, just inside the walls that cordon off central Chiang Mai from the rest of the city. (I’d love to go to the Lantern Festival one day.) Encouraged by a friendly Thai man, we scribbled messages on our lantern before finding someone with a candle who helped us light it. With his help, we held the lantern to the ground until he decided, seemingly arbitrarily, that it was ready to hold itself up in the sky. We let go and watched the lantern float up and over the river, following hundreds of others. Such a cool way to send off positive wishes for a new year.

A few hours later, we rang in 2018 from Zoe in Yellow, a Chiang Mai club that absorbed the parties from every bar on its street. Security and bartenders were kind enough to look the other way as all patrons wandered from bar to bar, dancing wherever the best song was playing.

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On New Year’s Day, we visited one of several massage centers in Chiang Mai where female ex-convicts are trained in the art of massage. Thai massage is very different from any massage that I’ve had (and I don’t always like being touched, so massages are infrequent) and I really enjoyed it. You’re fully dressed and the masseuse is right up on the bed with you, using her entire body to pull, twist, and stretch yours. She was contorted into as many positions as I was throughout the process. It was a new physical experience for me and a lovely way to spend an hour.

We spent the afternoon wandering around, the streets blissfully empty this time, and found some really lovely street art that basically exemplifies why I love Chiang Mai so much. It’s a small town with so much personality and so much good will. Really delicious cafés and coffee shops, too! We visited at least one every afternoon. Chiang Mai is laid-back, calm, and friendly, all of which were greatly appreciated after the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.

We also saw some of Chiang Mai’s many temples. They’re ornate, colorful, incredibly detailed, and very impressive. They can also get a little tiring and all start to look the same after a while. Since Chiang Mai has so many, though, one way of getting to know the city is by going from temple to temple and creating a mental map. That’s what I did the first time I was there and I was surprised at how much I remembered.

Visiting temples at night, however, was a new experience and a very different one. What is beautiful in the light can take on a very eerie, creepy quality in the dark. That was only enhanced by the man riding his bike in circles whispering, “Beautiful . . .” over and over.

We actually spent most of our time in Chiang Mai out of town and in the wider province. On our second full day we went on an excursion to Phuping Palace, the royal family’s holiday home, and Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most famous temple. We were far more interested in the latter but I’m glad we saw the palace, too. We weren’t allowed inside but the gardens were lovely!

If you’re planning to go, one word of caution. Just like the Grand Palace in Bangkok, there’s a dress code that is more strict than the regular temple dress code. For men, it’s long pants (no shorts, even if they cover the knee) and a shirt that covers the shoulders. For women, it’s a skirt or long pants (no leggings, though fine in a temple) and a shirt that covers the shoulders (no scarves for this part, though that’s fine in a temple). Luckily, there are clothes to buy or rent if you’re in a bind.

After some time at Phuping Palace and a short drive, we reached Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and walked up 306 steps to reach it. Like every temple that we visited in and around Chiang Mai, this one was full of monks and worshippers giving offerings and saying prayers in the hope of a prosperous new year. Doi Suthep is actually the name of the mountain on which the temple is located and there were really beautiful views of the city from the summit. It was a cloudy day so I’ll keep those pictures to myself because they really don’t do it justice.

The primary reason I had wanted my sister to visit Chiang Mai was because of Elephant Nature Park. That’s what first brought me to Chiang Mai a couple years ago and I could not wait to share it with my sister. ENP is a rescue center for elephants previously in captivity from logging operations, circus performances, or as tourist attractions on city streets. ENP also has an expansive dog rescue program with its own set of volunteers. There are other animals living there, too, like cats and water buffalo. At ENP, no one rides the elephants. You feed them, learn about their individual personalities and life stories, bathe them when it’s warm enough (it is in September but some were wearing jackets in January!), and touch them if they’ll let you. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful animals and I was so glad to be back.

We spent our last day in Chiang Mai up in the mountains. We headed to Doi Inthanon National Park, which is part of the Himalayas and home to the highest mountain in Thailand that gives the park its name. The climate of Doi Inthanon is always chilly, hovering around 10ºC or 50ºF during the day, and I was glad for my jacket.

After about two hours of driving, we stopped at Wachirathan Waterfall. I grew up in upstate New York and spent summers camping in Letchworth State Park and this waterfall reminded me a little bit of home. I loved climbing down on the rocks to get as close to the spray as possible. We used to stand in the gorges trying to catch whatever fish darted around in there. We called them crayfish, but I’m not sure that’s what they were.

After some time at the waterfall, we took a quick drive to Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, the real reason we’d come to Doi Inthanon. We hiked for two hours through the cloud forest, which was really neat because we’d visited Singapore’s Cloud Forest in Gardens by the Bay two weeks earlier and here we were in a real one! Normally, the guide told us, there’s a stunning view of the mountain range and nearby temples from the summit. The day we were there, however, was an anomaly. We could see . . . nothing.

Knowing what I was missing because of a photo from the guidebook, I was initially disappointed. And then I started paying attention to everything I could see and my emotional response, attitude, and interpretation of the experience completely changed. I started looking around and found myself feeling calm and peaceful. I felt wrapped up in mist from the clouds, hugged by everything around me. Only being able to see a few meters in any direction forced me to focus more deeply than I often do when I’m outside and there’s so much to see. With less distraction, it was easier to experience beauty and serenity in everything that there was.

While I could have happily spent many more hours hiking in the mountains, we followed the guide to the burial site of the ancient Lanna kings. As everywhere in Thailand, there were people praying and leaving offerings, which I always like to see. Religious devotion is always interesting to me because I grew up understanding it so completely. My thoughts have changed a lot since then.

Another major attraction of Doi Inthanon National Park are the pagodas dedicated to the king and queen. Normally, you can see them from the top of the mountain but we had the additional surprise of not being able to see them at all because of the fog. The guide shrugged and told us to wander around the gardens, which we did. It’s still amusing to watch monks taking selfies, especially when there’s nothing to see. As we wandered, though, the sun broke through the clouds and the fog cleared for just long enough to allow us to see what we’d come to see.

The King Pagoda was surrounded by really beautiful scenes of the life of the Buddha and was absolutely empty inside, which is unusual. I really liked the brown and gray with hints of purple, which is also unusual. Temples are so pretty when they’re simple.

The Queen Pagoda was decorated with purple mosaics. This I had never seen and this I loved. This queen loved purple, the guide told us. So do I.

After some time at the pagodas, we went to a nearby market just for a quick look. Though my sister and I told each other we weren’t hungry, we used that quick look to buy a cup of strawberries and another cup of gooseberries!

According to the guide, the last stop with this particular tour is usually the Sirithan Waterfall. Though smaller and initially less impressive than the first, I enjoyed listening to the water.

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However, since so many people in our group had asked about local livelihoods, he took us to a village that grows rice in the summer and coffee throughout the year!

Our visit to Doi Inthanon was such a great day and it was a little difficult to know that our trip was at an end. But it was such a wonderful way to say goodbye to a place I really love. Here’s to hoping I’ll be back soon!

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Chinese Garden

One of my Singapore Bucket List items was (note the use of past tense!) to visit the Chinese Garden in Jurong Lake. I didn’t even know it existed until it showed up as the banner photo on my bank’s website. The website has gorgeous photos of Singapore and they’re helpfully all labeled with the location! A stunning sunset photo of the Twin Pagodas at the Singapore Chinese Garden shows up fairly often in my online banking experiences. I expected the pagodas to be massive because that’s how they look in the photo but that actually wasn’t the case at all. You can see for yourself in the gallery below.

The Chinese Garden is out west on the East-West Line, which is a pretty far MRT ride from where I live, which is towards the northern end of the North-East Line. Without a friend, I would have brought a book but I was lucky enough to have a friend! Jamie and I headed there mostly to take pictures. It rained a bit but we were delighted to find the park almost completely empty. It was quiet and serene even though we could see the city and its construction all around us. There were a group of people playing cricket on a pitch nearby, but we saw relatively few people otherwise.

The Japanese Garden is part of the same park, but we only visited the Bonsai Garden there. Pretty helpful sign posts and the occasional map showed us around. It’s quite a large park, so there would be more to see if I ever went back. Looking at the amount of time I have left here, though, that’s unfortunately unlikely. (Insert sad face emoji here.)

Enjoy the photos and head there for a visit!

 

Travel Guide: Hoi An

This is the third and final post in a series of three about my travels with my dad over October break. You can read the introduction to the trip here, and my posts about Bangkok and Hanoi here and here, respectively.

The last four days of our travels found us in beautiful Hoi An, which is located in central Vietnam. Hoi An is often under water at this time of year, a fact unknown to me until we arrived. Our travels there could have been really disappointing, but we were lucky enough not to see any rain over the course of the week. As a result of the threat of weather, however, Hoi An was largely empty of tourists.

To get to quaint, sleepy Hoi An, located on the Thu Bon River, we flew into nearby Da Nang airport and hopped into a taxi for about 45 minutes. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about Hoi An loves it (I ran into four of my friends there!), and after a walk through the tiny Ancient Town it was easy to see why. Not only is it full of old assembly halls, houses, and shops, but lanterns light up the entire town in the evening. I took the following pictures throughout our time in Hoi An:

In addition to being a nice place by itself, Hoi An is also a wonderful base for half-day trips to historical and interesting sites nearby. We took two separate trips out of Hoi An during our time there; the first was to My Son, an ancient Hindu temple site and burial ground for Cham kings dating to the fourth century. The complex must have been massive in its heyday, but much of it was destroyed by American bombs during the Vietnam War. There are very clearly marked walking paths because of unexploded ordnances all around the site, another wartime souvenir. Dad and I visited My Son as part of a tour with a very informative guide; he pointed out weathered motifs and symbols carved into the stone that we probably would have missed without him.

Along with about half of our tour group, we chose to take a boat along the Thu Bon River to return to Hoi An. The boat afforded us wonderful views of the river and of rural life on its banks.

Along the way to Hoi An, we stopped on Cam Kim Island, a village known for its traditional crafts.

Now that I've seen this, I wonder how non-traditional boats and ships are made?
Now that I’ve seen this, I wonder how non-traditional boats and ships are made?
I thought it was really neat that the carver drew the pattern on the wood. Somehow, it had never occurred to me that artists do that.
Somehow, it had never occurred to me that artists draw their patterns before starting to carve.

Vietnam’s Marble Mountains, located in nearby Da Nang, was our destination the following morning. The Marble Mountains are exactly what they sound like – jutting hills of marble that are no longer quarried because they’d disappear. We took the elevator to Thuy Son, the highest peak, and then made our way down, exploring the Buddhist pagodas, Hindu temples, and various shrines and altars that dot the site.

There are also caves on the mountains, including Tang Chan Cave, which contains a few altars and statues. What is truly spectacular about the cave, however, is the sunlight streaming through large holes in its top. When the light is just right, it casts a gorgeous, unearthly light on the altars.

Cave shrine

Sunlight

In the afternoon, we wandered around Hoi An’s Ancient Town to take advantage of the ticket scheme that allows access to five historical sites within the town. The ticket is required to visit the vast majority of assembly halls, historic homes, and even some museums, so we saved it for our last afternoon when we knew we’d have the longest amount of daylight in town. We visited the Phuoc Kien Assembly hall, which started as a pagoda and later became a temple for one of Hoi An’s Chinese groups. It is home to an altar to the Goddess of the Sea, which I thought was really interesting. There was also an altar shaped like a boat, which was beautiful. I love learning about groups of people, their livelihoods, and their values through religious art and artifacts. What a way to gain insight into the soul.

Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall

Along with our ticket scheme wanderings was a very brief stop at the Museum of Folk Culture, which was interesting largely because the door of the museum was open, all the lights were off, and there was no one inside but us and another equally confused tourist.

The Tan Ky House, on the other hand, was interesting in itself.

Courtyard of the Tan Ky House

The Tan Ky House is a shop house dating from the late eighteenth century that incorporated Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese architectural styles. I admit, I didn’t know that so many ethnic groups and nationalities call Hoi An home, and have a place in the city’s history as a trading port.

The most interesting stop on our somewhat guided wander was the Handicraft Workshop where we saw a performance of traditional music and dance. By far my favorite part was a musical piece that I can best describe as ancient jazz. A musician who would have been a saxophone player in a western jazz group played a sort of double-bow violin that didn’t seem to be made of anything but strings and a small wooden base. He had a solo in the middle of the piece that was creative, innovative, and playful; I couldn’t understand how such an unassuming instrument even made sounds, let alone such music!

Neither of us were ready to leave Hoi An early Sunday morning. I, at least, have a mental list of things I want to do when I return, which I hopefully will. There is now a direct flight from Singapore to Hoi An, so it is certainly a possibility.

Japanese Covered Bridge

Dad and I had an unbelievable time during our ten days of travel together. I am so glad to have shared such a wonderful experience with him. We both learned a lot over the course of our trip and I’m already looking forward to the next one!