I decided to walk from my hostel into Chiang Mai town. It was an nondescript road; I passed all the typical "edge of town" businesses: laundries, small shops selling Pepsi, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, barbers, schools offering English training, computer repair, print shops... yadda yadda yadda...
I was shocked out of my complacency when I hit my first Thai temple. Giant golden dragons leapt into the air! Just a few metres further, an enormous stupa glittered. These were quite something... Chiang Mai has as many temples than Bangkok, a city 50 times its size.
A sign at the "UN Irish Pub" was advertising a quiz night that evening at 8.30pm. Now, I cannot resist a quiz, so despite getting hopelessly lost in the afternoon while gazing at lots of temples, by eight I was back at the pub, hanging around at the bar looking for a team of regulars to tag on to. I ended up with a team of Yorkshiremen (the Yorkies). They were taking the quiz quite seriously. "We don't win every week" said the team captain.
The Yorkies had all retired to Chiang Mai, married Thai women and built houses here. It didn't seem a particularly tough life: getting drunk while soaking up the sun, but being from Yorkshire they were full of complaints about the traffic, the price of land...
We eventually finished third, winning a jug of beer, which I was pretty happy with. The Yorkies however immediately left in disgust at such a poor showing, so I was left to distribute the free beer around the pub.
The following day I took a songthaew (a kind of open air minibus) up a long twisting road to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple set on a hill a few kilometres from Chiang Mai. To reach it, you climbed 306 stairs which were flanked by two green naga dragons, their bodies undulating all the way to the top.
Inside was an enormous golden stupa, surrounded by numerous Buddhas. There were some large bells with a sign saying DO NOT RING THE BELLS, which was being ignored by everyone, so a gentle chiming and occasional loud BONG!!! filled the air.
The story goes that the temple had been sited here after some holy relics had been placed on the back of an elephant. The tusker had gone walking around before finally collapsing in exhaustion at this point. Seemed a waste of an elephant.
Wat Phrat Singh is the most famous temple in Chiang Mai. After removing your shoes you went inside where an enormous Buddha sat staring at you. Everyone sat down, and stared back.
In the garden behind the temple there were some entertaining signs bearing Buddhist slogans.
Aside from the temples, Chiang Mai was a chilled out backpacker retreat. You could have a massage, wander through the market, have a burger, go visit a spa, have a cheap massage, surf the Net, watch a DVD, eat some banana pancakes. It was all very nice, and very easy, and after two days I was bored out of my fucking mind.
It was time to go and have an adventure.
Read the next entry: Crossing the line in Mae Sai