January 18, 2017:
Up early again for a travel day, this itinerary had us hopscotching from Siem Reap to Bangkok to Chiang Mai. What we immediately noticed upon landing in Bangkok was how deep and public the mourning is for the former King of Thailand, King Rama IX, commonly known as King Bhumibol. As we traversed the Bangkok airport to get to our transfer fight to Chiang Mai, there were huge altars with photos of the late king, and black and white bunting and white flowers were everywhere. This impression was reinforced in Chiang Mai, as it seemed every block had some sort of public remembrance to the king.
As soon as we landed in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in the early afternoon, we loaded into busses and drove about an hour outside of town to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple, which sits atop a hill 3,000 feet above Chiang Mai. The temple was originally built in 1296, and is probably the most revered temple in Chiang Mai. There is a climb of 306 steps to get to the top of the temple, but there is a funicular for the faint of heart. At the summit, you are immediately struck by the glittering roofs on the buildings and the gold on the statues. The view over Chiang Mai wasn’t too shabby, either!
There are elements of both Buddhism and Hinduism here. However, the most striking component of the temple grounds is the giant gold-covered stupa (mound/tower), which allegedly holds some of Buddha’s remains. The remains were reputedly carried to the site by a white elephant, which is commemorated by a statue.
One of the prettier elements was a carved jade Buddha, which is only slightly smaller than the “Emerald Buddha” housed at the Royal Palace. I really the fact that you could get fairly close to the statue, and because we were visiting late in the day, the Buddha was backlit by the setting sun.
We climbed down the steps, which had elaborate dragons for balustrades, and we saw some children dressed in the costumes of the local hill tribes of northern Thailand.
Then, we headed to our hotel, which is located outside of town in the Mae Rim suburb, in a much more hilly and forested area. All we can say is “Wow!” when we see the individual casitas where we will be staying.
The property is a Four Seasons resort, and for dinner tonight, we had a cooking lesson at the cooking school attached to the property. I have to say this was probably the best Thai meal I’ve ever had! In particular, Jim and I liked a local favorite which is a chicken coconut curry stir fry/soup called Kao Soy Gai. You’ll have to excuse the large number of “food gawker” photos, but we promised our friend, Jay, that we would post them.
Then we were entertained by traditional dancers, including what appeared to be a dancing llama (maybe a yak?)!