The next leg of our discovery journey through Indochina was from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. While the first part of this trip had been with a group tour, for this part we are on our own. We have made our plans, and Carol has booked transportation, and made reservations. Se we are on our own. We do have the sense that Thailand is a pretty easy place to travel, having many Western tourists each year.
To conserve our money we are going to take a luxury bus from Bangkok. We started at the Northern Bus Terminal, Mo Chit. (Note there are three bus terminals in the city, you if you do take a bus make sure you go to the right terminal). It is easy to use. There are ticket booths with the destination name in English letters above it. Just go to the window and get your ticket for the next bus.
The terminal is modern and clean. Many people are waiting. You can get food. There is even a 7-11 store!
We waited in the boarding area for our bus.
And followed a monk dressed in saffron to our bus.
We were in the top level of the bus, right in front. This was a long ride, nearly 9 hours. We left about 8 PM, so we were in the dark all the way. The road was good, and I even slept a bit. (Usually I sleep very little when traveling).
Here is the bus, with large comfortable seats. The cost was around 550 baht, about $17.50 US.
This is the route we drove. It is about 750 km.
We got to Chiang Mai about 5 AM.
We were approached by several drivers at the bus station. Though the drivers who approach like this are often too expensive, it was 5 AM, and we just wanted to get to the guest house we had booked. I think he charged us 100 baht. (I don’t remember if it was for each one of us). This is about $3.00.
We rode in a common kind of taxi here, a ‘Red Truck” or songthaew. He had no other passengers at this time of night, so he took us right to our guest house.
in Chiang Mai we stayed at the Panda House, an inexpensive guest house near to the Old Town. The Old Town is the heart of the tourist area. You might want to stay there, but it is more expensive. We were trying to save a few baht. The accommodations were just fine, and the people at the Panda House were very helpful. They had a woman there to help with travel (Jang, or Janny) and tour accommodations, and she gave us good support, for which we were grateful.
Near the entrance to the Panda House were these spirit houses.
These were miniature worlds, and seemed more ornate that any we had seen before. I think maybe spirit houses are even a bigger thing in Northern Thailand. This link goes to a very good article on Thai Spirit Houses.
Inside the spirit house temple there is a golden Buddha and two blue-robed monks.
Another had these saffron-clothed figures.
Walking from the Panda House, this was the view on the street. Near us was one of the 300 Buddhist temples that are in Chiang Mai.
Across the street, in front of a fancy hotel, was Ganesh! I was surprised to see him here.
This hotel also had a big spirit house in front of the building.
Inside was Buddha. Fresh flowers are placed here every day, I think. You can tell from the size of the flowers that this is pretty large (though still a miniature).
When we walked a short way we can to a corner of the Old City. The remains of the city walls still stand. The original city was built within this moat and walls. It was founded in 1296 by King Mengrai, the founder of the Lanna Kingdom, lit. “Kingdom of Million Rice Fields,” of Northern Siam. Because of the difficulty of travel between Bangkok and Chiang Mai in the historical period (it could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant-back trip until the 1920s), so development on rule of this area was left to the local peoples. This isolation helped preserve Chiang Mai’s distinctive charm intact. The Lanna Kingdom had relative prosperity for about 300 years. Then, in decline, it fell first to Laos, then to Burma. The arrogant repressive behavior by the local Burmese government caused a rebellion in 1770, and with Siamese help Chiang Mai ridded itself of Burmese rule and became the Kingdom of Chiang Mai, a vassal state of Siam.
At an elevation of about 1000 feet, this area has more temperate weather than Bangkok, and in the foothills of the Himalayas, good rainfall, good for growing rice, thus the “Kingdom of Million Rice Fields.”
The moat still surrounds the Old City.
We walked until we came to a bridge over the moat, then wandered into the Old City.
Wat Chiang Man
Soon we encountered a Buddhist temple, one of 30 that are in the Old City.
It turns out that this is Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in the city. It was built in 1297 CE by King Mengrai as the first temple of Chiang Mai on the location of Wiang Nopburi, a fortified town of the Lawa people. So this is the most historic of the 300 temples in the Chiang Mai area.
Here is the old Vihara (or viharn, vihan, wiharn), the shrine hall. A shrine hall doesn’t serve a ceremonial function. Instead, it’s a place where lay people go to pay respect to the Buddha and other masters, in the form of Buddha images and statues. This building was renovated in the 1920s. I do not know when this building was first erected, but it must be hundreds of years old, maybe 700.
Here is a plaque at the site.
Entering the hall, look at this doorway!
The building houses a large mondop (pillared hall) for an altar surrounded by Buddha statues. One of the standing Buddhas has the year 1465 CE engraved on its base, which would make it the oldest statue of the Lanna Kingdom. It is also the oldest statue in Thailand which shows the Buddha with an alms bowl.
Here is a series of 108 offering bowls, into which one makes 108 donations.
Here is the main mondop, pillared hall.
The central Buddha is an Enlightenment Buddha, signifying insight, purity of character, and self-mastery. His right hand is facing downward with fingers extended toward the ground, palm facing inward. This is is the Bhumisparsha mudra, which means literally ‘touching the earth.’ In the left is a Buddha standing with palm extended, expressing Fearlessness, also “calming animals.”
To the extreme left is Buddha with an alms bowl. I think that this is the one from 1465 CE.
As is often the case, there are offerings in front of the altar. Most of the offerings are these artificial flowers in a bouquet. You buy them at the entrance to the hall. I bet they collect them at night and resell them the next day.
Other offerings of fruit, eatables, and other items (such as bottled water for the Buddha to drink).
A woman sits in front of the altar. She has an offering in the hands.
Another Buddha in the hall, this in a position of meditation.
Sitting Buddha. I think his hand is expressing “reason,” so this would be a Teaching Buddha.
Here is a small replica of the famous Emerald Buddha, from the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Painting on the wall of the hall, depicting various kinds of worship.
We are out on the grounds of the Wat. This building shows typical construction and decoration. Note that Nagas, snake-gods, line the stairs.
This is the Ubosoft (or Bot)– the Ordination Hall. This is an important building in any Buddhist monastery. The ordination hall houses the temple’s principle Buddha image.
Monks use the ordination hall for morning and evening chanting. On occasion, it’s used to carry out religious rituals, where lay people participate. The most common ceremony is monk ordinations. Religious ceremonies are also held in the ordination hall on Buddhist holidays.
Rising up behind the Bot is a chedi (sometimes translated as “stupa” or even “pagoda”). This tower is usually bell-shaped and will often contain a relic of the Buddha. A chedi may also be built to contain the ashes of a king or important monk. This is the Chedi Chang Lom – the ‘Elephant Chedi’ – and is the oldest construction within the temple complex.
A small sala, an open-sided pavilion.
These golden statues are in the sala. There are two scenes from Buddha’s life painted on the wall behind. There is a stone Ganesh in front. I think maybe the center figure in back is a Buddha, maybe a form of the Laughing Buddha, who is generally portrayed as corpulent.
There is something going on with this temple and elephants. They are in the paintings here. There is the ‘Elephant Chedi’, with elephants on its base, and in the New Viharn (which we did not visit) there is the Phra Sila statue, a stone stele depicting a standing Buddha taming the elephant ‘Nalagiri’. This is from Ceylon, and dates to about the 8th century. There is also an intricately carved three-head elephant, Erawan, surmounted by a crown, on the gable of the old Viharn. The name of the temple, Chiangmun, means “strong and powerful city” and the elephant is a symbol of strength, so I guess that is why elephants are so featured here.
Here are close ups of the elephants. Both are scenes from Buddha’s life.
This is a picture of Buddha and Nalagiri, the elephant. Buddha, with his retinue of holy monks, was coming into the city of Rajagaha on his alms – round, when the kings son, Devadattha, who was jealous of the Buddha, plotted to kill Him. They brought this huge elephant, and gave it alcohol, then hurt and wounded it with spears so much that it was enraged beyond compare. Then they let it out loose into the narrow streets, where the Buddha was coming on alms round. The intoxicated elephant started running down this street furiously tearing down everything on its sight. Everybody ran when they saw this huge enraged elephant charging down the street. The Buddha stayed, and with his immense mettha – Unconditional Loving Kindness – relieved Nalagiri off his pain and calmed the animal, who bowed down at his feet with tears running down his elephantine face.
This is a picture of Buddha on retreat at the palelai forest in Thailand , with only an elephant and a monkey as attendants. His monks had split into two groups and were not in harmony, refusing to perform the duties of the order (sanghakamma) together. So he went on retreat without them.
On closer examination, the other figures are, I think, famous monks, probably associated with this Wat, maybe famous abbots.
Now we are out on the street. Across from us is a colorful sidewalk flower shop
A balloon vendor waits for buyers.
A commercial street in the Old City. this looks like a modern street just about anywhere in the world.
Scooters for sale, many of them.
Another truckload of scooters, since what we saw was not enough! They can sure get a lot of them on the truck.
A golden street-side monument. Colorful bows are tied on the central element.
Nice street-side cafes. We had lunch here.
A fancy entrance. (Maybe to the temple shown below, I am not sure.)
Wat Phan Tao
Next is Wat Phantao (or Phan Tao, also Pantao).
The name means, “Monastery of a Thousand Kilns.” The name is believed to refer to the casting of the numerous Buddha images for its even bigger neighbor, Wat Chedi Luang, located right next door.
There is a spirit house even at this Wat. Even temples must take care of their ghosts and ancestors.
Here is one of the miniatures. This is very much like the giant guardian figures we saw in Bangkok in the Grand Palace.
The main Buddha at Wat Phan Tao.
This is another Enlightenment Buddha like we saw at Wat Chiang Man, with his right hand ‘touching the earth.’ The five smaller Buddhas in front also are in this same pose.
Offerings for Buddha. I wonder what the red stuff in the bottles is?
Carol, standing in front of the main Buddha at this Wat.
The beautiful old teak viharn at Wat Phan Tao was once a royal residence and is today one of the unsung treasures of Chiang Mai. Constructed entirely of molded teak panels fitted together and supported by 28 gargantuan teak pillars.
The viharn was originally the palace “gilded hall” of Chiang Mai’s king, Chao Mahawong, who ruled from 1846 to 1854, and was reassembled here and now functions as a monastery. The wall of the viharn is of central Thai style, comprising panels and Lanna design are the doors and windows, which have intricate Lanna-style carvings. The carvings are gilded and inlaid with colored glass.
Outside there are many colorful decorations.
Here is the Chedi. It is usually stark white. Now it is being refinished.
A pair of nagas in a pond.
Bells. Buddhist temples are big on bells. I have seen them used in a way that seems like a “call to prayer.” The traditional belief is that the sound of bell ringing can purify the holy place so the bells become one of the sacred objects for Buddhist temples. They are used to wake the monks and announce the start of temple ceremonies.
There is a pleasant meditation garden at this temple, growing plants, the sound of the waterfall, all bring a sense of peace.
Back near the monks’ quarters it is a riot of orange. These are monks’ clothes hanging out to dry.
At the temple there are a number of stupas like this, cane on the outside, containing sand, in concentric rings that get smaller are they get higher. Does anyone know anything about these?
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is right next to Wat Phan Tao.
Vara Viharn is a main building in this Wat housing the most revered Buddha here.
Two enormous Nagas line the entry into the temple.
Their tails intertwine above the door.
The standing Buddha in Vara Viharn is known as Phra Chao Attarot,(Eighteen-cubit Buddha). It was cast in the late 14th century.
The hand position shows that Buddha is preventing relatives from fighting.
This is also known as the Fearlessness position.
On the altar, along with the three large Buddhas are many smaller ones. Some seem like likenesses of monks.
Some are Buddhas, mainly in the Enlightenment pose.
Back on the street. More colorful flowers in a street-side shop.
In the moat there are a number of fountains to add to the ambience.
Walking back to our room, we stop and look at the Wat near to the Panda House, Wat Chia Sri Phoom.
I am constantly fascinated by the elaborate decorations. Little effort is spared.
This temple is surrounded by a wall, topped by painted Thai figures.
Here is a closeup so you can see the detail. All of the statues are the same casting, they are just painted differently.
On the street, auto and motorbike traffic is shared by carts like this hand-pushed one.
A bright canna lily by the moat.
We saw many spirit houses today. The one pictured below is on the roof of this bicycle rickshaw.
There are some permanent shops that are open through the day, but the most interesting shopping is at the many tables that will be set up and stocked as the day is ending.
Good food is available and plentiful. Here are cooked ducks.
Fresh fish. There are good seafood restaurants here. And you can see that things are fresh.
Jumbo shrimp. Pick the one that you want.
Many small crabs wait. So they will not attack each other, they have their claws tied up.
We sat in one of these places, looking out on all the activity of preparation.
Setting up tables.
Then the table is covered and the merchandise nicely laid out. A good presentation is important for selling.
Hand carved statues.
Photographs. I think I have see all these when I was in the USA. Nothing new here, but the amusing juxtaposition of the native people with Einstein.
Half manikins, waiting to be dressed for the night.
Get your Buddha here, stone, glass, black, gold, whatever you want.
A table of miniature electronic guitars.
Close up. Nice craftsmanship.
Carol stands in a food market.
A table full of purses of all imaginable colors.
A young Thai lady on the phone. I think she is with a Western man.
I think this is the son of one of the vendors, dressed in his PJs for the night.
We almost bought one of these to give away to one of our boys. We could not get the right price, though.
Westerners, sitting at the Bamboo Bar.
Jewelry by the tableful.
Now it is night, the lights are on, pretty.
Hanging lights for your home.
A night market scene.
These are lighted flowers, on plant-like bases. They stand about as high as we are.
Soaps, carved into flowers and wonderfully painted, each in its own carved wooden container.
We are at a place near our hotel, Miguel’s Café. This was the best Mexican food we have had since we left the States.
Across from the café was the moat, now reflecting the lights of the Old City.
The fountains were saw during the day are now lit up nicely.
Reflections in the water. This is about as ‘art-like’ as I get.
Chiang Mai is a place we wish we had taken more time to see. Maybe we will go again and spend more time. We only scratched the surface.
These posts show other parts of this same trip through Indochina.