Getting Some Culture – Chiang Mai, Thailand

A small Buddha temple made of teak wood and protected by dogs

I know I have been very lazy ever since I have landed in Chiang Mai, and there is a lot that this city has to offer which I have been missing. So I finally pulled myself away from the pool to go out today and see the sights which is a harder thing to do than you would think. It is not easy to leave the comfort of the pool out here to wander around in the confines of the old city walls because Thailand is hot.

I knew this before I moved out here, but I had no idea how oppressive the heat could be. It is even the official end of the monsoon season out here when the temperature outside should start cooling off a bit, but nobody has told the weather that this is what it is supposed to do. Granted, I have not seen any rain since I have been here, but the sun has continued to beat down on me and this might be up there with the hottest temperatures I have experienced since I have been out here. I didn’t want to leave the pool life and explore, but I knew that if I did that for another day I would have regretted it.

A bamboo grove on the grounds of Wat Phra Singh

So I went out to explore a couple of the various wats that can be found in the old city. I started early enough in the day so the heat would not drag me down, and I was able to explore both the Wat Phra Singh and the Wat Chedi Luang. These structures are the ancient temples that house some of the most spectacular buddhas that can be found in Chiang Mai as well as the grounds on which the monks can travel around and meditate. Not only are the gold encased buildings and statues impressive, but so are the well-cared for grounds on which they reside.

Look carefully and you can see the apple in the naga’s teeth

Every temple has a series of steps up to the inside of the building where you are supposed to take off your shoes. The steps are guarded on either side by some kind of creature depending on what part of the world you find yourself in. In Thailand, the common statue is of a naga. This mythical creature is said to live in the rivers, lakes, and ocean waters all around the country, and before the monsoon season, the citizens of the country will squirt water to appease these beasts so they will come out and spit water into the air causing for an exceptionally rainy season. Most of the statues I found at the temples had one head, but the ones at the Wat Chedi Luang seemed to be a hybrid of the hydra from ancient Greece. People do come and offer these creatures gifts, and you can see various fruits, and flowers laid at the ground in front of them. Somebody gave the one I saw an apple and placed it in his mouth.

The ancient temple at Wat Chedi Luang

The temples that hold the buddhas are also impressive. The one at the center of the grounds at Wat Chedi Luang was built in the 13th century, and even though it has seen better days, there are efforts to restore it to the magnificence it once was. The brick building reminded me of the types of buildings that could found at Angor Wat in Cambodia and as I walked around it, I was rewarded with sculptures of not only buddha, and nagas, but also elephants as well. It added to the majesty of this place.

One of the various Buddhas at Wat Chedi Luang

And there are plenty of images of Buddha around. There are many different ways that he is presented from standing, sitting and sleeping, and all of them were present at these temples. The ones that disturbed me the most were on the lifelike wax statues that were created of some of the more celebrated Buddhist monks. At first, I thought they were the actual monks that were waiting to greet visitors as they made there way into these sacred places, but they were just replicas. Why they did that I could not say, but it made for a unique experience as I went into my first temple.

The largest temple at Wat Phra Singh

I will admit that I did not last very long before the pool at my hotel called me from across the old city, but it was fun to endure the heat, and go see these ancient and beautiful places. It made me feel like I had earned the refreshing dip in the cool waters, and I know that I have a few more days out here to go out and get some more culture.

The Lost Horizon – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I came back to my hotel room last night after a great meal and saw that the staff had come into our room to turn down our bed. They also must have noticed my books on the nightstand next to the bed, so they thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to give me a book mark. It had a memorable quote on it that went…

“He was enjoying the pleasant mingling of physical ease and mental alertness which seemed to him, of all sensations, the most truly civilised. So far, the appointments of Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished – certainly more than he could ever have expected.” – James Hilton

At first glance, it might seem that this kind of sentiment should be reserved for the greatest of hotels, a place where relaxation is the appointment of the day, and the greatest need is collect one’s self so they can return to the grind from whence they came. But then it does make sense that the hotel I am staying at takes its name from that mythical place that James Hilton created in his iconic novel, Lost Horizons, the Shangri-La. This is not the typical place that I search for when I look for a place to stay on my vacations. It is considered one of the more luxurious places that a person can stay in, and I don’t usually travel for the hotels, but it is fun to treat one’s self from time to time. It also helped that the room was booked at the last minute so we were able to find a pretty good deal on the room, even though it still was a little bit more of a splurge than what we usually are willing to do.

Because of this, we decided that our first full day of this vacation would be spent not leaving the hotel and getting the most out of the place. Of course, this did not mean spending the day locked in our hotel room, ordering room service and watching bad movies on cable. The Shangri-La has a lot more to offer that we were able to entertain ourselves throughout the day.

And we were in Thailand at the end of the rainy season.

The view from the poolside at the Shangri-La in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This meant enjoying the pool, and they have a beautiful pool here in Chiang Mai. There are numerous lounge chairs all around the deck with the shade of palm trees allowing for a relaxing spot to watch the ripple play in the calm water. There are many other amenities that the place has to offer, such as a spa, and small shops as well as two restaurants, and a couple of bars, but the things that caught my attention was the pool. There is no better way of spending a day than relaxing by a pool, and jumping in the water to cool off whenever I get too hot. It even featured a waterslide that I thought was for children, but soon found out that it could be enjoyed by all ages. I did have to pay attention to the big barrel of water at the top of the slide that would tip over every ten minutes and drench whoever stood up there at that time, but it was still fun to go down every once in a while. It made for the perfect day.

Some would claim that this is a wasted day of vacationing. The purpose of traveling some place new is to experience new things, and see new cultures. Why would anybody want to spend the day sitting by the pool getting pampered? Because vacation cannot be all about going around and seeing stuff. Yes, I do enjoy being a tourist and experiencing different cultures, but I also need some down time. Some people only get to travel a couple weeks out the year, and part of that time is spent visiting family and friends. I find myself very fortunate to have created a life for myself where I get to take these trips on a regular occasion. Just because I go some place does not mean that I do not wish to have some downtime as well. In my profession, I have found that it is a much needed thing to do every few weeks. And though I like to spend my time seeing different parts of the world, I also like the time that I get to spend recharging my batteries. This one day at the Shangri-La allowed me to do that.

James Hilton understood this completely when he said, “The appointments at the Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished.” I needed that day-long appointment with the pool. I will get back to exploring the world again in a day, and go back to the places that are more speed, but for one day, I enjoy feeling like I deserve the others taking care of me. It makes for the perfect way to start any vacation.

I Wonder How Many People Are Named John Here – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Travel days are always interesting. You get to go from some place where you are comfortable to some place you have never been before, and in the process there are a lot of transfers from taxis, buses, planes, and trains. The whole time you can feel the excitement about getting away and seeing that new part of the world, but at the same time you have to squeeze into tight spaces, and spend time with a bunch of your instant friends who are also going through the same experience. And when you finally get to your destination, you want to drop everything off and go explore, but you do not have enough time to really dig into the new location and check out what the place has to offer.

What I like to do with this short amount of time before I really start to enjoy the place I find myself in is to find the center of town and start to wander. Any place that looks interesting is a place I will stop at, have a bite to eat, and a drink, and get a little more comfortable with the area. This brings me to the best marketing strategy that a restaurant can do to bring in those random stragglers, name it after a really popular name.

We have all seen the places. I have seen my fair share of them, and on my first night in Chiang Mai, I ran into another one, John’s Place. I went with my first instinct to get my picture with the sign to show to everybody that I know that I somehow now own a restaurant in this small corner of the world. But then I found out that the place had a rooftop bar, so I had to take the experience one step further, and go upstairs to eat and have a drink.

It wasn’t like the rooftop bars that I can find in Bangkok, but it was the perfect place to spend a part of this cool evening. I was given a place that overlooked the moat that was at one time dug out. I got to watch the other travelers that I had found themselves in a different part of the world as they explored as well, and enjoy some spring rolls. But I also wondered if I would have stopped here if the place was not called John’s Place. I might have, but the fact that I had that small strange connection with the place made the choice that much easier.

I started to look around at the other patrons that night, and started to wonder how many of them shared the same name that I had, and had also fallen for the same marketing scheme. There had to be at least one John at each of the tables. It also made me think how many times I had ended up in places that had the name John in the title or at least JC (there is a JC in Bend, Oregon and I have been there a couple of times, partly because of the name). Would I make the same choice again the next time I came across a John’s Place, or has the realization allowed me to grow as an individual and not be so easily manipulated.

In all reality probably not. So the next time you hear that I am in town, just stop at your local John’s because you know that is where you will find me.