September 7, 2018 – When I was planning our time in Chiang Mai I decided to leave one day open because I wanted to make sure we had enough time just to wander the Old City without any structure.
Our songthaew (red truck) would be arriving around 8:00 am so it was another typical morning for us going down for breakfast at 7:30 am. Since breakfast started at 7:30 am, not much was out for us to eat. We ended up asking for a couple to-go boxes so we could snag some fresh croissants before we headed out on our trip up the mountain. Have I mentioned how much I loved our hotel?
Our songthaew driver was early and the croissants had just been put out so we decided to head out a little before 8:00 am. I was already nervous that we were leaving too late to beat the crowds at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, but I tried to focus on the fact that we were getting to go at all.
Our songthaew driver was an older Thai man who didn’t know English very well. But it didn’t matter. We climbed in the back of the truck and held on for the 30-minute ride from Chiang Mai Old City to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
On the way up we got to witness locals giving alms to the monks. This was something I really wanted to experience while we were in Chiang Mai but with our limited mornings, I knew it probably wouldn’t happen. At least we got to see this from a distance.
We arrived at the base of the temple around 8:30 am. To my shock and delight, there were zero tour buses there. Our driver gave us a small card with his name and license plate number on it so we would be able to find his songthaew once we came down. After he pointed us in the right direction, we were off to climb the 309 stairs of the Naga Staircase to the top.
I was ecstatic. It was just us and a few locals. I couldn’t believe that even at 8:30 am there was no one around. I am usually a huge proponent of waking up before the sun to beat the crowds, but Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was one place where we could actually achieve “no crowds” status without losing sleep.
At the top of the stairs over to the right, we saw a sign for tourists to purchase tickets. There wasn’t a ticket taker or any sort of controlled entrance to get into the temple, but we weren’t about to not follow the rules. So we bought our tickets and made our way to the temple entrance.
After removing our shoes and placing them on a shoe rack, we entered the main part of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It was so beautiful and peaceful with hardly anyone around.
I spotted another orange tapestry like we had seen on our first night in Chiang Mai Old City and signed it for us.
We finally saw what it was used for as well. They wrapped the base of the gold chedi (monument) in the middle of the temple with the tapestry. I’m still not sure what the significance is, but I do know that our names are on two of them in Chiang Mai!
The significance of the bells, as well as many other things around the temple, were merit offerings made by visiting Buddhists. They are gifts to the temple that are supposed to bring good fortune to the person who donates. Earning merit by giving is a huge part of the Buddhist religion. Giving alms to the monks is another way to earn merit. I tried to research as much as I could about the bells but received conflicting results. One person suggested the names on the bells are of those who have passed, but I couldn’t confirm this.
The founding of the temple is a bit of a mystery. Legend says it was built in 1383 and expanded over time. The first road to the temple was built fairly recently in 1935. It is considered one of the holiest sites in Thailand for Buddhists and is a major site for Buddhist pilgrimage.
We read a sign that said it was considered respectful and good luck for visitors to walk clockwise around the golden chedi 3 times so we decided to do this before leaving the main part of the temple.
After we saw everything within the center of the temple, we went to find the spectacular view of Chiang Mai.
Again, there was hardly anyone around so we were able to stand wherever we wanted to take in the view. There was some significant cloud cover which made it hard to see the city below, but it was still beautiful to see.
We decided to eat the rest of our breakfast while we took in the view. A little temple dog joined us and Eric may have fed him some sausage.
Once we took in enough of the view, we made our way to the exit to get our shoes. Before we left, we used the bathrooms.
They were very modern and nice, although it looks like they had an interesting problem at one point.
I was wearing my yellow jumpsuit again and upon exiting the stall was having issues getting the back of it buttoned. I know I keep saying it, but the Thai’s in Chiang Mai all had hearts of gold. This tiny older Thai woman saw me struggling and shuffled over to help me. She was so tiny I had to bend down so she could reach the button (I’m only 5’5). I thanked her in Thai (ขอบคุณ or khob khun kha) and bowed (called ‘wai’) to show my gratitude for her kindness. She smiled and bowed back. The Thai culture overall is so kind, respectful, and beautiful. I could see how someone could visit and never want to leave.
We made our way back down to where our songthaew was waiting. Before we left, we walked around a little bit to see some of the other statues that decorated the base.
As soon as we started walking toward our songthaew, the buses arrived. At least 5 came all at once and tourists poured out of them. I was so thankful we came early.
Our driver was just finishing getting his songthaew washed when we walked up. He gave us a nod and we all got in to head to the next temple on the Doi Suthep mountain called Wat Pha Lat.
I didn’t know much about Wat Pha Lat other than it was shown on season 14, episode 9 of The Bachelorette (no judgment please).
Wat Pha Lat was on the way down Doi Suthep mountain and couldn’t be seen from the main road. There was a sign, but if we were on our own I wouldn’t have known it was there.
There is another way to get to this temple. The Monk’s Trail goes from Chiang Mai up the mountain to the back entrance of the Wat Pha Lat and takes about 45 minutes. This hike was on my list of things to do, but since we were already visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, it was easier to just add it on to that trip.
Once we were at the entrance, our driver told us as best as he could that there was no fee to enter. Then he smiled and said, “magic.” We assumed he was referring to how beautiful Wat Pha Lat was. He wasn’t wrong.
There were several dirt paths to take once we entered the grounds of Wat Pha Lat. We saw a small pagoda to our right as soon as we entered and noticed a group of monks walking in. We decided to enter along with them.
After removing our shoes, we entered and immediately struck up a conversation with one of the monks. From my research before our trip, I knew that many monks enjoyed talking with tourists in order to practice their English.
He asked us where we were from and how we heard about Wat Pha Lat since it wasn’t as popular as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. We told him we were from the US and one of the people at our hotel suggested that we visit this temple. He smiled and told us it was his first time there and it was possibly the most peaceful temple he had ever been to. Well, coming from a monk, I felt like we had stumbled upon a piece of heaven on Earth.
We said goodbye to the friendly monk and continued on through the grounds of Wat Pha Lat. Several of the buildings had scaffolding on them and were being restored.
It’s hard for me to put into words the immense tranquility I felt at this temple. The air was cool with a slight breeze. It was so quiet except for the babbling stream that ran through the property. The only other people around were monks staying there on retreat.
I enjoyed this temple more than any other temple we had visited so far in Southeast Asia. It wasn’t big, but the setting on the side of a mountain and in the middle of the jungle was so beautiful. It was nearly impossible to feel any type of stress, sadness, or anger. Only peace, happiness, and gratefulness flooded my mind.
I’ve been to so many spiritual places in the world but Wat Pha Lat by far was the most peaceful of all of them. In the words of our driver, “magic.”
I really didn’t want to leave, but we still had so much more exploring to do within Chiang Mai Old City. We slowly made our way back to our songthaew and back to Chiang Mai Old City.
We reached BED Chiang Mai Gate around 10:30 am and said goodbye to our songthaew driver. Since it was still so early, we decided to reorganize our bag and then head down to Baan Bakery to see if they had any pastries left.
I was fully expecting Baan Bakery to be packed with people, but it wasn’t. They even had some pastries left. So we bought a few along with an iced latte for me.
After our mid-morning snack, we set off to wander Chiang Mai Old City. If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I usually always have a plan. On this day, other than the morning, we had no plans at all. We decided we would just start walking and see where we ended up.
Wat Sri Suphan, also known as the Silver Temple, would be our starting point since it was right around the corner from our hotel.
It only took about 10 minutes to walk there. I loved the walk because it took us through some more residential side streets with cute homes lining the roads. It was actually just outside of Chaing Mai Old City, but very close. The perimeter is an ancient wall as well as a river. Both form a square enclosing the Old City.
Wat Sri Supan is one of the most well-known temples in Chiang Mai because of the fact that its exterior is covered in silver. It isn’t big, but the details and extravagance of it are mind-blowing.
The temple was set within an area known as the silver village where many silversmiths lived and worked. It was originally built in the 1500s but the main temple that is there today was built much more recently.
When we arrived we had to purchase entrance tickets for 50 baht each ($1.52). However, this included a free cold bottle of water for each of us so we didn’t mind paying at all.
The area around the temple was very beautiful. We even saw a cute temple kitten when we walked up. As I was snapping a few pictures of him, a groundskeeper was sweeping the pathway. He saw the kitten eyeing his broom so he started playing with him. The kitten pounced on the broom and immediately jumped back because his broom was basically just a bunch of pine needles bundled together. We laughed. It was a precious little moment.
We reached the entrance to the temple and that’s where I had to end my visit. Women are not allowed to enter the silver temple. There was an all-girl group of tourists hanging out there as well so I hung back with them while Eric went inside with the rest of the men to take pictures.
I am extremely open-minded and accept all cultures, but the no-women rule irked me. Of course, I respected their tradition, but it was one of those things that made me feel less just because of my gender.
I felt bad for the group of girls because they didn’t have any men in their group to go in and get pictures for them. I would have been so upset if I was on my own or with a girlfriend and we couldn’t see one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai just because we didn’t have a man with us.
Luckily, two guys exiting the temple saw them and asked if they wanted them to share their pictures. It was so nice. They didn’t know these girls at all but clearly had some empathy since they got to see the inside but the girls couldn’t.
When Eric emerged from the temple, I went through the photos to see what I missed out on. The inside was so beautiful. The details were incredible, unlike any other temple we had seen so far. It was lavish and extravagant.
After taking in the rest of Wat Sri Supan, we continued on our Chiang Mai Old City adventure. There was another temple on our list but it was all the way across town. We decided to grab a tuk-tuk instead of walking since it was so hot out.
After our 5-minute tuk-tuk ride, we arrived at Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. It was built around the founding of the city in 1296.
Housed inside one of its more modern structures were two small depictions of Buddha. The crystal Buddha, Phra Satang, was from the 8th or 10th century and is said to have rainmaking powers. The marble Buddha, Phra Sila, was a bit of mystery. No one really knows where it came from or when it was created, but it is believed to have been created over 1,000 years ago somewhere in Sri Lanka.
The oldest part of this temple is the Chedi Chang Lom elephant monument. It is a magnificent structure in remarkably good condition considering it is exposed to the elements.
After exploring Wat Chiang Man, we were exhausted and beyond hot. Eva from our hotel had recommended Khun Kae’s Juice Bar for us to try if we found ourselves in that area. It was right around the corner from Wat Chiang Man within Chiang Mai Old City so we decided to give it a try.
The juice bar was really small but so cute. It looked like an expat favorite. I could tell the tourists from the expats because they all looked completely relaxed, wore what all the locals were wearing, and most could speak Thai.
I was reading the menu and it said in big letters “please let us know if you would not like ice”. Since there was a disclaimer, I decided to be safe and get my juice without ice. I went with a papaya, pineapple, and mango juice. Eric didn’t get anything.
It was delicious but room temperature and I was craving something icy cold since it was insanely hot out. I know it was good for me to play it safe with the ice but I have never wanted something cold as much as I did at that moment.
After our juice break, we moved on to find some real food for lunch. As we were leaving, we heard, “Lauryn! Eric!”. We turned around to find none other than Eva from our hotel.
Not only did she recommend this juice place to us but she just happened to be there at the exact same time we were on her day off. What are the chances?! She told us she was so happy we ran into each other and she was glad we tried out the juice bar. I’m telling you, Chiang Mai is one magical place.
After we said goodbye to Eva, we made our way to the edge of the Old City to walk along the ancient wall. Eric had found a place called Ugo Restaurant that had lots of interesting beers from around Southeast Asia so we decided to make that our lunch spot.
I ordered a sticky mango beer and Eric got a Chiang Mai beer called Blossom Weizen. My sticky mango beer was so fizzy, every time I took a sip it would fizz up so much in my mouth I could barely swallow it. So strange, but the flavor was good. Eric enjoyed his beer.
For food, I just ordered an appetizer (I can’t remember what it was) and Eric got Khao Soi again. My food wasn’t great, but I wasn’t very hungry so I didn’t care. Eric said his Khao Soi was definitely not as great as the one he had the night before but he was really hungry so he ate it anyway.
Since Eric got to choose lunch, I decided our next stop would be ice cream. Luckily, there was a highly rated ice cream place called Turtle’s Ice Cream right around the corner from where we were.
Turtle’s Ice Cream was connected to a motorbike shop which was weird, but it was very modern and aesthetically pleasing. I got mango and strawberry and Eric got cookies N’creme. This place even had a free topping bar! Their AC was pumping hard too so we enjoyed our ice cream inside away from the searing Chiang Mai heat.
It was around 5:00 pm when we left Turtle’s so we decided to make our way back to BED to relax a bit before finding a place to have dinner.
Once we were back at BED, we changed into our bathing suits and went swimming at the pool for a bit. While we were down there we did some research to find a dinner spot. We decided we had eaten enough Asian food and wanted some cheese and bread in our lives. Even though it felt wrong, we chose a great pizza place called Flight 52 about a half mile from BED.
Around 7:00 pm we started our walk along the walls of Chiang Mai Old City to Flight 52. We were going to take a tuk-tuk but we weren’t on a schedule and enjoyed the walk.
When we arrived at Flight 52, there was only one table occupied. In the US, that would have turned us away since it looked like it wasn’t popular. But for some reason, we noticed in Asia that restaurants were rarely full. It was never an indication of the quality of the restaurant.
We were welcomed by Anders (owner), his wife, and their little girl. Anders seated us and gave us menus. He explained that they had tapas we could share as well as pizzas. We decided to order a couple of small plates to start and then a pizza to share. From the reviews, we knew that they imported their flour from Naples, Italy so the pizza had to be good.
The crowning jewel of this place was the beer selection. Anders was so excited when Eric told him he was a beer guy. He explained that he imports all his beers from around the world. He gave Eric some suggestions and he went with an interesting beer from Belgium. I went with wine because wine was hard to come by in Southeast Asia.
After we had been there for a while, Anders came by to ask us how we liked the food and how we heard about his restaurant. The food was incredible so we made sure he knew how much we were enjoying it. Then we told him how we were in need of a break from rice and saw how wonderful the reviews were for his restaurant. He thanked us for coming and then we asked him where he was from since he clearly wasn’t Thai.
Anders was from Denmark and moved to Chiang Mai 10 years ago. We had noticed so many expats living in Chiang Mai and besides the welcoming and kind nature of the Thai’s, we were curious why so many people decided to pick up their lives and move to such a different country.
He told us, like the few others we had met, he visited Chiang Mai on a trip when he was younger and immediately fell in love. Once he moved, he met his now wife, learned Thai, opened his restaurant, then they had a daughter. Sounds like a movie, doesn’t it?
Our pizza came and it lived up to the hype. It rivaled some of the pizzas we had in Italy!
As we were sitting there, a cat kept creeping in the restaurant and meowing really loudly. Ander’s wife told us the cat’s baby was somewhere inside the restaurant and she was desperate to find it. Eventually, they did find the kitten and got it back to the mama. They kept apologizing but we didn’t care. Never a dull moment in Thailand!
We were almost finished with our pizza when an American looking couple sat down at the table next to ours. Being our nosey selves, we listened as they told Anders how they were taking a break from rice and found his restaurant on TripAdvisor. Hey, at least we weren’t alone.
They also told him they were visiting from the USA, Orlando, Florida to be exact. Yet again, what a small world. We have so many friends and family from Orlando and the surrounding areas.
I was on my second glass of wine so there was no hesitation when I turned around and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear that you’re from Orlando. We’re from Atlanta, Georgia!” It was exciting when we ran into people from the US. Unlike Europe, we rarely saw any Americans as we were roaming around Southeast Asia. Chiang Mai probably had the most Americans out of anywhere.
We were having a wonderful night and didn’t really want it to end. If I didn’t already want to move to Chiang Mai, I absolutely did now.
Anders came by and asked if we wanted to get dessert. I was going to say no but Eric piped up and said yes. What was happening?! More of that Chiang Mai magic. We didn’t just get dessert, we ordered both desserts on their menu: mango cheesecake and creme brulee.
We were stuffed by the end of our meal. It wasn’t the cheapest dinner on our trip, but it was one of the most memorable.
Dinner ended around 10:00 pm and we were more than ready to call it a night. So we mosied back to our hotel, packed, showered, and got some much-needed sleep for our journey to Bali, Indonesia the next day.
Continue reading the travel diary here: Day 12: Traveling from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Bali, Indonesia
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