As American tourists, we have a way of standing out no matter where we go in Asia. Thailand was no exception. If there was a tourist attraction in Chiang Rai, we were there (see Thailand Part 1 and Thailand Part 2 for some of the details). If you’re ever in northern Thailand, I highly recommend any of the attractions mentioned in the other two posts, but today’s post includes other essentials.
Most of the people in Thailand are Buddhists. We knew we wanted to see some temples while we were there, but we had no idea how many that would include. Each village (in the US we would almost consider it more of a large neighborhood than a village) has its own temple. All of them are ornate and beautiful. Believers go to the temples to offer incense and pray (side note – we are not fully aware of what it means to be Buddhists. We really need to familiarize ourselves with the beliefs and traditions. Just like there are so many aspects of Christianity tied to American culture, there are many aspects of Buddhism intertwined with Asia’s culture). When you enter a Buddhist Temple, you remove your shoes. I think part of this is out of reverence and part of it is just to keep the floor clean – especially since praying includes kneeling on the floor. We took long pants/skirts when visited Temples just to be respectful.
We saw several Temples, but the two we enjoyed most were Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) and the Wat Phra Kaes (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The White Temple is a fairly new temple and its designer, Chalermchai Kositpipat, is a famous Thai artist who still lives and works today. The temple is all white, hence the creative name, except for some chrome and mirrors. It is stunning to see in the sunlight. A highlight of the trip to the temple grounds was a visit to the golden toilet. I guess if you’re going to build an ornate, beautiful temple and open it to the public, then you need to have ornate, beautiful bathrooms as well. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha has a pretty incredible old legend associated with it. I won’t get it all correct, but essentially a bolt of lightning struck the temple and cracked open a statue that contained a smaller statue – a Buddha made of emerald. Over the years, the actual emerald Buddha has been moved around, but it currently sits in a temple in Bangkok and is considered the holiest artifact in Thailand. The temple in Chiang Rai (which is where the original lightning strike and revelation of emerald Buddha occurred) now houses a replica made of green jade. Let’s just say Buddha carved out of jade is pretty impressive.
Another tourist attraction in Chiang Rai is the clock tower. It sits in a busy intersection of the city. The artist who designed it is the same who designed the White Temple. Unfortunately, while we were in Thailand, the clock tower was undergoing some refurbishing so we did not get to see the light show that happens several times each night. It was still pretty amazing, though.
All tourists who go to Thailand must do one thing – even if they do nothing else. MASSAGE. We experienced three types of Thai massages:
- Traditional Thai Massage – leave all your clothes in place. Imagine a combination of massage, yoga, acupressure, and a light beating. It wasn’t painful, but it was a bit strange. I’m sure thankful that all clothes were left in place, otherwise, it could have been very embarrassing for everyone (including you, dear readers).
- Thai Oil Massage – much more like a traditional massage you would receive at a spa in the US. Because of the oil, however, clothes are missing. I have to admit, at one point I felt a bit like a turkey being greased up for the Thanksgiving roasting pan. It was pretty relaxing (and not very embarrassing).
- Thai Foot Massage – MY FAVORITE!! So, imagine a pedicure without getting your nails done or your callouses rubbed off. It’s an hour of pure bliss. They rub your feet, your toes, your calves; they use a little chopstick-like thing to hit the pressure points in your feet; it’s relaxation to the nth degree. Then, when your therapist is all done with your feet and legs, you switch places and get a quick neck, shoulder, and head massage.
The only thing better than a massage in Thailand is the cost of a massage in Thailand – anywhere from $6-12 US dollars. Needless to say, we each had one everyday.
Thai food is pretty amazing, too. Of course, we had Pad Thai and various curries almost every chance we could. Fried rice, often with pineapples, was a pretty standard favorite as well. Throughout Asia, pork is a popular, so we had several dishes with pork – fried, chopped, sliced (just not pulled and barbecued). Many of you probably watched Mike’s video of eating live jumping shrimp, but most of the food we had was yummy and not the least bit living. The one thing we missed that we really wanted was mango sticky rice (apparently the best mangos for the dish were out of season). We were, however, pleasantly surprise to find an old favorite, Swenson’s Ice Cream. Those of you who knew us in Florida surely remember our fondness of Swenson’s. In fact, you probably ate there with us on more than one occasion.
Coffee in Asia is strange. For daily consumption, most people drink instant coffee (I know some of you are rolling your eyes). We’ve actually grown used to it and only have brewed coffee when we are out near a Starbuck’s or Pacific Coffee. However, Thailand has a pretty robust (pun intended) coffee industry. Like tea, a lot of coffee is grown in Thailand. A small coffee shop was recommended because the owner roasts his own special blend of local beans. It was delicious! We had hoped to share it, however, all of the coffee we bought is currently sitting in Hannah’s suitcase in the Chicago airport with all of the other lost luggage.
The night market was great fun. We bought tons of tourist trap treasures (or junk, choose the term). Sadly, most of it is in the aforementioned lost suitcase. The elephant pants are the greatest loss. At a mere $2.98 US (100 Thai Baht), they were the best find of the entire trip. Other beloved souvenirs included an elephant bag, cards with pencil sketches of hill tribe people, carved elephants, silk scarves and pashminas, and (no shock) shoes!
We hope to return to Thailand. We are not particularly interested in going to Bangkok (although I do love the song, so maybe I could do just one night), but we want to go to the area of Phuket which is famous for its beaches. Perhaps if you come visit, we could take you there!