Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is often referred to as Thailand's northern capital, and is undoubtedly the north's most visited city. With more than three hundred wats it is surpassed only by Bangkok. The grandest and best preserved wats are located in the old city, an area still partially surrounded by walls and a moat. The name Chiang Mai actually translates to New Walled City. The old city center is a roughly square area approximately one-and-a-half kilometers on a side. It is circled by two roads, an inner road that circles counter-clockwise, and an outer road that circles clockwise. The two roads are seperated by a moat. Five pratu, or gates provide the main access to the center. Although accommodations are to be found in every quarter of Chiang Mai, the northwest corner of the old city has the largest concentration of tourist accommodations. You can find an eclectic mix of backpacker places alongside trendy boutique hotels.

Wat Chiang Man was at the end of the street that our hotel was on. It is certainly not the largest or most impressive wat in Chiang Mai, but it possesses a certain tranquility. Below left, the sanctuary to the right of the main wat houses a rare miniature crystal Buddha, but we were unable to photograph it. At right below, are two doves that I purchased and released on the promise that it would bring me luck.

Here gently arching bamboo forms a hedge for this driveway near Chiang Mai's Sunday Walking Market. At right, teams play an evening game near Pratu Tha Phae Gate. Teams try to get a grapefruit sized ball into a three holed basket suspend above using only their feet, knees, head, and shoulders. Launching a ball some thirty feet in the air using only the whipping motion of your shoulder looks like no small feat. Also near the gate was this small night souvenir market (below).

On Saturday we checked in with German Joe. Unlike most mechanics we encountered who would assure us that there was " problem it will be done in a few hours" only to return to find the bike in pieces, Joe acted skeptical that he could even get to it. But once we arrived, he dropped what he was doing and went straight to work. Yut had shipped some extra links for my bike, but I still needed another connector for it. While I chased around to a list of parts places Joe provided, he quickly diagnosed and went to work on my brake problem. He removed and thoroughly cleaned the master cylinder and then replaced the fluids. That was the last of my braking problems. The fuel valve issue was not to be handled so easily though. It seems the valve that Yut sent would fit the threads on the tank, but it was configured wrong. Once again we were resigned to just keeping an eye on the leak, and keeping an eye open for someone somewhere who might have a valve that would fit. At any rate, we found some connecting links that would work for my chain, and also found an o-ring chain long enough for Karen's bike. It wasn't as good a quality as the one Yut had brought for my bike, but it was better than the old kinked up one she had.

On Sunday we headed to Thanon Ratchadamnoen for the Sunday "walking" market. When we learned that it didn't begin until 4:00 and went to midnight we decide to see some of the other temples. Wat Phra Singh, perhaps the largest temple in Chiang Mai, was shrouded with bamboo scaffolding and tarps. This Buddha inside is one of Chiang Mai's most important holy images. Outside a worker carefully applies gold leaf.

Just a few hundred meters from Wat Phra Singh is the complex of Wat Chedi Luang. Behind the Wat, this massive chedi has been partially restored through a UNESCO project. It dates back to the 15th century. The stair railings with their serpent heads are reminiscent of the those on the pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan.

At the rear of the complex, the base of this towering tree at left, one of two at this complex, is draped with offerings. Almost directly next door to the Wat Chedi Luang complex is Wat Phan Tao (right), a simple yet elegant all teak structure.

Finally, at Sunday's walking market you can encounter musicians young and old (above), and get anything from local crafts to an outdoor foot massage (below).

One of the area's more popular crafts are these hand painted small covered bowls filled with hand carved soap flowers.