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DOWN SOUTH | Creating Our Own Chiang Mai

Wat Chiang Man

This first appeared on my travel column DOWN SOUTH on interaksyon.com. I added a lot of photos here. Enjoy reading through! This is our love story.  Hahaha! Thank you! I’m going to wrap up our Thailand trip pretty soon with accommodation, itinerary, and budget in it. After writing about Chiang Rai.


Our Chiang Mai story started with a petty fight: we did not know where to stay. T was used to have things planned; I was not. If I were traveling solo, I would have just winged it.

After stretching our limbs weakened by a ten-hour bus ride from Bangkok, we looked for a place to have breakfast and perhaps figure things out from there. A semi-asleep, just-rained-in Chiang Mai, which literally means new city, and the tired us were not the perfect couple for a purposeful walk: to look for a place where we could have a good sleep and enough space to do and hang our laundry after catching some winks.

Puddles formed on the little streets. Most stores and restaurants were still closed. Our fellow bus passengers, all westerners, disappeared with the morning fog. It seemed like everyone knew where to go except us.

Not the most enthusiastic when it comes to booking hotels online, I let T do the job of finding a place online. He found an affordable Chinese-sounding hostel.

Wat Chiang Man

On our way to our inn from the market, we walked through Wat Chiang Man.

Nobody to ask around, we followed Google Map’s direction. The sun, sleepy like the place, drowsily rose behind the houses and trees. I could feel the dampness of my armpits and scalp.

Getting lost was a constant element in our stories that sometimes I felt if we were really lost or pretended to be lost. At six, barely slept, with aching lower back and damp pits: there was nothing romantic at not finding one’s way at all. But what could we do when we were both terrible at directions. No, nobody could be worse than me, really. Even the locals whom we asked did not know where the hotel was, as if we made it up, as if it was a ghost, which was nothing short of impossible knowing Chiang Mai was an old city, which, in more than one way, reminded me of Intramuros. The hotel being a ghost could have been a great cover-up of our own awkward unpreparedness.

Exhausted from looking for a hostel that did not desire to be found, we checked in a somewhat expensive family-owned inn whose features I found most admirable were the flowering plants hanged in front and our room’s laundry rack, which I positioned in a tiny terrace overlooking a soccer field.

Our own Chiang Mai did not start with temples. It started with getting lost, getting a good sleep, doing laundry, and looking for good coffee, which we found in an old house filled with antique furniture, and a good walk to Somphet Market, the nearest local market from the inn we stayed in.

We always found ourselves settling in, getting comfortable with the little routines we created for ourselves. Perhaps because, the story is as much about us as it is about Chiang Mai.

Maybe so.

But we did check out some of the temples we found in between our walks. Some of them are simply there, out in the open, and some are cocooned in dense trees. These supposedly religious places are so used to the constant flow of arrivals and departures that all of us became faceless, mundane, and passing.

Having coffee at an antique house turned into a coffee shop!

Having coffee at an antique house turned into a coffee shop!

It was not the temples I found beautiful but the intricate details that made them up. I found myself drawn to the temple’s gable roofs and finials. The wing-like roof made me feel that any moment, the temples—fed up with us tourists—would flap their wings and fly away.

It must be so because the finials were inspired from naga or nagini—a deity in a snake form—and garuda—a massive bird-like being.

The mandala etched on walls, doors, and chedi calmed me. Up close, the repetition of patterns evoked a certain type of peace—a feeling I could associate with seeing a ripple in calm water, the eyes following each ripple retreating to the edge. That kind of sacredness and solace found in patterns.

We always found ourselves settling in, getting comfortable with the little routines we created for ourselves. Perhaps because, the story is as much about us as it is about Chiang Mai.

The purpose, said one of the many pages I sourced online, of these extravagant designs is pure aesthetics. Not function. But perhaps it is more than that: the Buddhist deities take the shape of mortality and let their presence be known and felt in the structure of their homes. The house is home in itself, not a mere protection of a precious supreme being inside. Or maybe this observation was purely mine—a woman traveler who came from Philippines, the odd country who prides itself for being the cradle of Christianity.

T playing with the dog in Wat Chiang Man

T playing with the dog in Wat Chiang Man

Traveling to Chiang Mai, or to any new place, feels like an early stage of dating. We must have some semblance of any couple who found themselves discovering something new in each other every day—ranging from the beautiful to the unexpected—and decided to accept them as they are.

In our last night in the city, we walked from the night bazaar along Chang Klan Road, passed through Tha Phae Gate, and found ourselves in a posh residential area. Walking in a dimly lit street, passing by rows of western-inspired houses whose owners must be sound asleep already, and sharing the streets with dogs passing us by occasionally, we tried to make sense of everything.

We found ourselves in an intersection. It was a red light. T asked a motorist and showed the map we got from the inn. The motorist was as confused as we. But he pointed a direction nonetheless. It dawned on me that the locals have a different Chiang Mai in mind—the Chiang Mai that could not be found in maps given to non-locals, the Chiang Mai that we could not feel nor experience in the briefness of our stay.

But we followed the lead of a kind stranger. We walked on a wide well-lit road until we saw Three Kings Monument.

Not far from the monument, I saw a little sign that says: Xiyin Guesthouse. Framed by the open door was a Chinese-looking woman, sitting and staring at a piece of paper on the table.

“This was the place you reserved online,” I said.

“Is it?”

“Yes, it is!”

We laughed, held hands, walked on a now-familiar street, and found our way to the inn to fold our fresh laundry before going to bed.

See the details of the door? So adorable!

See the details of the door? So adorable!

QUICK GUIDE

  • We bought a bus ticket for 430Baht each in one of the many tour agencies in Khao San Road. We found this more convenient instead of going to Mo Chit Bus Terminal. The ride was very comfortable, with free snacks, one heavy meal in one of stopovers, and my first to see a bus with a toilet aboard!
  • Temple hopping within the walls of the old city can be done on foot.
  • Renting a scooter for 300Baht a day is advisable especially if you are planning to drive outside the city.
  • The night bazaar at Chang Klan Road is something worth checking out.
  • For solo travelers, Chiang Mai has affordable accommodations (Php500.00 below) such as A Good Place Hostel and Coincidence Hub and Hostel Chiang Mai.
  • We found our unguided Doi Suthep trek rewarding.

WHEREVER YOUR ADVENTURE LEADS YOU, BOOK YOUR HOTEL HERE:


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Jona | Backpacking with a Book

Hi, I'm Jona! I write stories and poetry and take a lot of photos, which I'm too lazy to upload. If you want to receive some photos that I don't share here on the blog, please leave your email here. I'm crazy about cats too. Feel free to browse through BWAB, and I would love it if you say hi! For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com For more stories about BWAB, check here. Connect with us through

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