I had a lot of expectations about Thailand in general and Chiang Mai specifically. Friendly people, delicious food, beautiful sights and the joy of exploring a new place. These expectations have been well met. I have had lots of surprises too. This post is about some of the things that are surprisingly, EVERY WHERE, in Chiang Mai.
Don’t laugh (well okay you can laugh) but I was really surprised and delighted at the abundance of Thai food. Food stands seem to pop up, miraculously, in moments. The variety is incredible. I thought I knew Thai food but I have tried things here I never saw on a Thai restaurant menu in Los Angeles. Everything is really spicy and full of flavor. Some of my new favorites are daikon radish fried with egg (I don’t know the name), Khao Soi (a delicious curry noodle soup) and Mok Gai (a Muslim dish of curried rice topped with crispy onions and served with cucumbers, cilantro and a spicy sauce). There are a couple of Halal places close to our house and I like going there. There is a lot of pork in Chiang Mai dishes and as a vegetarian I like going places where at least the only meats served are fish and chicken. Many of our local food vendors are getting to know me and my requests for vegetables only. It’s cool!
This man is every where! The people really love their king. His face is all over: on ornate signs through out the city, on T.V., on posters and photos in stores. He is called Dad by the Thai people. We went to a movie the other day (Mocking Jay Part 2). Before the movie began everyone stands in silence as the king’s anthem is played. As an avowed socialist, I have some feelings about this but I am not here to challenge the status quo. Kathy and I joined the audience in respectful silence and I actually enjoyed the beautiful song.
Of course, I knew I was coming to a Buddhist country and was really looking forward to visiting a lot of temples. I was not prepared, however, for how many wats (temples) there actually are. Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist wats. It feels like there is one on almost every other block in the old city of Chiang Mai. Even in the newer parts of the city temples abound. It is so lovely to walk out our front door, stroll a few blocks and come upon peaceful places filled with Buddha statues, Kwan Yins, and a variety of other statuary, flowering plants and trees and other works of Buddhist art.
One of the more bizarre things that are ubiquitous in Chiang Mai are these convenience stores. They are everywhere and are handy stops for a cold drink, cell phones top ups or a snack. They are very much like the ones in the states except that the snack selections are distinctly Thai. An interesting fact: there are over 8,000 7-ELEVENs in Thailand. The only country with more is…. (pausing for your guess)…
I am not exaggerating when I tell you there is an opportunity for a massage on every block in Chiang Mai Old City. Indoors, outdoors, at malls, night markets and in the park. Foot massage, hot oil massage, traditional Thai massage as well as hot stone and probably any other type of massage you can think of! No wonder Thailand is known as the land of smiles.
I love the wai! Such a simple, gentle way to pause and honor another human being. The Wai is a slight bow, with the hands pressed together in prayer like fashion. Everyone wais. We wai along with saying “sawadee ka” (hello and farewell when spoken by a female) and “kop khun ka (thank you)”. I have almost no Thai language skills but politeness, anywhere, goes a long way.
So, thank you so much for reading my random musings. For my next post I’m thinking about “things that are hard to find in Chiang Mai”.
Until then, be well, and Peace, Love and Courage.
Marci Halili Akoma