Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, after Bangkok, with the diversity and tourism to match. After my twenty-two hours of traveling, I find myself with half a day to spend exploring before I head to the Elephant Nature Park Monday morning.
I start by visiting a few of Chiang Mai's Buddhist temples. Northern Thailand is well known for its countless number of temples and truly there seems to be one on every street in the Old City. Having done my research before arriving, I am confident I know the cultural expectations within temples, especially as a woman, but when you approach the large, astounding pagodas it is impossible not to feel daunted. In Buddhist temples, you must remove your shoes and have your knees and shoulders covered. Most temples have baskets of shawls and attachable pant legs for the ill-prepared tourist. My first surprise is the number of white converse sneakers I find outside the temple, I have to be careful to place mine in a unique location so I don't find myself literally in someone else's shoes upon exiting. The entrance to most temples are adorned in gold leaf, motifs of elephants or serpents and through the wide door you can see an enormous seated Buddha on a raised platform. Entering quietly I sit on my knees, careful not to show my feet or toenails to the Buddha figure as the feet are considered the lowest of the low and therefore disrespectful. If you desire, it is customary to raise your hands to heart center and bow three times to the floor. If not, it is acceptable to sit quietly and admire the ornate interior of the temples. Each temple is unique and breathtaking; I take a thousand pictures, but find none fully capture the beauty of the interior as well as I would like.
My second adventure of the day is to attend the Sunday night market in Chiang Mai. Every Sunday starting at 5pm, entire city blocks are blocked off and vendors stretch farther than the eye can see along Ratchamanka road and the adjacent streets. The colors, smells, people are all abundant and I am confident you could find anything you wanted, and then some, on these busy Sunday streets. I make several purchases, gyoza, shorts and flows pants, all totaling less than $10 US dollars. The market is overwhelming and you could walk for hours without reaching an end, but I love the energy and experience.
At the end of a long and adventurous day I find myself tired and the serene interior of my hotel is welcoming. I've touched just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chiang Mai's culture and it leaves me excited to spend more time in the city.