Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai, Thailand – Impressions

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, meaning ‘New City’, became the capital of the Northern Thailand in 1296, when the capital was moved from Chiang Rai. In the three months leading up to summer, there are many burn offs happening in the farmlands around the city. This drowns the region in the worst smog I’ve seen to date, even worse than Hanoi in Vietnam.

wpid-thailand-chiangmai-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

What is now known as ‘Old City’ is still partially surrounded by a wall and moat. It was used to defend the city from the Burmese and the great Mongol Empire. The city is considered a creative city, with many festivals held through the year, plentiful museums and art galleries.

wpid-dscf7635-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

Inside the walls of Old City there are many temples, but the number is dwarfed by the huge number of cafes.

Wat Chedi Luang

The temple literally meaning ‘Temple of the Big Stupa’ is at the centre of Chiang Mai’s Old City. It was once the home of the Emerald Buddha before an earthquake caused a partial collapse of the temple. The most famous of buddha statues was then relocated to Luang Prabang in Laos. For its 600th anniversary a copy of the Emerald Buddha made from black jade was housed in the temple.

wpid-dscf7652-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

There are three temples in the compound, the more modern Wat Ho Tham glows brightly during sunset, the sun glistening from its golden walls.

wpid-dscf7660-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

Wat Lok Molee

Just outside the Old City moat is another old temple built around 1350. It’s one of over 200 temples in Chiang Mail, many of them within the walls of Old City.

wpid-dscf7663-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

At the back of the temple is an ancient Chedi said to hold the ashes of the royal family from the Mengrai dynasty. When monks from Burma were invited to live here, it became the first location buddhism was accepted in Northern Thailand.

wpid-dscf7665-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is the northernmost region of Thailand although it belonged to Burma until 1899. Before belonging to Burma it was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom which ruled in these parts.

With limited time, I booked a 1-day tour out of Chiang Mai to see some of the highlights of Chiang Rai…

Hot Springs

As the tour started at 7 am we stopped for breakfast at our first tourist spot for the day. Little more than a tourist trap, several hot springs are built into the car park surrounded by markets. At some of the pools, eggs are sold with little baskets that could be boiled in the hot water.

wpid-dscf7672-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

White Temple

The highlight of the tour was the artistic and stylish Wat Rong Khun also known as the White Temple. Of all the grand, modern temples I’ve seen in South East Asia, this has to be my favourite. A local artist completely rebuild the original temple from his own pocket, spending over US$1.25 million in its construction.

wpid-dscf7679-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

To enter the temple, visitors must cross the ‘bridge of rebirth’ representing the way to happiness by foregoing temptation, greed and desire. Beneath the bridge are hundreds of hands symbolising unrestrained desire and they are framed by tortured depictions of demonic beings.

wpid-dscf7692-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

Golden Triangle

The golden triangle is a point where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. This area has a long history as a means of shipping opium between the countries. Poppy fields were once located on the Laos and Myanmar borders.

There is a boat trip across the river to an island in Laos which I decided not to take. As it turns out, this is another tourist trap and all that is on the island are markets.

wpid-dscf7738-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

Opium Museum

While my tour mates were on the riverboat trip at the Golden Triangle, I chose to take in the Opium Museum. While small, it was informative about how Opium arrived in South East Asia. Opium is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean with evidence of its use in Greece going back 3000 years. However, China became a large producer of the drug, shipping it south across the Burmese border and south into Siam.

wpid-dscf7741-2015-03-13-14-24.jpg

While the tour took over 12 hours, much of it sitting in the mini-van. There were a couple of very interesting stops but at its heart the tour was merely a tourist trap, pushing us into markets with the hope of us buying products.

From here I head back to the Island of Langkawi in Malaysia where I will stop for a well deserved break from my travels for several months.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Advertisements

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Impressions

Siem Reap, meaning ‘the defeat of Siam’, is the centre of all tourism in Cambodia. Nearby is the Angkor Archaeological Park where there are of over 50 temple ruins – the once capitals of the Empire of Angkor.

wpid-cambodia-siemreap-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

From 835 AD to 1307 AD the Empire of Angkor, also known as the Khmer Empire, ruled much of South East Asia including what is now Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and much of Vietnam. Angkor was the capital city at the centre of the empire and at its centre was a grand temple. When a new king took control of the empire he would often establish a new capital nearby and build a grand temple at its centre. Over time there were many such cities and central temples built.

wpid-dscf7505-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

While most of the earlier temples were constructed using sandstone, later temples were built from less long-lasting materials. Most of these temples have long since disappeared. Like the ruins of the Mayans in Central America, Angkor is thought to have been abandoned because of drought and a lack of water in the region.

Angkor Wat

Built between 1113 AD and 1150 AD, Angkor Wat, at 1.5 km by 1.3 km, is the largest religious monument ever to have been built. Meaning ‘City Pagoda’, the temple grounds housed an entire city and while the other temples in the region were abandoned over the years, Angkor Wat remained in use.

wpid-dscf7471-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

Angkor Wat is made up of concentric galleries found in most Khmer temples that lead to a main central temple. Each concentric gallery is built taller than the previous one to form a pyramid, another typical Khmer structural design. The Angkor Wat temple is surrounded by a wide moat with only two causeways leading into it.

wpid-dscf7492-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

Angkor Wat is a major Hindu temple designed to resemble Mount Meru in Northern India, the home of the Hindu gods. It has five main towers to represent the five main peeks of the sacred mountain.

Angkor Thom

Built around 1200 AD, Angkor Thom, meaning ‘Great City’, was the largest and the last of the Angkor capital cities.

wpid-dscf7511-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

At the four entry points to the city there is a face-tower gate representing the Hindu God Brahma. At the centre of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple.

Bayon 

Built around 1200 AD as the temple at the centre of Angkor Thom, it is thought to be one of the most powerful religious structures ever built.

wpid-dscf7502-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

The temple is very complex and is thought to have been reworked several times since its creation. There were 49 distinct towers, most with the four faces of Brahma built into them. They were arranged in ever higher tiers to create a stone mountain.

Ta Prohm

Built around 1186 AD as a monastery temple, it was dedicated to King Jayavarman VII’s mother.

wpid-dscf7517-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

While many of the temples in the region were reassembled, La Prohm was left in its natural state with only a minimal amount of work done to prevent further collapse. The ruins are said to have a romantic atmosphere because of the intertwining trees growing through the structure.

Banteay Kdei

Built around 1200 AD its name means ‘Citadel of Many Chambers’.

wpid-dscf7541-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

It was constructed over another temple built 200 years earlier and has been left in its ruined stated.

Prasat Kravan

Dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, the small structure was built in 921 AD.

wpid-dscf7551-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

The name means ‘Cardamom Sanctuary’ after a tree that once stood in the compound.

Pre Rup

Built in 961 AD by the then King Rajendravarman as the centre of his capital city.

wpid-dscf7568-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

Pre Rup means ‘turning the body’ and is a cremation rite where the ashes of the dead are rotated at certain times during the ceremony. After the king’s death, the capital was moved back to Angkor.

Banteay Samre 

Constructed around 1130 AD its main tower is the same as those at Angkor Wat although it has many similarities to temples of northern Thailand.

wpid-dscf7582-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

East Mebon

East Mebon temple is known as the Elephant Temple because of the several elephant statues around the structure.

wpid-dscf7588-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

It was built as an island on the now dry East Baray, a water reservoir measuring 7.5 kilometres by 1.8 kilometres.

Ta Som

This small temple is said to be a miniature version of Ta Prohm or Banteay Kdei temples. It is known as Gaurasrigajaratna – the Jewel of the Propitious White Elephant.

wpid-dscf7595-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

Neak Poan

Near Poan is a small monument at the centre of a large pond, which is at the centre of a further four smaller ponds.

wpid-dscf7606-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

Build in the late 12th century it was built on an island in a water reservoir. It is speculated to represent a sacred Himalayan lake said to hold healing waters with four rivers running from it.

Preah Khan

This large temple was also a Buddhist university with more than a thousand teachers.

wpid-dscf7619-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

It was said to have been built on a lake of blood, the site of a major battle to recapture Angkor from the Cham empire, where the Cham King was slain.

Pub Street and Night Markets
One day is just not enough to see all the temple ruins, and even in two days I only saw 13 of the 53. But after two days out on a tuk-tuk in the heat and intense humidity I was templed out.

At night Siem Reap lights up around two main areas, Pub Street and the Night Markets. You can tell when you’re in the area because of the large neon signs announcing them. Overall, it’s very touristic with many restaurants, bars and markets.

wpid-img_2409-2015-03-6-18-07.jpg

Next, it’s time to leave Cambodia and head back to Thailand.

The Lone Trail Wanderer