Thailand: Doi Suthamp Temple

Doi Suthamp Temple is the most famous in Chiang Mai, so I have to see it. We wake up relatively late and go downstairs for our delicious croissant breakfast creation. I am set on seeing this temple, which Ilona has no desire to visit, so instead of dragging her up 300 stairs (we’ll get to the stairs) and instead of missing it, I choose to go alone. As directed by the front desk guy downstairs, I hop into a tuk tuk that takes me to the Chiang Mai Zoo, which is right at the bottom of the mountain heading up to the Temple. From the Zoo I get in a big red truck/bus crossover thing that is another form of taxiing in Thailand.
They just cram a million people to the back and take each individual person to their requested destination even if they all have different places to go. I’m not sure how it really works yet. It’s 20 baht (less than $1), so I don’t ask questions.
The big red bus takes me up the winding road to (almost) the top of the mountain, which is covered in beautiful trees, flowers, and even a waterfall on the way up. When the bus drops me as close as he can get me, I realize I have quite the climb ahead. I, being me, didn’t do any research about this temple before I came. There are 300 steps leading up to the temple, which were hand crafted hundreds of years ago, with two long dragon sculptures flowing down on either side. There are still 300 of them that I have to climb. There are women sitting and selling trinkets and jewelry all along the way up the steps so in order to avoid that, I just power through the walk and get up there as quick as I can.

When I get to the top I have to buy a ticket, which is 30 baht ($1) for foreigners. There is a spot with about 40 pairs of shoes spread out across the floor by the entrance way to another set of steps (about 10. These I can manage) so I leave my shoes there along with the others. When I pass through the gate, the main attraction to the temple is right in front of me; a big golden tower surrounded with gold statues of gods, goddesses and other gold things. It’s an extremely sunny day, which highlights all the ornateness of the temple and makes it all even more fantastic. I walk around the structure, admiring and photographing, until I reach an archway into a room where a monk is sitting on a small pedestal. There are a few tourists and some locals all crouched down on their knees in front of the monk. I join them, though I have no idea what’s going on. He is speaking in Thai but encourages us to gather around him. He motions for us to put our heads down, and then shakes something in his hand that sprinkles little drops of water on my head. He quickly goes through a mantra, and then proceeds to tie a white piece of string to each of our wrists. I thank him and leave but still have no idea what he did or what it’s supposed to do for me, but I’m sure it’s positive. I kind of like the mystery.

The temple is, as I’ve said, very high up on a mountain, something like 3,000 feet or meters, and has an absolutely insane view of the city from its peak. I leave the temple and walk all the way back down the steps to find a red car (long truck/taxi things) to take me to The Zoo.

The zoo has an aquarium that is supposed to be pretty fantastic so I go there first. I remember going to an aquarium in Hong Kong when I was there 7 or 8 years ago, and this one reminds me of it. It has a very long tunnel which is encased in glass so that you can walk through as sharks, manta rays, and a million different kinds of fish swim over your head and all around. That’s the coolest part about the entire zoo. The rest of it is interesting, who doesn’t like to see a jaguar or a giraffe? But I can’t help but notice that the animals are alone, in small cages and are being teased and provoked by tourists. The elephant camp we went too was much better because we got to actually see the elephants living outside as opposed to in a cage or on a piece of concrete. I don’t really enjoy taking pictures of animals behind a piece of chain link fence, but it’s nice to have seen them at all.

Ilona and I go down to a restaurant down the street from the place we’re staying, and have an early dinner. I can’t help but have a nap afterwards, the heat and the amount of walking I had done that day in addition to the delicious sweet and sour chicken made me sleepy. We both fall asleep until 9ish, and wake up just before one of the guys we met a couple nights ago knocks on our door and invites us out. He invites us to go grab some food with some of his friends from his hostel so we tag along. We go out to this hole in the wall-almost a street vendor but not- type restaurant not far from where we’re staying. They have delicious chicken fried rice, which was unexpected because of the location. One of the girls who is with us is from the States, and is in Thailand for a couple months doing an internship at an elephant sanctuary. I ask her about a million questions and it makes me want to do something like that too. My original plan before deciding to backpack India, Thailand and Australia had been to go to China and volunteer with Pandas, but things changed. I don’t at all remember why.

After our meal we all walk down to a roof top bar where we have to walk up three stories (my legs are dying) of just sketchy, empty loft-like space with glow in the dark graffiti on all the walls and black lights everywhere. I am certain I am being brought to my death, but one of the girls tells me that she’s been here before and that the top floor is nice. Sure enough, when we finally get up there, we find a cute open-concept room with a bar to one side, pillows on the floor for seats around small wooden tables and lots and lots of tourists. We sit down for a couple drinks but leave early because we have to be up by 8am to make our boat to Laos.

On the way home I try a “rotee” off a street vendor, which is like a cakey pastry stuffed with bananas and sweet milk, then fried. I suck at explaining food because I actually don’t know how it’s made or what’s in it… I’m not a food blogger…but it’s yummy.

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