21-23 December 2013
Chiang Dao. The name just sounds like it’ll be a laid-back, beautiful place. It means “city of stars” in Thai, derived from an earlier name that meant “level of the stars.” Thailand’s third highest peak, standing about 7,500 ft, is here along with national parks, caves and waterfalls. Mornings and evenings were foggy and chilly. We were simply looking forward to our first hot showers in weeks and some scenic motorbike rides.
Nice helmet, right?
Most people traveling in northern Thailand go to Pai, another sleepy mountain town that’s become extremely popular among backpackers and vacationing Thais. I was there in 2005, but since I had never heard of Chiang Dao, I was excited to go somewhere new. We splurged a bit on our accommodations, maybe 30$/night, and stayed at a sprawling, beautiful resort whose Dutch manager was incredibly friendly and even drove us around one day to explore some nearby sights.
My favorite was Wat Tham Pha Plong, a temple built by Luang Phor Sim, a true forest monk who is much revered in Thailand. On the way up the more than 500 steps to the top, passing through lush jungle foliage, we passed signs with dharma teachings nestled among the plants. It was a lovely walk up with the signs encouraging mindfulness. At the top, we reached a large stupa next to the temple in memorial to the famous monk’s life and teachings.
Later that afternoon, we visited hot springs. Thai hot springs are nothing like northern Cali or Colorado hot springs. Everyone’s clothed. Fully clothed. Matt and I took advantage of our male privilege to jump in with our tops off, which though acceptable, made us stand out even more. We weren’t on the beaches of southern Thailand here. This is far north, very close to Burma, and we were the only white people (even during peak tourist season) in a large crowd of locals enjoying the springs. To make this unique cultural experience even more surreal, one pool was kept empty for the line of 20 or so young people getting baptized.
Most of this we witnessed with shirts off from the neighboring pool, which we shared with a few families. Then, yes, I became the peeping, camera-toting tourist after I saw other locals also taking photos. Talking to one of the leaders, we learned they were Baptists from an orphanage and school that served young Thais, Burmese, and Chinese.
Cock fighting is another ritual that has nearly achieved religious status in Thailand. Going back at least 500 years, the sport has been enjoyed by Thai and Burmese royalty. King Naresuan (1555-1605) is celebrated as a national hero for defeating the Burmese in royal cock fights and on the human battlefield. There are shrines dedicated to him all over the country, and locals purchase rooster statues of various sizes and place them around the shrine to gain benefit in business and sports play.
Don’t miss out on mousing over the above image! And…
Thanks for reading this silly post. I tried some new things out, like the hover-switch photo (thanks, Matt) and the YouTube video. – Jacob