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Mountain, village, spa

January 13, 2012

While I was in Bangkok and deciding how to come to Chiang Mai, I took the shortest route – by air. The fare I got was not much more than the train would have been (or the same as a first-class compartment would have cost) but I decided to save myself the equivalent of a day (two overnight trains) and fly instead.

After a rather uneventful flight, I arrived and found the driver from my guest house waiting for me – what a relief! I was not sure whether he would actually be there, as I was told that they stop picking up passengers at 5:00 p.m., then that he would be at the airport. So I settled in to my room and had today to look forward to.

Morning came, and I realized that closing the door to the strange closet-room attached to my room brought down the noise level (it is quiet here but I hear flights going over) may not have been the best choice – even with air conditioning, my room got rather warm last night (unlike my hotel in Bangkok, I cannot control the temperature to which the A/C is set). I got some good advice from the people at the desk downstairs re: how to get to Doi Suthep, went out to the “main road” and caught a red car (songtaew) and off I went.

As we wound our way up the mountain, it got progressively cooler – a refreshing change from the heat and humidity of Bangkok (yes I like warm weather but the air was so fresh on the mountain). Unsurprisingly, at the area where the stairs up to Wat Phrathat began, thus began the vendors. Most of them have similar items to what I saw in Bangkok, but here there are the additional items from the hill tribes as well.

A monk touching up at Wat Phrathat

A little bit about Doi Suthep and Wat Phrathat (from Thailand for Visitors)-

The temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is certainly one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai, as well as one of the most revered among all Thais. The temple is a major pilgrimage destinations during the important Buddhist holidays of Makha Buja and Visak. Its importance, as well as its location, owes much to the legend of its founding.

According to this legend, a Buddha relic, which some say glowed, magically replicated just before it was about to be enshrined in the big chedi at Wat Suan Dok. The “cloned” relic was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant, which was allowed to roam where-ever it wanted.

The elephant eventually climbed to the top of Suthep Mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down and died. This was taken as a sign that this was the spot where the relic wanted to be, so King Ku Na built the original of the chedi on Doi Suthep at the end of 14th century.

To reach the temple itself requires a climb up a naga staircase of 309 steps.

After checking out the wat (and yes, I climbed the stairs), I caught another songthaew to Doi Pui, a

In my newly-acquired shirt/jacket

hill village. I don’ t know what I was expecting, but the village was basically a whole lot of stalls, with the people selling largely the same thing. I found a couple of things I liked – a necklace that has my Chinese Zodiac, and this jacket/shirt that I saw all the women wearing, but could not find in any of the stalls/shops. I kept asking where to buy one, and no one seemed to know. At the last place I stopped, I asked the woman and she said “here”, then looked in her items for one of the jackets. When she did not find one, she took off the one she was wearing, and offered it to me. For a nice price, by the way – I won’t say exactly how much but I will say maybe more than I should have and less than I could have (especially for something like that in the U.S.). In either case, it is a neat story to tell – she literally sold me the “shirt” off her back.

And oh man, the looks I got on my way out of the village. The Thai people all seemed surprised to see me wearing one of these, but I got compliments from the people sharing my songthaew.

Next we stopped by the Phuping Palace, but I did not enter. I thought I was to wait for the people I had been riding in the songthaew with, but our driver was gone. When they appeared and we went to another songthaew, he tried doubling the price of MY trip (not theirs, mind you). I said nope – I am not paying more than I paid to get here – I knew how much it should cost. He kept trying to get me to pay more, so I started walking. They eventually drove by and he agreed to the price I knew it should be.

Apparently, these drivers usually manage to gouge the stupid foreigners.

When we got back to Doi Suthep, I told him I would give him 40 more baht to take me down to Chiang Mai (this is the amount I paid to get up the mountain, AND the amount they advertise, in writing, IN the songthaew, for the trip). He again tried to gouge me and I said “look, I KNOW how much this is supposed to cost, and it is in writing”. After that, he agreed. Sheesh.

Back at the university in Chiang Mai, I had to find another songthaew, which takes you anywhere in town for 20 baht. He tried to charge me 40. I said no. He said 30. I told him I KNOW it is only 20 baht for everyone. So he had to agree.

By the way, EVERY foreigner who got on after me had to pay either 30 or 40 baht.

So I was back at my guest house for a couple of hours, then off to my spa treatment. Since I am here, I decided to “splurge” and get a three-hour package. This is something that would cost a number of hundreds of dollars in the U.S. Here, it was $60. I was picked up and brought to the spa, given tea, brought to a changing room with lockers, then to an herbal steam room. Then to a “floral bath jacuzzi”, which even had floating rose petals in it. My body scrub had a familiar smell to it, and when I took a shower to clean off the scrub stuff, I noticed that I was right – they used coffee grounds for my body scrub. Then was the aromatherapy oil massage, with hot herbal compresses, and finally the facial.

The only negative part is that I did not realize she would incorporate “Thai massage” elements into my treatments…not my favorite part. She seemed determined to work out the tightness in my neck and shoulders, even if it meant using her elbows (ouch). Overall, though, I recommend this beautiful teak house spa to anyone – as I said, this package would have cost SO much more in the U.S.


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