March 25, 2016
Mist Over Chang Mai Part 1
By Michael Gray
Earlier this year I received a gift that many expats often do not receive. My family made the long, expensive journey to visit me in my adopted home of Thailand. Recognizing that not everyone shares my love of the frenetic, after a few wonderful, chaotic days in Bangkok we headed far to the northwest to the sleepy city of Chang Mai. While it might seem strange to refer to a provincial capital with a population of almost 150,000 as sleepy, Chang Mai manages to meet that description with a combination of slow-motion living, and vast forests that make each neighborhood feel isolated, almost as if each was its very own city. Located in the highlands near the border with Myanmar, Chang Mai is significantly cooler than other parts of the Kingdom, offering a welcome respite from the blazing days of Bangkok and the south. It is not uncommon for the hills and valleys to be filled with mist, however the time I traveled there coincided with the time of year when crops are burned in Myanmar, leading me to wonder whether the mist was in fact mist rather than smoke.
After checking in and getting settled in our rooms, we took some time to explore the grounds. This particular hotel is very special, in that it grows fruits and vegetables on the property that can be had if you are willing to do the picking yourself. I sat on the porch as the sun set and reveled in the quiet that I knew would begin to itch at me if I remained more the four or five days. Chang Mai is a city of Buddhist temples, known as “wats” in the Kingdom. There are over 300 hundred to be seen. Needless to say we did not to get to see all of them. The one that truly stands out in my mind is Wat Chedi Luang. Built sometime in the 14th century, and only completed after the death of the king who commissioned it, Chedi Luang is truly striking. Made of pinkish stone that appears almost like brick, the shrine sits high above the ground on a large stone platform. You can almost feel the ancient air flowing off the temple in waves. At the base of each of four inaccessible staircases, sit a pair of what appear to be statues of either dragons or snakes. On an outer rim below the top of the stairs sit stone elephant statues worn down by the centuries. As I walked amongst the trees, the wild dogs, and the history, I saw people, both Thai and foreign, sitting in quite discussion with orange-clad monks. It seemed impolite to eavesdrop, so I remained at a distance, wondering what wisdom they were receiving. As my family wandered on their own, my mother hidden under a large hat, my father taking pictures, I sat in the shade and thought about how much it meant to me that they had come to visit. Being a new expat is a daunting experience, cutting ties and leaving your homeland behind isn’t easy. Having your loved ones travel thousands and thousands of miles, and bearing the expense such travel entails, is a humbling event worth cherishing as it shows their love for you, although it also shows their desire to have a vacation. It was the start of a beautiful trip filled with temples, delicious albeit mild cuisine when compared to the food of the south, and even the occasional elephant. However, it was only the start, and there was much more to see.