Noe lighting a candle at an altar in Wat Phra That. They grow up so fast…
After getting back from our little pilgrimage to the incomparable Hohm Cafe, Lori asked me if we’d like to join in on a little outing with her coworkers after work. They were going to rent a taxi to drive up to Doi Suthep to watch the sun set, then grab some dinner afterwards. Sure, sounds like fun. How were Noe and I supposed to know what the evening really had in store?
We met the group down in the lobby of the giant piano where we waited for the taxi. As there were seven of us, I had assumed we’d be piling into a mini-van taxi for the long and winding trek up the mountain…until a songthaew pulled up. This wasn’t just any songthaew — and certainly not the gleaming red ones you see ferrying locals, monks and backpackers all over Chiang Mai) — this had to be one of the rougher vehicles I had seen in awhile. After a bit of fleeting apprehension, we loaded our four-month-old on the back with the rest of Lori’s team and began our 30-minute ascent up the mountain.
Now, believe me, I’m just as big a fan of road safety as anybody, and will gladly tell a driver to slow down or get off and catch another ride if I feel that the journey has crossed some threshold beyond the typical developing/third-world/Global South craziness. And certainly, Lori and I have become more safety-conscious since traveling with our baby boy.
But, I think there has to be a clear recognition in places like Southeast Asia, or Africa or Central America, and generally most of the world, that daily life isn’t as black and white as it’s often made out to seem in the U.S., but requires a much higher degree of discretion and on the part of the individual.
Frequently, it’s not simply a matter of choosing between buckling-up/ using a car seat or risking getting a ticket and/or suffering more serious injuries in the case of an accident. There are many more factors involved that Americans who have never spent significant time in these types of places wouldn’t even think to consider. Cultural appropriateness, particularly when it is linked with your job, is certainly a factor, and while it doesn’t override safety (particularly when traveling with an infant), it needs to be given its due weight in deliberation.
All that to say, we arrived at Wat Phra That on Doi Suthep without incident, climbing the same winding 1,100 feet that Lori and I had covered on a scooter almost exactly four years prior. I will say, the views are a lot better from the back of a pickup when you’re eyes don’t have to be locked to the serpentine road in front of you.
Another difference we experienced on this visit was our approach to the temple. You may remember that last time we climbed 306 steps to reach the gate. The steps are still there, but our group leader opted for the “elevator” instead — which is actually a steep, windowless funicular.
And, here we are, again, on Doi Suthep, in all its golden glory.
It’s always strange returning matter-of-factly to a far-off place, but we’re here, and just in time for sunset. I was eager to see the sunset too, but quickly realized you couldn’t get a good view from up here (there’s a pretty good-size ridge to the west that blocks the view). It was actually the views of the city of Chiang Mai to the east that visitors were most excited about, and they were impressive. Easy to miss, too, as you have to walk around the back of the temple complex to catch a glimpse. Lori and I hadn’t even known about the view on our previous visit.
If you look closely, you can make out the old city, surrounded by a near-perfect square of canal and green space, which is the location of the old city wall and moat.
The little guy was hungry of course, so Lori spent the first 30 minutes of our hour on the mountain feeding him. Seems that Noe has a burgeoning penchant for getting hungry at sacred places. Should I be reading something in to that?
The temple remains largely unchanged since we were here last, save for the appropriate-dress-advisory, brought to you by Lactasoy.
A special moment for both Noe and mommy: sitting in on a monk’s blessing for a child about Noe’s age.
Recreating a photo from four years ago. Shoes off, please…
After sunset, we piled back into our Songthaew and began the slow and winding trip down the mountain…behind everyone else.
Noe was mesmerized by the headlights shining on him most of the way, and maybe even wondering what the heck was going on. Or maybe he’s just used to this stuff by now. Hard to tell with Noe — he’s a man of few words.
Just before coming into town, we suddenly made a stop at a very strange place.
Of course, we’re always the last to know about these things, since the conversations among the staff were generally in Lao. If we were fortunate, one of the English speaking Laotians would update us, though it usually created more questions than answers.
I looked up our location on my phone and figured out that this was a shrine to Kruba Srivichai, the patron Buddhist saint of Northern Thailand. It surprised me how many people were here paying their respects on this particular Tuesday evening, but the shrine is conveniently located right off the main highway.
Everything you need to properly pay your respects sold at the stalls across the street — which begs the question, which one do you choose?
I’m not sure if the larger placard on the right is emphasizing the location of the restrooms or warning about the consequences of the primary product being sold.
Our chariot for the evening…
Shortly after leaving Saint Srivichai, we made the obligatory stop in front of the zoo (that was very much closed by now) to get a group photo in front of the sign. Check that one off the ol’ bucket list.
Just shy of 7pm, Noe sheepishly whispers to me, “So, it’s almost dinner time, right?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I just didn’t know where our next stop would take us.
We drove back into town, around the old city wall and through a maze of alleyways. At one point we passed Miguel’s, the Mexican restaurant we had gone to multiple times four years ago, which was like heaven at the time. Mine and Lori’s mouths began to water. I know, so falang of us, but if only…
I was following along on my phone. We had left the Old City behind and were now headed southeast. What dining establishment could be so special to go through all this trouble? And then, we stopped in front of the Anusarn Market and Kalare Night Bazaar. Our group leader told us to meet back here at 10pm and our group suddenly and excitedly dispersed into the crowded isles of the sprawling market. 10pm!?
We suddenly found ourselves with three hours on our hands and a tired and hungry baby. Naturally, Lori and I were thinking the same thing. To Miguel’s!!!
We grabbed a tuk tuk and zipped back up north to the Mexican restaurant. We certainly couldn’t blame our compadres for wanting to stock up on stuff for themselves and their families that they simply couldn’t get so easily in Laos, and we most certainly would have been right there with them if, 1) we weren’t craving Mexican food, 2) didn’t have an infant in tow, 3) hadn’t just arrived from the land of everything but unpasteurized cheeses and Cuban cigars three weeks prior.
Ah, Miguel’s. Tacos, enchiladas, chips and guac, Chang Beer. Sabrosa.
And what else do you do when you have an infant and three hours to kill in Chiang Mai? File his claws down, of course. And the dude has some mean claws. He’ll cut you, fool, if you don’t check yo self.
It’s a pleasant evening, so we walk the mile back to the market, which takes us along the canal and back on Loi Kroh, which just so happens to be the heart of Chiang Mai’s Red Light district. Nice. Noe, of course, finds this all very amusing.
We make it back to the night bazaar with an hour to spare. By now, we’ve given up on any chance of Noe sleeping soundly — he’s a sucker for nightlife, particularly when it involves bright, flashy colors.
We didn’t plan on buying anything, but a pair of awesome blue harem pants for Noe caught our eye. The price was right, so we got them. But they’re a few sizes too big at the moment, so you’ll just have to wait for Noe to break them out.
Just shy of 10pm, we rendezvoused at our meeting spot with the other group members, then proceeded to another spot since our ride was having trouble with traffic, then moved to another spot, and finally another. Eventually, we were back on board and heading north, to the big ol’ grand piano for a big ol’ night’s sleep.