Postcards from Phayao

12/1-12/3

The weekend after our Chiang Rai adventures, we decided to stay in our town and potentially try to hike Phu Chi Fah, a beautiful sunrise hike on the border of Laos, not too far away. We relaxed on Saturday morning before heading to the bus station to try and figure out how much a songthaew would cost us.

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A “songthaew” or our towns version of a taxi

A few giggles later, the men tried to tell us it would cost us over 1000 baht one way which we knew was way too much. A little bit of bargaining later and they would barely budge, so we decided to table it for another time. This kind of thing tends to happen a fair amount both in our town, and across Thailand. I’ve found it most prevalent with transportation. We’ve been able to bargain the prices on tuk tuks down a few times, but there comes a point when the men won’t budge and then it’s time to move on. We spent the rest of our day trying to figure out transportation for the next weekend with our dear friend Mo (who continues to be a lifesaver time and time again), relaxing, catching up on journaling and napping. Although we enjoyed our day, we agreed that we wanted to get out and do something the next day instead of stay in our town again, and Emma suggested we take the local bus to Phayao.

We woke up on Sunday morning and headed to the bus station to get the bus around 10 AM. We locked up our bikes at the little shop, and quickly found and boarded the bus. In classic Thai fashion, the bus did not leave on time, but rather 20 minutes late. Mai pen rai, oh well. We thought the bus ride would be about an hour, but with all the stops it ended up being closer to 2 and we got to Phayao around noon. Getting off a bus in a new town that you’ve never been to before is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. You don’t really know where you are, you don’t know where anything is, and there are very rarely maps to help you orient yourself. We started walking around and once we figured out where the lake was, everything started to make a bit more sense. We walked along the lake for a while and tried to read some of the maps but didn’t have much luck. We walked by the dragon statue in the water which was really beautiful with mountains behind it, but there were tons of very aggressive fish near the shore (because people were feeding them of course) so we didn’t get too close!

 

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The scenic lake and mountains reminded me of Lake Champlain ❤

We kept walking along the lake and eventually crossed over to find a little souvenir shop that sold postcards from all different parts of Thailand. This was the first time we saw normal postcards, crazy right!? I decided to buy a bunch not knowing when I would see them again, and luckily the shop sold international postage too (keep your eyes peeled fam)! Afterwards, I got a coffee and we kept making our way around the town. We decided to look for a taxi to head about half an hour away to a temple that our friend Dani who teaches in Phayao had told us about! We walked around for about 40 minutes before finally making it back to the bus station where we found a tuk tuk that would take us. Thirty minutes later and we were across the lake, halfway up a mountain, and at the entrance to the beautiful Wat Analayo Thippayaram Temple.

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The daunting staircase…

The path to up to the temple was slightly daunting: a long, steep staircase with no view of the temple in sight. We headed up the stairs and admired the beautiful, handmade sculptures on the sides leading up to the entrance. Eventually, we got to the top, where we were greeted by 10 or maybe 15 temple dogs, many of which looked very different from each other. This is somewhat common in Thailand as the monks at the temples may feed and take care of the dogs, so of course they stay! The temple was huge! There were many different sections and it expanded far back into the woods. It was full of different animal statues, Buddha shrines, and many other statues and idols. It always amazes me how these places are so old and were all completely built by hand before heavy machinery was around. I always wonder how they were able to get all the materials up the mountain in the first place! We walked through the whole temple and admired how beautiful it was, but then the time came for us to head back to our tuk tuk to ensure we had enough time to catch the last bus back to Chiang Kham.

To our surprise, we had a bit of free time when we got back to the bus station so we stopped at a little cafe across the street and got some gelato. I had strawberry and some type of mocha flavor and it was very good! I appreciated the sweet treat after a somewhat hot day!

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Who knew there would be gelato in Thailand!

We caught the bus back to Chiang Kham at 4:15 PM and got back just around 6. The perfect amount of time to get dinner and relax before another crazy week of school at Sathit. Although this trip was short, it was nice to get out of town for a few hours and see another town in our province. I’m sure we’ll be back to Phayao City at some point, and hopefully next time the other teachers from our program will be in town!

Chiang Mai: Part 1

A few weekends ago we went on our first weekend adventure to Chiang Mai. After settling in the weekend before, and teaching for a full week, it was time to explore a bit outside our town and get a feel for how far different cities are from us. Chiang Kham, the town where I live and teach, is about a 3.5 hour drive from Chiang Mai, which is really not too bad! Unfortunately, the last bus to Chiang Mai leaves at 12 pm on Fridays, and since school does not end until 4pm, we can’t catch the direct bus which is kind of a bummer. Instead, we took a local bus to Chiang Rai (about 2 hours away), and then switched to a larger coach-size bus for the journey from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai which is about 3 more hours. By the time we arrived in Chiang Mai, it was 10 pm on Friday night, and we had spent about 5 hours on bus rides. The plus side to this (like many other things) was that it was extremely cheap and until the sun set we were able to see some gorgeous scenery! Our first bus ride was 38 baht and the second one was 166 baht, making for a total of 204 baht, not a bad way to travel!

Once we arrived at the bus station,we got an über and headed to the hostel we would stay in for the next two nights. We stayed at the S*Trips Poshtel in the Chiang Klan Subdistrict of Chiang Mai. Definitely the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in! We paid $17 each for 2 nights which included a lock and key for the locker, towels, breakfast vouchers, wifi and a bed in a Woman’s dorm with AC! Great bang for your buck. The room and the bathrooms were both extremely clean, and the AC was great as it can get very hot in Chiang Mai. We actually ended up being in a room full of all CIEE gals, which was a nice coincidence. The hostel was recommended to us by some of them, and I would definitely recommend it to others in the future!

We hadn’t had dinner yet when we arrived, so we ventured out to find some food but almost nothing was open by 11:30 PM! Our options were McDonalds and 7-11! I opted to grab some McDonalds (which is occasionally a guilty pleasure of mine) and Emma got ramen from 7-11. After our search for food, we headed back to the hostel to get a good nights sleep after a loooong first week of teaching.

The next morning we woke up and headed to a restaurant I had found online before we got to Chiang Mai called Rustic & Blue. Again, we got an über since it was a bit far from where we were staying, and were pleasantly surprised to get dropped off at a cute little street full of small ice cream shops and restaurants that seemed to be right up our alley. Rustic & Blue was amazing, probably my favorite meal I have had so far in Thailand. I had an iced dirty chai, and a peanut butter and chocolate bowl and it was so delicious. The chic ambiance and friendly staff was a great way to start my Saturday, and I definitely look forward to going back there in the future. They were even playing the Head and the Heart! Mom and Dad, if you visit we will definitely go here!

After brunch, we walked around a bit and came across a cute shop called Chabaa which had beautiful dresses, shirts, pants and jewelry all handmade in Thailand. It was a little on the pricey side but I got a beautiful dress that I cannot wait to wear at some point! I love how intricate some of the designs here are and how there is always so much color wherever you go. Will probably also be going back there in the next few months!

Then we headed up to our first temple of the day, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, or sometimes just called Doi Suthep. The temple is at the top of a mountain, and it was about a half an hour car ride to the top! Not a bad car ride, but the roads are so windy, I was feeling SO carsick! When we got out of our über, this little boy quickly approached us and showed us around. Even though he didn’t speak English, and we don’t speak much Thai, we enjoyed each other’s company for the few minutes we were together. The temple is said to have been built in 1383, but a road to the temple was not built until 1935. Over the years more and more has been added to the temple making it quite extravagant and ornate, and the views of Chiang Mai from the temple are breathtaking. Worth the 309 sweaty steps to the top! One of my favorite parts of Thailand so far has been learning about the ancient history behind these gorgeous temples, cities and places. It is a beautiful thing for a country to share so much of its rich history with the rest of the world, and coming from America, such a young country, I feel awestruck looking at these gorgeous places that have been around for thousands of years.

The next temple we went to was Wat Chedi Luang, or the elephant temple. This temple was located closer to the center to Chiang Mai and was so different from Doi Suthep! Wat Chedi Luang had a much older feeling to it. It appeared old and worn down, which to me in a way made it feel more loved and used. It was built in Lanna-style (the Lanna ) in 1441 and housed the Emerald Buddha which has since moved to Wat Phra Kaew, part of the Grand Palace grounds in Bangkok. There is now a jade replica of the Buddha at the top of the temple. One reason this temple appears older, besides the style of the building is that in the top of the chedi (an alternate to the word stupa which means an area dedicated to Buddha), was destroyed by either a 16th century earthquake or by cannon fire during the recapture of Chiang Mai by the Burmese in 1775 (kind of cool, huh?) . My favorite part of this temple were the majestic stone elephants that stand towards to top of the temple. This beautiful place was unlike any other temple or building I have ever seen, and would definitely recommend it as a must to anyone traveling to Chiang Mai.

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View of Wat Chedi Luang. If you look closely you can see the jade replica in the doorway at the top. It was such a beautiful day!

After our day full of temples, we were lucky enough to meet up with a fellow UVM grad and his girlfriend for a nice dinner! We decided to walk to dinner because it didn’t seem too far from our hostel, but I am still not used to the weather and was profusely sweating by the time we got there (lol). Still adjusting to the humid and hot Thai climate! They had been staying in/around Chiang Mai for a few weeks, so it was great to hear about what they had been up to and what we have to look forward to. Then after, we met up with a family friend of mine who has been living in Chiang Mai for two years (!!!!!!), and hung out with a bunch of his Thai friends. We went to a Thai club-like place with them which was definitely unlike anything I had ever been to in my life. It started off as a show, and then slowly turned into a club where everyone got up and was dancing, then there was a DJ and some American music and then back to the stage for more performances. In addition, they were bringing out soup and fruit platters as this was all going on. Think of it like Broadway show turned NYC nightclub that serves food all within 45 minutes. So bizarre but also so cool to experience this part of Thai culture. It was really nice to end our weekend in Chiang Mai with some familiar faces and chat with people from home.

On Sunday morning we went to book our bus ticket back to Chiang Kham but somehow our bus was completely booked! We quickly decided to take the bus back to Chiang Rai instead and figured we could get a cab or something of the sort back to our town from there. I tried calling the bus company but every time the woman realized I did not speak Thai she hung up on me! Funny and frustrating, but luckily the nice man in 7-11 was able to help us out through some Tinglish (combination of Thai and English). After we finally had our bus tickets, we found another yummy restaurant called Fruit Pulse, pretty good but not quite Rustic and Blue. We had some time before our bus so we just hung around and relaxed, and ended our first weekend in Chiang Mai with a foot massage and a pedicure. We caught our bus back to Chiang Rai, and ended up getting an über from Chiang Rai to Chiang Kham. Shout out to über because I really don’t know what we would do without you so far!

The weekend was a success! It was nice to get away from our small town for a short period of time, explore somewhere new, and distract ourselves from the homesickness that sometimes can feel pretty overwhelming. I loved Chiang Mai, and we’re already looking forward to heading back in a few weeks to spend the day at Elephant Nature Park! Up next, updates on our town and my first Thanksgiving away from home.

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Me in front of Wat Chedi Luang! What a stunning temple. The elephants add such a magical touch to an already beautiful place. Now just to play and bathe some live elephants!