Jan 132008

Today we would visit Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, the nearby mountaintop temple so well known that it is said you haven’t been to Chiang Mai if you didn’t see this temple. Along the way, we stopped for breakfast at a noodle shop with cushy booths, to have our choice of fried noodles or soup noodles. The beef soup was well flavored and the meat with tasty; even the crunchy tendon wasn’t bad. A little fruit chaser and we were on our way.

The road to Doi Suthep is steep and curvy, and the traffic was heavy due to large tour buses slowing the flow of traffic. There are over 300 steps from the parking lot to the temple, and those with limited mobility or motivation can use a tram. After an initial set of stairs thickly lined with vendor stalls, we reached the fantastic naga staircase with an undulating handrail in the shape of a serpent. Photographing any part of this was quite a challenge due to the crowds. People politely took turns posing directly in front of what I wanted to photograph. Oh, never mind.

The temple itself contains numerous buildings. The heavily gold plated chedi, said to contain a relic of the Buddha, shone brilliantly in the morning sun, while subtle murals beckoned from the shade. In the Buddhist bookshop I purchased a copy of “Karma for Today’s Traveler.” Hopefully I’ll be okay if I don’t get around to reading it until the flight home.

After returning to the bottom of the hill, we visited the “ruins” at Wat Jet Yot before reaching our destination for a sizable lunch feast (according to the menu, Kaeng-Ron Baan Suan Restaurant). First to arrive were two Northern-style dips, one of green chillies quite similar to the one we tried in the market yesterday, the other made with ground pork in a tomato-based sauce. There were accompanied by fresh vegetables, including crispy long beans, cabbage, and small Thai eggplants, and a plate of crispy fried pork rinds. A pork hunglay curry seemed much more gingery than the two we tried previously, and there were generous (perhaps a bit too generous) slabs of belly fat attached to the meat. We had two types of sour sausages, one deep fried and served with scallions, chopped ginger, peanuts, lettuce and tiny chillies, and the other grilled and sliced on the bias, heavily seasoned with lemongrass and served with the same accompaniments. We received two grilled catfish, and assembled them as instructed: roll a ball of sticky rice into a little flat, crumble some of the dry catfish meat on top, add a bit of neem blossom and cilantro, and a dollop of a sticky sweet sauce redolent of garlic. The entire little package then is popped in the mouth. Fun. We had a hot and sour fruit salad with pieces of apple, dragon fruit, grapes and, most oddly, lettuce. A red curry chicken soup was tasty and not as hot as those we have come to fear, and a spicy curry originally designed to use up leftovers completed the menu. Until dessert, when we had very wide variety of items from which to choose.

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Just when we were thinking “nap time,” we pulled off the road at the forest monastery Wat U Mong. Unlike the royal temples, there is nothing especially fancy here. But it has some unique underground passages said to have been built by a king to keep his brightest monk adviser from wandering off to the forest to meditate. By now, the forest frescoes have faded, so the illusion today is particularly unconvincing (if it ever was). We sped back to the hotel for packing (most of our stuff will depart in our vans and meet us in Bangkok), and attend to last minute shopping and Internet needs. I’m not sure the tape is going to hold on my “big box,” which, disturbingly, has no room for freeze-dried jackfruit chips. Will I get a bigger box in Bangkok? Stay tuned for exciting details.

I joined Kasma and her husband and two trip members for dinner at the nearby Antique House. Then I returned to the night bazaar for a few last minute items. I found myself unable to ask the question “Is there lead in this paint” when speaking to the sellers of hand-painted shirts. They said “Oh, you don’t want paint” and “Oh, you want to paint yourself.” Never mind, just give me the shirts. Back at the hotel, it was time to jam the shirts into my luggage and prepare for departure.

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