Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai & Chiang Khong, Thailand
Initial Thoughts: I arrived to Chiang Mai after a 12-hour overnight journey on a train that I had boarded on a whim. I’d just spent 12 days in Kanchanaburi province and my plans to travel south to Malaysia where interrupted by a raging tropical forest fire in Indonesia. After completing ten days of silent meditation in the Thai countryside, I was finding reintroduction to regular life challenging. Even though Chiang Mai is a relatively quiet city by Asian standards, I was still battling a near constant headache. However, as I was accustomed to waking at 4am, I had a few hours of peace in which to explore the land of temples before the majority of travellers awoke. I discovered Chiang Mai’s thriving coffee scene, strolled along greenery-filled back streets and drank luscious fresh fruit smoothies.
Best Moment: Each afternoon, as the traffic and heat of the day increased, I would seek refuge in the grounds of one of the hundreds of gorgeous, colourful temples that dot the streets of Chiang Mai. I relished the peaceful, spiritually rich surroundings. Seeing firsthand the Thai Buddhist religion had a profound impact on me. One afternoon I witnessed a prayer session in which a hundred young buddhist monks chanted in unison. As an outsider I felt blessed to quietly observes this magical moment. I later learned that most Thai sons become monks at some point in their lives to make merit for themselves and their families fulfilling an important part of the journey towards spiritual liberation.
Take Away: Spending time in a town where the main tourist attractions are religious sites can be difficult. I found myself increasingly annoyed with visitors who didn’t respect the local customs like wearing conservative clothing in temples. The abundance of people taking selfies with Buddha had me enraged more than once. Witnessing religious and cultural ceremonies is a hugely important part of travel and yet I wondered if it is possible to do so without negatively impacting the practices themselves. It reaffirmed my conviction that researching and respecting regional customs is an absolute necessity for responsible travel.
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Now It’s Your Turn: Have I whetted your travel appetite? I can’t speak highly enough of Northern Thailand. It is a safe, beautiful and historic region. How did I find such stunning temples, delicious meals and interesting cultural sights? The latest version of Lonely Planet Thailand has all the details (and many many more)! I never travel without a country specific Lonely Planet and wholeheartedly recommend buying one before visiting an area for the first time.
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