(Bootcamp Thai style!)
I’ll start by saying that holidays are presumably for rest and relaxation, not 30km bike rides and stair drills with no less than 306 stairs. My personal trainer would be proud. To date, the majority of exercise had been lifting beer glasses. That was about to change.
We arrived in Chiang Mai around 8am on Tuesday morning and checked into our guesthouse – The Peoples Place. We had a day in Chang Mai to do an optional activity and most of the group decided to take a bicycle tour around the town. Rit, the guide from the cycle tour company set off with six of us in tow.
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s largest provinces and most of the people earn a living through agriculture and related activities. Cycling through the streets of Chiang Mai to the outskirts of the city gave us a glimpse into their lives. We cycled leisurely through the McKean Rehabilitation Center, an old leper colony where they now have a teak plantation, a hospital and a handicraft centre. There are also three christian churches, unusual in a predominantly Buddhist country. The residents of the colony took on the religion of the founder, American Dr James McKean, who constructed the centre in 1908.
We cycled to a local “restaurant”and had a fantastic pad thai for lunch. The great thing about some of these tours is that you stop for food at places you’d probably never look at on your own, and usually they have the best food. Lucky for us the boys were hungry and wanted seconds. As they cook up a fresh batch every time this delayed us another half hour, which was a blessing, as just on finishing, the skies opened with an afternoon torrential downpour typical of Thailand’s wet season. Finally the the rain stopped, everyone was full and we could set out again, racing back to the guesthouse before the next downpour.
After a night on the train this was the perfect way to stretch our bodies and get the blood flowing again. But there was still more exercise in store…
Overlooking the city of Chiang Mai is the famous temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, founded in 1383. The founding of the Temple remains a famous Thai legend. According to the legend, a revered monk had a dream; in this dream God told him to go to Pang Cha and look for a relic.The monk travelled to Pang Cha where he flund a bone that had magical powers. Many claim the bone was Buddha’s shoulder bone.
King Nu Naone who ruled the Lanna Kingdom (what is now Chiang Mai Province) heard of the relic and requested that the monk take bring to him .
On the journey the relic split into two pieces and the smaller piece was enshrined at Wat Suan Dok Temple, located just west of the old city walls.
The larger piece was placed by the King on the back of a sacred Royal White Elephant which was released into the jungle.
The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep Mountain and trumpet three times before dying. This was interpreted as a sign and King Nu Naone ordered the construction of a temple at the site.
The temple is approximately 15 km from Chiang Mai and located on top of Doi Suthep Mountain (1676m). To get there one takes a crazy ride up a steep and windy road, dodging motorcycles, mini-vans, tuk- tuks and over enthusiastic cyclists (this hill is STEEP!). Overtaking at full speed on the wrong side of the road around a hair pin bend only adds to the thrill (sure). I’ve been told the drive is quite picturesque (when your eyes aren’t squeezed shut that is).
Such a location does, however, afford thousands of tourists the most spectacular views of Chiang Mai and it’s surrounds. Of course one needs to work for such an amazing view (heart in mouth from the bus ride up not withstanding) and this comes in the form of 306 steps – straight up. If I thought I was going to avoid stair drills for a few weeks I was very mistaken.
Don’t, however, let the steps put you off. It’s worth climbing every one of them, not only for the views, the magnificent temple architecture, or the hundreds of Buddha statues but go around 6 in the afternoon and you’ll be treated to the mesmerizing sound of monks during their evening chant, in preparation for meditation.
Scott decided to try his luck with the fortune sticks. To do this several bamboo sticks are placed in a canister and shaken while kneeling in front of an alter, until one of the sticks fall out. On the stick is a number that corresponds with a longer written fortune. According to his fortune stick Scott is the bearer of neither good luck nor bad luck (technically this is middle luck) and it is too late for further luck with lovers. This is just as well because I’d have hated for the fortune stick to be wrong….cause he would have had VERY bad luck!
We ended our trip to the temple with Scott receiving a blessing from a Monk. Then it was a quick sprint down those 306 stairs (Dan – if you ever read this I did them twice – I swear!) and into the mini-van for a hair raising ride back down the hill..at least in the dark you can’t see where you are going, which is possibly a good thing.
Next on the agenda – a trip to the Anusan Night Bazaar for dinner and shopping. Attached to the night markets is a food court of sorts, buzzing with atmosphere and boasting several outdoor seafood restaurants. We stopped at one of these to sample some of the local food and of course some cold Chang. After all it is incredibly important to stay hydrated when participating in so much exercise.
After dinner was a trip through the crowded street that is home every night to the hundreds of stalls selling jewelry, clothing, accessories, home wares, toys, DVDs to name a few. This was possibly even more tiring then Chatuchak, but eventually we made it out the other end, laden down with more bargains and we headed back to the guest house, thoroughly exhausted from the days exertions…. Who said holidays were relaxing?
And apparently on the other side of town, in a possibly very dubious pool bar, a certain small Teddy Bear was leading astray one Brit and one Irishman….