It seems like there is a wat (temple) on every block in Chiang Mai. The monks walk the streets in the morning and collect food in baskets. They have no source of income and rely on the people of Thailand to donate food and money so they can maintain their simple lifestyles.
Several of the Wats offer “Monk Chats”. The novice monks sit and practice their English by answering tourist questions on what it is like to be a monk. I learned that all monks speak at least two languages well and at least one more moderately well. Some speak up to seven different languages. I also learned that the robes they wear are a single piece of fabric. The monks all attend the local university, but they have classes separate from the other students. They live in apartments scattered throughout the city. Most become novices around age 14, but can start any time in life. They become full-fledged monks at around 24 or 25. You can leave the monastery at any time and rejoin at any time, but after three times of changing your mind you can no longer rejoin.
I watched this meditating monk for a few minutes. He never blinked and I couldn’t even see his chest rise and fall. Finally I looked a bit closer and saw that there was a sign indicating that this was a statue of a former head monk! He looked so real. Madame Tussad’s wax museum has nothing on this guy.
Pat and I got massages every day in Chiang Mai. They averaged around $5 for an hour. In addition to the blind masseurs, we also went to a local women’s prison to get a massage. This may sound a bit strange, but the prisoners run a spa as part of their rehabilitation program. They also have a small shop where they sell handicrafts and a restaurant. The ladies were lovely and did a great job. Other than a suspiciously high amount of tattoos, I never would have guessed they were in the clinker. We also stopped at a swankier place the next day where we were given special robes and our feet were bathed in water with rose petals and lime peels before our massage. Still only $5 for the whole experience. Not as good as the prisoners though.
Even though Thailand is 85% Buddhist, there were still reminders of Christmas everywhere. It seemed more like an excuse for a holiday than an actual religious event though.
There were numerous opportunities for Pat to satisfy his sweet tooth with street food. Here he is enjoying a waffle on a stick that is soaked with honey.
Thailand is also known for bespoke (custom) suits for very inexpensive prices. Pat and I both got measured for wool/cashmere suits at a local tailor. They can make a custom suit in 2-3 days. We saw some examples and the work was incredible. You basically look through books of suits made by names like Armani and Versace pick out what you like and they make the suit. The total for two handmade custom suits was about $400!
Our favorite place to eat in Chiang Mai was Nice Kitchen. Every morning we were greeted with a friendly Sawadeka (Hello). The staff was wonderful and everything we tried on the menu was absolutely delicious. We had a huge bowl of muesli, yogurt and fruit every morning. The dried bananas on the top were so good we purchased a big bag for the rest of the trip.
Chiang Mai is also known for handmade mulberry paper. We purchased all the paper for our wedding invites, envelopes, and save the dates at HQ paper. You can read a little more about the process of making paper here, under the section “Making paper“. We also got some paper that is made from the fiber from elephant dung! Added bonus, there was no smell.