I had no pre-set plans for my last day in Chiang Mai.  I knew that there was a huge Sunday market, and I planned on going there.  I suspected it was an all-day affair, but the woman at the front desk of the hotel told me that it began at 5:00 p.m.  I didn’t really want to travel 45 minutes to Doi Suthep, the main temple here in Chiang Mai, which some folks consider to be the main attraction in the city. Getting there would be too much of a hassle.  The temple is on a hilltop, and the climb is supposedly pretty steep, and it was scheduled to be another scorching day.  I decided instead to just stroll around, pop in and out of the local, smaller temples, grab snacks and smoothies here and there, and just take it easy until I head to the night market later in the day. It was the perfect plan.  

After a great breakfast here at the hotel (in their lovely vegan restaurant), I started strolling around, in the general direction of two of the lesser heralded temples. 

I passed many charming cafes and cute shops.  They were all so low-key and inviting; I really wanted to stop in every one and check it out, but of course I couldn’t.  

Although it was early, the heat was already oppressive, and I stopped by this place to get some ice cream.  It’s never too early for that.

I saw some nice street art while I was strolling.

Although I was headed in the general direction of two specific temples, I decided to just wander wherever my feet took me.  It was the best approach.  I found myself in beautiful, quiet, peaceful temples, often as the only visitor. Normally, when I’m home, I meditate for ten minutes every day. This tends to fall by the wayside when I travel, unfortunately.  I thought, what better time to resurrect this routine than to do it here, in a Buddhist temple.  

I came upon a nice, low-key temple that was actually a complex of small buildings.  I went inside and immediately saw the “Beware of Dogs” sign. I didn’t see any dogs, but if I did, I undoubtedly would have tried to pat them.  I was thankful for the warning.  

Then I spotted two of the dogs they warned about.  I resisted temptation. No need to add rabies to my Thailand ailments; kidney stones was enough.  

I found the main hall on the grounds, and went inside.  

I went inside and of course, there was a beautiful Buddha at the very north end of the temple, surrounded by several smaller Buddhas. 

As I sat there in the quiet temple, I reflected on what a strange trip this has been.  I suppose it would be easy to gripe about being felled by kidney stones on a trip like this, but there was no griping in this temple.  Instead, I thought about incredibly blessed I am.  I got ill in a city that has a world class medical facility, which happened to be a mere 8-minute walk from my hotel.  I received top-notch care from a kind and compassionate staff, at a cost that would be a fraction of what it would cost in New York City. I was in constant contact with a posse of caring and concerned friends.  Technology allowed for me to see these folks, via FaceTime and WhatsApp, rather than just type or talk.  And I got to go to Chiang Mai, meet a dedicated staff of veterinarians and veterinary nurses, and help spay and neuter street cats in need.  It’s a charmed life I’m leading, and it hit me full force during the meditation. I sat there, my heart swelling with humility and gratefulness. Another person entered the temple, and this snapped me out of my reverie. I gathered up my backpack and headed back outside. 

I visited several more temples, including one that had, on their grounds, an area dedicated specifically for meditators.  

There were about 20 small bamboo huts, each elevated off the ground, with small square cushions inside, to sit on while meditating.  I was the only one in the entire temple complex, and although I had already meditated not that long before, I was in that mindset, and these cozy cells were so inviting. 

I claimed one for myself, and prepared for another 10 or 20 minutes of quiet reflection, however, about two minutes into it, I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  I suppose a monk could have ignored this flurry of insect bites through sheer mental strength and conviction, but I could not.

I had to hightail it out of there.  

I strolled some more, and came across Wat Duangee, another warm, quiet, and also deserted temple.  

The interior was pretty, with colorful ribbons hanging from strings across the ceiling.

It’s a shame that the bigger name temples get all the attention (and donations) while these smaller ones get ignored, and yet I’m glad in a way, because the experience of being in a crowded temple really is diminished by crowds of tourists, no matter how respectful they are.  When it’s crowded, there’s no overcoming the feeling that this is merely a tourist site.  When empty, it more strongly retains its identity as a temple, and you feel that essence.   

I continued meandering, and came across another lovely, empty one, Wat Srikoet.  

Inside was a small platform with two larger Buddhas, and several smaller ones.  

I sat on the blue-carpeted floor in front of an imposing statue of the Buddha and, again, just relaxed and soaked in the ambience, knowing that this may very well be my last time visiting this city.  I made a small donation here, as I do at every temple I visit. 

When I told some people that I was going to Thailand, many people immediately said, “Oh, you have to get a Thai massage.” I’ve never really been one to pursue massages; I’ve never been completely comfortable with a total stranger touching me all over, but massage is a big part of the culture here in Thailand, and there are at least three or four massage spas on every block in this city.  The prices are mind-bogglingly low, and it was my last day, so I decided to give it a try.  I had been walking since early in the morning and I was exhausted, and as usual it was torturously hot, so I was actually looking forward to the break. But which place to choose? There were dozens. Then I came upon one where the masseuses all had an interesting common feature: all of them were previously inmates at a prison.  They were now getting their lives back on track. I thought this was a noble cause, plus, they were having a “happy hour” deal, with the price of a Thai massage reduced from 250 baht to 200 baht.  

I went in.  I was instructed to take off my shoes, and was directed to a comfortable chair.  Thankfully the place was air-conditioned. I was given a cold drink of some kind of punch.  I suddenly got woozy, passed out, and woke up on the street with my iPhone, wrist watch, and wallet gone!  

Kidding!! 

See: One of Chiang Mai’s Most Popular Spas Gives Women Released From Prison a Second Chance at Life (Video) by Jillian Kramer

A woman came over and took off my socks, and then filled a basin with cool water, and added slices of lemon and cucumber to the water and had me put my feet in it, which felt wonderful.  She then cleaned my feet. I’m a bit ticklish, so I had to try not to pull away and laugh. Then she introduced me to another woman who led me upstairs to a nice-smelling, dimly lit room.  Meditative new-age music was playing, creating a very relaxing vibe.  She handed me some very loose clothes that resembled hospital scrubs, and told me to change into them, and that she’d be back in a few minutes.  She came back in and directed me to lay face down on this nice cushion on the floor. She then gave me a very professional massage that was, at some points, almost painful, although she sensed when I was finding some of the manipulation too rough, and she backed off a bit.  It was a 60-minute massage, and by the end of it, I felt like a new man, all loose and limber and refreshed.  I changed back into my street clothes, and was led back downstairs, where I was given some lavender ginger tea and some banana slices drizzled with honey. I then went to pay.  At the exchange rate, the entire experience cost me (wait for it….) $6.45! Incredible. I gave her a 100 baht tip. She was stunned, which made me feel even better. I walked back to my hotel, laid down on my bed, and sunk into a short, peaceful nap.  

As I noted before, markets are big in Chiang Mai, and the Sunday Walking Street is the biggest shopping event in the city.  It spans the entire length of Thonon Rachadamnoen Alley, a long wide street that becomes packed with hundreds of vendors selling a huge variety of art, clothing, trinkets, and food.  I’d already been to so many markets in Thailand, but I never get tired of them.  It’s not so much about shopping as it is about absorbing the culture, which is very much on display at these markets.  I lazily wove my way up the street, perusing the wares. The market started at 4:00 p.m.  

It was your usual Chiang Mai market i.e., very colorful.

They had everything: jewelry, sandals, keychains, hats….

I passed a table that had honey, of many different varieties.  This was local honey, made by a beekeeper in Chaing Mai, according to the sign on his table.  He had a sampler of five different varieties, and I thought that would make a nice gift for Mark, so I bought it. 

I arrived at the market at 5:00, and after passing so many enticing food stalls, I began to get hungry.  There were several restaurants on the streets, set back behind the market, and I spotted a popular one, with tables set right on the sidewalk, ideal for people watching.  

I saw the sign that said free WiFi, so I grabbed a table.  It was 6:30 p.m., which means 6:30 a.m. in New York, and Mark was probably awake.  Probably. Not definitely. When I’m in a restaurant like this, with WiFi, I like to make a FaceTime call.  Seeing his face makes me happy, and I can turn the picture around so that he can see the market and do some people watching with me.  Plus, he’s very into Asian food, and I can show him live video of the food that’s being served. 

I texted first, to see if he was up.  He was. I then FaceTimed, and it was really almost like having him there with me.  I asked him if there was anything he wanted at the market, and he said a T-shirt, and this now gave me a little bit of a mission.  It didn’t take long to find a vendor selling nice, inexpensive t-shirts.  I snagged one with an elephant on it. Very cliché, I know.  

I stayed for another hour or so, then went back to the hotel to pack. 

Whenever Mark and I travel, at some point we ask each other, half-jokingly, if we could ever imagine us living here.  In some places, like Kathmandu, we say it totally facetiously, knowing that it’s so radically different from our present lifestyle that living there would be unfathomable.  Other places, like Stockholm or Kuala Lumpur, give us pause.  (Amsterdam passed that little test so definitively that we decided to invest in an apartment there, as I’ve mentioned.)  Well, for me, Chiang Mai passes the test. It’s unfortunate that Mark did not get to come with me on this trip, because I’m so curious to know if he would feel the same way that I do about it here. We tend to see eye to eye on these matters.  It’s not a dirty, loud, chaotic, messy metropolis like Bangkok.  It’s low-key. The landscape is dotted with dozens of Wats (temples), some very well-known, and some barely registering on the map. The streets are quaint and quiet, and all varieties of cafes, shops, and spas are present, all being run at the calm, languid pace that drives the city.  No one seems to be in a rush about anything. Time just seems to pass placidly. The people are mellow and friendly, and the constant undercurrent of Buddhism gives the place a serenity that I find very agreeable at this point in my life.  I love New York City and all of its cultural offerings, but there’s something about a slower pace in a warm, spiritual atmosphere that is very enticing. 

Packing was difficult.  My suitcase was really at the breaking point.  At the market, I bought a t-shirt and set of five little jars of local honey.  It wasn’t much, but I was already at full capacity when I arrived in Chiang Mai, and even these tiny little additions were a strain.  I managed to cram it all in, though.  I checked my flight information a final time, set the alarm, and hit the sack.  

I slept well.  Woke up early, headed downstairs for my final vegan breakfast at the hotel (I had the excellent tofu scramble this time) and then grabbed my suitcase and checked out of the hotel.  

I still had about an hour before my cab was due to arrive and take me to the airport.  I stored my suitcase at the front desk and decided to just wander the streets in the immediate vicinity of the hotel.  Google Maps usually directed me toward one of two specific pathways into the heart of the Old City, but I wasn’t going into the Old City, so I took a few new pathways from the hotel, and in less than five minutes, I found myself at yet another small temple, Wat Khuankhamar.  

The main hall of the temple wasn’t yet open, but I got a nice photo of a cat watching over six small toy wooden zebra statues.  

I caught my cab to the airport, and flew to Bangkok for one night, before leaving for Amsterdam the next day.  Flights to Europe all leave from Bangkok, and since the flight to Amsterdam is almost 13 hours long, I thought it would be best to break up the trip, and wake up in Bangkok on the day of the flight to Amsterdam.  Instead of going to the same Bangkok hotel that I stayed in at the start of my trip, I selected one that was closer to the international airport, and because I was using accrued miles to pay for the hotel instead of dollars, I decided to splurge a bit on the hotel.  The hotel was really beautiful.  

While they prepared the paperwork for my check-in, they told me to go upstairs to their lounge, where they were serving afternoon tea.  I went to the lounge and found a lovely table with a great assortment of food, including some crab balls, chicken satay, finger sandwiches, fruits, nuts, cheeses, and many little cakes.  

There were juices and sodas, and liquor as well, if I wanted.  It was a little past lunch time, and I had been wondering what I was going to do for lunch.  This took care of that dilemma. I gorged on the crab balls and finger sandwiches.  

I went back downstairs after a while and completed the check-in.  They gave me an upgrade!

I was shown to my room on the 11th floor.  It was a little smaller than I had anticipated, but the bathroom was amazing!  Nice big circular marble bathtub! 

I like shampoos and conditioners and other men’s products, and this hotel had a nice array of upscale products.

It was pretty luxurious.  I settled in, and then went upstairs to check out the swimming pool and rooftop bar.  What a view!  

I found a shady spot on the roof deck and relaxed a bit, but even in the shade, it was in the high 90s, and the air itself made it feel like I was in a convection oven.  The view of Bangkok was inviting, but with the kidney stone ordeal still very fresh in my head, my feelings for Bangkok at the moment were mixed, and I decided that I would stay inside the hotel for the rest of the day, and not venture into Bangkok at all.  There was no need to experience that stifling afternoon heat and risk getting dehydrated. I chilled (literally) in my hotel room the rest of the evening.  

The next day, after a fabulous buffet breakfast, went to the airport and caught my long flight to Amsterdam.  Bye, Thailand!

PART 12

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