Temples, Lanna Cuisine and Plenty of Smiles in Chiang Mai, Thailand
“You can call me Chanchai. You know Jackie Chan? Chan. Chanchai. Same.”
We all laugh. I knew my day was off to a great start.
“Or…you can call me the jungle man. I live in the jungle. With elephants,” Chanchai tells.
He has four elephants and one baby elephant in his Elephant Pride Sanctuary in Chiang Mai tucked away in the lush jungle. But today, he’s my local expert from TakeMeTour, a travel organization that believes in the power of community-based, culturally-immersive travel experiences.
Visiting temples in Chiang Mai and Lamphun
We walked to Wat Chiang Man. The Northern city’s first temple. It has a history of over 700 years and reflects fascinating stories of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. Nan, quite eagerly, runs over to film us. Nan is the uber talented photographer from TakeMeTour. I had always admired photographers. Isn’t it one of the hardest jobs ever?
Today, we get to visit four temples, including the first temple in Lamphun. Wat Phra That Hariphunchai is Lamphun’s oldest temple. With a history over 1000 years, it glistens with pride and tells me a plethora of little stories. Chanchai explains to me tiny details. Things like stories threaded behind the murals that cover temple walls.
In Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, there’s a chedi (Phra Maha That Chedi) covered in copper and enshrines a relic of Lord Buddha. While Lamphun was home to the Mon Haripunchai Kingdom from the 9th century, Phra Maha That Chedi was built in the 15th century. It was after Lamphun became part of the Lanna Kingdom. The chedi now encases another ancient Mon-style chedi.
Before our visit to see the glorious past of the Haripunchai Kingdom, we went to two more temples in Chiang Mai. Wat Phra Singh was bustling with visitors and devotees. The Lai Kam assembly hall inside the compound resembles Lanna architecture. Its walls still house murals from the bygone era, reflecting the ancient way of life.
The other temple, Wat Chedi Luang, has a giant pagoda, but it’s partially destroyed by an earthquake some hundreds of years ago. Its remainings are however quite iconic. Elephant statues adorn the chedis and wats in Thailand. Chanchai tells me that when elephant ears are raised, it signifies aggression and ensures protection. Since he’s with his elephants all day, he knows A-Z about these amazing creatures.
In Lanna architecture, if you observe carefully, you will notice that the wat rooftops aren’t completely balanced. “It’s because according to Buddhist philosophy, nothing or no one in the world is perfect,” Chanchai tells me. These are the tiny but valuable things I learn on tours. While we can research and explore by ourselves, joining a tour organized by a local expert teaches you many interesting details. As someone who’s born to Buddhist parents and studied Buddhism in school, I am versed with Buddhist philosophical teachings. But I did not know Buddha’s preaching about imperfection resembles in Thailand’s wat architecture.
Lanna food for lunch
My favorite part of the tour, or one of the two most favorite parts, was our Lanna style lunch. My LocalTable meal in Chiang Mai remains as one of my most cherished experiences during the 10-day trip to Thailand. Northern Thai cuisine is a world of its own. It’s far different from Thai food you’d find in Bangkok. It’s diverse, rich and bursts with flavors. The locals love pork, fresh vegetables and Lanna cuisine contains a little more oil. It’s often deep-fried. Khao Neow, sticky rice plays a major part in the up north and it’s often eaten with hands.
We had a feast and if I were to name the dish I loved the most, it has to be Larb Moo Kua. Larb here is minced pork: a mix of lean pork, offal and lard combined with a flavored sauce of pork blood and finely crushed spices. I also loved Sai Ua. It’s the northern Thai sausage. It comes with a punchy kick and is rich in spices and herbs. The northerners use lemongrass, ginger, red chili, turmeric, garlic, and fish sauce to enhance the flavor.
We also had Ruam Mit for dessert. It was a buffet style dessert at the restaurant. Ruam Mit is a mixture of many Thai dessert options in one serving. You basically serve Thap Thim Krop (water chestnuts coated in red coloring), tapioca pearls, sweet corn and other things you like into your little dessert bowl and cover them in Nam Ka Thik (sweet coconut milk) and ice. In Thai, Ruam is for “get together” and Mit is for “friends.” Now, isn’t that a really cute, fun way to name your desserts?
Never say goodbye!
In the end, we went to a cotton weaving center. The ladies at the center showed me how they make cotton clothes using old-style weaving machines. Everything is done by hand and it’s a field that requires a wealth of creative skills.
“Sri Lanka…Ohhh!,” I sat down for a little chat with two lovely women. We didn’t speak each other’s language. But sometimes, and by sometimes I meant most of the times, a simple smile goes a long way. A simple smile is all that it needs to connect with a stranger. I giggled though. Loudly. A happy, cheerful giggle.
After a dozen smiles and head nods, I told them “khob khun kha” (thank you).
“How to say goodbye in Thai?” I asked Nan and Chanchai.
“In Thai, we don’t say goodbye. Instead, we tell laew phop kan mai ka which means see you again,” Nan tells me.
“laew phop kan mai ka,” I left the cotton weaving factory that evening. Five days later, when a myriad of Bangkok city lights twinkled beneath the glassy window of my flight back home, I whispered the same.
Laew Phop Kan Mai Ka.
See you again, Thailand.
I was part of the LocalTable Campaign organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, TakeMeTour Thailand, Thai AirAsia and dtac, but all opinions are my own and entirely true. All pictures here, except for the food pictures, are captured by Nan of TakeMeTour. You can find her work here.