28 December 2002, Chiang Mai
We made our latest start of the entire trip, heading out in the late morning and following Tha Phae Road across the moat and out of the old city. We came to J.J. Cafe, a bakery/restaurant subsidiary of J.J. Bakery. There we had a leisurely brunch of muesli, yogurt, and fruit, along with a chocolate croissant each. We took our time with our tea and coffee, and we didn’t leave until around 11:30.
We headed back into the city and visited Wat Chiang Man, the oldest wat (temple) in Chiang Mai. They seemed to be very proud of their quartz and marble Buddhas, but when we went to see them we discovered that not only were they disappointingly small (although, in retrospect, I suppose it makes sense that at least the quartz Buddha wouldn’t be that big), they were enclosed in a small shrine that had two layers of bars, so we could hardly see the statues. More interesting was the chedi behind the main temple building—elephants are carved into the stone base and look as if they are supporting the chedi on their backs.
After relaxing for a while at the wat we went south into the center of the old city to the Si Phen Restaurant. LP had noted that there was no Roman script sign, but apparently they decided to put one up since then. We ordered the grilled chicken (listed on the menu as “roasted spire chicken”) and sticky rice, an Isan (NE Thailand) specialty that you eat with your hands, as well as some som tam (spicy green papaya salad, another Isan specialty). There were two prices listed on the menu for grilled chicken—30 baht and 50 baht—but there was no English text differentiating them. We figured they referred to different portion sizes, so we ordered the cheaper portion, expecting it to be smaller. It turns out that the portion sizes are the same, but the meat is different—dark meat is more expensive than white meat.
There is another wat across the street from the restaurant, so we spent some time there digesting our meal there. Then we took a rather long route back to the guesthouse and rested until 19:00, when we left for a Khan Toke dinner at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. Tickets were 270 baht per person at the guesthouse (the same price as listed in Lonely Planet), and a mini-bus was sent to pick us up.
The dinner portion lasted until around 21:00, and we were served Northern Thai cuisine. While we ate, a traditional Thai musical group played on a stage in the center of the room, and starting at around 20:00 a series of Thai dances were performed. At one point the dancers came out into the audience to bring people up on stage. One of the dancers, obviously bewitched by my dashing good looks (cough), held out her hand to me and invited me to join in. I turned several shades whiter than I already am and shook my head violently, which apparently got the message across. Hyunjin, however, took up the offer and did a pretty good job following along.
At 21:00 we moved to an outdoor area for a half-hour show that included a number of hill tribe dances. Most were ceremonial in nature, and thus not as flashy as the Thai dances, but the costumes were quite interesting. The brief description in LP does a pretty good job of summing up the experience: “a touristy affair, but well done.” I think it was well worth the 270 baht. My only complaint would be that we couldn’t understand a word of what the narrator/announcer said—she was speaking English, but she had a mind-bogglingly thick accent.
After arriving back at the guesthouse we decided to take a walk. Tha Phae Gate had been decorated for the New Year celebrations, and a comedy show was being performed on a stage there. From what I have seen of Thai comedy (on the TVs they have on buses, etc.), it mostly consists of people shouting at or hitting other people, as well as people falling down. It appears to be a very physical, some “low brow” type of comedy. Then again, I didn’t really see all that much, so maybe what I saw isn’t representative of the whole. Anyway, it was rather loud and giving me a headache, so we went down the street to a quiet bench by the moat and watched the rats and cockroaches scurry back and forth. Then we returned to the guesthouse and retired for the day.