This morning after breakfast, we went across the road to a shop which rents bikes for 50 bhat per day (that’s only $2!). We had pulled together a list of temples we wanted to visit and decided that cycling would be faster than walking and better value than constantly jumping in and out of a songthaew. It also turned out to be a great way to explore the city.
Our first stop was Wat Sri Suphan, a silver temple. The ride started off well as we cruised down a quiet back street, but once we came to the divided highway things became a little hairy. Rather than tackling it on our bikes, we jumped off and became pedestrians as we wove between traffic to get to the other side. Once over the man road, we slipped down another side street and jumped back on our bikes.
This temple was the complete opposite of Doi Suthep which we visited the day before. While the highlight of Doi Suthep is a large gold chedi, the distinguishing characteristic of Wat Sri Suphan is that it’s decorated in silver. The temple complex was reasonably large, with a smaller temple beside the main silver building. There were also some small buildings where monks were praying and religious amulets were available for sale.
One of the monks was quite an interesting character, bossing some ladies around for some sort of promotional photo. Victoria took a couple of photos for them, and at one point they were taking photos of us, presumably for an ad of some sort. After a few laughs we jumped back on our bikes to head to the next stop.
We followed the main road which runs along the south city wall until we came to the south west corner. The road we were riding on was about three lanes wide, and although there was an occasional bike sign there was no real bike lane. We felt reasonably safe though, because cars and motorbikes gave us a wide berth as they passed.
At the main intersection we jumped off and lifted the bikes up the high gutter onto the footpath. We weren’t feeling confident enough to navigate the intersection on our bikes. We had tried to find a route that stuck to back streets, but there was no way to avoid these roads and go from the south to the west.
Our next stop was Wat Suan Do, located in the western area of Chiang Mai. We actually pulled up at the wrong temple at first, finding a small building which was under construction. After clarifying with a monk, we went a little further down the road where we found it. The building was massive, but unlike the other temples we’d seen this one was open on the sides. There were several large buddha statues, and outside the temple was a group of white mausoleum where the ashes of the Chiang Mai royal family are interred.
It was a very sunny morning and we were starting to feel the heat. In the same area of Chiang Mai we had read about an ice cream shop with a shady garden. We hopped back on the bikes and cycled through the uni district to i-berry. We stopped there for about 20 minutes and relaxed in their shady garden with a refreshing chocolate green tea and rose apple icecream.
Refreshed and energised we were ready for our next temple. We were headed back to the old city, which we hoped would be easier cycling with smaller roads. Fortunately it’s pretty flat in Chiang Mai and a lot of the streets are one way which made riding a little easier because there was room for cars to pass us easily.
Wat Phra Singh was next on our list, one of two of Chiang Mai’s best known temples. Unlike the previous two temples, this one was more touristy with a small car park and souvenir stalls. There was also a small, 20 baht ($0.70) entry fee. It was worth visiting this temple because it’s so well known in Chiang Mai, but I felt like the previous two we had visited were a bit more spectacular.
We were pretty close to Elliebum at this point and the owner had recommended a nearby restaurant for lunch where they serve a local dish called khao so, a curry noodle soup. It was delicious, a bit similar to laksa. We also had a sausage which is local to Northern Thailand. It was a little bit spicy, served with shredded ginger. Overall it was a very yummy lunch.
The day was getting warmer and we felt like a break from riding and temples. We parked our bikes at Elliebum then found a cafe close by where we relaxed under the fans with an iced latte and a book. A couple of hours later we emerged, and the sun was a little lower and the wind had started blowing. It actually looked like it was going to rain, but it was just a bit overcast. We grabbed some French fries from a street vendor near Elliebum, then got back on our bikes for the last two temples.
First up was Chedi Luang, the other of the two most well known temples in Chiang Mai. This was probably one of my favourites for the day. At the front is a white building with golden panelling embedded with reflective blue and green fragments. This is the building which is used today. Inside was beautifully decorated in gold, with chandeliers and prayer ribbons hanging from the ceiling. There were three large buddha statues at the front, surrounded by many more smaller statues.
For me, the highlight of visiting Chedi Luang was the older chedi behind this building. Construction of the chedi began in the 14th century. In the 16th century a portion on top was damaged by earthquake. What remains is very impressive, towering over the other buildings in the complex. Each side has a large door containing a buddha, and the outside of two walls has large stone elephants jutting out. On a third was you can see where elephants used to be, however they are no longer there. The sky was clear when we visited and it was slightly cooler as the sun was starting to set. It was an amazing sight.
There was one last stop on our map after Chedi Luang – Wat Chiang Man. This is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. While not quite as impressive as Chedi Luang, this one was still worth a visit. Something that wasn’t as common in the other temples was coloured paintings around the interior walls. The temple was slightly smaller and the gardens looking a bit worn out. Still, it was a good way to round out our day of touring temples.
Concerned about cycling after dark, we made our way back to Elliebum and returned the bikes. We then caught a songthaew out towards the western area where we had delicious barbecue chicken and pork ribs for dinner. We had a whole small chicken, which was served with rice and various dipping sauces. A man was barbecuing the chickens out the front of the shop.
After dinner we found a cute little bar/cafe, called Birds Nest, just down the road and stopped for a couple of beers before making our way back to Elliebum, quite exhausted.