Today was another one of those days out which manage to fill me with trepidation – a ‘Hire-a-Moped’ day that we had organised through our hotel. We awoke reasonably early, well as early as our aching bodies would allow after yesterday’s massage and then we popped out for a quick bite at the cafe round the corner from our hotel. Then our ‘hog’ was delivered and a fine looking thing it was but unfortunately it would not drive itself, no that was my job – gulp – and I would be up against the traffic of Chiang Mai which had already frightened me just to watch as a pedestrian and I would have my wife on the back. Moped Days always cause my heart to beat alarmingly fast – a) because the number of times I have ridden a motorised two wheel vehicle is still less than the numbers of fingers on both my hands, and b) because no-one here seems to pay any attention to the seemingly few road regulations and laws they have over here and the number of people on the road not paying attention is simply alarming.
Being Thailand’s second city the place is really busy but fortunately for us it was not too bad a ride first off possibly because my eyes were shut much of the time! We needed first to get out from the old town which was quite tricky in itself as you seem to hit one one-way system and then another but we managed to navigate both without getting killed – Hoorah! Our first destination was to be Bhuping Palace and once we got on the right road it was quite straightforward we just had to keep on the road – easy. We stopped at the first petrol station we came across to fill up and onwards we went with the minimum amount of fuss. My heart was still beating like crazy but I was almost quite enjoying myself – lol! We rode past the Uni and the Zoo and then it was the real test of my mastery over the machine and up the mountain, up the twisty and windy road. My nerves were starting to get the better of me and as we climbed it got mistier and mistier so I slowed to such an extent that even pushbikes were overtaking me but, after a quick toilet stop (my nerves!) along the way we finally had made it to the Palace!
Bhuping Palace is one of those places with loads of different names making it quite a task to find it using the phone map-app but we had made it and after parking up the moped and leaving it a glass of milk (!) in we went – simple. As it was a palace we needed to cover up a bit more as Royals do not like to see knees especially white English knees! So it was that we ended up in some quite natty gear to go and have a look around the place, Liz was sporting what looked like a top that a prisoner would wear – possibly before becoming a masseuse – and I had the biggest pants in Christendom, that gave MC Hammer’s pants a run for their money! They did make me feel quite the ‘man about town’ (or palace)!
The Palace was quite beautiful and took us back home somewhat as it had the air of a stately British home in that there was quite a large area covered by roses of many different colours, as they are considered quite exotic in Thailand! The place was really picturesque but as we wandered around, every now and again there was a downpour. Then we would take cover or get the ponchos on and by the time we had done this the rains had stopped again – doh! Anyhow we actually ended up walking round the palace and reservoir twice as Liz felt that she had not seen the palace the first time round, to be fair it was quite misty!
The palace itself was quite a normal building really nothing too fancy, back in Chang Mai we had seen bigger and brasher buildings – possibly the monarchy here are a little less showy which is quite nice really! The gardens had some amazingly colourful flowers which the camera never really did justice to and the jungle areas shrouded in mists looked very atmospheric. The tour of the place done we got changed back into our more usual clobber and we popped across the road to the little marketplace where there was a good selection of food but we did not actually feel very hungry so decided to continue to soldier on up the mountain to the hill tribe village to see if we could grab a bite there.
Getting to the hill tribe village was a bit easier said than done on our little moped as some of the potholes we were having to avoid were as deep as our moped … well almost! There were rolling mists as well meaning that in some places you could only just see your hand in front of your face let alone a pothole a couple of feet away – it was all a wee bit nervy! However when the mists did roll away then the views down from the mountain were brilliant, the scenery was lovely. No way we or rather I could look at the views whilst steering round the potholes though otherwise we would have been straight in them!
The ‘Hill Tribe village’ was not quite as rustic an experience as the name suggested, okay to be fair, it was up a Hill and the place was certainly was not as big as a town but Tribe … well there were a few too many television aerials and cars parked about the place for it to be all that I had expected but here we stopped for a bite and a very nice bite it was as well and whilst we sat and slurped on our soup, we also plotted on where to go next.
So it was that we set off towards Wat Doi Suthep with a stop along the way at a viewpoint for a photo opportunity. Once there we went up by the funicular and it was great because by this time the weather had brightened considerably meaning that the views of the city and the airport down below were very impressive. This place is revered as being one of the most sacred in Thailand so, as you can imagine, there were a lot of visitors but it was still excellent to wander round.
Wat Fact – the place was built to enshrine a piece of the shoulder bone of Buddha and the location of it was decided upon by a white elephant who carried the bone until it died – thus the place was chosen! It all seems a bit haphazard in these day of health and safety and planning regulations and the like but the elephant sure picked a prime spot. The White Elephant even has its own shrine and up here you can also see a copy of the Emerald Buddha. Most impressive of all though to my mind at least is the Golden Spire Stupa which is, as the name suggests, is pure golden and on a sunny day like today looks like it is radiating light, you have to see it!
After trudging round with the crowds though we decided to have a bit of a break with a cup of tea and whilst sitting we saw something even more strange and, possibly, more impressive – the Masked Tiler! Wat Fiction – now no-one knows who the Masked Tiler is, if person he truly be but he works on shrines and temples, righting the wrongs of previous tilers! They seek him here, they seek him there, with his golden trowel they seek him everywhere … . Well you get the idea don’t you?
We left the Wat via the staircase which is flanked by two Naga – colourful looking serpents which had a couple of colourful looking young ladies leaning against it. At the bottom we mounted our trusty steed and zipped off for a stop on the way home at Huay Kaew waterfall. Now as wonders of the world, this is definitely not up there but as a nice place to dip your toes in after the exertions of sightseeing – and before heading off back through the rush hours traffic – this is a top spot. The locals seem to just hang out here and I could see why, it was quite tranquil. This was a stark contrast to the journey home which was not so tranquil! Mopeds seemed to be coming at me from all directions but I managed to keep going and in those few places where I dare look, by golly I did so! After much nervous sweating and the odd gasp and stifled scream though we finally reached our little hotel though the trip had thoroughly exhausted me. I feel sure that I could eventually get used to riding moped over here I am just not so sure whether I would actually live that long!
We rested back at base for a while before venturing out once more to the night market. This is a lovely place to have an amble round, the food stalls smell great and the sights and sounds matched the food. The only fly in the ointment being that when we did grab a bite it took ages to be served, still it gave us plenty of time to indulge ourselves in one of our more favourite hobbies, a bout of serious people watching … lol!