December may just be the best season to avoid the heat in Chiang Mai. Temperatures typically hover around 30°C in the day and 20 at night, which is as good as it gets here. With Day 1 spent away in Chiang Rai, we were down to four days in the city. Thankfully, there was plenty else to do.
Temples visiting was a given. If you have never been to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, you have never been to Chiang Mai, so say the locals. And so we took a songtaew up the steep mountains and arrived at the stairs towards the pagodas, a sight worth every of the 309 steps.
This is a sacred site to the Thais, and is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimage spots for Buddhists. It has the scale to show for it. Awash in royal gold, the temples and shrines are pure displays of grandeur and magnificence.
Looking for a starting point to Chiang Mai was indeed a daunting task, with an impressive 300 Buddhist temples lining the streets of the capital. The place thrives on tradition, instilling a rare sense of calm and peace in its visitors – a stark contrast to the modern bustle of Bangkok.
Research led my sister and I on a day tour towards Thailand’s northernmost city, Chiang Rai. Tour pictures flaunted its most well-known temple, covered in a breathtaking blanket of white. Turns out, real life did live up to fantasy. As though shrouded in snow, Wat Rong Khun (also known as the White Temple) was as beautiful as one might imagine.
Construction began only back in 1997, when artist Chalermchai Kositpipat had painstakingly designed and constructed the artistic site with his own funding. And his work is barely done. The already grand architecture is still a work-in-progress, and will be till the year of 2070.
Last week, I was away from home, jaunting through the busy streets of Bangkok. Strangely enough, this was my first visit to the Thai capital, despite it being a crazy-popular tourist destination and a mere two-hour flight away. Singapore already has me complaining about the permanent summer to no end. What more for a city that averages a good 32 degree Celsius?
But the weekend all turned out better than I expected. A cap came in very handy, and it even rained heavily on Day 2. When the sun did shine, there were tons to do. Mostly, we trawled the many stalls for street food like pork skewers and Pad Thai, which were somewhat worth the scorching heat.
Well, somewhat. A huge part of me was still averse to the sensory overload, typical of many Asian cities. Massive crowds met the unending traffic of pink taxis and green tuk-tuks, particularly during the evening rush.
Our first morning back in Edinburgh, from the Scottish Highlands tour, began with an authentically Scottish breakfast at a Bella Italia. The server sang his way into the kitchen and returned with two plates of mushrooms and eggs, complete with tasty haggis and square sausages.
Full and satisfied, we left the café to the greetings of clear skies. The sun was out – lucky us – and it was finally beginning to feel like summer in the city. Perfect weather in sight, we had just one plan in mind: to hike the famed Arthur’s Seat.
Salisbury Crags proved mildly trying for a first-time hiker like myself. (Hey, to be fair, the tallest spot in Singapore is a 163-metre hill… which I had never climbed.)
There is a scene in That 70s Show, where the gang listens to a playback of their ‘clever’ conversations in the basement and realises the truth: they sound completely inane. Life with my sister feels just like that. One episode of our constant sitcom unfolded on the overnight train from London to Edinburgh. We sat on our beds in the tiny cabin, with a sealed window at its side. Alysa started inspecting our four-walled room.
“Is there ventilation?”, she – a frequent flyer – questioned earnestly. “Can we breathe in here?”
“You will not suffocate, Ma’am,” the train attendant replied with care, perhaps suspicious of candid cameras, before he volunteered a tour of the ventilation vents.
With the certainty that I would be mocking her for months to come, we made it to Scotland without further hopeless inquisition. My patience was rewarded the moment we set foot on Princes Street.
I fell in love with Edinburgh. It was like stepping into two places at once: A museum of artefacts unchanged by time, and a glimpse of a future apprised by rich history.