I Heart Street Art | Chiangmai, Thailand

Found quite the collection of Street Art in Chiangmai, Thailand so far. There are also some galleries and lots of tattoo shops so I'd consider this a pretty creative city.

I guess I like street art so much because it challenges the traditional idea of art being hidden away in a gallery or museum and/or only accessible to a privileged few. It's often a healthy dose of civil disobedience and it's up to the artists themselves and the public to deem what is art, not just a few critics or curators. As long as it's not outright offensive, and especially if it has a good message behind it that can provoke thought and conversation, I like that street art is free and always available to the masses.

Many times, I prefer it to the 'modern art' (ex. a straight up piece of rope nailed to the wall) or rather homogenous antique paintings that I've seen in legit museums. Don't get me wrong, museums and galleries are cool too but you expect to see art when you go there. I like turning a corner and unexpectedly seeing a mural like "Oh hai! Here's a little eye candy for you. You're welcome." If I find a few murals here and there, it becomes like a little urban treasure hunt and I always try to find more! 

Thailand Temple Time: Part II

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

The border mountains with Burma

The border mountains with Burma

Thailand is the cleanest Asian country I’ve visited. (Well not counting Singapore which is almost sterile since everything is concrete or indoors.) In the past few countries, there is rubbish everywhere and people tend to put it in piles and burn it from time to time. Bleh - the smell of burning plastic is the worst. But not Thailand - they even have recycling! And I didn’t believe this at first but there are also people that make a living by going through the bright blue garbage bins and taking out anything that is recyclable as well.

Recycling makes me happy! 

Recycling makes me happy! 

I was surprised  that the traffic here is pretty much a parade of pick-up trucks. While waiting at a bus stop one day, I counted and there is literally about one sedan for every 20 trucks. Then at the other extreme lots of people buzz by on motorbikes as well. Maybe it’s just Fang but I just expected mostly motorbikes with some small cars mixed in and even tuk-tuks.

image source: thaizer.com

image source: thaizer.com

There are pictures of the royal family everywhere. On calendars in shops and restaurants, framed in the middle of street medians, on giant billboards. But most of them are not current and show especially the king in his much younger days. Not that I would have any reason to, but I’ve been told on multiple occasions not to insult the king as Thai people are very patriotic and hold their king in high regard.

THE TEMPLE TOUR

I thoroughly enjoyed the little temple tour that was arranged for us on Sunday. Oui, a Thai lay person that runs a canteen at the nearby school and helps out around the temple, drove us around in a truck to three very different temples north of Fang. The first was a traditional Chinese Buddhist temple which is not out of place since there’s a pretty significant population of them in Northern Thailand. It featured the traditional style architecture with the sloping roofs, lots of red and gold, paper lanterns and dragons draped over everything. There was also a ginormous Budai statue, or the Laughing/Fat Buddha that most people recognize in the West because they are always in Chinese restaurants and nail salons. Budai was a Chinese monk who was so well liked and admired that the Chinese consider him a Matrea or Future Buddha. Not the same at all as the original calm, cross-legged, meditating Buddha that lived in India 2500 years ago.

Budai 

Budai 

Chinese temple

Chinese temple

The second stop was an immaculate meditation retreat (open to Thai only) with a golden pagoda that you could see shining amongst the green mountains from far away. As we were driving up the last incline to the entrance, the left and right sides of the road were lined with adorable, lotus-shaped huts that house the resident nuns and guests. The circular temple was gorgeous inside and out and had a series of paintings of the Buddha’s life and legends on the inner walls and a lotus mural carved and painted all along the outer walls. In the center of the temple was a delicate looking glass structure that made me feel like I was looking at a scale model of the Emerald City from Oz. Strategically placed throughout the property was a collection of statues of Buddha, devas and nagas like an outdoor art gallery.

Golden pagoda

Golden pagoda

Mini Emerald City? 

Mini Emerald City? 

After this we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch and I had pad see ew - the closest thing they served to pad thai. It was basically big, flat noodles with veggies. I was craving a salty snack while they prepared my food so I perused the racks of potato chips that they had to offer - and even 90% of these were meat flavored! There was pork, shrimp, chickend and even cuttlefish flavored crackers or chips, along with like two regular potato flavors and one bag of Thai Cheetohs. I ended up skipping the junkfood appetizer.

Cuttlefish Crackers, anyone?

Cuttlefish Crackers, anyone?

Our last stop was an impressive, seven level Forest Temple that was about as close to the Burma border as you can get. The mountains to the west form a natural border with Burma and Graham even pointed out a military base in a clearing atop one of the peaks. I was probably way too excited to see a cat which was pretty scraggly looking and was missing an eye, but still… kitty!

Forest Temple Meditation Trail

Forest Temple Meditation Trail

There was an amazing little meditation path the wound through the woods and ended at a giant concrete ‘boat’ overlooking the Me Kok river. The panoramic views of the landscape were incredible from this vantage point. As we walked along the path, Graham told us that some of the older monks can recall the days when wild tigers and elephants used to roam the area but of course they have long since disappeared. The trees would be gone too if it wasn’t protected temple land, and even then some loggers still try to force their way in sometimes.

Wat Thaton

Wat Thaton

This is also the location of Wat Thaton, an impressive, rainbow colored temple that houses a variety of Buddhist relics, so it’s kind of like a museum too. There are even ornamental baby Buddhas outside. We took a break here before heading home and I indulged in ice cream, thai iced milk tea and had a cup of traditional hot tea.

FRIDAY FEELS

So many feels today! I decided to have lunch at the canteen that Oui and his wife manage at the school. Yesterday he invited me there for lunch and said his wife would cook me something vegetarian but I wasn’t feeling great yesterday so I just had toast here instead. Today I walked over at a quarter past 11 and all the monks were heading to lunch as well. Oui wasn’t there but his wife was and she was very cute and very pregnant. She offered me iced thai green tea which is very sweet and loaded with condensed milk. Then she cooked me a simple meal of some sort of greens and sprouts with sauce on a bed of rice. I covertly added my usual handful of peanuts for protein and flavor. (I always do this at alms breakfast as well.)

I sat by myself at the end of a picnic style wooden table. It was just like sitting in a cafeteria back home except the students were all boys with shaved heads, wearing bright orange uniforms. One monk cautiously walked past me and said hello. I responded “hello” enthusiastically and eventually he sat down at the table - as far away from me as possible on the other side, but still. He had pretty good English and I found out he was 18 and his name is Kon. After a few moments, another monk shyly approached, said hello and politely asked permission if he could sit across from me. “Yes, of course!” He was very eager to practice his English and was so honest that he admitted he was nervous to practice with me and that he needs to work on his confidence. I assured him that his English was very good. His name is Long and he is 17. He practices a lot because he wants to study English at University and I don’t blame him. It will definitely open up a lot more opportunities for him. The two boys were in the same class and they have been monks for 5 years.

By this time, it was time for them to go back to class so they excused themselves and I thanked them for talking with me. The temple gets plenty of guests but I doubt most of them interact with the monks so much. I really hope I gave those two kids some confidence after our little chat!

School for Monks

School for Monks

When I was finished with my meal, Oui’s wife offered to refill my tea and I asked her how much for lunch and she insisted it was free. I had a 100 baht note (about $3 USD) in my pocket and tried to hand it to her but she refused until I insisted she take it for the baby (in her tummy). She finally accepted it with a wide grin and I walked away with a smile, myself. It can be a bit intimidating being the totally obvious, odd person out but all the Thai people I’ve met so far are so nice so it really hasn’t been bad at all.

Another English-speaking monk actually added me on Facebook last week which I thought was a bit strange at first but then I thought they are just people that want to make connections like everyone else. I'm pretty sure he's going to University soon and may not even be a monk after that. Who knows? 

Longtail, our resident roadblock

Longtail, our resident roadblock

As of today everyone else is gone, even the coordinator, Graham (but he has a good excuse: he’s getting married.) So it’s just me and Longtail, our resident temple dog who I sometimes prefer to call Roadblock because she is always laying across one of the top stairs so that we have to step over her completely. She rarely moves - I think because the other dogs tend to bully her but she’s got it made and gets her own food and water and far more attention than all the others.

I'll be leaving on a mini bus to Changmai city on Sunday but I'm super thankful for this incredible, unique and inspiring experience. 

Viva Los Visas

The most time consuming and complicated part of this whole planning process are the visas. Every country has different costs and requirements and procedures and it's kind of like putting together a big puzzle. Again, a great resource for me was Visa HQ.com where you can easily find all the information you need and they can even take care of all of them for you, for a hefty fee. In my case, it would have pretty much doubled the cost of the visas themselves. However, I was able to take care of most of them myself, then left the really finicky one for India up to Visa HQ. (The following info only applies to US Citizens of course and currency is USD.) 

Australia
This one is easy. A tourist visa is $20 AUD and can be applied for online on the ETA website. With this visa, you can stay for up to 90 days at a time and re-entry is permitted within 365 days without needing a new one. I received one during my last trip in March, but I've renewed my passport since then and since my passport number changed, I had to apply for another one. But the turnaround is pretty quick, though and I had an approval email in my inbox in less than 24 hours. 

SIngapore
This one is even easier. No visa required for stays up to 90 days. All I have to do is book a flight! 

Sri Lanka
It's $30 for a double entry tourist e-visa up to 30 days, which is easily attainable online. I talked with my contact in the country since I'm going to be there slightly longer and she said I could easily get it extended there but it will cost between $60-$100 USD. 

India
This one was a particular pain for me since you have to apply for your visa within one month of arrival and I'll already be somewhere in Southeast Asia by then. I attempted to figure this all out on their website but it was super complicated so I just hired VisaHQ to take care of it. For a single entry tourist visa up to 30 days, the embassy fee was $60 and the service fee nearly doubled that cost at $49 but definitely worth it for the peace of mind. 

Indonesia
Also easy. You'll get a 30 day visa on arrival for $25. 

Thailand
Same as Indonesia, you can get a 30 day visa on arrival but I'm going to be there longer than that. My best option is to get the 60 day visa either through VisaHQ (for an additional $79) or at a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate. Luckily, there is a Royal Thai Consulate in Miami, however with very limited hours, so I completed all the paperwork and actually got approved for a six month visa for $80 (plus about $20 for a prepaid Fedex envelope so they could mail me back my passport since I was moving and wasn't able to drive back to Miami to pick it up.) I was only originally planning to stay in the country for six weeks but I had to get a six month visa since the visa starts from the day you get it approved (which was not mentioned anywhere on the Consulate website that I could find.)  So I guess I have a Plan B and can change my plans if necessary and fly to Thailand at any time in the next few months - but this probably won't happen. 

Cambodia
Easy enough to apply for a visa online for $40, but you have to apply within three months of arrival so I'll have to wait until September. I'm not too worried since I have a three month window. 

VIetnam
Also easy enough to acquire online via myvietnamvisa.com, which is actually a third party that will get you a pre-approval letter for $19.99 so that you are guaranteed a 30 day visa on arrival, which costs another $45 at the airport. You also have to provide 2 passport photos and fill out a form. 

The easiest thing it to just outsource all this work and mail my passport to VisaHQ but it would have cost me an additional $325 in service fees. I'd rather spend that money on some delicious street food or on temple tours. The basic takeaway here is that you'll have the least hassle by just staying in places for less than 30 days, but I'm being a little bit stubborn. Overall, I feel like you are punished for planning in advance when it comes to Visas and it's a bit of a Catch 22 because they want you to have all your flights and things booked before applying, but there's no point in booking travel somewhere if you don't get approved for your visa. Que sera sera.