First Impressions of Chiang Mai

Buddha Statue at Wat in Chiang Mai

First, here is some general information about Thailand:

The Thais believe that the country is shaped like an elephant’s head. Do you agree?

Impressions of Chiang Mai - Map of Thailand

Do you see the elephant?

If you’re having trouble, try to imagine the elephant’s head from the side. In this case the elephant is facing left. Can you see the trunk? Can you see the big floppy ear?

Here is the Thai flag. The red stands for the land and the people, the white for the Theravada Buddhism (more info on this below) and the blue represents the monarchy:

Impressions of Chiang Mai - Flag of Thailand

Tricolor flag of Thailand

The Thai currency is called “Baht” and all the bills have a picture of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand. He has been on the throne for more than 60 years, making him the longest-reigning current monarch in the world. This is an old picture of him as he is now in his 80’s.

Impressions of Chiang Mai - Thai Money

Thai currency is the Baht

Several religious groups are represented here including Christian, Jewish and Muslim, but the most common religion is Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, nearly 95% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist of the Theravada school. This picture was taken at one of the many temples (Wat) in Chiang Mai:

Impressions of Chiang Mai - Golden Buddha

Buddha statue

For this reason virtually every building, including banks, private residences, and hotels, have a little area for daily offering to Buddha. These can take many forms:

Thailand is also known at “the land of 1000 smiles”. We learned this on a poster in the Bangkok airport and as soon as we had interactions with Thais, we knew it was true. Even before leaving the airport we must have seen at least 100 smiles! These numerous smiles only continued, welcoming us to Chiang Mai. Look at the map again above. Can you find Chiang Mai? Hint: It’s in the Northwest.

There are several ways of getting around in Chiang Mai: walking, car, motorcycle (with up to 4 people on them), moped, tuk tuk and sawnghthaew. This is what a tuk tuk looks like. Depending on the driver and how far you are going it can cost anywhere from 50-150 baht ($1.60-$5):

Impressions of Chiang Mai - Tuk Tuk

One of the ubiquitous tuk-tuks

This is what a song thaew looks like. It only cost 30 baht per person ($1) and you tell the driver where you want to go. If most of the people on the bus are going in the same direction, they will pick you up; otherwise you can wait for another one. As there are so many of these local busses, it’s not a long wait.

We’ve discovered there are many kinds of bamboo. Can you believe this is just grass?

We were so happy to have found the post office yesterday. Look how civilized the whole process is:

Impressions of Chiang Mai - Thai Post - Take a Number

Rules posted in the postal office

We were so grateful for the bit of English on this sign. Here’s how it works: you take a number and sit down in the “waiting area” complete with air conditioning and a large TV. When your number is called you go up to the available counter and conduct your business. As you know we have travelled to many countries and sent many postcards and we must say that NEVER have we met friendlier postal employees as we did here in Chiang Mai!

So far, in our short time here in Thailand, we’ve learned some basic rules of social etiquette:

  1. Do not pat someone on the head, even children. The head is regarded as the highest part of the body, literally and figuratively, and touching someone else’s head is deemed extremely offensive.
  2. Do not point your feet towards anyone, or put your feet up on furniture. Contrary to the head, the feet are the lowest part of the body, and considered dirty. Walking around the streets in flip flops, they certainly are! Also, it is polite to take your shoes off when entering someone else’s home, business or at a temple.
  3. Do not touch or sit near monks. The very back seat of the bus, and the last row on public boats, are reserved for monks.
  4. It is illegal to step on money in Thailand as the king’s image is on all coins and bills.
  5. Thais greet each other with a “wai”, a prayer-like, palms-together gesture. The placement of the fingertips in relation to the facial features varies with the recipient’s social rank and age. Not yet fully understanding the intricacies of wai-ing people, we take the safe route, and place the tips of our fingers to our nose level and slightly bow our heads. Even Ronald McDonald does the “wai” when in Thailand!

    Impressions of Chiang Mai - Mindy with Ronald McDonald

    Mindy paying respects with Ronald McDonald

  6. Women say hello with “Sawadee Khaa” and men say “Sawadee Krap”. Sorry, fellas, but you need to say “krap” at the end of everything.
  7. Like in many other countries we’ve been to, you don’t flush the toilet paper. Instead, you place it in a small waste bin next to the toilet.

Every day we learn something new about our new home, and we love it!

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4 thoughts on “First Impressions of Chiang Mai

  1. Anonymous

    Wow. Very educational, informative. We were in Thailand 2 years ago but didn't learn all these things during our trip. Great blog post.
    –Allen

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