16 days in Chiang Mai’s Old City

pedestal with the map of Chiang Mai’s old city on top

Chiang Mai’s “Old City” is the area, roughly 1.6 km by 1.6 km, surrounded by a moat and at one time walls. There’s not much left of the original walls, only the bastions on each corner and at remnants at the 5 gates. All look like they have been mostly restored, you know they look old but not as old as they should look according to how old they are supposed to be. Also some look too straight and symmetrical for that time period. Anyways, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city nestled in a valley next to the Ping River. Thailand’s highest peak is about an hour or so drive away which is one of the tourist attractions of Chiang Mai. It’s call Doi Inthanon if you’re interested in checking that out. I tried, it didn’t work out, more on that in my post entitled, Did I get scammed in Chiang Mai? Chiang Mai is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage candidate list has been granted the title of Creative City by UNESCO. Not really sure what that means, but it sounds cool.

So what is it that makes Chiang Mai such a hot tourist destination and blogger destination? I’m really not sure. Maybe its the cost of living being so low coupled with the adequate internet Wi-Fi service? Maybe its the allure of potential legal marijuana? The flower farmers were opium poppy farmers before so you know they have the know how to grow stuff. As for the tourists there are a ton of things to do in Chiang Mai from temple visiting to mountain hiking, a water park in a canyon, river rafting, atv riding and taking cooking classes, paintballing and zoos. Then there are tours on Segway’s, bicycles and mopeds/scooter in addition to the bus/van tours. If you’re not into tours, you can rent cars (need an international drivers license), mopeds/motorcycles, bicycles or those electric skateboard things with the handle. The more unique activities would be the elephant sanctuaries and tiger sanctuaries. I’ll let you decide for yourself whether they are “good or bad”. I personally don’t mind them if the animals look well treated but I never got around to going. What I’ve listed is probably only a drop in the bucket as to the amount of activities there are judging by the display of brochures I see in the shops. The reason why I went to Thailand, this trip, was because I needed some dental work done and I was informed that Thailand’s dental practices were top notch and inexpensive. I chose Chiang Mai over Bangkok because Chiang Mai was cheaper both in dental prices as well as accommodations. If you’re interested to know more, here’s my post about it, Dental Holiday in Chiang Mai. Wait what? SERIOUSLY?!?! Overall, I found Chiang Mai to be less ‘hustle bustle’ and less traffic than Bangkok but more “touristy”. What do I mean by that? Well, many Thai people in Chiang Mai, can speak Mandarin. I thought it was because of the amount of Chinese tourists at first until I was kind of forced on a hike (Details in my upcoming failed Doi Inthanon excursion), on which I had to pay for a local hills tribesman to guide me on, told me (in very broken, sporadic English) that people on the mountain speak Mandarin because of their proximity to the border. He tried explaining it in Mandarin to me but I can’t understand Mandarin. Although I tried to reason it out, I couldn’t. The northern borders of Thailand are Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, I didn’t think they spoke Mandarin there. Anyways, I was quite startled to be spoken to in Mandarin by customer service staff in many, many shops/restaurants I visited. Another indication of the large number of tourists are the sheer number of shops offering tour packages, it’s like there’s one every 10 shops as you walk down any street. If you’re interested to visit the Hills Tribes people, there are plenty of tours. The “Golden Triangle” tours will take you to the area/river delta where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. Don’t worry if English is your only language, I’ve found that speaking English in Chiang Mai isn’t an issue as everyone could understand me and for the most part I could understand them. The only time I had a language barrier was the time I had a tour guide, yup, I don’t understand that either.

Aside from the abundance of non Thai speakers everywhere, so are the local forms of transport, songthaews and tuk tuks. Songthaews are pickup trucks with the bed converted to benches on either side and a roof. The red ones service the general vicinity of the old city and the yellow ones travel further out, although you can hire a red one to take you wherever you want provided you can agree to terms on the price. I’ve also seen black ones and maroon colored ones, but have no clue where they go. Songthaews operate like shared taxis, anyone can flag one down, negotiate a price and hop on. Usually, the more riders, the cheaper the fare gets. Although all the red ones have $30 TBH fare written on the side in English, the rest of the wording is in Thai and I’d like to think it means minimum amount because every time I’ve flagged one to ride in the vicinity of the old city, the first amount the driver would say was $100 TBH. For some reason I was always flagged the empty ones. Note: I always check the price on Grab before I try to flag a songthaew, so if I can’t get a ride on a songthaew for significantly cheaper, I just book the Grab taxi. Having said that, I only rode the songthaew’s two times in the 16 days I was there. There were a few occasions when the songthaew was $20-$30 TBH cheaper than the Grab but I took the Grab anyways because I didn’t want to deal with the heat, sit on a bench in the back of an enclosed pickup truck (the small little side windows didn’t help much, and the exhaust smell ain’t that great either) and I got motion sickness the two times I rode in the songthaews plus it gets so tedious to negotiate a price every time. I tried taking the tuk tuk’s (motorized rickshaw) too, the motion sickness for me was not that bad, much more ventilation and the driver doesn’t stop to pick up passengers. Tuk tuk’s are usually more expensive than songthaews which puts them in the Grab taxi price range, unless you’re really far from the old city. You have to negotiate a price before you get in too. Thank goodness for Grab because while exploring on foot, I found myself in many places where I didn’t see any songthaews or tuk tuk’s around. If you do plan on using Grab keep in mind that you can’t use the funds in your Grab wallet to pay for your ride because it’s not available at the time of this writing. Almost forgot, there are metered taxis but the only place where I saw them was at the airport and only once, in town, that was dropping off tourists at a hotel.

Hailing a songthaew, then negotiating the fare with the driver.

View from the inside a songthaew

Neon lit Tuk Tuk’s available for hire

Metered taxi

Languages and transport aside, I found Chiang Mai to be abundant in artistic stuff like paintings, drawings, carvings, crafts. I even found some graffiti! There are many night markets that open up on the streets/sidewalks in different areas around Chiang Mai and they all start around 7pm and you can watch them start setting up around 6pm. You’ll find a lot of hand made stuff along with all the art stuff. The big nightly street market is the Night Bazaar which is East of Tha Phae Gate, lots of stuff to see there. There are a handful of vendors at Tha Phae Gate too but mainly just handmade souvenirs and an artist or two. On Saturday’s just outside the Chiang Mai Gate (also called Pratu Gate) is where, from what I was told, the silver smiths peddle their works. I went there once didn’t see much silver. Saw a lot of street food vendors though! If you’re into silver jewelry, there are plenty of shops all over the place, good prices too. On Sunday’s is the mother of all night markets. They close off streets within the Old City to facilitate this night market, it’s pretty awesome, I got to see it three times! Prices are low and then you can bargain if you so choose to, they kind of expect you to anyways. It gets really crowded but civilized. For the most part people try not to bump you and give an apologetic gesture if they do. The vendors aren’t pushy and genuinely nice, IMO. Never did I feel threatened or mobbed by a bunch of kids asking for money, nor were there homeless/less fortunate people sitting/lying around unlike Bangkok. Most of the less fortunate were actually trying to earn instead of beg by playing a musical instrument, dancing or singing.

Street artists selling his drawings in front of Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you’re into seeing/visiting temples, then Chiang Mai is for you. They have big ones, small ones, new ones, centuries old ones, and nationally recognized ones. It’s impossible, I think, to walk 10 minutes in any direction and not see one. After a week and a lot of walking, I thought I saw them all which I later learned was a mistake. One evening as I was returning from one of my walk abouts, the front desk clerk asked me how my trip was thus far. I told him it was awesome, I loved all the temples and stuff and now that I’ve seen them all, didn’t know else I should do. You should have seen the wide eyed look on his face as he said, “all 300?!” You should have seen the wide eyed look on my face as I said, “300?!?!” I think I visited maybe 30ish. In my defense, I was only looking at the ones with stupa’s and missed a lot of the smaller ones because I just didn’t see/notice them. So upon further “inspection” on my walk abouts, I don’t know if there really are 300 temples but there are a lot, some are really, really small as in just a small shack or two housing a statue or two and a space for prayer. Anyways, it became an adventure of sorts. Speaking of adventure, there is also an area where excavations have yielded ruins of temples. You can take a buggy ride, for a fee to visit them all or you can try to find them all by yourself. If you do try to find them all yourself, please, please don’t walk! I tried didn’t get very far, plus there are loose dogs (don’t know if they were wild or not), a lot of them not too friendly, had to fend a couple off with my tripod once. I did find a few pretty cool looking ruins though, made it worth it for me coupled with being able to see how the local people live because these ruins are scattered in residential areas (found horses in some yards too)! Wish I had more time to go back and take the buggy ride though. If you’re interested in that area, it’s called Wiang Kum Kam, I’ll make a separate post about it soon.

An ornate white and gold stupa with a cloudy blue sky in the background

Chiang Mai’s famous bar street has a lot of bars and happy ending massage shops (you can tell because you can’t really see into the shop and there are plenty of girls trying to entice you inside) on both sides of the street. The other massage shops that are on the up and up, in case you’re wondering, has people, usually female that just greet you or just smile and nod as you walk by. You can see into the shop and you’ll notice it’s an open area, many times not even curtains to separate the patrons. So you can be pretty sure there’s no “extras” in those. Back to the bars, on the weekdays, it’s really, really quiet like I’m one of 5 guys walking around and there aren’t many customers in the bars either, maybe 1 in 5 bars and the few bar girls around won’t even bother to look up. The weekends aren’t much better although there are more bar girls hanging out in front of their shops and more enthusiastic about trying to get patrons plus the music is louder. There are days when there’s Muaythai bouts held in the boxing ring which is located down this sort of alley lined with bars that opens up to a sort of cul de sac in which the boxing ring is in the middle surrounded by more bars. Those days make it more interesting although you have to pay an entrance fee but since some of the bars have a back entrance off a side street, you could enter those, buy a beer and sit close enough to see the action thereby skipping the entrance fee to see the fight. As much as I love beer, I didn’t see any bar that was interesting enough to drink in. It was much more fun sitting in a restaurant facing the street near Tha Phae Gate and watch the tourists or head into the Night Bazaa where there’s this area like a huge outdoor food court and beer stalls. Much, much more people here than on the bar street. They have live bands too which (I don’t mean this in a mean way) perform covers in the local style English which I found very weird yet interesting. Some people get up and dance when they hear their jam, so that’s fun to watch too.

Muaythai Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium.

There are (as far as I saw) 3 shopping malls, two modern ones with global brand name shops and one older, more local one. I went to one of the newer ones, called Central Festival, to extend my phone plan since the sim chip that I got from the airport was only good for 8 days (there’s one kiosk selling sim chips where the luggage belts are and one after you exit customs). Central Festival was pretty new looking and prices were not local prices, I checked out some camera gear and it’s pretty much the same price as in Singapore. The local mall, named Kad Suan Kaew, I literally just walked into it without knowing it at the end of one of my walk abouts. Most of the shops were closing up so I didn’t get to see much. The local shops prices looked reasonable, the recognizable, global brand names were the usual price so really nothing special about the shopping malls. I much prefer the street markets.

One of the newer shopping malls in Chiang Mai

Local style shopping mall in Chiang Mai

The more I think about it, the more I’m thinking that Chiang Mai is my favorite destination thus far I think Chiang Rai has something to do with it too. I’ll post a write up of Chiang Rai soon too. So consider following me for updates to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry. The only thing I have to “complain” about is that, to me (and don’t flame me for this) I found that in general, it’s all about the money in Chiang Mai. What I mean by this is when you’re going about paying for your songthaew/tuk tuk ride and don’t give exact change, don’t be surprised if they don’t give you your change unless you ask for it or remind them what the agreed upon fare was. I’ve had this happen when buying food or souvenirs from street vendors too. In the temples I found the sheer number of donation boxes somewhat of a let down. Some temples have an entrance fee too with different prices for locals and tourists. It’s my theory that your attire will have an impact on pricing as well and be aware of this in the shops that don’t have price tags on their items. Grab drivers may try to offer you their services for your other trips which is good, but the prices may not be. Best to know where you want to go and a general idea of how much it would cost via other modes of transport. Almost forgot, if you take pictures of locals who look dressed up in cultural garb, chances are they will ask you for money afterwards, especially the kids. If people offer to take your picture, they’ll ask for a tip afterwards. The amount of the tip they ask for depends on what they do to get  you a nice shot (more on this in a later post). Don’t be put off by this though, it’s just a part of life, I suppose and happen everywhere too.

I love Chiang Mai mural by the roadside at night

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A visit to the Mengwi Royal Temple

So on a dreary afternoon, we ventured to the Mengwi Royal Temple, also known as the Taman Ayun Temple in Bali, Indonesia. Other than being a huge and well landscaped complex, this temple complex hosts the altar reserved for the royalty of Mengwi. Some structures looked old but not ancient, while some looked quite modern, all looked well maintained.

Our driver dropped us off at the entrance to the temple and right away you can see the splendor of it all, not grandiose but rather a large, clean, minimalist complex with sparsely placed structures surrounded by plenty of space with a very well maintained landscape. At the ticket both we paid a nominal entrance fee and proceeded in. Our driver had mentioned that some temples require the usage of a sarong if your pants/skirt/shorts are above the knees some do not. This one did and provided the sarong for my daughters who were wearing shorts (I was informed by my older daughter that hers was a ‘skort’ not a shorts or skirt. I told her, “too bad, you still have to wear it”). What caught me by surprise is when my kids pointed out a sign that said something to the effect of “no entry if you’re on your menstrual cycle.” As if they’d check, I’d wondered as we walked away. Anyways, something to note, I can understand and respect the rule, just taken aback by the prominent sign I guess. I do recall some Buddhist temples having this rule as well. Something to be mindful of, I suppose, if you’re a believer and don’t want “bad karma”.

As we made our way in we had a toilet break and in the area was a snack shop and a rather large cock fighting ‘arena’. I’ve never seen one so legit looking but didn’t think it was still being used to fight roosters as they had placed mannequins inside the fighting area so you’d know exactly what this space is for. My hopes of it being non functional other than for offering a glimpse of historic cultural practices were kinda dashed when I saw a big cage with rooster in it. I couldn’t see everything as it was in an off limits to the public, tucked away in the back area enclosed by a tall bamboo fence. I supposed I shouldn’t have been surprised, as cock fighting is a part of many South East Asian cultures and this being the royal temple, it should be ‘fit for a king’, right?

Continuing on we came up to a big wall that had an elaborate entry point. I’m guessing this is the entry to the area where people go to pray, place offerings etc. I didn’t think it would be gated and locked, but it was. So to see this “main” section, you have to take the inclined path that leads around this wall. Not knowing what to expect, I still didn’t expect what we saw. Basically the front wall with the gate is the short side of one end of a rectangle wall structure. Directly behind these walls is a narrow moat, and within the moat is where all the altars, statues, trees and other things are. If I had to guess, this inner area is about the size of an ice hockey rink. The stone structures and carvings looked weathered and old but well maintained giving them a dated but not ancient look. At the back there’s an elevated area to get a better look. Here’s a couple shots:

Back behind the this main temple area is a vast park with a path that goes in and around it, with gazebo placed here and there. We didn’t have the time to walk the whole park nor did the weather allow us to (it started to rain at this point) so we headed towards some pavilions for some cover.

As we made our way to the exit/entrance we stopped to get some drinks at the gift shop. It was while looking around drinking water that I notice the rooster cage but also stone steps up to a gate. I decided to go check it out. the gate at the top of the steps was locked but you can see into the area quite easily. Maybe this is the ‘royal altars’?

Here’s a few images taken in around the Mengwi Temple complex:

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A couple hours at the Ceking Rice Terrace

We visited the Ceking Rice Terrace in Bali, Indonesia on our second day in Bali. Now I have to admit, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about going to a rice paddy farm. I mean, not having been to one before, how interesting could it be, right? Boy, am I happy to be wrong!

On the drive in, I began to see the beauty. The rice terrace was in sort of a large ravine, below street level. The golden rice plants really stood out from the surrounding greenery. As we neared the ‘tourist’ area, our driver rolled down the window and spoke with the ticket agent and told us the price, I wasn’t really paying attention, too busy looking for spots to take some photos but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t unreasonable (no one complained about it, haha). This area is just a long stretch of road with souvenir shops and eateries on both sides of the street. To get to the rice fields you had to find the staircase down and fortunately for us, our driver dropped us right in front of it. There was a small sign indicating the entrance but it could easily be missed because if you look down over the railing (in between the shop houses), you’ll just see more shops or eateries. Some have zig zagging paths downwards seemingly into the terrace but they could very easily lead you somewhere like a short rice paddy field or a plank suspended by two tall palm trees (that you can pay to swing on) or a hidden “coffee shop”. Oh, some have a “selfie spot” too so keep an eye out for those as well (they might ‘require’ a donation to use though).

It was starting to drizzle so we went into the shops to look at stuff. There were a lot of local arts and crafts on display as well as the usual touristy souvenirs. Our driver, again, indicated that this area is cheaper than in town and that we should bargain for better pricing. This area’s terraces were more green than gold so I decided to walk a couple blocks back the way we came in to take photos of the golden rice fields, as my family went shopping. At the check point, where we paid the entrance fee, is where the sidewalk ended so I was walking on the street for a bit. Not an issue as the drivers did very well to avoid hitting me. I noticed there were people who looked like tourists in these rice fields so there was an entrance somewhere but unsure of the weather and not wanting to go shot less,  I decided not to take any time to find it. I found a spot along the street, in a building under construction and began taking pictures (I asked the workers in there for permission first, of course). I got some shots I was happy with so i made my way back. At the check point, I just showed my ticket to the ‘guard’ who nodded and I walked back to meet my family. Here’s some shots:

The drizzling had stopped a bit earlier, so down we went zig zagging down the path until it started to get muddy and that pretty much ended our journey into the rice fields. I mean I could have kept going and take photos of other tourists, but i don’t find that fun. So we went to hang out at one of the coffee shops, we picked one that wasn’t crowded and they were more than happy to let me set up for some family shots, even helping me move a table and some chairs! My younger daughter started making a small fuss near the entrance while my older daughter was like “aww cooool!” so I walked over to check it out and saw this:

It may not look big in the photo but it was big enough that when I saw it, I said it was fake. The relief on my younger kid’s face didn’t last too long as the waitress started laughing and said it was real and that there were a lot below in the rice fields. That prompted my older daughter to want to find some but was reminded by my wife about her pretty white sandals. Darn it. So we sat back down and my kids started showing me the loot that they had scored and the “cool” shop that they have to go back to because they saw some other loot that they’ve decided that they were going back to buy.  I guess I should find comfort in the thought that they at least take the time to think about their purchases, sigh. Plus it all goes back to the local artists so it’s great!

Oh, before I forget, after going down the first flight of steps to the shops just below street level, then a short zig zag down a path to the actual start of the path into the rice terraces, there is a person sitting behind a makeshift table collecting a donation based entrance fee.  According to our driver, the rice farmers are paid by the shop keepers on the street to keep the farms going so this “by donation” entrance fee probably goes directly to the farmers. Overall, I had a good time at the Ceking Rice Terrace and am glad that I got to experience it. Sitting in a coffee shop with an ice cold local beer over looking the rice terrace offers a certain tranquility that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Well worth the trip, in our opinions! Here’s some shots from the coffee shop:

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A couple hours at Pura Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot, an ocean front Balinese Temple complex. What’s so special? Let me try to show you with some images I shot and by recounting my experience there.

As usual, I never seem to have enough time at the sites we plan to see. Maybe the place is just that awesome or I’m just too easily impressed, jury is still out on that. For our trip to Bali we chose a villa in the city of Seminyak and hired a driver to take us around. Since we landed in the morning and check-in was in the afternoon, we went to visit Pura Tanah Lot (Pura means temple in Balinese). After driving for what seemed like 45min or so we arrived at Tanah Lot. We paid the entrance fee at the car park entrance and proceeded in. After letting us alight at the entrance, our driver went to park the car and stayed with our bags.

Before you can get to the temples and altars, you have to walk through a plaza of shops and eateries, then a lane with more shops and eateries on either side. From what I could see the shops carry a variety of local made souvenir type items and some religious type bead jewelry. According our driver, prices here are cheaper than in town and we “must” bargain for better prices. We didn’t get a chance to try any of the food at Tanah Lot nor did we do any shopping because we decided to “see the site” first. A short 5 min walk down the lane and you’ll start to see intricate stone carvings of Balinese mythological beings and temple altars, which signals the start of the temple areas.

The time we went, mid morning/noon-ish, there weren’t too many people around, locals or tourists so it was a pleasant stroll around the premises. Surprisingly, to me, there were a lot of local photographers offering to take pictures of you, they are easily spotted as they tote around large, black, sling bags with the red ‘Canon’ logo on them. I’m not sure what the pricing is though as none of them came over to us (probably because they saw my camera and tripod). Anyways, the structures look old and weathered but not dilapidated nor antique/relic ish. the mythological stone carvings are brightly painted and look stunning as opposed to faded and peeling. The entire complex is basically litter free, a rarity in Asia, in my experience. Quite refreshing.

The “star of the show” at Tanah Lot is the the temple on top of this large rock. At the base of the rock is an altar within a shallow cave in which a few stone figures are displayed. There is also a spring of fresh water inside. Why is this peculiar? well, when it is high tide the rock is surrounded by ocean. When it’s low tide, you can walk right up to the altar. At the time we went, the tide was coming in. We did see people at the altar and a few brave people wading towards it. The water looked to be, at most, about knee high and it didn’t look to be too difficult a trek.  One of my daughters really wanted to go over for a look see while the other was a tad hesitant and the plan was for me to escort them one at a time. We walked up some stone stairs for a higher vantage point to view the temple and find a spot to set down our bags. So off came our socks and shoes. Thankfully, I had my typical travel attire on, t-shirt, hoodie, compression pants and track pants. So I pulled off the track pants and pulled my t-shirt as low as I could. With all my bits covered, I then put the rain cover on my ThinkTankPhoto, Speed Freak, waist bag. I can fit my Canon 7D2 with a 24-105 and my 5D2 with a 17-40, lenses and hoods attached! I mention all this because it is an awesome bag and my gear didn’t get wet at all! Read on for more details.

So off we went. No shoes definitely wasn’t a good idea but who wants to walk around in wet socks and shoes, right?. You can’t see what you’re stepping on and being a rocky sea floor it was uneven and sharp at some points with dips here and there that caused some balance issues. Plus the swash (the rush of water after a wave breaks) didn’t help. There are sure footed locals standing at various points between the shore and the altar giving you a general idea of where it’s most safe to walk but they didn’t really go out of their way to help. When we reached the altar, we were drenched from just below the waist. We didn’t account for how high the water would come up or how strong it would be after the waves broke. It didn’t look that bad from the shore!

At the altar, there were the local guides who show you where the fresh water spring is and you can take a sip from it. They will also ask you for a donation, quite um, enthusiastically. We made a donation and they subsequently squished rice on our foreheads and a put a plumeria flower in our hair, as a blessing. The stone carvings were quite eroded but you can still make out what they are. On either side of the altar is a way up to the temple. Both paths were gated shut when we were there so we couldn’t get all the way to the top. We did walk a bit up the path on the left to take some pictures before heading back. By the time we got to shore, we were drenched from belly/chest down. The local guides were very helpful on the way back we each had someone helping us back, which was awesome because the water had risen and felt more turbulent. Upon reaching the beach directly opposite the altar we noticed a cave and signage indicating that a “sacred snake” dwells in it, we looked in but didn’t see anything. We also didn’t venture in close enough for them to solicit donations either.

So we went back up the stairs to where my wife and younger daughter were waiting and still laughing at how ridiculous we looked getting to and from the altar and at how wet we were. It was at this point that my younger kid chickened out from making the journey to the altar. So I proceeded to take the rain sleeve off my waist pouch and SPLOOOSH a bunch of water splattered all over the place! I think we all gasped simultaneously. I opened up my waist bag and lo and behold, my gear was dry! The interior bottom was just slightly moist whereas the outside was wet. The water was trapped between the rain sleeve and the bag and for that long I would have expected my gear to be wet but nope, all dry! What a relief!

So off we went to explore the other areas, take pics and get dry. The premises is huge! We didn’t even get to the other side where there was another temple that, to me, looked really interesting! We had to leave to make our check in time but here’s a pic:

My wife and I found this place to be calming and serene, our daughters not so much, they did find it a nice place to visit though. I’d be very interested to come back during sunrise/sunset hours, I bet it’ll be even more picturesque.

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Victoria, BC – A place to remember and revisit

Victoria, British Columbia, what a beautiful city. I’m uncertain I have the words to describe how I feel about this awesomely peaceful yet vibrant city. I guess I’ll start with why I went there in the first place. Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia, Canada and Located on Vancouver Island, which is just a short but very scenic ferry’s ride from Vancouver, where I grew up.

So long story short, I met my wife during our stint at university in the USA, living in the foreign students dorm. I took her home (to Vancouver), we got married and had our honeymoon in Victoria. Now 20++ years later we’re back, with kids! It was awesome that my brothers could come along to reminisce about our childhood trips to Victoria, unfortunately not all the attractions were around this time and our trip was limited to a weekend. I put up a couple of posts about the places we did get to visit if you’re interested, Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Gardens. So why Victoria? My wife loves Victorian (the era) culture and history so naturally Victoria, BC was the place to take her as the Victorian ambiance is still very much preserved. They still have horse and buggy rides downtown in front of the Parliament buildings which the kids really, really wanted to ride until they got closer and noticed the smell, hahaha.

So after a pleasant highway drive we get to the city, traffic is light and sparse and parking was readily available. We took our usual tourist walk to see the harbour, the parliament buildings of British Columbia, the famous Empress Hotel, wax museum and Undersea Gardens and some shops in the area. So much has changed, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, after all it’s been 20+ years since we’ve been back but it was surprising nonetheless two instances stood out most. Now when it comes to making up stuff to tell the kids, I’m pretty good. So as I was telling my kids about the Provinces of Canada and the provincial shields from what I could remember from high school, my youngest says, “Dad, you said 10 provinces and 2 territories that’s 12 shields plus the big one for Canada, then what’s this one for?” She was pointing to a 14th shield, one I’ve never seen before or even heard of and I guess my loss of words and the “lost” look on my face gave me away because my eldest daughter says, “now we know how much attention daddy paid in class”. So I had to Google and the thirteenth shield is for the territory of Nanavut created by Canada in 1999, phew, way after my high school days. We all had a big laugh at that. The other big shocker was when I went to pay for some souvenirs and the total was like twenty dollars and 41 cents. So I paid in exact change and the teenage looking cashier picks up the penny and asks me, “what’s this?” I looked at him, he looked at me and I said “a penny”, he looked at me weirdly as I was probably looking at him weirdly so I took the penny to make sure it wasn’t some Asian coin that I didn’t filter out of my travel wallet properly, but no, it was a Canadian penny, so I gave it back and said “ya, one cent Canadian.” He says, “OH! Where did you get it from?” I said, “my pocket.” Again we exchanged ‘looks’. He asks again, in an accusatory voice “where’d you get it from?” I told him again, “my pocket but I can’t tell you exactly which shop I got it from!” I’m getting mad now and he pushes the penny back to me and says, “we don’t use those anymore, haven’t for a long time, we just round up or down to the closest nickel.” “Well, that’s news to me,” I said and pocketed the penny. My kids looked at me and I looked at them and shrugged. When I asked my brothers about it outside, they all burst out laughing and confirmed that pennies aren’t used anymore.

The Empress Hotel I remember was totally covered in ivy, as you can see (in the image above), it’s not anymore. I think it had more character when it was covered with ivy. Gone is the Wax Museum and Undersea Garden but we did manage to find some whale watching tour boats both large and small, some brick churches, totem poles and some First Nation landmarks (I love First Nation Arts and Culture). All this just walking around downtown Victoria with a limited amount of time. I think I would love to retire and live in Victoria, if I could ever afford to retire, lol. It’s not crowded, people are friendly, it’s spacious, not polluted, I can go on but I hope you get the picture. The only thing that wasn’t so great are the prices, they seemed on the high side but maybe that’s because we were in the tourist areas.

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Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

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