Friday in Chiang Mai 2/16/2007

This was my last work day of the trip! My recital here in Chiang Mai was in the evening, and I had the day basically unscheduled, so I started leisurely without an alarm – had the best night’s sleep, by the way, of the whole trip! Some of these Asian hotels have a funny (to me anyway) set-up for bed linens – instead of a top sheet, they have a duvet. Makes more sense to me in a cold climate, because here it means you need to turn the A/C on quite cold to make the room chilly enough that you actually want a duvet! Seems a little silly, but if the room is cold enough, it works quite nicely.

Anyway, after a leisurely start to my morning, I went exploring. Hired a tuk-tuk (those noisy 3-wheeled motercarts that are the most common ‘taxi’ here) to take me to several of the temples in the city. First Wat Chedi Luang, built in 1401, a huge 90-meter talll pagoda, but it was toppled in a big earthquake 150 years later. Never rebuilt, but the ruins are still quite impressive and rather lovely.

Then to Wat Phra Singh, the largest temple complex in the city. I loved the setting of this one, with many trees and palms between and around the various temple buildings, and the hills as a backdrop. Made it seem quite remote from the city, even though it is in the city’s heart. The wooden temple buildings are beautiful, ornately decorated in gold, colored mirrored glass, and acrving. Also beautiful is the lacquer work inside many of the temple buildings. I don’t understand exactly how things work at these Wats; there will be a large main temple building, but also smaller buildings that are also temples with Buddhas for worship; I don’t know who is supposed to go where, or if it matters. In any case, the architecture is wonderful, and the setting as well.

Last stop, Wat Suan Dok, outside the old city walls but well within the modern city limits. The main temple here is a huge open building – that is, a roof but no walls. I wasn’t so impressed with this building, except that decoration of the front was gorgeiously done in wood carving and gold. The grounds of this temple have probably hundreds of white chedis, small structures with variations on dome shapes, each built to honor a departed person. In this case, the chedis are for members of the royal family of Chiang Mai, which was an independent kingdom for hundreds of years. Quite lovely. And there’s a huge gold chedi for Buddha, which supposedly has 8 relics of Buddha inside.

When I thought I was done here, my tuk-tuk driver took me to a smaller temple down the road which was also part of the complex – a really exquisite small structure with a beautiful interior. My driver sttopped there to pray, I stopped just to admire.

Then back to the hotel. Our route took us around the city walls. I should explain that Chiang Mai is an old walled city. Founded in 1286, it was often under attack from some competing kingdom or another (mainly Burma or Siam). So the original city was surrounded by a thick brick wall and a moat. Many portions of the wall still stand, and the moat has recently been restored, which gives the old city a real feudal feel. There are only a few ‘gates’ into the old part of the city even today; you have to drive around the city just outside the moat to get to a point of entry. Today, the moat has fountains in some places. And the crumbling brick walls are charming.

Back at my hotel, I went to a nearby restaurant for lunch; then to the American University Alumni Institute to practice in the recital hall – the university suggested having my recital here, since it’s right in the old city and easier for people to attend. The setting is lovely, with old Thai buildings around a garden area; the hall isn’t fancy, but the wood walls and floor provide really nice acoustics. The piano is a very responsive Yamaha grand – a bit boomy in the bass, but I liked working with the piano in general. It was freshly tuned – the tuner just finished at noon – and it sounded great when I started working. Unfortunately, by the time I had played through Haydn and Schubert it was already going out of tune! This climate is murder on instruments, especially because there’s a tendency to let the rooms be warm except when an event is going on. In this case, they turned on the AC only 30 minutes before my performance began, so of course the humidity and temp are fluctuating wildly. Poor piano! Anyway, I had a good practice session, and then walked back down to the main street. Stopped at a little street market along the way, and found several things I hadn’t seen at the night market, including the famous Chiang Mai parasols, embroidery and piecework that I’d wanted to see. So that was very productive! Then a tuk-tuk back to my hotel for a little down time before the concert.

Recitals here start pretty early – 7:30. Had a nice sized audience, almost entirely Westerners, but these are the concert-goers of Chiang Mai, and Bennett Lerner has done a good job of educating them so most of them even cope with contemporary music well. Between the warm feelings from the audience, and the nice room acoustics, I was able to overlook the out-of-tune piano and played really well – my best performance of the trip, which pleased me. Just before curtain Bennett asked me what I had in mind for an encore, which I hadn’t even thought about, much less practiced anything, but I was able to pull a Schubert Impromptu out of my hat and that was a nice ending to the evening. Dinner afterwards with Bennett and a couple of his friends – very pleasant.

Saturday is play day, and I’m off to ride elephants, raft in the river, see tribal villages, etc. It will probably be a couple of days before I write another journal email, as my schedule is going to be tight.

Love to all,


Last updated 12/07. Copyright 2007 by Richard C. Morenus. Questions? Send email to