It is easy to get around Chiang Mai without a map. The city is bounded to the east by the Mae Ping River and to the west by imposing mountains dotted with ancient wats (Buddhist temples), one of which requires visitors to climb more than 300 steps. Although I've gazed at these hillside wats from the roof garden of my hotel, I have not yet gathered the courage to climb to them. Instead, I have spent the past couple of days exlploring the sois (back streets) of the central part of town. Old Town, the historic district of CM, is a perfect square surrounded by a moat and the crumbling remains of the ancient city wall. Beyond Old Town, CM ripples outward in surburban rings towards the mountains. Even the highways that circle the city are named "First Ring Road" and "Second Ring Road."
On the banks of the Mae Ping River, the flower weavers and arrangers have set up shop. Walking by this part of the river is particularly blissful, as the scent of so many gorgeous flowers permeates the air and drives away the ubiquitous motorcycle fumes. The area between Old Town and the river is also home to the largest markets and bazaars in town-- block upon sprawling block of dry goods and food vendors. My school nurse warned against eating uncooked foods, including fruit, but the piles of strange and attractive fruits at the market are too tantalizing to pass up!