Chiang Mai skyline

This is the view from the cool tiled haven of our room in the great value guesthouse, Safe House.

In the old walled city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, the gold and mirror mosaics of the wat and chedi spires jostle for sky space with the bright scalloped reds of temple tiles, the rusting browns of water tanks and corrugated iron roofs, and the greys of untreated timber and asbestos roofing.

Threaded amongst them is the green of trees: papaws and flowering mangoes and wide spreading trees I cannot name, except for the sacred Bodhi tree with its heart-shaped leaves. This is the shape of the wind-catchers that hang below the small temple bells ting-tinging from the chests of the finial creatures I see everywhere.

I heard the bells tinging often; I brought one at the markets and now it hangs on my verandah, giving me tings that are pure Thailand for me.


I didn’t find out what they represent, but they seemed familiar; then I realised it was Michael Leunig’s Mr Curly I was thinking of, with no disrespect to either.

Safe House Court Guesthouse is at 178 Ratchapakhinai Road, very central, very clean, very cheap.  It has a good Thai restaurant in the tree-shaded front courtyard, and life was made much easier for us by the delightful Yo in reception, a knowledgeable and helpful young man with fluent English.

We also found it useful to be opposite a well-known landmark, Wat U Mong, for giving directions and thus getting home in tuk-tuks and sawng-thaews (open-air mini-cabs and ute-buses).

Rocks rule

As my mountain is not of sandstone, the sandstone ridges and gorges through which the Goulburn River meanders (when it isn’t rushing along in flood!) provided visual treats that no manmade sculptures could rival. The range was staggering.


Mighty boulders, long broken off, rolled far from their parent cliffs, rested at odd angles in a sea of grass, gathering lichen and inviting fancies of petrified creatures.

small cave

On the slopes, small and perfect grottoes, protected, glowing pure white or golden, offered shelter to wallabies.

big cave

Less common were the very large caves, stepped, sand-floored, roofed with intricate honeycombs of differing colours and materials – and these must have once offered shelter for humans.


And humans had been here. Elsewhere in the National Park there are apparently caves with Aboriginal paintings on the walls. There was evidence of later occupation, and typically, of greater impact.

Off a management track, an uphill offshoot, faint and overgrown, became an old wagon track, hewn – not blasted – out of the rock to reach the ridge and continue over the plateau to the next valley.

I hope that determined settler found the effort was worth it. The rock remains indifferent to that blip in its time.