Let me start by saying that Chiang Mai was not what I expected (a smaller version of Bangkok), yet after a week I had grown to love it. Arriving weary eyed off the overnight train in a similar position as occurred in Bangkok; swamped with taxi and tuk tuk drivers, as well as a huge number of guest house owners vying for our custom. We agreed to get a lift into town to simply have a look at one of the guest-houses but decided that at 100B/night for 4 beds and two bathrooms, albeit with non flushing toilets we couldn’t complain. I was admittedly hesitant about the whole thing because I hate being swamped with offers but it turned out to be a great choice because it was a family owned guest house and all of the staff were more than happy to have a laugh with us and, more often than not – pay us out. The guest house itself (Libra Guest-house) was in one of the corners of the ‘old city’. The old city, as far as I can tell received its namesake due to the moat and walls surrounding it. Greater Chiang Mai extends well beyond these walls, some of which have been restored since it fell to invaders many years ago. Hiring a bicycle and exploring is definitely a good way to see the city and visit some of the temples, some of which have ‘Monk chat’ hours where an english speaking monk offers their time to talk about Buddhism to westerners. I didn’t get a chance to do this but if I stumble across another Monk chat I will definitely check it out.
One of the major attractions that draws tourists to the north of Thailand is the prospect of elephant trekking. I’m going to devote a whole other post to that so look out for that in a couple of days.
Our days in the city were filled with a number of activities such as visiting the zoo and aquarium to see the baby panda, which was as cute as anticipated. However the favorite had to be the adult panda which we watched for about half an hour sit on what looked like a wooden panda lounge eating. I’ve added the photo (below) so you can see what I mean. What I didn’t expect whilst walking around a zoo was to become an attraction myself. There were hundreds of school kids all staring, waving and practicing their english on the 4 white people in the park. One woman even came over and asked for her and her daughter to get a picture with me (and not the rest of our group, oddly enough). The rest of the zoo was, well, like any other zoo. However, seeing the quality of some of the habitats did make me appreciate a bit more of what is offered back home.
We spent a night at one of the endless number of “world class Muay Thai fights”. Endless because each morning, irrelevant of where you are someone will drop a flyer on your table for one of these aforementioned fights. I’m sure a lot of these fights are arranged for tourists’ pleasure (based on the crowd that was there) but it was still pretty incredible to see. I was also surprised at the amount of ceremony and respect that occurs before each fight. As each fighter enters the ring they walk to each corner and pay their respects as well as doing another type of dance (I’m not sure if dance is the right word, but it will have to do) as well. The fighters themselves didn’t look like anyone we would consider fighters in Australia – slight builds yet incredibly agile and able to jump and kick a man in the back of the head before you can blink.
The markets are another major highlight of Chiang Mai, especially the Sunday Market. Many of the city’s streets were blocked off for what has to be the largest market that I have ever seen. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera to take a photo but there was an innumerable amount of stalls selling all kinds of crafts, silks, clothing, food etc as well many different musical and dance acts. Some of the smaller local markets are host to many of the cooking schools in Chiang Mai who show the guests around the market and describing many of the different types of herbs and spices used in Thai cooking. The cooking school we went to did just this, followed by spending the rest of the day making (and eating) classic Thai menu items such as Pad Thai, massaman curry paste (followed by the actual curry), spring rolls as well as some soups and deserts. At the end of the day we went on our way with a rice whiskey shot and full stomachs.
There were a few big nights out where we stumbled across a few excellent bars. One of which is run by a very flamboyant expat American of whom we consumed all stocks of Southern Comfort and Jack Daniels before moving on to some of the other clubs. That big night resulted in me completely losing my voice – much to the amusement of the guest house owners, and anyone else who heard me try and speak.
Troubles or problems in Chiang Mai were few and far between, the only problem that I encountered was that I spent most of the time sick to some degree. Nothing major enough to hold me back from doing anything important, just coughs, sore throats and stomachs etc. All of which are easy enough to gesture at to a chemist. The problem I did have however is coming up with the righ gesture to purchase a laxative.
Overall, Chiang Mai was a wonderful place where we ended up staying a few days longer than expected because we weren’t quite ready to leave. The people are friendly, food is excellent, massages and motorbike hire are all cheap and whilst being Thailands second largest province besides Bangkok, you don’t get that big city feel. I’d definitely recommend spending a bit of time here (and the guesthouse we stayed at) to anyone travelling through the region.
*Once again sorry for lack of photos. Finding WiFi fast enough to upload photos is proving to be a challenge.