Stop me if you’ve heard this song before. I love Chiang Mai! Surprised? Yeah, neither am I.
The minute I stepped out of the train station, I was confused. I couldn’t possibly have been in the right place. It was too quiet and more tropical than Bangkok. “Welcome to Chiang Mai” said the sign leading out to the paparazzi of taxi drivers. Serenity had come at last, and it became instantly clear why everyone loves it there.
My friend Naomi came out to visit Thailand for the week, and we decided to escape to the North for a few days. I was giddy to be back on my first overnight train since Russia. Although shady looking at first, it turned out to be a comfortable ride. So much that I think I’m starting to prefer overnight trains more than hostels. However, I could’ve done without the cabin crew walking by every 15 minutes asking if I wanted orange juice. “Me want sleep” was always my response.
When we arrived at what ended up being a reasonable morning hour, we went straight to the hotel to drop our bags off and spent our first day temple hopping. I won’t say that the architecture of all the temples is better than Europe, but it certainly is unique, ornate, and beautifully doused in color. One could marvel at the Buddha statues for day and remember to always remove your shoes. Closed our first day with a $5 pedicure for which my feet were overdue and a visit to the night bazaar which ended up being no different than the markets we encountered in Bangkok. At that point, I, personally, was growing tired of the markets and was ready for something different.
Note: We stayed at Eurana Boutique hotel which was a nice place. However, my three complaints are that the reception staff are some of the most unhelpful people I’ve met, the food at the hotel restaurant is awful, and we didn’t have hot water in our room. The last thing we needed was a cold shower after a day of rain. Just some things to be aware of if you stay there.
During our 4 short days in Chiang Mai, our diet consisted of of noodles, stir fry, curry, and exotic fruit smoothies. By exotic, I mean cannot be found in fresh forms in the United States. We’re talking pineapple, mango, papaya, lychee, passionfruit, and dragon fruit. On our last day, our “dessert for breakfast” meal turned out to be not so delightful. Naomi found an ant in her pancake which ended up leading to a loss of appetite on her part, but I managed to finish my omelet without complaint.
For such a short time, we managed to become regulars at the cafe across the street from the hotel known as Funky Dog. The couple who runs this cafe are super friendly and love talking to everyone who comes in to eat. As to be expected, everything on the menu is cheap and delicious, and by the end, we didn’t even need to look at it to know what we wanted.
And what’s a visit to Chiang Mai without a few day trips, hmm? We booked 2 tours, one of which was fantastic and the other ended up being a dud. Much like the cafes and salons, you’ll also be able to find travel agencies every other step you take, and they are more than eager to help you. The first tour we did included a visit to a butterfly and orchid farm, a trip to an elephant camp, hiking, swimming in a waterfall, and white water rafting. Riding elephants is something I swore I would never do on account of the mistreatment of the gentle creatures. I understand the image these places are trying to portray by saying the elephants would run off and ruin nearby farming areas if they weren’t chained up or hooked in the ear every time they didn’t listen to their trainers. How would you like it though if someone hit you with an iron hook when you misbehaved?
As for white water rafting, well that was really brown water rafting because the water is so dirty, and afterwards, I stubbed my toe/ripped a piece of skin off completely leaving me with a scar and a cool story to tell, I suppose.
The tour that turned out to be no bueno was the visit to Chiang Rai. It ended up being more driving than actual sight-seeing. The boat ride to Laos and a quick stop at the border of Myanmar were cool as was the White Temple. Other than that, the day had no real charm to it and wasn’t worth the money, but it was great to see different parts of the country during all of the hours in transit. For lunch, we ate a Thai buffet, and quite frankly that’s just the most dangerous thing ever. When a restaurant gives you unlimited access to a variety of culinary deliciousness, well that ain’t nothing but trouble.
Our last day in town was spent at a full day cooking class with Siam Rice Thai Cookery School where we cooked more than we were hungry for. More details coming in a future post. As delicious as everything was, my heart wasn’t in it, and I’m ashamed to admit I was a total debbie downer jerk the whole time. Anyway, got a free recipe book out of it so at least I can attempt to re-create some of the dishes at home. We had reserved the rest of the evening for a visit to Tiger Kingdom or the Night Safari, but due to poor planning, we ended up getting an hour long massage for $5 instead. And when I say every inch of my body got a massage, I mean EVERY INCH of my body got a massage. Take that for what you will, but it was relaxing.
After not understanding the appeal of Bangkok, I went from 0 to 60 with Chiang Mai. Everything is half as cheap as Bangkok, it’s more tourist friendly, there are massage parlors and cafes every 10 feet, it’s smaller and quieter, and the city contains a huge English-speaking expat community. Also, if you can’t find wifi, you must be lost in the woods because every restaurant, salon, etc. has internet.
I could easily be in paradise living in Chiang Mai for a month, and maybe, just maybe, one day I will.