Asha and I have spent the last 15 days in Northern Thailand, mostly in Chiang Mai, about 700 km’s north of Bangkok. The town sits amongst Thailand’s tallest mountains – although we didnt realise this for the first few days, as the dry summer smoke-filled haze made them impossible to see.
We spent most of our time in Chiang Mai’s old city – a large area surrounded by a partial wall and moat – filled with streets full of backpacker bars and massage parlours, but also plenty of homes and schools and shops. The old city has an amazing array of back-lanes and alleyways full of hidden gems – cute cafes, lush gardens and many of the old city’s 300+ wats (or buddhist temples).
Our favourite thing to do in Chiang Mai was to ride around the old town on bicycles we had rented from our guest house, popping into a cafe for a coffee or beer when needed. There is plenty to discover in Chiang Mai’s old city, and in the late afternoon when the red sun is low in the sky, the time is ripe for a bit of exploring.
The Wats around Chiang Mai are amazing, and we hadn’t spent much time visiting them in other parts of the country (temple fatigue can be a killer), so we loved it here. The Wats blend in beautifully in the city, so that you dont really have to go out of your way to visit them. If you spend enough time exploring Chiang Mai, they will find you.
Most guesthouses, and a shop on every street, rents out bicycles, usually for about 40 baht a day. The sights in Chiang Mai are a bit spread out, and its a nice flat city to ride around – and renting a bike stops you having to haggle with tuk-tuk drivers for every trip.
As with all of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a place that comes alive at night. Outside the old city, the night-bazaar, worowat market and the restaurants along the river are all worth a visit or two. The weekend walking markets in the old town are amazing – hundreds of stalls selling crafts of higher quality and lower price than markets in Bangkok, due to the close proximity to the places where they are made.
We had two stays in Chiang Mai – firstly for 6 days, staying at Montrara Happy House, and then after a trip to Pai (which Asha will fill you in on), staying at the WangBurapa Grand Hotel with Cale and Bill.
We were really happy with both, but WangBurapa was the easy winner – a nice, new hotel with really comfy beds and a swimming pool. At this time of year, a swimming pool is a luxury very much appreciated.
Scottish Bill – a mining engineer who has seemingly worked in every country you would be scared to go to – was our first real buddy on this trip, whom we met on our trip up to Pai. Cale is one of our Melbourne friends, who had just finished a permaculture course down south. It was great to have some company for a week or two (not that we are getting sick of each other).
Weather wise, we really didn’t pick the best time of year to travel to this part of the world. For the last few weeks it has been mid to high 30’s everyday, and the air is full of smoke from farmers across the region burning off before the monsoonal rains arrive, making the sky a pale haze most of the time. But the temperature has barely been below 35 since we arrived in Thailand two months ago, and we seem pretty used to it now.
We had hoped to do a short massage course (a day or two) at the end of our stay, but I (Ryan) had to spend some time at the hospital getting some brain scans done after suffering a migraine in the mountains. Don’t worry – all the scans came back clear with no cause for concern. But we still had a fair few massages in Chiang Mai. Ryan managed to look totally ridiculous for all of them.
We did visit a dental clinic and have our teeth professionally cleaned. For western tourists, Thailand is a great country for dental work and, from what I hear, surgery. Dental work is a lot cheaper than at home, and seemingly of a equal standard. Our dentist even rode past us on his bicycle one night and gave us a big hello and a wave. Nice.
We also tried to go to see Thai boxing one night (Muay Thai) – however the scene that met us was more akin to a fight in a supermarket carpark, so we declined and went for a walk.
All in all, a city more relaxed than Bangkok, but still with plenty to keep you occupied. We would love to come back when the weather was a bit cooler, the fields a bit greener, and when the rivers have enough water for rafting. Eating in Chiang Mai was great – but I will do another blog post on that.