There’s a reason so many travelers love Chiang Mai. It has a little of everything for all different types of people. Hostels pop-up like weeds all over the city and range from 90THB ($3) to 3000+THB ($100+) a night. Every corner has a travel booking agency with activities like hiking nearby mountains, ATV rides through the jungle, elephant experiences and so many more. And then there’s the food. Chiang Mai is foodie heaven. The street food of Bangkok transforms here in the north to cheap gourmet restaurants and food stalls featured on the food network. After seven days both Athena and I felt like we could stay longer but figured we should move on as we’ll be coming back for Loi Krathong (the lantern festival) in late November. Still then here are a couple of my quick experiences in and around Chaing Mai.
The first few days were pretty tame due to a significant amount of rain. We walked around the “night bazaar” and explored parts of the old city, taking intermittent breaks for tea or fresh fruit juices during especially wet moments.
We stayed in the cheap backpacker area in the southwestern corner of the old city. We stayed at Diva guesthouse the first night and then off to their neighbor Julie’s, known for their pool table, cheap beers, and even cheaper rooms. Rooms were hot, showers were cold and the bed squeaked something fierce every time you rolled over. Slumming it for a bit but, hey, it was near things. On Sunday we went to the infamous Sunday night market which stretches down all of Rachadamnoen road in the old city. Vendor sell everything at competing prices so it’s a great place to get a deal on some souvenirs/gifts for family (no spoilers).
It was SOOOOO wet. I was remarkably disappointed as my brand new rain jacket bought from REI for the trip soaked through in about 30 minutes of rain and left me drenched. At least it’s warm rain so your just wet not cold.
Chiang Mai has its own set of well travelled temples throughout the city so we took a day and walked around checking out a few of them. Wat Chedi is an interesting combination of temple ruin and modern temples built up all around it.
After that we walked around a bit more and stopped for a coffee beverage at a place a fellow traveller had told us about called Ristr8o. While neither Athena nor I are huge coffee people we figured we had to try some considering how much coffee comes out of this part of the world.
The next day was interesting. I had a plantar wart on the bottom of my foot (I know lovely right) for about the past month that I had ignored and should have gotten taken care of before I left but after nitrogen freezing didn’t work I had ignored it. But now walking everyday and especially after my feet got soaked the night before it was hurting and I wasn’t sure how 9 more months of travel would go so we took another rainy day and walked over to Chiang Mai Ram hospital were I got, as Athena likes to point out, “elective surgery in Thailand”. A super easy and cheap process after an hour I was out of the hospital with a MUCH BIGGER THAN EXPECTED whole cut out of the bottom of my foot with a bunch of antibiotic cream to keep it clean. Also the hospital was pretty clean, just sayin. The doctor said it would probably take about 10 days to fully heal and we should just take it easy for a bit. In the long term I think 10 days of foot pain and slow days was better than 9 more months of babying it. (I’ll refrain from any pictures to help the squeamish, cuz it was GROSS)
Unfortunately now elephant adventures were of the table for a bit as I wouldn’t be tramping though mud anytime soon or really hiking much at all for a bit. Another easy day of good eats in the city and then the sun finally came out. Athena had a hankering for some passion fruit, and being that there were fruit shakes on every corner we figured there had to be a fruit market around. So we found the Muang Mai market just outside the old city. It was like a massive outdoor grocery store where people shopped by riding their scooters up to the stalls and there’s no such thing as refrigeration for meat. Oh and every kind of fruit you could ever think of.
We moved over to a classier $9 each, I know crazy expensive, hostel on the other side of town that was MUCH nicer. Even if I couldn’t walk in the mud I could still ride a motorbike so the next day we rented a scooter for 200thb and set off.
Our first stop was Tiger Kingdom! In essence a big tiger petting zoo you pay to get to hang out up close with tigers and play with them. Of course Athena’s ethical alarms were blaring but honestly the animals aren’t drugged up and the trainers aren’t aggressive or mean to them. That and now with the number of wild tigers drastically dwindling due to poaching and urban growth at least this is a place that they can still live. We got to hang with the big tigers, weighing in at around 450lbs, and some 5 month old baby white tigers. It was pretty awesome I’ve got to say.
After tigering for a bit we jumped back on our stead and headed up the ring road around Doi Suthep national park. We stopped for lunch at a small riverside “restaurant” that was tables practically in the river and run by the family that lived in the house attached to the “restaurant” kitchen. It was pretty good food.
We kept-a-going and the road was unbelievable. Even just on a 125cc scooter it was a blast. I know I need to rent a real bike next when we come back and do this road properly. The views were incredible all the way through going up over mountains with views of the lowlands below.
Back at the bottom we stopped by “the Grand Canyon”. With a name like that you have some high expectations but alas it was just an old sandstone quarry that’s been filled with water and houses a water park just 20 minutes out of the city.
On the way back to town we also stopped at Wat Umong, a cave wat and saw monks setting up for the big Buddha celebration that evening.
The next day we kept the bike and decided to head up to Wat Doi Suthep which overlooks the city from the mountain above. A nice ride up we stopped at a few overlooks but nothing compares to the view you get from the temple. Yet more gold and ornamentation the temples are slowly beginning to meld together. Here we got blessed by a monk which was a pretty awesome experience in itself.
After the Wat we continued up the mountain and down the other side to the Hmong hill tribe village. Here we got some lunch with a wild view and explored around a bit. We headed back up and originally had planned to take a back road all the way around the mountain and down the other side but it was closed for road work…or at least it was super sketchy so we turned back.
We stopped at Huay Kaew waterfall for a little hike and some cool pictures. Alas mid photo shoot I tipped my head up and my sunglasses fell off my head and I watched in slow motion as they fell to their death in the swirling waterfall below. Oops. Made it almost 2 weeks
We hiked up around the waterfall a bit more and found a cool view of the city. After that we got back on the bike and headed back down to the hostel.
After some chillage and meeting a few fellow wanderers we went out to get some food and I swung by the night market and got myself a pair of totally real, not at all fake, Chinese made ray-bans to replace my dead comrades. After an eneving stroll we returned and planned our trip up to Pai the next day.