Chiang-Mai… a city thats likely to be on the list for all tourists and travellers who make their way to Thailand, and we where no different. The second biggest city in the country has managed to avoid the frenzied feel of Bangkok, and instead has a more laid back approach to life, with students and expats soaking up an alternative lifestyle of yoga, meditation and massage with a lot of organic smoothies thrown in to aid digestion… I guess you could describe it as Bangkok’s little Hippie sibling.
The city centres around its old town which still retains its original moat, walls and gates, then radiates out to the newer more sleek downtown. Most visitors (including us) head to the old town to find accommodation and join the multitude of baggy thai fishermen trousered- dreadlocked sporting travellers in guesthouses on the small sois’ close to the main temples. We stayed in a nice, clean and cheap guesthouse called CM Bluehouse… if your in the area check it out.
Handily the guesthouse is set close to some of Chiang Mai’s extensive number of famous temples, and after donning our thai fisherman trousers, we set off to explore. Wat Phra Singh is especially golden and impressive (thats coming from a pair who have already seen their fair share of golden and impressive buddhas, chedis and temples) and also sported several wax work monks, which can very realistic and mildly creepy! (if you read this blog regularly it won’t be hard to guess who gets creeped out by these). You can also go for ‘monk chat’, where a monk can practice his english and you can ask him questions…One of the suggested topics on the sign was ‘anything’ but we still drew a blank on what to say, so politely declined. Wat Phra That Di Suphet, probably the most famous temple in chaing-mai took a little bit of getting to but offered great panoramic views of the city and beyond from its position at the top of the nearest mountain. The golden stupa is surrounded by pilgrims and tourists, who ring the bells for good luck- creating and interesting and noisy atmosphere.
True to form we spent our first night in the city hunting for some tasty street food, and headed towards the north gate market, based on a tip off for some good food stalls. While waiting to meet our ‘bus friends’, Camilla and Gladys, at the north gate, we once again managed to find ourselves loitering by some armed militia who where manning all the gates around the city, however their main job seemed to be posing for tourist photos, rather than suppressing any uprisings… but still we couldn’t find Camilla and Gladys quick enough. Now reunited we headed to the busiest stall (little street food tip for you, always go to the busy stalls, they are busy for a reason… you can have that for free), This stall was manned by a lady sporting a cowboy hat serving up what looked to be some, fairly common pork and rice. Little did we know that this was the pork and rice dish to end all pork and rice dishes. Beautifully tender and succulent stewed pork, served with soft fluffy rice, pickled mustard greens and a perfectly soft boiled egg… all slathered in a tangy chilly sauce… So good I ate the whole plate in about 60 seconds.
With our tummy’s full and the rain starting to fall we headed for the live music we could hear from across the moat and ended up at the North Gate Jazz Co-op bar. We had just stumbled across the coolest, hipster filled place in town. It was so busy people were pulling up to sit on their mopeds on the street to hear the excellent live jazz music, with presumably Thailands best bass player taking centre stage!
Not content with just eating the food we also decided to cook it, and took our second cooking course of the trip at Baan Thai cooking school. Cooking classes are a bit of a must do while in Chiang Mai, and though not quite as amazing as Time For Lime in Ko Lanta, it was still fun to chop, fry and importantly eat our way through some authentic thai dishes. The cashew chicken dish I think was my favourite, so friends and family watch out for an attempted recreation.
Another major draw of our quick trip to Chiang Mai was to meet up with our bestie Britt, who you may remember from previous posts from indonesia and malaysia. True to form she didn’t disappoint arriving and immediately suggesting we go to see a lady boy cabaret show that night…well of course we couldn’t say no and had been wanting to see one since getting to thailand. The show did not disappoint…camp costumes, bad lip sinking and crazy dance routines, at one point it even had Britt crying. Best of all, it was totally free…you just had to buy a drink.
After the cabaret show we were faced with the slight problem of the strictly imposed curfew in Chiang Mai, presumably due to the large student population and local support for the ousted red shirt party. As it reached 11.30pm we looked for somewhere for one more beverage and found a small place still open who agreed we could it. Then a very bazaar bar experience followed…they closed the shutters, turned out almost all the lights and said we had to whisper! It really did feel like we were breaking the rules and after our alloted one drink we were asked to leave, not before they had checked the coast was clear. Ironically the curfew was lifted the very next day!
Our last few hours in Chiang Mai were spent having a cheap and lovely massage, researching the border crossing through Maesot and eating home made pasta (not by us tho). It was our last chance for western food for a long while and it was a pretty amazing farewell to Thailand and more importantly our friend Britt, who we wont see again on this adventure…but hey, maybe on the next one.
Over and out faithful readers!
P.S. You may have remarked earlier that we mentioned the rain… well the downpours are getting worse as we get into monsoon season with August being the pinnacle. This forced us to slightly rethink our loose route plan through asia, and after a quick think about how the infrastructure of Thailand would fare compared to some of the other countries we would potentially visit during the rainy season, it was quite clear that we should see those other countries before the rain got to bad, and we could potentially get stuck…. so here we are in Myanmar! One of the massive advantages of travelling slow and without airplanes to catch…you can just alter your route!
But more on that next time!