(22nd April – 6th May 2015)
Chiang Mai is a place where I have been wanting to go for ages. It’s in the (slightly) cooler north of Thailand.
When I lived in Surin a group of teachers from my internship went for a long weekend, but I joined another group to an island called Koh Chang.
When I had finished my travels in Vietnam, in December 2013, I had a flight booked back to Thailand so that I had time to visit Chiang Mai before flying home to Scotland, but I loved Vietnam so much that I didn’t take the flight, and traveled back to Bangkok overland instead.
Now, when planning this trip, I have made absolutely sure I have time to go!
And here was the time.
I had looked through my options of getting there from Bangkok – train, bus or plane?
The cost of a flight was outside of my budget really.
The train sounded fun, I like train journeys and it’s overnight meaning I would save on the cost of accommodation, though still quite expensive for me, and I would have had to book the sleeper a week before hand.
I’ve heard things about the tourist buses in Thailand. They pick you up from the main tourist market/pub street – Ko San Road. Your bags go underneath, as on the majority of the long distance buses, but what you don’t see is someone going in there with them. There are so many stories about people’s bags being raked through while they are travelling and unawares of what is happening.
The choice seemed clear to me. I wasn’t going to fly. I wasn’t getting the overnight train and I most definitely wasn’t getting a tourist bus out of Ko San Road.
I headed to the northern bus station (Mo Chit) by sky train and taxi, and bought a ticket on a government bus to Chiang Mai. I had a little while before it left, so amused myself with a large sized bubble tea and my book (I was reading Daughter of the Ganges by Asha Miro at the time).
The bus took around ten hours to Chiang Mai. I and the front seat on the top deck so had my feet up the whole way. They gave me snacks and came round every couple of hours with a glass of pepsi (or some fizzy green stuff).
My hostel was situated in the old city. I checked in then went to find some dinner. When I came back there were people chatting in the dorm. I got on really well with the girl who had also arrived that day, so we decided that we would check out the sites of Chiang Mai the following morning.
We looked at the biggest temple: Wat Phra Singh first. I had made sure to have my legs covered that day, and brought a light sweatshirt to wear to cover my shoulders when inside.
In the main building were lots of monks chanting, some as young as maybe eight years old. We weren’t sure what was appropriate to do, so we knelt on the floor like the locals. Once the monks were finished chanting they were given their food. I’m told they only eat one meal a day, before eleven in the morning. There was another building within the temple complex where some Chinese tourists were (very stereotypically) pushing their cameras into meditating monks faces. It was so awkward that I couldn’t bear to watch, until my friend told me that they were wax works! They were very realistic though.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the old city. We found a bizarre row of shops on the edge of the old city full of pets. The animals included miniature dormouse, albino hedgehogs (and normal ones), turtles that were about the size of your thumbnail, and some really cute (but sad and thirsty) bunnies.
I also found a place that had a meditation class that night… One a week, so I was lucky I found it that day! The class wasn’t very relaxing. My back was really sore and I couldn’t get comfortable, adding that to the massive thunder and lightening storm, no power, water running through the ceiling and the window screens banging loudly it wasn’t that relaxing.
No, I wasn’t locked in jail! Chang Mai has become famous for the massages in the woman’s prison. It’s part of their rehabilitation program and now very popular among tourists. In fact so popular you can’t book a slot. It’s first come first served, and so you can only guarantee a massage there if you turn up at 8am. We didn’t know this and went mid afternoon.
A kind guy there (just another tourist, not a guard or anything) told us that there was a place run by ex-prisoners just five minutes walk up the road. The ladies there were so lovely and friendly, it was almost impossible to imagine them as jail birds. They gave me such a great foot massage! I have a weird curiosity about prisons, which has probably stemmed from watching Prison Break and Orange Is The New Black, and reading the book Marching Powder. Meeting and talking to the ladies made me wonder what they’d done… I didn’t dare ask though!
The next day I did a cooking class! It was so much fun. I LOVE THAI FOOD.
I made: Green Curry, Tom Yum Soup, Stir Fried Minced Pork with Holy Basil, Pad Thai, Savoury Minced Chicken Salad and finally Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango.
I left feeling totally full and very satisfied. If any of you want me to make you a Thai meal, I’m totally willing!
The day after the two of us went on a two day trek, with a group. First of all we had to drive for an hour or two out of town and into the hills. After a lunch of pad thai with a local family in their yard we began our trek.
We walked along a road and followed it along the side of a hill and upward toward a lychee farm. From there we followed a path through cabbage fields and into a bamboo forest. It was really hard work. A very steep climb, straight upwards. It got to a point where I met the group resting, and I asked how much further of that steepness there was. I told the guide I couldn’t do it – even experienced hikers were finding it difficult. He laughed at me, and told me either I carried on or took a motorbike to the village where we were staying that night. I gave up at that point and took the motorbike. It was the easy option I know, but still only a couple of weeks on from my food poisoning I didn’t have much energy.
Fast forward to the homestay in the village on top of the mountains and I’d been sitting there watching the home stay kids playing in the hammock and looking at the view.
I had decided that taking my book on the trek was unnecessary because I wouldn’t read it – little had I know I’d been sitting waiting with nothing to do! I took a shower and then it started to rain – or more like pour. As the rain began it occurred to me that the rest of my group were still walking and would be soaked. As the thought crossed my mind they came round the corner and into the shelter. What good timing that was!
The storm last for a long time and was so bad that we were all asked to switch any electronics off. Dinner was delayed in the kitchen was hit by lightening causing a big fire. We were all starving by the time the storm stopped and dinner was on the table! We had a few drinks and then people made their ways to bed in the barn like building which had been divided into rooms with wooden walls. We slept on mats, which got soaked during the night from another storm.
The following day we walked for maybe four or five hours. We walked up and down hills, through lush jungle and bamboo forests. We crossed little streams and swam in a waterfall. After lunch my friend and I split from the group we were with (some of them were doing a three day trek, and some were going elephant riding a we were doing neither). We joined up with the one day trek group and walked through a village where we picked fresh tamarind off a tree, and we visited a bat cave. They’d visited a bat cave yesterday after I had wimped out of the trek… but had only seen one bat and were not in the least bit impressed!
When my friend and I got back to our hostel, sweaty, dirty and tired, we discovered that they’d given our beds to someone else, as we had reserved with a girl who was unfamiliar to the booking system, and she hadn’t changed the availability online. I was not impressed. My friend was all “oh that’s ok, not a problem” – I was a bit more grumpy than that!
The following day my friend had the cooking class, and I hobbled (my walking boots had given me a gigantic blister on the side of my heel which stung like mad when walking) along to the ex-prisoner’s massage shop to book a two hour Thai massage for each of us for the end of the day. We desperately needed it after our trek!
Catching Up With Vietnam Friends
I went back and forward from Chiang Mai for a couple of weeks. I hung around a big longer than originally intended because my friends from Hanoi (remember the couple that adopted me from the airport? Took me to their flat and gave me food? Yeah? Those ones) were on a visa run and travelling up to Chiang Mai during their time in Thailand. It was really lovely to see them. His cousin has lived in Chiang Mai teaching English for ten years now. We (them, me, his cousin and her man) went out for a BBQ then the three of us had a few drinks.
The following day we met mid morning having mango and sticky rice for breakfast at ‘Le Mango’. We spent the day exploring the shops and drinking cold drinks. In the evening I went and met them at a fish spa. For those of you unfamiliar with the expression, it’s a place where you sit with your feet in a tank of fish and the eat the dead skin off your feet – a very weird sensation, but actually quite nice once you’re used to it! This was followed by an evening at the night market.
Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar
It wasn’t my first visit to the Night Bazaar. It’s such a great place to buy all of your tacky, and not tacky souvenirs. I found gorgeous handy crafts beside your standard ‘CHANG BEER’ T-shirts (a typical backpacker outfit). You can watch artists painting there and eat all sorts of Asian cuisines. It takes up a full street, plus two big buildings, and you can spend HOURS there looking around. I actually found some shops selling things I’d seen in India – for a lot more than I paid.
Sunday Walking Street
The Sunday Walking Street is another must do in Chiang Mai. I came back from Chiang Rai to go here and it was definitely worth it. Local tribes come in to the city to seek their handicrafts, every food imaginable is on sale from small carts, blind people play music, little girls sing, and you can buy almost anything in the five or six streets taken up by the Sunday Walking Street market. I bought about five different types of tea, a scarf, and a small bag – and a LOT of food! I snacked around for dinner that night.
I absolutely loved Chiang Mai which was why I kept going back. I didn’t go to any of the temples in the mountains which I probably should have done but there’s always next time 😉.
**I didn’t spend the whole time between these two dates in Chaing Mai. I also visited two places nearby (ish) called Pai and Chiang Rai. I’ll write about these in another post**
***Really sorry about lack of posts recently! Wifi in the Philippines is incredibly slow, and adding that to the speed of my OAP iPad which moves at a snail’s pace it can take hours and hours to get one post publish-worthy! I’ve now been in the Philippines for four weeks and fly to Japan this coming week. I hope that once there I will find some super fast internet and bash out some new posts for you all! Xxx ***