Chiang Mai

On arrival at the train station, we were immediately met with a gaggle of taxi drivers, all offering to take us wherever we wanted. That was a bit of a problem, as we didn’t have a clue where our hostel was!

Having worked it out quickly on a map, we told one of the drivers where it was and tried to negotiate him down a little on what seemed a fairly steep price. He pointed us toward a different guy & said that if we wanted to go into town cheaply we should go with him to his vehicle. We agreed & he led us to what was essentially a red pickup truck with a roof & sides on the back. These vehicles, called Songthaews, would turn out to be everywhere in Chiang Mai & are the best way to get around the inner city with a fixed price of 30 baht per short journey. They will pick up anyone on the way, but by & large we found that we had them to ourselves, as we did the whole way to the hostel.

SongthaewChiangMai
A Songthaew in Chiang Mai. Image from Wikipedia.

We were staying at the oddly named S*trips Poshtel, which turned out to be lovely – clean, comfy beds, nice bathrooms, decent breakfast & a nice social area to meet & chat to others.

Three Kings monument in Chiang Mai
The Three Kings monument in Chiang Mai

Once we’d sorted ourselves out, we went for a wander about town & discovered again that it was very hot! We found our way into the old town and had a look around – it was a nice blend of cafes, temples, shops and also had a huge number of massage parlours. After a while, we came across the Three Kings monument, one of a few historical references dotted around the town. I’m very aware that I know little to nothing of Thai history, so it’s something I’ll look into at some point. There was a nice shady spot nearby so we stopped to work out where we were & what we wanted to do while the sweat poured off us.

We realised that nearby was one of the activities we’d been recommended – a massage from one of the inmates of the local women’s prison. While that sounds a bit weird, it’s actually a good setup that gives low level (non dangerous) inmates with good behaviour a useful skill for when they are released, and they are under constant supervison too.

chiang-mai-women-correctional-institution-training-center
The inmates massage parlour in Chiang Mai. Image from Thailandee.

We had to book for later in the day, but when the time came the masseuses found me absolutely hilarious. I don’t think they get many 6’6″ visitors, and given the nature of a Thai massage it proved a little difficult for the lady to reach the end of my long limbs, leading to much giggling throughout!

Later that day we had a look around the local market, which was mainly food and clothes, as well as the night bazaar which was a nice blend of general craft wares and some great little food stalls with live music dotted about too.

One of the main sights in Chiang Mai is Doi Suthep, a famous temple built on top of some Buddhist relics at the top of a big hill near the city. It’s a bit of a way out of town, so we decided to take what was by far the most popular method of transport and hire a couple of scooters to get us there.

I was a little unsure about this at first – I’m no fan of motorbikes and had no experience of them at all. Nonetheless, it was clearly the best option and was something a bit different – it turned out they are actually quite easy to ride as long as you’re sensible and don’t go too fast. The roads in Thailand are pretty forgiving too, as all the drivers are used to bikes at all kinds of speeds and just leave everyone lots of room.

The road to the temple was challenging – steep and twisty, but was a good learning experience and we had plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the sights on the way.

The temple itself was great – 300 or so steps up and inside there is gold everywhere you look. It happened to be a special day (Visaka Bucha Day) when we were there, which meant there was a lot going on and really added to the experience.

Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep – an important temple in the hills above Chiang Mai

While in the hills, we went to the Bhubing Palace gardens, a nice retreat used by the Thai royal family which provided a few good photo ops and was a calm way to spend 45 minutes or so.

Rose at Bhubing Palace Gardens
A Rose in the rose garden at Bhubing Palace Gardens
Frogs in the reservoir at Bhubing Palace Gardens
Frogs in the reservoir at Bhubing Palace Gardens

Sunday evenings see the main road through town become closed off and turned into a massive market. We strolled through for a bit but were hungry so headed off to a restaurant we’d heard served great Khao Soi called Kanjana, which didn’t disappoint.

Bowl of Khao Soi
Khao Soi – a traditional dish of Northern Thailand. A delicious bowl of noodles in a red curry & coconut milk soup sprinkled with deep friend noodles for a bit of crunch.

Another key attraction here is elephants. I’ll do another post with more detail on the day itself, but the day we spent visiting them was a good day overall. We went off into the jungle with a group of other tourists and spent the (extremely wet!) day getting up close with the elephants – including feeding them, giving them a mud bath and washing them. It was great to be able to get so close to them and something we’ll both remember.

Elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
A group of the elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

Our final half day in Chiang Mai we spent on a cooking class. We were whisked off to the home of a Thai/Swiss couple via a tour of a local market and shown how to make a variety of different Thai food. It was more about learning the flavours & style of cooking than a cooking class as such, but it was a lovely way to spend the morning and we were given a booklet at the end that details the ingredients, techniques and recipes which is a really nice idea & hopefully means we’ll be able to make some nice Thai food of our own in future!

Cooking class results
Some of my efforts from the cooking class – Khao Soi, Stir Fried Chicken & Cashew Nuts and Mango with Sticky Rice

That afternoon, we headed out of Chiang Mai city & into the nearby mountains for a 3 night stay in a fancy hotel – something we’d promised ourselves we’d do as a little treat soon after we arrived. Getting there was a bit of a pain as the taxi driver from Grab (the local equivalent of Uber) didn’t realise how far it was & so we had to pay a bit more than advertised, but it was still only about £15 for a journey of over an hour which seemed pretty reasonable.

Chiang Mai itself was a fun town – very touristy but plenty to do and see. There are apparently a number of foreigners who now live there – I can see why but for me it’s more of a town to base yourself in to do activities and look at the markets rather than somewhere to stay longer term.

Update!

As you can probably tell, we’re not quite up to date with where we really are yet & left Chiang Mai a few days ago. Since then, we’ve been back (on the way through from other places which we’ll do posts on later) & stayed a couple of nights to plan our next moves and visit Doi Inthanon, something i’d been keen to do before we left the region. We stayed in a different hostel this time, the originally named “Bed, By Hostel” which again was really nice. This one had a dorm full of queen size beds so we booked ourselves into one of them (for something like £8 a night!). Again it was super clean, the breakfast was great – especially the fresh rosemary bread – and the staff were really nice.

We have noticed that some people really struggle with basic common sense, like shutting doors properly (to stop the buzzer going off)& not loudly talking to your friend in the dorm at 6.30am when packing for your day trip! I think our age is showing a little…

Doi Inthanon

A national park featuring the highest point in Thailand, Doi Inthanon is known for the flora & fauna that live within. I’d been keen to visit, but being a fair way out of town we didn’t really have a sensible way to do it ourselves, so booked onto a tour that looked like a nice mix of walking in the jungle & visiting the points of interest.

This was the second time we’d booked a full day trip (the Elephants mentioned above being the other) and the second time that it was pouring with rain for the entire day! I was going to do a whole post on the area, but given it was chucking it down the whole time, that feels unnecessary so instead here’s a quick summary & a load of photos below.

The tour was nice – we visited a waterfall, then did a 2 hour walk ending in a hill-tribe village where we had lunch & coffee (a speciality). It was nice to see some of the nature that was around & some of the views were really nice, despite being in a cloud most of the time. The afternoon was a bit of a write off – the top of the mountain was essentially a cold forest with no views & the twin Pagodas that are meant to be beautiful were pretty similar, but with even less of a view & significantly more rain, we were in & out of there very quickly. We then headed back to a hot shower via a small market & settled in for an early night to get some rest.

Wachirathan Waterfall
Wachirathan Waterfall – our first stop of the day

 

P1010046_edited
The Summit of Doi Inthanon, the highest point in Thailand
Cloud covered Twin Pagodas Doi Inthanon
What a view! The beautiful Twin Pagodas in Doi Inthanon…

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