Chiang Mai, Thailand
April 26, 2015 – May 24, 2015
After heading back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia we said goodbye to Bre as she headed to the airport and back home to Seattle. Our own journey would be continuing a bit longer. We took a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a much needed full month in one spot, no packing up and moving, no planning where we were going to be or stay or eat. We were finally able to relax and really get to know one place very well, and get caught up on this blog as well!
Chiang Mai, not to be confused with the lackluster Chiang Rai nearby, is one of the nicest and most popular tourist cities in Thailand. Everywhere that Chiang Rai fails to impress, Chiang Mai succeeds. The streets are clean and full of cute shops and cafes, the markets are numerous and huge, and modern malls have sprouted up outside the crumbling city walls and water filled moat of the temple filled old city. The skies are clean and the forest and hills nearby are thick with lush green jungle and wandering hiking trails. Whatever you are looking for, aside from a beach, you can find here in Chiang Mai. And the best part was finding a nice budget friendly cozy little apartment we could rent for an entire month!
Nimman Neighborhood and our Apartment
Our little apartment, which we found on Airbnb for about US$22.00 a night was in the trendy and modern Nimman neighborhood. The main street Nimmanhemin and dozens of side streets were all loaded with modern cafes, gourmet restaurants and tons of little shops. We often spent a couple hours a day in a coffee shop, Krista using wifi while I worked on my writing. There are so many coffee shops that we could have visited a different one every day for a month, but after visiting about ten or so we picked a couple favorites, Wawee Coffee and Ristr8to.
Perhaps the best part about our little apartment was the fact that it had a kitchen in it. We could buy loads of fresh veggies from the local market, and cook them up in our own kitchen. It was fun going to the market every few days to reload the fridge with produce, tropical fruit like mango or pineapple, eggs, coconut milk and pad thai noodles, and get to know the various vendors. We learned which ones were friendliest and which ones charged fair prices.
We visited some of the local malls as well, any of which are just as modern as the ones back home, though the Asian food courts are far better.
The Walled Old Town
Roughly in the center of sprawling Chiang Mai is a large square walled old city, which has stood for centuries. It is lined with a stone wall complete with bastions in the corners, battlements and even a wide water filled moat.
The old city is a maze of streets filled with guest houses, hostels, more shops and cafes, museums and almost 80 different temples. Everywhere you look you will see temples, and many of them are the oldest around. Worth a few days of exploration the old city is huge, but easy to walk with less traffic than the rest of the city, and interesting hidden jewels around every corner.
There are simply so many temples in the old city we got tired of visiting them, especially as the temperature was often triple digits.
The Temple on the Hill – Doi Suthep
At the top of the largest hill rising above the city sits the bright gold temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, known as just Doi Suthep. It’s just a short songthaew ride away or about a two hour hike. Feeling like we needed some exercise we elected to hike there. Apparently the Thais don’t like to hike and if you ask any of the locals about hiking trails they will be surprised to hear they even exist, but they do exist and are nearly empty of hikers. On our two hour hike up the hill, we bumped into only one other hiker, a westerner, heading down. At the top, you’ll not only surprise everyone by appearing out of the forest, but you also find a small city built up around a large temple complex. Outside of the temple is a small city of souvenir shops and food venders, and lines of songthaews taking people up and down the mountain. The temple itself is up another long flight of stone steps flanked on either side by two Nagas, a cross between a serpent and a dragon, both a football field in length. At the top is the gleaming gold stupa and a few great viewpoints looking over the city of Chiang Mai below.
The Street Markets of Chiang Mai
The sheer number, size and quality of markets available throughout Chiang Mai is reason enough in itself to visit. We have seen just about every kind of market there is on our trip around the world and the markets of Chiang Mai, might have them all beat. There are daily night markets east of the old walled city, and we found a daily fresh produce market just south of our apartment in Nimmanhemin. But the real big markets are the large Saturday Night market which spans a dozen blocks south of the old city, and the truly huge Sunday night market which is at least another three times bigger in the center of the old city. The variety and quality of goods, souvenirs and food sold in the Sunday night market is what really makes it stand out from most markets around the world. The souvenirs and other goods are of much higher quality than most of the cheap junk we were familiar with at markets, though buyer beware, bad deals can be found as well. The food is perhaps the best part, skip dinner and just eat for cheap at the market, sampling a little of everything. Most of the food is super high quality with whole sections dedicated just to food, beverages and seating areas. Next to the food you will often find outdoor masseurs by the dozens setting up cushioned chairs and offering foot or shoulder and back massages for US$5.00 for an hour. So you can eat between shopping and then let your food digest with a back-rub while you people watch as the whole population of town walks slowly by. We were in town for three Sunday night markets and didn’t miss a single one.
The Anusarn Market and the Lady Boy Show
On one of our last nights in Chiang Mai we went to the Anusarn Market to see something another traveler had told us about and recommended, a lady boy show. This popular PG show consists primarily of lip syncing to popular songs and dancing, Lady Boys are very common and accepted in South East Asia, and Thailand in particular. It is not uncommon to see them around town or working at your favorite cafe. So we checked out the market, bought some souvenirs and stayed for some entertainment. There was a pole blocking our view so we didn’t try taking pictures, but the show was quite entertaining.
Getting Ready for China
Another reason for our long stay in Chiang Mai was getting ready for our final month abroad which we would be spending in China. China is massive and there is loads to do and see, even with a whole month devoted to it, we could only possibly see a fraction of the country. That fraction would nevertheless require a ton of research and preparation, not to mention the week long visa application process. Chiang Mai conveniently has a Chinese consulate, yet another reason for our visit, which was necessary in order to acquire, fill out and submit our visa application and wait a week in one spot for the time it takes process. China has the most complex visa requirements of any country on our trip. Along with the usual we had to submit evidence of flights to and from China, an itinerary and hotel reservations for our entire stay. We waited the requisite week and were approved to enter China, surprisingly receiving a multiple entry visa good for ten years. Our next stop would be Shanghai, China, after leaving Chiang Mai on May 24th. Which is today! (the date of this posting) so we have finally gotten the blog fully caught up, a first on this trip!
See you next in China!