Chiang Mai in the magical north of Thailand
Another year and yes, another trip to Thailand! At this point I’m just gonna stop counting the times I’ve been here. But each time, I do try to explore some new places. This time it was Chiang Mai (North of Thailand) and Koh Chang (South East – Island).
I’ve actually been in Chiang Mai before during my first visit ever to Thailand about 11 years ago! But I wasn’t the “experienced” traveler as I am now. I didn’t plan much or remember much any more either from the trip. 2 years ago I passed by Chiang Mai as well to get to Pai. Anyway it’s a good excuse to go back and revisit as I’ve heard a lot of good things about Chiang Mai as well and there’s quite a few things worth seeing and doing in the area. The trip there was exhausting as we pretty much flew straight from Belgium to Chiang Mai without any real rest. Flight-wise it was Brussels – Oslo – Bangkok – ChiangMai afterwards we still had to get a taxi too..; It might not seem like bad, but it was damn long… Anyway! We came at the worst possible time of the year as it was in the middle of the FREAKING HOT season! The temperature went up to a whopping 41°C! Even the locals were saying that it rarily gets this hot during this time a year. I’m usually able to handle the heat pretty well, but this time it was really killing me. I could barely walk around without having to stop for some shade and water. Sweating like crazy and just didn’t feel like walking around the old city center on the first day. But heck, I was able to power through with much complaining and visited some popular sights. One of them is Wat Chedi, a HUGE chedi in the middle of the city. The surrounding temples and shrines were pretty nice to look at if it wasn’t for the lack of shade. I had to rush to go from shade to shade. A pity, I would’ve liked to took my time and enjoyed the place. Wat Phra Singh was another major sight in old town. The lovely Lai Kam chapel houses the revered Phra Singh Buddha image. Sadly, the head was stolen in 1922, and a reproduction is now seen. To enter the temple is free for Thais, and 20 baht for foreigners. Luckily for me I look like a Thai so I got in for free. I know I’m cheap, even if it’s onlly 20 baht. I kind of make a game out of it after a while…. Anyway, that night we met up with Horm, who I’ve been talking to prior to the trip. She took us out along with some of her friends. They took us to a local Thai “club” with live on- stage performances and music and drinks and all that. And by coincedence, the boyfriend (Sander) of one of her friends was Dutch! So we got along great from the beginning. We had some great laughs and fun on our second day in Thailand. Sander suggested that he take us toa place with a canyon where you could jump into and afterwards can relax at the canyon. So that’s when we made plans to rent a motorcycle the next day to head there. And that’s when it happened…
Yes, I had a motorbike accident. It’s a rather lengthy story, so I decided to split this blogpost up and just focus on my experience in Chiang Mai here. Read about my accident here! It end up with me deciding to stay an additional 4 days in Chiang Mai to recover as I couldn’t go diving anyway in Koh Chang. So now we had a lot of extra time to do what we wanted, but I just had to take it slow and not get my bandages wet. Which was hard, coz it was still hot as hell and I wanted to go for a swim so bad.
Chiang Rai – White temple
On one of the days, we booked a taxi to take us all the way to Chiang Rai as I’ve seen pictures of the amazing white temple in Chiang Rai. The drive up there was rather long (2h) and exhausting, but at the same time pretty interesting. People in Thailand can drive pretty crazy that’s for sure. You haven’t experienced real Thai driving unless you’ve been in a Thai taxi/bus. This guy was pretty much ignoring the lines on the road and taking the shortest corners and cuts on the road. He first took us to the hot springs, which was part of the “tour”. The hotsprings in itself were disappointing to say the least. A few ponds with hot spring water and a lingering phosphorus smell was all you could experience. And the abundance of tourist shops. The White temple itself was really amazing. The architecture, the decoration, the color, the nearby buildings and shrines. Just superb! However, by the time we arrived, the actual entrance to the White temple was closed and by the time we had to go back, it was still going to be closed. So we could only admire it from afar. That really sucked as I wanted to get up and close to the entrance with the sculptures and hands coming out from the ground! The surrounding buildings were still cool though and in the trees they had these huge fake heads hanging from various blockbuster movies. Some of them are Wolverine, Angelina Jolie from Maleficent, Pinhead from Hellraiser and some more famous ones too. We also saw this building in “pure gold”. It was glowing and you could see it from afar. We thought it was some holy building for the monks and kept in good condition for generations. Turns out, it was “just” the toilet. An important function but not as overhyped as we were thinking. Gotta say, it was one of the most badass toilets I’ve ever seen though! After the white temple we went and took a look at the nearby black temple and Ban Daam museum. This place had “TOURIST TRAP” written all over it. Busload of Chinese tourists around and everything was setup just for them. The buildings was ok at best to look at so we just walked around for 20-30 minutes before heading back. On the 2 hour ride back we just slept and as we got closer to the hotel again. I talked a bit with the taxi driver and had a rather enjoying chat! Turns out he was an avid guitar player and huge fan of Latin music. He talked about one of his other customers sent him a CD of a band he loves which was very very difficult to get in Thailand. He also thought himself how to play the guitar and was playing in some kind of band as well. Also mentioned how he’shoping to save enough money for a fancier guitar in the future. Great talks really.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Later that week we tried to go up to Wat Phratat, a golden chedi on top of Doi Suthep. It’s quite a popular attraction for local and foreign visitors. The trips usually starts from the Chiang Mai zoo which has several songthaews waiting for visitors to go up in group. If you’re lucky then you wouldn’t have to wait that long for yours to fill up and go to thetop. Sadly, that day we weren’t that lucky and had to wait for about 20-30mins before we got tired of waiting and negotiated a deal with the drive to get us up and come down with other people for a bit more of the starting price. Yay?! The entrance is all dotted with little tourist shops and food/drink shops. At the beginning of the staircase, you’re greeted with kids in traditional wardrobes. Give them a tip if you wanna take pics with them. I’ve seen some people taking pictures and just walking away. The stairs were a bit steep but nothing too hard if you take your time going up. Once you get to the top, you’ll have to get an entrance ticket if you’re a foreigner. Locals get in for free, as did I. The surrounding areas gave you a great view of Chiang Mai on a clear day. The temples and shrines were amazing as well. The chedi itself was enormous and there were tons of Buddhists paying their respects here. So be respectful as well and dress appropriately. The thing Ididn’t like were the huge tourists groups talking and shouting. Most of them were Chinese… UGH! Anyway, we walked around for about an hour and then made the trip back to town. The winding road back down was less sickening than the trip up to be honest. The sharp twists and turns could easily get you car sick if you don’t pay attention. But all in all, a decent day out from the city center and some nice views and exercise!
On another day, Pon took us to a lake on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. She showed us pictures of the place and told us how nice it was there to chill near the water. So me and Greg just went on the back of her and her friends bike to get us there. The place was pretty relaxed with some small huts along the water. You could go for a swim from your own little hut and order some drinks and food to snack on. It was really painful to watch them go in the water while I could just dip one of my legs till my knee in the water. Despite my injuries, it didn’t really stop me going out at night. The difference of Chiang Mai and other places in Thailand I’ve been to is that the nightlife already stops around 1- 2am. The first clubs start closing at 1am and there’s pretty much only 1 “after club” that closes at 2am. So it was easy to avoid staying up late. OR SO I THOUGHT! Often we would go out with a group of 6-7 and after the clubs closed, we would continue the party with a smaller group at our hotel room with some drinks, musics and plenty of laughs. They would usually last till around 4 am or even later with most of us drunk. The crazy part was that most or all of our new friends had to work the next morning at 7! How is that humanly possible?! Anyway, to summarize… Despite the accident, I had a great time in Chiang Mai, making new friends, taking it easy and spending more time with the local people and not so much going around trying to see all the sights. By the time we had to leave, I think we were almost glad we had to stay longer. While talking to Sander, he even tried to convince me to stay and “settle” in Chiang Mai/Thailand. I’ve always had that thought, but this gave that thought another boost. Anyway, we’ll definately be back Chiang Mai!