Chiang Mai was the stop on our two month trip, where we stayed the longest. We were getting tired by this point of upping location every few days (one of the hardest things can be balancing wanting to see EVERY SINGLE PLACE on your travels and spending enough time in each location). We were also ahead of schedule as a typhoon had caused us to cancel our trip to Sapa (Vietnam) and the two days we were due to spend on a boat in Halong Bay.
So where to start with Chiang Mai? Whether you are looking to shop, for some good food, culture, or adventure tours, it’s got something to offer for all types of travellers (I’d be curious to hear from someone, who didn’t like Chiang Mai, why that was). The choice of activities is, if anything, overwhelming. One afternoon, over lunch, I dumped a hoard of leaflets in front of Matt and told him to take his pick. That week we learnt to cook scrumptious Thai curries, how to give Thai massages (as well as having frequent massages ourselves) and went zip wiring in the jungle. The zip wiring was one of the most exhilarating things we did on our trip and well worth every penny. I can’t say that I make all my curries completely from scratch now, but I do use what I’ve learnt to jazz up the shop bought pastes.
[Warning: this paragraph is a bit of a rant] One thing we didn’t do however, was visit the much advertised Tiger Temple as I’ve heard all sorts of negative things about it; from the tigers being fed mainly chicken when their diet requires more expensive red meat, and them being drugged so they won’t harm tourists, to theories regarding the Chinese medicine trade and why there are so many cubs at the centre yet suspiciously few adult tigers. Whether or not any of this is true, is almost beside the point as I don’t think you can just go cuddle a tiger, as much as I would love to myself – either you risk being mauled or they must be doing something to keep it from acting on its natural instincts (these aren’t domestic animals).
Chiang Mai is charming. We enjoyed meandering around temples and the shopping lanes within the old city walls, as well as along its outer moat. But there are also plenty of modern shopping malls and the roads are as hectic as anywhere else in South East Asia. We also found so many great places to eat and drink (though we noticed there were areas with particularly shady looking bars, which we avoided) I particularly enjoyed the night markets, especially all the art being sold and the atmosphere of the place. Oh and when I say night market, I mean that this is the mother of all night markets – its HUGE, and even complete with a lady boy show, which turned out to be great entertainment and surprisingly tasteful.
Due to the popularity of our first hostel in Chiang Mai, Green Tiger House. We stayed in two different locations whilst in the city. I didn’t particularly mind this as both hostels had different things to offer and allowed us to explore different parts of town. Green Tiger House was in fact recommended to us back when we were in Vietnam. As well as a small pool (a rarity for well located hostels) it had the comfiest beds we had slept in for months and quiet fully functioning air-con – the most luxurious doom room we’d stayed in. It was hard for our other hostel to compare except for the friendliness of the owners and the deliciousness of the breakfasts; freshly cooked bacon and eggs with PROPER toasted bread; crusty sourdough type brown bread – not the really fake tasting white sliced stuff I’d gotten used to in Hong Kong. It’s silly the things we miss from home, and how things like that stand out so much in memories of our travels.
I’m really glad we spent longer in Chiang Mai, it meant that we got to see and do more than just the top tourist attractions – especially as were now renting a moped (Matt having learnt to drive it in Pai). It allowed us to chill a bit more and spend afternoons at places like Catmosphere (a space themed cat café) or Huay Tung Thao lake, where locals and tourists go to relax in bamboo huts that sit above the water on stilts. I say that our time in Chinag Mai gave us a chance to relax, but looking back it gave us a break from travelling around – we still did so much. I am the kind of person who feels like I’m wasting an opportunity if I have a lazy day and lie in whilst on holiday. I can do that back at home!
Chiang Mai really won us over. It seemed to be such an interesting and liveable city, surrounded by beautiful countryside; one that I most certainly wouldn’t mind spending longer in. PLUS THE FOOD! So much wonderful food!