Sunday, February 6, 2011

Adventures in Northern Thailand

When we took the overnight train (2nd class sleeper) to Chiang Mai, we had initially only booked three nights accommodations as we weren’t sure what sort of activities we might try to do once we got there. After our first few days exploring the Old City and the area just north of Tha Phae Gate to the Mae Ping River, I knew we could easily spend a week just relaxing at our guesthouse Baan Nud-Kun and wandering the alleyways, temples and markets. Of course, I was also tempted by the many activities on offer… We ultimately spent nine nights in Chiang Mai.
pretty flowers along the footbridge over the Mae Ping River
Only 751km by rail from Bangkok, or a short one hour flight, Chiang Mai is a world away on so many levels. It is still a busy city but instead of being overwhelmed by skyscrapers, crazy traffic and 12+ million people, you can easily find peace and quiet just by stepping into one of the Old City’s sois (an alley or lane off a primary road). Food and drink is more affordable, as are simple luxuries like massages, and entrance to all the temples or wats is free (donations gladly accepted). There are a variety of markets and a few modern malls to fulfill all your shopping desires, from bustling Warorot to the open-every-Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Rd and the once-weekly Sunday Walking Street (Ratchadamnoen Rd).
monks feeding pigeons & fish near Tha Phae Gate
Entertainment options are only limited by your budget. You can watch muay thai (boxing), hear live music, or step into a bar on Kotchasan or Loi Kroh Rd and gain the attention of a beautiful Thai “bar girl.” Or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can book an all day or multi-day whitewater rafting trip, jungle canopy adventure, or cooking class. As Greg and I don’t usually go to bars looking for companionship, we chose the latter three options. :)
rafting on the Mae Taeng River
Here are the photos from our outings with Siam River Adventures, A Lot of Thai, and Flight of the Gibbon. As you can tell, we had fun throughout, although I think Greg is probably done with cooking classes until we get back to the U.S. and he can take some more beginner-oriented lessons.
Whitewater rafting
Cooking class

One activity we did not do despite our best intentions, was to get a massage at the Women’s Prison. Inmates are rehabilitated by learning job skills (like waitressing or how to be a masseuse) and get to work in the prison’s café or massage parlor prior to their release. Apparently the massages are quite popular (and affordable at 150-200THB/hr), as Greg attempted to get one on our last day in Chiang Mai and they were fully booked. Fortunately, we had eaten at the café for lunch one day, so we can still say we were “served by inmates.”
entrance to the Women's Prison Cafe
Speaking of food, we ate some pretty good meals in Chiang Mai. Some of my favorite Thai dishes were the sour pork at Aroon, red curry at Ratana, Burmese curry at Ratchadamnoen Café and khao soi at The Riverside. Food prices averaged 60THB per entree for Thai food (in a non-touristy restaurant) and 70-80THB for a 640ml bottle of Chang beer. To save money, we usually drank our own bottled water with meals then bought beer at one of the ubiquitous 7-11’s for only 45THB/bottle and took it back to the guesthouse. We also splurged a few times to eat non-Thai food: burritos at El Diablo’s, burgers at Duke’s, and pizza at Stefano. Note that the usual chain restaurants (Burger King, McDonalds, Starbucks, Pizza Hut) have a presence in Chiang Mai, but thankfully none are within the Old City walls.
Burmese curry
super-size burritos at El Diablo's
As mentioned before, I enjoyed roaming around Chiang Mai on foot and especially found the wats to be interesting and photogenic. While we did not participate, there are many opportunities for “monk chat” where you can talk openly with novice monks. Sadly, I lost all of my pictures of Wat Phan Tao and Wat Chedi Luang (they were some of my favorites) due to a memory card malfunction. I had taken one photo in particular of a monk at Wat Phan Tao who was reading a book called “Good Questions Good Answers.” I had asked him what it was about and then he posed for a picture. Later in the week, we did go back by those wats, but I wasn’t in the mood to take any more photos.
I also particularly enjoyed the Sunday Walking Street which was conveniently located on the main road near our guesthouse. It was definitely more authentic than the Night Bazaar and prices were crazy cheap! After months of eyeing all sorts of Asian handicrafts, I finally broke down and bought some beautiful handmade greeting cards and two pairs of earrings. I still spent less than $5 total! I also bought bacon-wrapped mini-hotdogs and Chinese greens-filled dumplings for breakfast the next morning as we had to get up early and would miss the guesthouse’s complimentary breakfast. The total cost for six hotdogs and two large dumplings was less than $1.
monks shopping at the Sunday market
Overall, I highly recommended adding Chiang Mai to your itinerary if you are planning a trip to Thailand.

** The link to the rest of my Chiang Mai photos is embedded in the title of this post.

No comments:

Post a Comment