DISCLAIMER: This is a long one folks. Turn back now if you aren’t interested in reading a novella.
Let me paint a picture for you. Rolling hills, lush jungle, ornate temples, fresh air, juice stands on every corner, stone streets, brick walls, moats. These are just a few of the things Chiang Mai has to offer. Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is renowned for its quaint beauty, history, temples, people, and food.
With a three day weekend on the horizon my friends and I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to visit the city we had heard so much about. The only thing that stood between Mother Nature and us: Sports Day for 3,000 students and a 13-hour overnight bus ride.
We are lucky we made it.
Friday, December 7th was Sports Day at Anubanchonburi (That’s my school). A logical American would associate this with what we call Field Day…students playing field sports, relay races, water balloon tosses, all different sorts of team activities to get everyone up an running around outside for the day. Do not be fooled. Sports Day in Thailand equals kids dressing up in different colors, practicing cheers, lining up, marching down to a dilapidated track to stand in the sun for an opening ceremony (“Teacha, Teacha, so hotttt”…You’re telling me kid) then filing into bleachers to watch a handful of kids from each grade do a 50m, 60m, 70m, 100m dash. It was easily one of the worst days ever. As we sat on the stone bleachers in the heat, listening to kids chant weird cheers in Thai, in a pretty grim looking track and field arena, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the Thai version of the Hunger Games. Luckily, by the grace of God, it started pouring at about 11AM and we were all allowed to go back to school and then go home. Early dismissal, yippee!
Next obstacle: 13 hour bus ride. The bus itself actually wasn’t that bad. It had really big seats that reclined almost all the way back with a stewardess to give you water and snacks (prawn flavored chips- can you think of a smellier snack for a confined space? Might as well-served tuna salad on an everything bagel with a side of lox), and a nice Thai movie playing in the background. The real problem was it was 13 HOURS. And I was developing a cold. Luckily, I was able to get some cough syrup, cough drops, fever reducer, and antihistamine for a whopping $3 at the pharmacy. We were good to go.
A couple of snacks, some water and a lot of Melatonin later we arrived in Chiang Mai. And it was COLD. Well, cold for Thailand. I was wearing Yoga Pants and a ¾ sleeve t-shirt and was cool. For the first time in 2 months I was cool. I knew it was going to be the best weekend ever.
We checked into our Hostel, 60 Blue House (highly recommend, really clean, funky, all ladies hostel with the nicest owner ever), for a whopping $6 a night. Tried to take a little catnap and then rented bikes from the hostel and ventured for our first amazing meal of the trip and the beginning of my juice-a-palooza.
After having an awesome breakfast and meeting up with some other friends it was decided we would go for a day long tour and trek the next day. After signing up for the tour my friend Esther, Helen and I ventured on our own to make a dinner reservation for our friend’s birthday. What is great about Chiang Mai is that it is a completely walkable/bikeable city unlike Bangkok, which is huge. The other great thing about Chiang Mai is that you stumble upon a different Wat (temple) every 5 seconds and it is always beautiful.
Quick history lesson courtesy of Wikitravel:
Founded in 1296 CE, Chiang Mai is a culturally and historically interesting city, at one time the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom. Located among the rolling foothills of the Himalayan Mountains 700 km north of Bangkok, it could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant trek until the 1920s. This isolation helped keep Chiang Mai’s distinctive charm intact.
Chiang Mai’s historical centre is the walled city (city is chiang in the northern Thai dialect while mai is new, hence Chiang Mai or New City. Sections of the wall dating to their restoration a few decades ago remain at the gates and corners, but of the rest only the moat remains.
Inside Chiang Mai’s remaining city walls are more than 30 temples dating back to the founding of the principality, in a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai styles, decorated with beautiful wood carvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree. The most famous is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from a mountainside 13 km away.
On our bike ride to the restaurant we stumbled on 3 different beautiful temples, 2 of which are famous: Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh. You can see the pictures below.
After stumbling around, finding more temples, making reservations and meeting up with more friends we decided to take an afternoon break since the bus ride and my cold was catching up with me. A few hours later we meandered over to one of the two famous night markets, the Saturday Walking Street, where we perused local crafts and souvenirs before heading to an Indian restaurant for dinner. My first Indian experience and it was in Thailand, go figure.
Sunday called for an early morning pick up at 8:30 so we could begin our day long excursion outside the city. Our tour guide, S, picked us up at our hostel and starting driving us into the great outdoors. First stop: Hot Springs/Mineral Pool. I guess apparently parts of Chiang Mai are built over hot springs. We got to see the springs, boil some quail eggs in them, and eat them, then swim in a mineral pool for about 20 minutes. Stop 1 complete.
Stop 2 brought us to a resort for our lunch, trek, and zip lining adventure. The people of Thailand Jungle Tours were really funny and accommodating. They dressed us in camo, rain boots and gave us a bamboo hiking stick and we were ready for our trek. The trek was basically a 90 minute hike through the jungles around their grounds and an introduction to the different flora and fauna of the area: banana trees, bamboo, cinnamon plants, coffee beans etc. No wildlife really though. After the hike we zip lined around and then did something I had never heard of or done before, Sky Viking. Basically a free fall swing, which was a lot of fun.
All tuckered out we went back to Chiang Mai, showered and ventured around the Sunday Night Walking Street, which it turns out is better than the Saturday Night Walking Street. Got some goodies for friends and family back home and called it a night! The cold prevented me from exploring Chiang Mai’s nightlife, but from what I hear it was fun!
Monday was our extra day off and Constitution Day in Thailand, whatever that means. We decided to have another juice filled breakfast and head up to Doi Suthep, the 1676m mountain that hosts the famous temple Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and boosts great views of Chiang Mai. This required a song tao ride up the hill and then a 300 step climb. Which was taugh on cough ridden lungs, but never fear, I perservered and made it. It was beautiful. A gorgous compound of prayer rooms, chedis and temples. All gold and glimmering in the sunlight. We stumbled upon one room where a monk was giving a blessing and holy water and he invited us to join in and get blessed and get white prayer bracelets. It really was a lovely ending to the city of Chiang Mai.
More wandering around the city that afternoon, which had quieted down considerably since the weekend. We found a mexican place that made guacamole and their own chips. Heaven.
We got back on that dreaded bus with even less enthusiasm since what did we have to look forward to this time? Arriving in smelly Chonburi at 6AM and teaching at 8AM.
Good thing I liked Chiang Mai so much I would be willing to walk there…or fly next time.
See the photos below!