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Published: February 1st 2012
Old city on the left, new city on the right, looking north towards the mountains.
Discovering Chiang Mai
After sleeping through most of the 14 hr overnight bus trip from Bangkok, we awoke for the final few minutes of our ride to see the early morning mist lying on the rice patties in the countryside as we got closer to the city. We went through the usual routine of overpaying for transportation into town following our arrival and found a room in the first guesthouse we asked at. $6 per night with a hot shower, wifi, and a great rooftop bar. Not bad. We had a nap to recharge our batteries and set out at around noon to explore the city. Similar to Quebec City, Chiang Mai is separated into the ‘old’ city and the new city. Most of the streets in the new city radiated towards the moated and semi-walled old city, which sits as a square in the middle of Chiang Mai. We spent our first two days in town trying to get familiar with the many quaint side streets, each seeming to open up an entirely new world, and trying to take in the many wats that spackled the town. All extremely impressive, the one that stood out the most was Wat
Wat Chedi Luang
The magnificent stupa situated behind the main temple.
Chedi Luang. The grounds house an impressively tall chedi, or a bell-shaped shrine containing relics of a king or a Buddha and whose five levels symbolize earth, water, fire, wind, and void. The wat was situated next to a university for novice monks, and a program called ‘Monk Chat’ was put int place to assist the monk’s with their English and to foster cultural exchange. We sat for about 20 minutes and learned about a young novice monk’s story and shared a bit of our own lives with him. Although our sightseeing for the first few days was wat-based, we were also on the lookout for a company to take us trekking through the nearby hilltribe villages. Every other shop was a tour operator of some sort offering a “special price, just for you!”. After much deliberation, sitting down with multiple guide operators and a bit of our own online research, we booked ourselves in for a 2 day, 1 night trekking only trip. We opted for the trekking only option over the trek, elephant ride, and bamboo rafting option for 2 main reasons. 1 – the trek only path is much more removed from the tourist-packed trails and 2
Liza in the jungle.
– we were not overly keen on riding elephants after hearing about how they are trained and treated.
Into the Jungle
As with all tours in SE Asia, the day begins with the company sending out a tuk-tuk or some type of minibus to pick up all the participants. They are always quite late, and even once you have come to expect it, you are still often left wondering if you may have been forgotten. On this day, our transport id arrive, and we were chartered with 7 others to a tiny village about an hour north (when you have no way of knowing where you are or where you are going based on signage, you get good at paying attention to the sun’s shadows) of Chiang Mai. We were made a delicious lunch before splitting into two groups and heading off into the jungle. Our group consisted of the two of us, a Romanian lady and her Spanish husband from Belgium and a girl from Melbourne, Australia. The five of us were led by a rambunctious guide who had a knack for carving things out of bamboo and correcting our English. Anytime we commented on something being ‘cool’
Enjoying our own secluded swimming hole.
he would remind us that it was in fact swelteringly hot. We march along paths through the jungle, emerging every now and again into a deserted 5 or 6 hut village (deserted because everyone in the village works in the fields during the daylight hours). We walked for about 4 hours while our guide identified the crops in the fields we passed, different plants we came across on the paths - all while in flipflops and carving a spoon out of bamboo. Eventually we came to a secluded waterfall. We donned our swimsuits and escaped the afternoon heat in the ice cold waters. The waterfall was about 15 ft high, which became even more evident when you felt the pressure of the water standing right underneath it. While swimming we briefly lost track of our guide, only to find him clambering up vines to the top of the waterfall. The pool below was relatively shallow around the edges, but the centre was at least 10 ft deep. Sure enough he took a running jump from the top and did a cannonball perfectly into the centreof the pool below. He of course, emerged with a beaming smile and wondered if anyone
Soy Bean Patties
What they do with rice patties when the seasons change.
had caught it on camera. We had. After swimming, it was only a 5 minute walk to the village where we would be spending the night. The village was only 4 small bamboo huts on the side of the hill with a plethora of chickens/chicks, pigs/piglets, and the families loyal guard dogs that eventually warmed up to us by the fire. Our sleeping arrangements were in the largest of the huts, and had been constructed solely for the use of trekkers. There was heaps of room for the 5 of us, considering it was set up for 20 – with mosquito nets, bedding, and a mattress of some description. After putting our stuff in the hut the 5 of us hung around the fire pit, while our guide disappeared to make us dinner. About an hour later, a delicious array of coup, rice, and stirfry arrived which was very welcomed after the day of trekking. Matt ate at LEAST 3 full plates. After dinner was over the sky was dark but the moon was bright. With nearly a full moon, a flashlight was barely necessary for navigating the paths. We got the fire going and sat around for a couple
hours swapping stories with the others and listening to our guide explain that when he gets “snake bite in jungle” the trees and plants provide a much better anti-venom serum than any hospital. We stayed up as late as we could, which was only 9pm and then enjoyed the blanketed darkness (a rarity in the cities) and the sounds of the jungle coming alive at night as we fell asleep. We enjoyed a late start to the next day and were presented with a breakfast of eggs, toast and coffee as we exited our hut. We then said goodbye to our camp and its villagers and set out on our way. The second day consisted of another 4 hours of hiking through jungle paths before emerging out of the trees and into all sorts of fields populating the hillsides. We walked through and around cabbage, soy bean, papaya, and rubber tree plantations before meeting up with our ride back into town. Finally feeling the exhaustion of two days of arduous walking, we spent the 2 hour ride in silent reflection. On returning to the city we found a place to stay and allowed ourselves to crash for the night.
The stupa in behind the temple at Doi Suthep
Outside the Walls
After spending our first couple days in Chiang Mai exploring the old city, we decided that it was time to venture across the moat. We caught a songthaew and made the 30 minute trip straight up a mountain to the much revered Doi Suthep. Riding along on a white elephant, an honored Bhudda relic was searching for a spot to build a temple. The decision had been left to the elephant, who managed to make it to the top of the mountain before belting out its final three trumpet blasts and then falling to the ground, dead. The temple was then built on the exact spot where the elephant had died and it is and has been considered extremely holy and is an important visitation site for Bhuddists. In addition to being a beautiful temple, the mountain location offers gorgeous views of the city and surrounding areas. After exploring some of the temples, we took a break with our books and some drinks and just enjoyed the scenery before heading back down the mountain. Much like every other city in Thailand, Chiang Mai had its share of excellent markets. We first ventured into the Night Bazaar
Adjoined to the main Night Bazaar, the flow of traffic directed us to this quaint side area.
which had an innumerable amount of stalls lining the sidewalks. The gap between vendors opposite each other allowed no more than one person to pass, making it extremely intimate. Having little control over the route we were taking through the market, weended up in a courtyard filled with more vendors, and advertising for a free cabaret show! After realizing that “free” meant you have to buy a really expensive drink, it became plainly obvious that the dance ensemble was comprised entirely of ladyboys. Staying true to many of the rumours surrounding the “third gender” in Thailand, these men were beautiful. We enjoyed our overpriced beverages and found ourselves clapping along and being drawn into the spectacle. We left before it ended, but certainly heard our share of Cher songs. Definitely unique, the cabaret show was one of our favourite experiences in Thailand to that point.
The nightly market evidently does not provide enough market, since Chiang Mai also closes down a separate busy street on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening to make space for more fruitless tourist purchases. Of course we had to go see for ourselves. As they each only take place once a week, the
Boys in girls costumes.
Saturday and Sunday markets provide more realistic opportunities for the hill tribe artisans to venture into town to sell their goods. Thus, the merchandise is a little less gimmicky and the food is just as delicious, although a little more unique. Once again we got sucked into the current of people and found new ways to spend our Baht.
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