It took me 10 full days to get my fill of Chiang Mai. On around 5 of those day I didn’t even leave my hostel except to get some food. I just needed a break from being a traveler. I wanted to sleep in the same bed for longer than a few nights, I didn’t want to budget my meals, I didn’t want to go to “yet another temple” or “yet another waterfall”. But the 5 days of doing nothing (and lots of delicious, healthy, vegetarian food) gave me the energy to come out of hiding again.
In terms of attractions, Chiang Mai has lots to offer. The old city is buzzing with countless cafes, coffee shops, restaurants and numerous street side markets. But the pace of the city is such that you won’t feel rushed at all. Outside the old town though the story is very different, there’s a lot of traffic and in general you don’t feel the calmness like in the old town. Chiang Mai is famous for its markets, besides the countless day markets, there is the daily Night Bazaar, the Saturday walking market and the Sunday walking market, which is the biggest one in the city. It’s held along a 1km stretch of road and, by the looks of it, is expanding rapidly as a lot of the side streets and even temple compounds were occupied by stalls when I visited. The market had a festive air and was alive with street performances, live music played by the blind, Thai dancers, and a lot of stalls selling the usual handicraft, clothes, jewelry and of course, a LOT of food. It’s a must do when in Chiang Mai!
There are many temples in the city but I only went to the most famous one, Chedi Luang. The temple and the ruins are good for an afternoon stroll. I didn’t feel the urge to see the others as after 3 months in Asia I am finally “templed out”.
I was lucky to have experienced a live Thai cultural performance while eating some authentic Northern Thai cuisine. All this for free! The owner of the Mahout training center was kind enough to get me a free ticket that is usually reserved for his family members. At the risk of sounding sexist, I enjoyed the performances by the men (some played musical instruments, some performed with scary looong knives) more than the ones by the women (which basically were giggly Thai girls, all dressed up, and doing these slow delicate moves). Or may be I just don’t have a taste for cultural shows.
Another time, I spent a whole day on a motorbike going first up the mountain to the Doi Suthep temple, then going down to the other side of the mountain just to see what lay beyond and coming to a very quiet village (I think it was called Huang village) and then riding the Mae Sa valley loop, a total of 150kms. The temple itself was ok but what I enjoyed more was being on the bike and riding the winding roads and just hearing the wind whooshing past my ear.
And then there was a full day of cooking class. The day started with a trip to the local market before going to a farm where the class was held. For the pre-siesta session I cooked tofu jungle curry, veg pad thai and tom yum prawns. As everyone had picked different items from the menu we were going around the cooking stations and looking at how the different dishes were turning out. And when we sat down to eat we got to taste green curry, yellow curry, jungle curry, tom yum prawns, chicken in coconut milk, pad thai and chicken and cashew stir fry! At this point we’d eaten enough to last us the whole day (or two)! We then proceeded to take our promised siesta which is the only thing we had energy for. After this, believe it or not, there was more cooking and eating. We ate papaya salad, fried spring rolls, mango with sticky rice and banana in coconut milk. None of us know how we managed to keep down so much food but we did! It was all too delicious to resist.
After a lot of deliberation I decided to skip the Tiger Kingdom (where you can play and stroke and take “cozy” pictures with the big cats). However magnificent they might me, they are still natural predators and there’s no way I’d be able to get close to them without screaming my head off and m sure the tigers wouldn’t appreciate that one bit and then god knows what they would do to me! Yes, yes, I’m a wuss.
In hindsight, my stay in Chiang Mai was well balanced. I did enough to keep myself entertained but also managed to get the down time I needed. It’s my favourite place in Asia and if there’s any place I’d consider living in, it would be Chiang Mai!