To get to Chiang Mai from Koh Tao involved a 32 hour journey…ferry, bus, sleeper train and then a normal train.
The sleeper train was so cool. It looked like something from back in the day. Also i have read so much about them, i just couldn’t believe i was finally on one…i literally couldn’t stop giggling…it was surreal. but unfortunately the sleeper train was the only fun part…after 12 hours on the sleeper train i had another 15 hours on a normal train and this was painful…i read my book, slept, read, slept and each time i awoke from sleeping only an hour had passed….honestly my whole body ached especially my ass from sitting in the same position.
A little bit about Chiang Mai, it is the second largest province of Thailand in size but non population. It is located 700 km (435 miles) north of Bangkok, among the highest mountains in the country. Chiang Mai means “new city” and was so-named because it was the new capital, founded in 1296, succeeding Chiang Rai (founded 1262) in the capital of the Lanna kingdom.
Long before tourists began visiting the region, Chiang Mai was an important centre for handcrafted pottery, umbrellas, weaving, silverwork and woodcarving. By the mid-1960s tourism had replaced commercial trade as Chiang Mai’s number one source of outside revenue. Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (called “wat” in Thai).
The city itself is split into two key areas, the “old town” and the “new city”. The old town being surrounded by a large square mote with flowing water and great water features to view, as well as historic ruins that served to protect the old city. I am staying right across the road from this mote. The new city area is just a complete contrast, with vibrant cafe’s, restaurants and the club scene.
I didn’t know how long i was planning to stick around Chiang Mai, when you are a backpacker you just take one day at a time because plans change all the time depending on the information you get from other travellers, recommendations and also the people you meet. I ended up staying in Chiang Mai for 5 days.
I booked into Chiang Mai Backpackers House and for the first time since my standard 5 Cape Town tour i decided to stay in a dorm room. Not going to lie i was a little nervous. It is not the sharing a room that makes me nervous, its the cleanliness. And in fact the room cleanliness didnt seem to be an issue because everyone locks their things up in a little cupboard under their bed and so the room is clean. But the bathrooms were disgusting…40 people using 3 bathrooms….i had to keep convincing myself that i can do this…its only 4 months of my life and the less money i spend on luxuries the longer i can stay out here. The hostel dorm room accommodation is costing me 120 thb a night which is 2.51 pounds / R35.32…so its really cheap!!!
The reason i had chosen Chiang Mai Backpackers was on recommendation from Zac (he had seen it in a magazine) and when i did some research on reviews i read that the family who run it are so sweet and friendly and more than that the hostel has a curfew of 2am so you have to be home by them. I have not been going out but a curfew of 2am meant that i wouldn’t be staying with crazy party people coming home at all hours and this suited me.
The owners of Chiang Mai Backpackers are so lovely. They make sure they look after you and they are always trying to help you out with whatever you need. The one night we went out for a fellow hostel mates birthday and the husband of the hostel gave us a little lecture about staying together, not walking home alone and if we needed a lift back to the hostel he would come and fetch us…he was telling this to a group of us aged between 21 and 35…so sweet.
The things i really wanted to do in Chiang Mai was do a cooking class and spend the day at an elephant sanctuary learning to care for them. I decided to wait for Zac, the American i met in Koh Tao so that we could do these things together. We never ended up getting to the elephant sanctuary but decided we will do that in the next town that we go to.
For the first 3 days before Zac arrived i just wondered the streets and looked at the temples during the day, went ten pin bowling one evening, went to the night bazaar which is a massive night market that stretches for several blocks and includes restaurants, bars and entertainment. The stalls are squeezed on to the pavements and in the purpose-built arcade and is one of Chiang Mai’s biggest attractions. You can pick up everything from antiques to fake Rolex watches and a huge variety of handicraft souvenirs, you can have a suit measured up, ready for your collection the following evening, browse exquisite Asian silver jewellery, or stock up on cheap DVDs…the list is endless.
I also decided to go catch a movie at the Airport Plaza on one of my days here, i really wanted to see Pitch Perfect. I know some of you are thinking….movies???? but you are on this amazing holiday in Thailand, but the thing is not every day is a site seeing day, i am travelling for so long that sometimes its nice to do normal things i would be doing at home. Anyway i ventured down to the Plaza which took me about an hour to walk in 40 degrees heat…maybe not such a smart idea. But if you walk you get to see more of your surroundings and its a good way of trying to keep the weight off. Unfortunately my movie had just been taken off the circuit so i wondered around the mall (nothing interesting really) but the stumbled upon the food court. WOW!!!!! Some of the food does look amazing but what i have noticed about Northern Thailand is that they are very old school, none of the items in this food court had English names next to the food and worse than that many Thai people in North Thailand do not speak English and when you approach them they actually try run away from you as its too much effort for them to try understand you. I must have spent about half an hour wondering around trying to figure out what to eat….i am terrified i will get intestines or something (yes i have heard that happened to someone). In the end i chose something safe and since then i have learnt that the dish i had is a traditional Thai dish called Khao Soi and has become my favourite Thai food…its a soup like dish made with a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled cabbage, shallots, lime, ground chillies fried in oil, and chicken in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk.
Another random thing i did while in Chiang Mai is go to the dentist. haha i know crazy but i was due for a clean and Chiang Mai is known for having good but cheap dentists. Anyway the cleaning cost me 650 bht…………..crazzzzzzzzzy cheap…that works out to 13 pounds / R193.
One morning i decided to get up at 5am so that i could go and watch the monks receiving Alms. Basically Monks go out for alms (food offerings) everyday around 5am to 6am. They carry their bowl with both hands and close to the belly. The Alms bowl is the monk’s emblem. According to Buddhist rules, it is the only dish that monks can possess.
The monks walk bare foot and shall accept any food given to them. The collected food becomes their main meal of the day. It is a Buddhist tradition that dates back to the times of the Buddha. Unlike begging, monks just walk, mindfully, without any expectations, present themselves at doorways, householders’ gates or as in my case in the market, asking nothing, and then they move along. If an offering is made, a prayer or blessing is offered in return.
Zac finally arrived in Chiang Mai on my 4th day here, so we booked ourselves a full day cooking lesson with Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School which was recommended by our hostel. This cost us 900 bht per person (18 pounds / R264) and included 5 dishes. Zac and i chose different options so that we could share and taste each other’s dishes.
Sammy collected us from our hostel early bells and we first went to the market to buy the ingredients. We learnt how to choose rice for our dishes and how to prepare the food with fresh coconut milk and they showed us how coconut milk is extracted. Then it was off to Sammy’s farm. Let me tell you Sammy is hilarious…he had me in stitches with his jokes all day long.
I ended up cooking yellow chicken curry and was first taught how to make the yellow curry paste. Next was hot and sour prawn soup, i had eaten this previously in Koh Tao and know its a very hot dish you should eat if you are sick because it totally kills any germs in your body. I was careful not to make it too hot although i do like spicy food. Up next was my favourite Thai dish….Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts….oh my how happy am i that i got to learn to make this dish the original Thai way!!!!!
After pigging out on all these dishes we needed to have a nap of course and Sammy was prepared for this and had hammocks laid out on his farm for us to chill in. After a nap we began on our remaining 2 dishes, i cooked papaya salad…yum such a light easy to make salad and last up was mango on sticky rice which is a traditional Thai dish which is very famous as a summer dessert..yum again!!!!!
So on my last day in Chiang Mai, Zac and i decided to hire bicycles from our hostel and cycle all over Chiang Mai…to hire the bicycles it cost us 40 bht for the day (80 pence / R11)… bonus!!! What an amazing fun day. I have not been on a bicycle since i was probably 12 years old. i was really shaky and nervous at first as the traffic in Thailand is crazy and their are no road rules. but after about half an hour i got the hang of it and it was a blast!!! i have decided that in future every place i stop at (if its a big town or city) then i am going to hire a bike.
So the plan is to leave Chiang Mai tomorrow (Saturday) and head to a cute little town 4 hours away called Pai. There is 1 local bus that leaves for Pai once a day at 7am. Zac and i will be travelling together. We could catch a mini van bus with air con but i really want to experience things the local way. I have heard that the local Thai bus to Pai is not a fun journey. You are basically pancaked in between loads of Thai’s. I have heard that buses are often packed beyond Guinness-Book-of-World-Records full and you could end up standing, leaning, or being leaned on for the entire journey. But i feel that this is part of my travelling experience and i am kind of looking forward to it. Zac and i have already joked that we bet we will be hating life tomorrow during this journey.
Below are a few pics from Chiang Mai 😉