I’m currently at the airport in Taiwan. I want to say Taipei International, but it’s actually in Taoyuan (and there’s a second international airport in Taipei. Confusing. I know. But I guess this is /the/ Taipei International). I’ve gotten lazy about blogging towards the last stretch of our SEA Trip, but to be fair, we did a lot, and then once I got back to Taiwan, Southeast Asia was no longer on my mind so I kinda forgot. I know. Lazy bum here. Sorry (not sorry).
To keep things short and to the point, I really liked Chiang Mai. I’ll note down a list of things we did, but as a general note this was probably my favorite city in Thailand. The people here are incredibly humble and respectful, and always so happy. Ok, maybe when you’re haggling they’re actually not that nice, but everybody’s got to make a living, right? The point is, it was really cool seeing how happy everyone was here.
First off, there are definitely poor people there, but regardless of where you go, everyone is pretty happy. Like, I-love-my-life-and-am-so-grateful-for-everything-here-happy. It was kind of incredible taking a walk at 6 am and seeing all sorts of people making donations (or alms? I don’t know these things.) to monks walking around. We passed by a high class hotel, and they had opened up one of their conference rooms to lay out a pretty scrumptious vegetarian spread for any monks who wanted breakfast. It’s pretty cool to see.
Second, it is gorgeous here. The water, the mountains, everything. The city itself is kind of cool, but you go outside about 10 minutes and you’ll see stretches of farmland, teak trees (grown for dem monies), monkeys. There’s a lot of nature-y stuff you can do about half an hour (or more) drive out of the city. Just be careful. Of land mines that is. We were talking to someone who said that a beautiful golf course had opened up near the Golden Triangle (Lao/Burma/Thailand) with the little problem that someone hit a bunker and there was a boom. But otherwise, great place to be. Just stick to the well-traveled path.
Ok. So that being said, I’m definitely coming back some day. There’s still a lot of scenery I want to see, and the city itself is just a nice place to be. Livelier than Laos, more to do, but still the same vibe from the people.
Now getting to the list:
Biking through Southern Chiang Mai
We booked a tour with Bangkok Biking (or was it Biking Bangkok?). It’s actually a little scary biking, mostly because 1. the cars are on the opposite side of what I’m used to, 2. I suck at biking, and 3. the traffic flow is just crazy in general. Not as bad as Bangkok, but definitely still a little wild. We went to a few temples (one of which we walked into the mouth of a dragon, out its tail, then into a tiger’s butt and out its mouth. Apparently that’s the way to go for good luck), a delicious curry noodle place, crematorium, leper colony, rice paddies, candy factory (not my favorite, the texture was too close to mochi), and a local market (where we got the best mango sticky rice I’ve had. They sprinkle this toasted soybean stuff on top to give it an extra crunch). It was a very relaxing and slightly sweaty 4 hrs.
Mae Rim Tiger Kingdom
I was a little skeptical of any animal places, mostly because of how terrible animals were treated in the rest of Thailand (at least the ones where we encountered them). Turns out this place is actually ok. The trainers are super playful with the tigers, they look happy and healthy (tiger and trainer alike), and there’s no sign of abuse at all. It was actually really adorable playing with the baby tigers, and I had a great time here. It’s a little on the expensive side considering the amount of time you get to be in the cages with the tigers, but it’s pretty cool and worth at least checking out once.
This is another decent restaurant, with a great riverside view. It’s not as upbeat as The Good View (so no, there are no skimpily clad Asian girls walking around serving beer) but it has its own charm and the food is decent. The alcohol is pretty crappy though, so stick to the beers and skip out on the cocktails.
Baanchang Elephant Park
This place is special in the sense that all the elephants have been rescued from less than ideal situations (so it is a sanctuary of sorts) and they have trainers from Burma who work with the elephants to acclimate them to human kindness. It’s a day of bananas and sugar cane and water and riding and fun (with the addition of elephant kisses). You learn commands to direct the elephant, and learn about them (general elephant facts and how other places work with elephants compared to this park). A lovely day of animal fun and a pretty awesome experience.
Sunday Night Market
You need to pass the city gates (there is a huge wall in the middle of the city..it’s pretty cool) to get into the actual market. This place is HUGE and the cool thing is that there’s actually very little repeat that happens in these stalls. It’s not like your typical other night markets, where every other stall is selling the same trinkets. The food is also pretty bomb, and I would say that this does not lose to Taiwan’s night markets. Definitely my favorite shopping places so far (and eating and smelling and hearing – there are a lot of street performers in the middle of the lane).
Chiang Mai Highlands (Golfing)
First time at a golf course (aside from photo shoots and banquets), gorgeous scenery, lovely spa, and delicious club house food. If American golf courses were like this one… In any case, I had an awesome time with Amy’s dad and his new friend P from Seattle. I learned a lot about golf and life, and it’s actually a really nice way to enjoy the (hot) weather (and beers), admire the view, very lightly exercise, and just socialize.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
This place is ridiculous. I think it’s like one of the world’s top hotels, and it is unreal. The entire property is literally a village of its own. There are hotel rooms and villas scattered between rice fields, infinity pools that overlook rolling hills, places that teach about Thai traditions (cooking, weaving, farming, etc). You could literally come here for vacation and never leave, which I guess is the point. We came here for a cooking class, which was pretty posh, but also took a tour of the place. It’d be a pretty cool place for a photo shoot.
And of course there’s all the other places from the first night in. On top of that, there was a lot of city exploring that happened, but that was more just to stroll around and enjoy Chiang Mai. We also got massages (ch-check!) and had a little spa fun.
TLDR; awesome place, awesome weekend, would visit again!
PS. I heard that in Phuket, you’ve gotta go to Lampseng Beach (I think that’s the spelling). Otherwise, suck it cause those beaches are nasty unless you boat out (in which case you’re not really in Phuket anymore)