Thursday 30 March 2017

I Chiang Mai Mind

On the first day of February this year, I found myself back on a plane heading overseas once again. My destination was Thailand, the spiritual home of pad thai and baggy elephant pants, and I wasn't alone. Generally I prefer to travel alone but this time I was being closely escorted by my girlfriend Jess.
That's the one
  We flew out of Sydney late at night and, after a quick pitstop in Kuala Lumpur, we landed early the next morning in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai is the second city of Thailand and the de facto capital of the Northern half of the country. The Southern half of Thailand is famous for pristine beaches, islands and full-moon parties and the centre of the country is dominated by Bangkok (the most visited city in the world). The top half of Thailand is famous for it's mountains and rainforests. It's also the more adventurous half of Thailand. Chiang Mai is the kind of place you could come and stay for your entire holiday without running out of activities. Given the overwhelming choice, and the fact that Jess had been to Chiang Mai before, we only stayed there one night before moving on. 
Most of the 'activities' in Chiang Mai actually happen in the countryside around the country but, only having the one night, we contained ourselves to just the old city centre (which is ringed by a large, square-shaped canal. Chiang Mai was an easy stepping stone to adjust to South-East Asian life. We had both been to Thailand before and Thailand is a very safe place but if you're coming from a “developed” country like Australia, it takes a few days to get your head into South-East Asia mode. There are habits you need to force yourself to pick back up straight away, like not drinking tap water of looking constantly in every possible direction at all times when crossing the road.  Thai culture itself is something that it is easy to adjust to. Thai people are incredible kind, friendly and welcoming. Even the Thai people working in the tourist areas still seemed thrilled to meet foreigners and ask how they enjoy Thailand. The impassive, steely-faced tuktuk drivers haggling over the cost of a fare will light up into brilliant, gap-toothed smiles the moment the price negotiations are over and ask where you're from. Thailand is a happy place and their tourist slogan “The Land of Smiles” is possibly the second most accurate national slogan in the world (after New Zealand's “No, we're not Australia. They're over there, bro”).
  In Chiang Mai we basically walked around and got ourselves reacquainted with Thai culture. One thing I forgot about that quickly came back to me was how much Thai people love gold. They also love temples and they really love golden temples.   
Don't look at me!
After a day poking around Chiang Mai, we caught a public bus to Chiang Rai, a smaller city roughly four hours North-East of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was already incredibly relaxed by our standards. Despite the hustle and bustle of the city, nobody seemed to be in a genuine hurry. Chiang Rai, however, made Chiang Mai look like a proper rat race. Chiang Rai was the kind of place where you could while away days at a time doing absolutely nothing, but have a good time doing it. 
Everything is brightly coloured in Thailand
The Chiang Rai clock tower is apparently quite famous in Thailand
  Given that we didn't really have that many days to waste, however, we decided to make the most of them. The first highlight of Chiang Rai was the local markets that took place every afternoon. Basically every town in South-East Asia has a morning, afternoon and night market but the Chiang Rai markets were particularly good. All Thai food is good but roaming through the markets, snacking on anything and everything you see, made fresh in front of you is the best Thai food. And if it only costs a few dollars, thats even better.   
We saw three main attractions around Chiang Rai, apart from making pigs of ourselves at the markets. In order of how excited Jess was at the time, we visited a cat cafe, visited the White Temple of Chiang Rai and tuktuked/trekked out to the Khun Korn waterfalls.   
David Bowie cat
Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple outside Chiang Rai, is one of the best temples I've ever seen. It is very new for a temple, only built in 1997 and it is privately owned. It does serve as a Buddhist temple but it's principle reason for existing is as a tourist attraction. It is also breathtakingly beautiful. Whilst most temples in Thailand are very old, very gold and very traditional, the White Temple is ornate and intricate and extremely white. 
It was also built to reflect the modern Thai culture of it's time, which is why it is the only Buddhist temple in Thailand to feature pictures of Pokemon, minions, Michael Jackson, and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Thailand can be a little odd, sometimes. All in all though, a beautiful building. 
So many questions...
Jess and I also visited the Khun Korn waterfalls, the tallest waterfalls in Northern Thailand, at over 70m high. The trek in was hard work but the waterfalls were swell. The downhill walk out was definitely nicer than the walk in, though. 
Thai drive-thru for lunch
"Praying to the spirits of your ancestors, brought to you by Coca-Cola Amatil"
    Our last night in Chiang Rai coincided with some sort of flower festival, so everyone was out in town. Mostly we just went along for the food, honestly.
That's not creepy at all

1 comment:

  1. A huge number of tourists visit Chiang Mai annually.
    I learned this from the reviews when I was looking for transport to rent and for a ride around the city freely, without resorting to the public bus. Moreover, my favorite transport is a motorcycle, on my every trip I usually take such transport for rent. This is already a tradition for me.