A short annual break with my wife without the kids took us to Chiang Mai, northern Thailand this year. This city to the far north exceeds my expectations by far. It is a lovely place, a real northern rose. I love the simplicity of the place, the lack of crowds (compared with the chaotic but lovely BKK and Phuket), and best of all, the closeness to nature in almost every direction. Chiang Mai oozes charm from the old city, a place still surrounded by a moat and remnants of city walls, reminding everyone that this place, founded in 1296, has soul. Our adventure starts there:
Our Bed and Breakfast sits in a quiet corner of the old city. Quaint streets crisscross this part of the city and attractive restaurants and family run hotels pop up between private residences. It is a great place to wander about and get lost in. Every place is inter-linked, and it is a great place to get lost in. If you don’t want to explore the place on foot, rent a bike. Hotels and shops rent out bikes at the very affordable rate of Bht 40-50 a day!
Our BnB, the Charcoa House. Lovely place to wake up to and return every night. We had a loft room made of timber – complete with a creaking staircase. Set like a European country house, it is sooooo lovely. Having breakfast in its open courtyard takes one to another place and time. Its cakes are also famous in Chiang Mai, with their kitchen delivering cakes to several hotels and restaurants.
Check it out at http://www.charcoa.com
For tours, due to the lack of time, we chose a day trip to Doi Inthanon and another to Chiang Rai. We skipped the elephants because we have done that in Krabi. Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s highest peak – a lovely respite from the warm weather. Pre-dawn temperatures can fall to 8 deg celcius! But by mid-day, it is like a lovely air-conditioned room with great view and fresh air. Flora here is interesting. stepping into the nature trail is like entering an enchanted forest – cold and mysterious, it does not feel like you are in Thailand. Right at the peak stands a memorial to a king. The memorial, covered with moss, completes the mysterious feel.
Along the way, visit Karen tribes and the golden green padi fields that surround the village, a really grand water fall that pelts you with water droplets even from far away due to powerful spray – a testament to the power of the water. The water droplets in the air is so thick it creates a perpetual rainbow that can be seen when you go up to the second viewing platform.
The next day – to Chiang Rai! Here, you will visit the White Temple – an almost fantasy – fairy tale temple that blends modern science fiction with traditional Thai beliefs. Evidence? Even the Predator from AVP has a place here!
But what really drew me to this place is the visit to the Golden Triangle – a place once out-of-bounds to anyone not in the drug trade but now teeming with commerce. We rode on a boat to the no-man’s land in the middle of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos – a place where opium and gold once changed hands. The place is called Golden Triangle because once upon a time, opium here is traded by weight – in gold. 1 gm of opium = 1 gm of gold. Yes – opium was once known as Black Gold because of this place. We even went to Laos. Although we only touched the tip of that mysterious, exotic country, the excitement of touching the forbidden was exciting. Laos is definitely a country to visit in future! Landing in Laos, the first thing they offer you is a welcome drink made of – Snake Wine! A cobra boiled in local wine! They even claim to have Tiger-penis wine! Please don’t drink it – spare the tigers.
The border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar. Beyond the blue building lies Myanmar!
The mighty Mekhong river – upstream from here by another 260km takes you to China!
Next is a visit to the tribes. They are congregated into a village where tourists can visit. If you want a more authentic settlement, you can join a tour to visit a Karen village via elephant ride. This one at Chiang Rai is more of a refugee settlement, where they are provided for by the Thai govt in terms of medicine, education and basic necessities. In return, they welcome tourists. Most of them are there because of persecution and war in Myanmar, which isn’t far away. After living in Thailand for many years, they hope to eventually get Thai citizenship. This way, the next generation will become assimilated into Thai society. Our tour guide told us that eventually, the tribal identities like the long-neck culture, will be lost as the womenfolk grow up in Thai society and schools, becoming like Thais.
Now, no visit to Thailand is complete without the food. The best night time open air market is at Chiang Mai Gate at the Old City. The noodles here are excellent! Try the duck noodles at this store right next to the Chiang Mai Gate’s wall! You can even see the brick wall next to it. Other places we tried are long Maun Moon Road. Lots of hawkers and eateries. Good and cheap. Eating inside the old city can be slightly more expensive, but the food at the edge of the old city like Chiang Mai gate and Maun Moon Road is cheap and excellent!
So the verdict – will we go back again!
Why we like Chiang Mai is because it offers the best of Thailand’s modernity with a touch of the simple, authentic Thailand that gives the country its charm. The place is simple to get about, CLEAN, SAFE, and extremely economical. Getting around is easy and fun on the red pick-ups known as Songthaew – cheaper and easier to get than a taxi. Each trip per person within the old city and its vicinity should be about Bht 20. There are lots more to see – that’s why the next trip we will take our children with us!