Wandering Again: Chiang Mai, Thailand

After a year of hard work in Melbourne the travels have begun again. Following a not-so-wonderful flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, then an equally not-so-wonderful 7 hour stop over, followed by a rather turbulent flight on to Thailand, me and my amazing travel companion, arrived in Chiang Mai…

Instead of the usual roughing it job we tend to do when we travel, we opted for 4 nights in a somewhat swanky guesthouse (by our standards anyway) called Sabai Hotel – located in a nice quiet spot on the old city of Chiang Mai – in order to treat ourselves and kick start the next episode of our travels in some sort of style. Chiang Mai itself is a bit of an odd one to be perfectly honest. The old city is a beautifully laid back village-like affair, dotted sporadically with exquisite temples and ancient ruins. Surrounding this placid area is a sprawling mass of busy city-life – a stark contrast from the peace of the old city.

Chiang Mai is weirdly a place where monks, rats, tourists, cockroaches, prostitutes and expats all manage to live harmoniously together. A walk around the temples will find humble Buddhist monks bowing their heads in friendly greetings, late at night the rats and cockroaches run riot around the rubbish laden streets, and just a short walk to the east of the old city towards the famed Chiang Mai Night Bazaar you will find the “strip” – not sure if this is actually the technical term for this section of road, but hey. Here you will find hoards of make-up smothered women trying to entice lowly westerners into… well, you get the picture… seedy old western men (having the time of their lives, may I add) surrounded by seemingly beautiful Thai girls. Be wary of the Adam’s apple and over-sized hands, or you could be in for a bit of a surprise!

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So enough of all that… what have we been up to in our first few days then?

Anyone who knows us will know that a lot of what we do revolves around food – digging out strange, exotic and fiery treats – and the first few days here have been no different. The trick, as far as we are concerned, is to pick the most unassuming and sometimes quite terrible looking places to eat. This way, in our opinion, we are guaranteed the most local, authentic, interesting and (hopefully) the tastiest culinary experience possible. So far, so good…

Activities wise, Chiang Mai has plenty to keep pretty much anyone entertained – obviously the aforementioned being fairly popular with many, but not us (unsurprisingly). From your standard tourist traps like Tiger Kingdom, where “tame” tigers supposedly “hand-reared from cubs by monks” – sorry but this is bullshit, they are clearly doped up and high as fuck – are hugged and kissed by tourists, and the ever-present Elephant Camps and Elephant Riding options, to jungle trekking, mountain biking, zip-lining and more, more, more. So far we have not partaken in any of these activities, but will be returning to Chiang Mai later this week to hit the trails for a bit of trekking and mountain biking. Our first few days have instead included a spot of temple hunting round the old city and a trip to Doi Inthanon National Park – 2.5 hours south from Chiang Mai.

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To reach Doi Inthanon and its spectacular twin pagodas atop Thailand’s highest mountain, we decided to rent a motorbike to take us there. Bike rental in Chiang Mai is a fairly easy business, with every man and his dog offering some sort of rental service. So what did we end up with for this 5 hour round trip into a very, very mountainous national park, our trusty bike Zoomer. When renting I was told, in good faith, that Zoomer was “strong” with “big wheels” and “perfect for national park”. Amazing…

Granted, Zoomer did have big(ish) wheels, but Zoomer was far from strong, in fact Zoomer was a little pussy and was not perfect for national park. In fairness he got us to the top of Thailand’s highest mountain, but it was not without a (very big) struggle. At times, crawling along at a lively 10km per hour, being overtaken and laughed at by wiser people who rented cars, by the time we reached the pagodas at the summit Zoomer had devoured over three quarters of his petrol, and being deep in a national park, many, many miles from any form of petrol outlet, this posed a bit a worry for us.

Luckily, Zoomer did at least perform much better on the downhill sections and delivered us safely to the closest petrol station, over an hour away, even with a little room for a slight detour to find the picturesque Wachirathan Waterfall. Despite the pressure sores acquired from his overly firm seat, Zoomer did us proud… sort of.

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So, that was Saturday, and after a night in the pub watching England get out-muscled by Ireland in the Six Nations, yesterday was spent feeling a little hungover and exploring another of Chiang Mai’s tourist spots, the Art In Paradise 3D Art Museum. Find the hilarious photos below:

Aaaanyway. That’s all for now folks. I’ll be back in a few more days after our visit to Chiang Rai. Here are a few more photos from our time so far…

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