The Chiang Mai Way
We took a bus from the jungles of Khao Sok to Surat Thani airport. We were ready to explore the north of Thailand. Our first stop was the well-known backpackers haven of Chiang Mai. From other travelers, we had heard time and time again that Chiang Mai was a favorite destination in Thailand. As such, it had also become a favorite of ex-pats, whose influence had led to a surge in hip cafes, coffee shops, and western food options. Chiang Mai was also known for being well-positioned to explore the natural side of the north, with waterfalls and hiking trails in abundance. Needless to say, we were excited to begin this leg of our journey.
What We Did
Day 201 (2/8/17): Adam and I awoke early to do one last short hiking trail at the Jungle House Resort. While walking, we came across a large family of Macaques in the trees above our heads. We spent about half an hour watching then traverse between the bamboo and other trees that formed a monkey super highway above our heads. Once we had our fill, we walked back to camp, met back up with Katie and Justin and started our journey north. When we arrived in Chiang Mai we got a cab to our hostel, Vida Guesthouse, and took a second to settle in. After a bit of rest, we walked out into the city to get something to eat. In need of a break from the plethora of Thai cuisine we had been consuming, we decided on a burger place called the Mad Cow. After reclogging our arteries, Katie went back to the hostel, Justin went to check out the infamous Zoe in Yellow bar area, and Adam and I continued on ton explore some of Chiang Mai’s well-known night markets. After a couple hours wandering, we mentally bookmarked a couple of places to return to the next day and headed back to the hostel for the night.
Day 202 (2/9/17): After sleeping in, we made our way out into the streets in search of breakfast. We found a small place around the corner and filled up. After eating, we were all feeling a bit tired and possibly under the weather, so we decided to spend the rest of the morning relaxing in our rooms. After lunch, we ventured out into the city, stopping by a few of the temples in Old Town (the ones we could get into dressed in tank tops and shorts). We covered the rest of Old Town pretty well walking around, looking at other memorials and points of interest. We returned to our hostel to get ready to go to dinner. Adam and I took Katie and Justin to the Ploen Ruedee Night Market we had discovered the previous evening. We stayed there for a while, eating delicious western-style food, sipping beers we snuck in from 7/11, and listening to the live music performances. Later in the evening, we headed into the Night Bazaar, and specifically the Anusarn Market. We were headed for the ladyboy show. We spent the evening being shocked and amazed by the talent and costumes of these performers. After the show, we headed back to the apartment to get some sleep.
Day 203 (2/10/17): Today, we awoke and decided to head out and visit a few of the temples Katie and I were not dressed appropriately enough to enter during our wanderings the day before. We spent a couple hours wandering around the temple grounds, snapping pictures and admiring the intricate detailing. Adam even participated in a monk chat at one of the temples, whereby he sat with young monks conversing and getting to ask them questions. He said it seemed like the monks tended to ask him more questions than he asked them, eager to practice their English, but the experience was unique none-the-less. For Justin’s birthday, Katie had arranged a spectacular evening for us. We started with dinner at Rock Bar, a highly-rated burger joint downtown. Although I opted for bacon cheese-fries, the burgers themselves were delicious. Afterwards, we were headed to the main event: a muay thai fight. We went to arena, took our seats and waited in anticipation of seeing this sporting event for the first time. We got to see six different fights, starting with the more amateur fights and working up to the headliners. They were very exciting, some of them resulting ion KOs in less than a round. After the fights, we were feeling tired and opted to just return to the hostel for the evening.
Day 204 (2/11/17): Katie and Justin rented motorbikes today and headed outside Chiang Mai to the Bua Tong “Sticky” Waterfalls, so named because the calcium build-up on the rocks allows you to walk straight up them like a staircase as the water rushes down. They spent a couple hours playing around in the falls before heading back to the city. The drive itself took about an hour, but they even found a cool blue temple to stop at on the side of the road on their way back. Adam and I decided not to join in today, as we were feeling tired and wanted to spend some more time relaxing. So, we slept in and then went to a hippy café called the Cat Café down the road for breakfast/lunch. Once Katie and Justin got back, Katie, Adam, and I went out in search of another good Thai massage. We found a place a couple of blocks away, changed into some odd massage apparel, and let the ladies do their work. Feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, we met back up with Justin and once again ventured out to the Ploen Rudee Night Market for food, drinks, and cards. On the walk back to the hostel, we passed through the Phae Gate and saw a celebration of the Chinese New Year going on. So, we paid our tribute to the year of the rooster and then hit the sheets.
Day 205 (2/12/17): Today, Katie & Justin and Adam & I switched places. It was their turn to stay back at the hostel being lazy, relaxing on the roof, watching movies, and reading, while Adam and I rented a scooter and drove out to the Sticky Waterfalls. We, too, spent a couple of hours playing around in the water and taking the short hike to see the natural spring before heading back into town, dodging the traffic on our way. Once we got back, Katie and I walked to find Chiang Mai’s most well-known dish, Khao Soi, a noodle soup that mixed boiled and deep fried egg noodles. We went to a top-rated spot for it called Khao Soi Arak, which was a bit off the beaten path. When we went there, it was after the big lunch rush and we were one of two tables in the entire garage-esk space. But oh boy was it good, and for just over $1 a bowl, it could not be beaten. After filling up, we returned to the hostel and relaxed some more on the roof. Come dinner time, Adam and I ventured out to the Sunday Walking Market. After pushing our way up the street a bit, we turned into the grounds of a temple and ate dinner. That night, we all packed our bags and readied ourselves for the next morning’s elephant adventure.
What We Learned
- The Ploen Ruedee Night Market is an awesome place to go if you are looking for international cuisine. It consists of a large open area filled with tables for seating and lined with small booths and stalls selling different food. We went there on three occasions during our stay in Chiang Mai. They have stalls selling everything including BBQ, tacos, burgers, pizza, pasta, steaks, kebabs, seafood, and traditional Thai cuisine. The Burger Box has a 50-baht fried chicken sandwich that is a spectacular deal and delicious. The market also has live music and a really nice hipster-like vibe that made us feel a bit like we were in O.T.R. back home.
- The Lady Boy Show in the Anusarn Market is a must-do when in Chiang Mai. For roughly $8 per person, I got a free drink and one of the most entertaining evening s we had had in a while. The Anusarn Market is an off-shoot of the Night Bazaar and it can be found on a map. You just walk into the market and you will see the lady-boys in full dress and sequins pointing you towards the entrance where you can buy your ticket. The show itself is a sight to behold, very much reminiscent of what I saw in the movie The Birdcage. The show itself is outstanding, and if you sit near the front and are a male, you are almost sure to be involved in some way (so if you don’t want to be, sit near the back). We sat closer to the back and loved seeing the routines of these over-the-top costume clad performers. And let me tell you they make some pretty convincing women. We laughed and cheered, especially as a Rhianna look alike shoved her tits in Adams face as she waltzed by. It is a worthwhile experience while in Chiang Mai.
- You do not need to pay up for ring-side seats at the Muay Thai fights. Most of the hostels and hotels have very good seating at a more discounted price and every seat in the place has a terrific view. It is definitely worth going to see, but the cheap seats will do. Also, like with boxing, you cannot be guaranteed a good show. For example, our first and most amateur fight was over in less than five seconds, as one boy charged in and absolutely nailed the other. I learned this was not a typical fighting style, as the first couple rounds of muay thai serve as a warm up for the fighters. However, our first headliner match was also a bit disappointing as one of the fighters had his knee completely destroyed by what appeared to be an innocuous kick (with the technique they use, it definitely wasn’t) by the other fighter just a minute into the second round.
- The Sunday Night Walking Street Market is only worth going to for the food. Honestly, I was very surprised at first that this was so highly rated on all the blogs I read. The street itself, while impressively long, is also impressively packed. Like, jam-packed. I did not really feel like I could even take time to look too closely at what any of the vendors were selling because there were people behind you trying to push their way past. And while I did see a couple of vendors selling unique and interesting goods, most of what was sold was the same stuff sold at every other market throughout the city by at least a hundred other vendors. The shining star of that market, however, was the food. By chance, to escape the crowds, Adam and I ventured into the grounds of a temple on the road. We found them full of food stalls and vendors, a sort of make-shift food court. We took our time trying several things. We had fried balls of chicken and cheese, an assortment of Thai candies and small pastries, made-to-order mac and cheese, pad thai, and my absolute favorite, khanon krok (tiny thai pancakes). I am telling you, the khanon krok were delicious. The first layer is cooked and then filled with a different, custard-like batter that is just barely set before it is flipped out into a bowl and covered in sugar. I was so obsessed, I got it twice, and the lady selling them smiled at me and added an extra couple of fresh ones to my serving. The market is worth going to just for them. 😊
- Though we did not partake, the city is very well-regarded for its coffee. As such, there are about a million and a half cafes and coffee houses within even just the Old Town. We met loads of travelers who loved grabbing a cup of joe here each day, so you might want to check it out if you are in the area.
- The Bua Tong Waterfalls was a really cool experience for all of us. Even though we went separately, we all agreed it was super unique and awesome getting to scale a five-tiered waterfall like it was nothing. There were even different routes you could take up the falls to mix it up or make the climb more challenging. It was like a natural playground. You just stripped down to your bathing suit and went for it, going up and down the falls, stopping at different points to sit in the cool water or dangle your feet over the edge. There was even a small pool at the very bottom you could swim in. Not to mention, despite being a main tourist sight in the Chiang Mai area, when we both arrived between 9 and 10 a.m. (on separate days), we were the only people there. And it stayed that way for a while, making it a really, really cool private experience. It was super awesome.
- Adam’s most memorable moment was discovering the woman up the road who sold egg rolls at just 10 baht each (roughly 30 cents). She had sweet varieties such as banana and mango and savory ones such as chicken, vegetable, pad thai, and fried rice. He must have visited her at least four or five times during our stay, and he always greeted her with a big smile.
- Overall, Chiang Mai just has a very cool vibe, which explains why it is a Thai favorite for expats of many countries. This has also contributed to Chiang Mai’s diverse food culture. We found more western-style food in Chiang Mai than in any other place we had visited in Thailand. It was appreciated after a couple of solid weeks of Thai food. Chiang Mai is a very laid back place, full of unique cafes and hippy backpackers. It is definitely a city that is not in a rush, and the street art is something to marvel at, especially in Old Town. We all really enjoyed our time here.