Chiang Mai The Wonderful Northern City Of Thailand
Thailand has a lot more to offer than just sunshine and exotic beaches. (For a recommended beach holiday click here) Admittedly, due to this and the allure of full moon parties (in my younger days) it took me a number of years before I ventured north. Once I did, I wish I had done so sooner, for Chiang Mai the wonderful Northern City of Thailand is vast and varied. Further North has so much more to offer too, which I will write about another time.
Arriving in Chiang Mai by plane is a much more relaxed experience than the hustle and bustle of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. It gives you the sense your visiting a calmer and more relaxed part of the country. By and large its true. You can never get away from the crazy traffic and the food stalls and people trying to sell you thing’s on every street corner. Even if your wearing a pair of sunglasses – someone will try to sell you another pair! But the people are certainly that bit friendlier here and more laid back. As I mentioned in our last blog here, Chiang Mai is Northern Thailand’s largest city. Despite this, it pales in comparison to Bangkok. It’s no Manhattan which Thailand’s capital is fast becoming. Buildings in Chiang Mai are restricted at being built no higher than the cities numerous temples. However, this only seems to happen in the old city which dates back 700 years and has the remnants of a vast wall that enclosed it along side a charming moat which is a nice and relaxing place to walk along. At night fountains and multi coloured lights light up the water.
Around the bustling and atmospheric night bazaar high rise hotel’s have started to spring up. So far it has managed to keep it’s charm. Hopefully developers won’t go to over the top! Evening time is obviously when to visit the night bazaar when the area really comes to life. One of the great thing’s I love about this part of the world is being able to do most thing’s outdoors. You can choose fish or seafood from the many open air restaurant’s and have it cooked to your liking. Red snapper barbecued with ginger and lime is a favourite of mine. Once it’s served at your table you can eat it under the stars whilst watching a band playing or being entertained by some traditional Thai dancing. Once you’ve filled your self up with all the delicious food which is on offer you can take advantage of an outdoor foot massage sitting in a reclining arm chair. This will be cheaper than the dinner you just had! Close by every evening you can watch Muay Thai (Thai Boxing), not for the faint hearted but it’s part of Thailand’s history and worth a look if you like boxing and martial arts.
Not far from here is the Maenam Ping (Ping River). From the night bazaar you can take a tuk tuk across the bridge and go to the lively Riverside Bar and Restaurant. A lively place on the water’s edge which serves really good food and best of all, has great live bands playing. Also no trip to Chiang Mai is complete without trying Kao Soi. Although it originates in Burma it can be found in many places. It was originally deemed peasant food but now you will see people from all walks of life eating it. Kao Soi is a soup-like dish made with a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled cabbage, shallots, lime, ground chillies fried in oil, and meat in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk. (Below left)
If your lucky to be in Chiang Mai on a Sunday then you will be able to visit Walking Street (Above right). It starts at Tha Phae gate which is one of the four ancient entrances into the old city. It is normally a busy road but on a Sunday it is closed off to traffic. It’s a lot like the night bazaar and not too far to walk from, selling souvenirs, handicrafts, fantastic art and of course lots of food. Within the walls of the ancient city you will find many Buddhist temples dating back hundreds of years. Some of these can be seen as you walk down this street, but to fully appreciate the historic wonder of this area it is best to come during the day. If your on a budget, the atmospheric area for back packers hostels and guest houses are just a short walk away within the old city.
Now no one can go to Chiang Mai without viewing the majesty of Doi Suthep. This is an opposing mountain that overlooks the city. There is a temple at the top called what Phrathat which can be seen from the streets below at night. But it is very high up as you can see from the photo below. You can get to the top by Sawngtheow (a makeshift bus out of a pickup truck) or you could hire a car.
If you like trendy places and want to see how the cool local people live then visit or stay near Nimmanhaemin Road. Funky bars, clubs and restaurants, coffee and tea shops, spa’s and deli’s can be found along this road and in the many side streets or soi’s as they say in Thailand. The businesses down the soi’s are set in a residential area which give’s it quite a unique feel. Just off Nimmanhaemin Road, in one of the soi’s which has the view of Doi Suthep (second photo from left above) is a nice boutique hotel called Yantarasri Resort. The last time I stayed there it was a little tired in places but good value for money and has a nice swimming pool. See below.
A fairly recent edition to Chiang Mai and a spectacular one it is too is the night safari. When I first went there I wasn’t expecting much but it was truly world class. You can drive around in an open sided vehicle at night viewing the animals roaming around and walk along a trail seeing some of the smaller animals in their enclosure’s. They also put on a spectacular fountain and laser show each night. I took the photo below when I was there. For any more info read here.
As you can see Chiang Mai the wonderful Northern City of Thailand has so much to offer. If you go out of the city you can go elephant trekking, rafting and see ethnic villages. There is so much to do off the beaten track which I will write about another time alongside the charm of Chiang Rai. Many Thai’s will recommend this most northern of Thai cities over Chiang Mai. Visit both and you can make your own mind up!