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el2995 Chiang Mai - A travel report by USC
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Chiang Mai,  Thailand - flag Thailand
10555 readers

el2995's travel reports

Chiang Mai

  9 votes
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Chiang Mai travelogue picture
Chiang Mai, unofficially considered the capital of Northern Thailand, is perhaps the major departure point for those seeking adventure travel (trekking, rafting, wildlife viewing, etc.) Much smaller than Bangkok (though bigger than I had envisioned it) and decidedly more laid back, arriving in Chiang Mai felt like slipping into a comfortable pair of old shoes. The city exudes a quaint, small town atmosphere, with its clean narrow streets and older building, particular within the old city walls and scenic moat, where numerous wats and chedis were conveniently within easy walking distance. Chiang Mai is notable for its night bazaar, which features a large selection of hill tribe crafts. From Bangkok, Chiang Mai can be reached by plane and by overnight bus or train, which can take as long as 13 hours; most travel agencies can arrange transit, lodging and a variety of packaged tours within a couple of days' advanced booking.

Favourite spots:
Chiang Mai travelogue picture
One of Chiang Mai's main draws is trekking. Numerous trekking packages, lasting from one to three days can be arranged for the first-timer, with longer ones (up to nine days) also available. I chose a two-day/one night trek which started about a 1-1/2 hour drive South of Chiang Mai in the Doi Inthanon National Park (organized through Top North Tours). The trek began with 1-1/2 hours of elephant riding, which was followed by an 11-mile hike over a two day period (about three hours a day) which included one night's stay in a White (Skor) Karen hill tribe village, and ended with a one-hour bamboo raft trip. I also did a day trip by van to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle, which included stops at a hot spring, an Ahka tribe village, Chiang Saen and a brief stop in Donexao, Laos across the Mekong River and Mae Sai. Also included in my five-day stay was a half-day trip to Doi Suthep Temple and a Hmong village.

What's really great:
Chiang Mai travelogue picture
The most enjoyable time was that spent in the hill tribe villages. The Karen village, the site of our overnight stay during the trek, was the most authentic, being over a three-hour hike from the nearest paved road. The villagers were friendly and polite, rarely turned down a request to take their photograph and never asking for 10 Baht per photo (as was the case in the Ahka village). Given the lack of electricity in the village, we had an enjoyable evening meal by candlelight and entertained ourselves with Thai rum and potent rice wine, and karaoke sans musical accompaniment (Eagles, Pink Floyd and David Bowie tunes). Our Karen guide brought out a hand-made harp and flute and played/sang a traditional Karen drinking song and a sad love song after first consuming a bit of rice wine. The mountaintop Doi Suthep Temple was quite nice.

Chiang Mai travelogue picture
If you take the Golden Triangle day trip, Chiang Saen's Chedi Luang is interesting; we only stopped at the one place, but I noticed many other old temple ruins there. From Chiang Saen, a longboat trip across the Mekong to Donexao (Laos) and up to the actual spot in the river which lies between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) will cost you 300 Baht (including temporary admission into Laos).

Chiang Mai travelogue picture
I stayed at the Top North Hotel (41 Moon Muang Road, Amphur Muang, Chiang Mai; tel: 0-5327-9623-5), with is situated near one of the old city gates and the moat. The hotel was decent, having both a swimming pool and a Top North Tours office downstairs in the lobby. The representative, Joy, was very helpful. There's also a Top North Guest House very near the hotel, which lets one use the hotel pool for a nominal 100 Baht fee. The hotel is about a 15-minute walk from the Night Bazaar, which has a stage that features traditional Thai music and dancing.

Chiang Mai travelogue picture
There was a club next to the Top North Hotel that was something of a sports bar that featured a ring for amateur Muay Thai boxing matches. I came in late, so I didn't have to pay the cover charge to watch the last bout, which was quite good (the apparent underdog came through at the end of the last round with a high-flying spinning kick that literally brought his opponent up off the floor and knock him out for about 4 seconds.) Imagine my surprise when I learned that the bar was owned and run by katoi (lady-boys); or at least that's what I was told by this Ahka girl that I had a beer with.

There was a place called the Predator Bar just up from the hotel on Moon Muang Road that became my regular bar while in Chiang Mai. The bar features a welded rendition of the predator creature from the Arnold (now Governor Arnold) flick. The owner, Gary, is a British gent who's quite sociable, as are the ladies who work at the bar. It was refreshing in that the girls never hounded you for a 1000 Baht massage upstairs or grabbed your crotch and crooned "I want you, honey!"; rather, they just sat and drank with you over some pleasant small talk in passable English.

In front of Top North Hotel is Zest Restaurant and Bakery, which had a good selection of Thai and Western dishes and some good coffee. I was able to buy some whole bean Mae Salong coffee that was grown locally South of Chiang Mai; this was a pleasant surprise, as I had seen coffee growing on one of the hillsides that we ascended during the trek and was wondering how good the coffee was, and after numerous strong freshly-ground cups of it back home I can assure you it's quite good.

Published on Thursday October 30th, 2003

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Fri, Nov 26 2004 - 01:55 AM rating by janeyee

Very informative! Thanks!

Fri, Apr 16 2004 - 11:49 PM rating by inkolor

Nice pictures and enjoyable reading, thanks.

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