4. A Happy return to Chaing Mai

15/11/14 – 20/11/14

After two days in Sukhothai it was time to move one – my next destination was Chiang Mai. After spending only 1 night there 2 years ago, I decided to spend a bit more time there. So bag packed and I was back in a Tuk Tuk to get to the bus station.

At a crossing the driver asked where I am heading – Chiang Mai. He then stopped after the crossing and told me to get out. What have I done now? Did I say something wrong? Did the driver maybe support a team which main rival is from Chiang Mai? So many questions came up, but I got out with my bags anyway – looking slightly puzzled. The reason of this whole thing turned around the corner – a bus. The driver waved it down – and suddenly I was inside the bus to Chiang Mai. Was lucky once again, got a seat in the back, and a free seat next to me. The fee for this apparent 1st class bus (it was not as good as the bus I got from from Kaemphong Phet) – but it had A/C, decent seats and arrived on time (with a brief stop to have lunch – noodle soup once again please) – all for 239 Baht

We arrived on time 5 1/2 hours later. I tried to find some budget guesthouses online – but then decided that I would like a pool. So off I went by Tuk Tuk to a hostel – Eco Resort. It is bit further away from the Old Town (30 minute walk or 10 min Tuk Tuk ride), but I actually didn’t mind. Got there, and they still had a twin room available. 500 baht with a shared bathroom. “Do you want to share the Room, Sir?” – “Aehm, no thanks” – “OK, that’s 699 Baht then”. Well – sometimes you have to treat yourself, and £14 is still not too bad. I did mention it had a pool? It did indeed, and a very nice one as well, with loungers around it as well. The room was basic, clean, comfortable beds, and it had A/C (it was very warm again – so the A/C was very welcomed). Shared toilets and shower were clean and you never had to wait. Oh, and a basic breakfast buffet was included as well (simple but sufficient).

Trying to take advantage of the facilities I jumped straight into the pool – and boy was that good. Nice cold water, and I managed to swim 10 or 15 laps. Feeling a bit refreshed it was time to get to the Saturday Walking market.

Instead of taking a Tuk Tuk I hailed one of the red trucks – which are kind of songthraew that are used as buses throughout Chiang Mai

 

You just wave at one and if it stops, tell the driver where you want to go – he either says a price (usually between 20 – 50 baht depending where you are going) or he says no. More people will get onto the truck as well, so it is slightly slower than a Tuk Tuk – but still cheaper and for me a nice way to travel.

You could split Chiang Mai into two parts (actually more, as it is the second biggest city in Thailand – but I want to keep it simple)…. You have the old town that is surrounded by a moat and leftovers from a wall. While there are several bridges over the little moat, there are four main gates. North, East, South and – yes you guessed correctly – West.

The Saturday nigh market is outside the southern gate starting in a rather small street. Hundreds of little stalls selling anything from cloth, postcards and other touristy items. And food stalls between the souvenir stalls. It looked nice, and I enjoyed it at the beginning. Unfortunately, the market is located in a rather narrow street. And as you could have guessed, having lots of tourist there in a warm night, it can be very very hot there. So after a while, I thought it was too busy and felt the sweat running down my shirt. Well – this is not nice. I also bought some steamed fresh spring roll that wasn’t that nice, so I decided to get out via a small alley – hoping to get back to the main road next to the moat

Passing some interesting back alleys I found my way out. Well – it seems I really needed a cold beer. So I walked along the moat in the Old City, looking for a nice bar. I passed one that I initially thought looked a bit too touristy – Tiger Kingdom in Town. But then I saw that a live band prepared to start playing. So why not.

Getting a nice cold Chiang beer, I was able to relax and listen to the band. They played covers of well known songs. But they were good. The second singer just had a great voice. And the lead guitarist was just amazing. He played a few solos, and he was one of the best guitarists I have seen in a long time. Just fantastic. So instead of having one beer, I had a second, and ordered food – and got a third beer from the table next to me. Then I think I spoiled a picture of the Thai group on the other table who were celebrating a birthday. Raised my bottle in the background and put up my biggest grin. The guy who took the photo thought it was hilarious – thankfully the rest of the group did as well – especially after I hastily added a quick Happy Birthday and all was fine. Yep – this was a good start to the evening.

As usual I needed more beer, so off I went to two more bars with live music – unfortunately not as good as the first one.

And then I realised how small the second biggest city in Thailand was. Passing a bar I recognised the very long hair of a girl – and it turned out to be the Spanish couple I met in Sukhothai. They decided to do a day at the elephant sanctuary – so we arranged to meet again for a beer in a few days time.

I had a chance then to go home, or having maybe one more beer. My love for beer was sronger than my love for sleep – so I followed a group of tourist and ended up in Zoe – which is not just one pub but a square with several bars playing a variation of music, including some live music from a band with a singer who tried to look like Liam Gallagherfrom Oasis. It was all very enjoyable, and a good place for backpackers. The big surprise for me came at the end of the night. I met a group of Italians, and after I told them that I am from Cologne they all started to sing ‘Viva Colonia’ (this won’t be the last time to sing this song). I never would have expected that – but hey – why not. So I joined in and sung one of my favourite song in Chiang Mai with Italians. What a great finish ( and a reminder of how much I love my hometown!!!).

 

Waking up the next morning I decided that I was not in need of any breakfast, and that getting up early was not an option. Instead I made an executive decision to utilise the pool for the day. Getting a sunlounger (which I have NOT reserved with a towel after coming back from the night out) I made myself comfortable and relaxed. I only interrupted the hard work to get another Ice coffee, and getting out of the hostel to get some food. The hostel was nice, but food and drinks was in my view slightly overpriced. But thankfully there were enough local places for food. I ended up in one of them, and had a great fish noodle soup. Never had that one before, but I was very glad I had it. Some of the other guests were surprised to see a farang eating there, and got some big smiles when they left.

After the hard day at the pool I decided to visit the Sunday Walking market (yep – they have one on Saturday and one on Sunday). Not overly enjoying the Saturday one, I thought the Sunday might not be much better. I was wrong. Firstly, the market starts at the main thumbnail.xlarge.1.1417049414.wat-at-night gate at the Western Wall (Tha Phae Gate) and goes through the old town. The road was much wider and easier and more comfortable to walk there. And a big plus was that the temples were open, with food stalls open there. And what food they had there. Little stalls offering a wide selection. Fried, grilled, meat, fish vegetables. Anything you wanted. So it was time to try some new bits. Some tempura fish, some coconut fish. Then I was sitting on a plactic child chair, having a delicious green curry for 30 baht! That is £0.60!!! And it was great. But I saw too late that you could get a whole squid freshly grilled – had not enough space left. But even just walking along the stall was fun, and i saw quite a few bits I liked, but due to lack of space, and only at the start of my trip I didn’t buy anything. Hopefully I can buy similar items in Bangkok before I head back home. You also had quite a few musicians in the middle of the road (sitting in a line like in a rowing boat)

One thing I didn’t like was the amount of disabled kids that were just put in the middle of the market to beg. One boy who seemed to have Down syndrom was just spinning around. I am sure the parents need money, but this was just sad (I heard that there is kind of a begging mafia behind all these kids – it is just terrible). Besides that though it was a pleasant evening there.

 

After a very lazy day it was time to walk around the Old Town on day 2. But I was puzzled when I saw the old flags of Burma instead of the Thai flag at the entrance. Did I take the wrong turn to my guesthouse? Did I cross the border during the night? The answer to that was no. The driveway was full of filming equipment. It turned out that the hostel was selected as location for an Austrian movie called “Twilight over Burma”, based on events in Burma during the coup in the 60s. Over the next few days I was able to watch some scenes being filmed, and saw the main actress, the young German actress Maria Ehrich. Unfortunately I won’t be part of the movie!!! Well, it is their loss I guess… Despite the excitement of watching filming a movie I headed into the Old Town. Last time I was here I visited quite a few temples, so I decided getting off the main street and explore some of the side streets, and get to some of the Wats I haven’t seen

 It was actually nice to do this, as you see some interesting areas. After an hour or so though I decided it is time for a break and had some ice coffee and fried rice in a little place with a outdoor sitting area, able to do some people watching. The food here reminded me again just how good Thai food is because of its simplicity. Rice, with vegetables and prawn. That’s it. But it was full of flavour and just fantastic. If you have not realised it by now – I love food in general, but specially when I am travelling. It wouldn’t be the same if not trying the local food. Well – at least for me it would be boring.

Refreshed and strengthened I walked a bit further through the Old Town. I passed a school and it is interesting how school sport differs here to Germany and the UK. A football game was going one, with quite a few student watching the game from the stands. The noise grow quite a bit as soon one team came anywhere near the goal (and that included some passing 30-40 yards from the goal). They even had some students trying to animate the ‘supporters’, clapping and starting songs. Behind the football park was the same for the teams playing volleyball and basketball. It was definetaly fun just to watch this spectacle a bit.

One thing I missed last time was a visit to Doi Suthep. It is a mountain near Chiang mai, with the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep near the top of the mountain. Being slightly cheap I didn’t book a tour with the hostel – firstly it was more expensive, and secondly they advised that the taxi would only wait an hour. If I want to be rushed during sightseeing, I just join one of the tours where you are put into a minibus and told what to see etc – a tourist trap and nightmare version of visiting places!!!

I hailed a red truck, and he asked for 500 Baht return trip. It sounded fair to me, so I went on at the back, and the journey started. i was not aware how far away the temple was. First you had to get out of the city, then you drove up the mountain. An interesting ride with some nice views between trees – and lot of curves. After 45 minutes later we arrived at the temple. The good news was – you will have a great view. The bad news was: you have to climb a few stairs.

Thankfully the shades from the trees meant it was not that hot. So the climb was simple. On the top I paid the 30 Baht entrance, and I was finally able to walk around the complex. Seeing the view from the temple over Chiang Mai was beautiful, you could see the whole city, and get a feeling how far it actually stretches out. For the view alone it is worthwhile to come here. But the Wat itself is beautiful as well. The highlight is the inside of the main building, with a golden stupa and the little niches. Even if you feel a bit Wat tired after visiting the various Wats in Chaing Mai, it is so worthwhile to come here. As usual I took my time, trying to see as much as possible, or just sit back and relax the beauty of the area. Nice not be rushed by anyone. During the visit I experienced once again the solo traveller deals – you are asked to take pictures of other travellers – and they take pictures of me. it is actually very handy.

I decided to walk down the stairs again. If you cannot bothered with stairs you can take a lift down (or up). My driver was waiting for me, and after a quick conversation he agreed to bring me to my hostel instead to the Old City – and to stop at a viewing point on our way. However, further down he stopped at the middle of the road with a great view, and told me to take a quick picture. Thankfully no one was behind us – and I managed to get my camera out at some point, and we continued our journey. Well – the driver clearly went the extra mile to keep me happy as a passenger.

Back in the hostel I decided to visit my first ever Thai boxing fight. I was fully aware that it was mainly aimed for tourist – but I thought it could still be interesting. So off I went to the night bazaare area. It is full of vendors selling the usual items, and various food areas. There I finally managed to have a Khao Soi – a very delicious speciality of Chiang Mai – a coconut based base with glass noodles and crsipy noodle. It is one thing no tourist should miss out at. The meal was once again great, and for only 50 Baht I was stuffed..

So it was time for the fight. I heard about two areas that offered a fight that night – an open air arena or indoor arena

I went to the open air one. Strangely, after asking two questions the guy at the door thought I was Scottish. Well – maybe I caught some accent in the end. Getting myself comfortable near the edge of the ring, a cold beer in my hand, it was time. Never seen a Thai boxing fight before, it was rather interesting. There is a ritual both fighters follow before the fight – it included going to each corner, lowering their head in front of it (for a prayer – I don’t know), and some kind of ‘dancing’ in the middle of the ring. Even without knowing what it meant – it was good to see that. The first of 5 fights started, and like in the following ones, the first round was very slow, both fighters moving around without a lot of hits. There was some concern that it was more some sparing than actually fight. Well, the second round proved me wrong, as both fighters went for it, and the crowd consisting of mainly farangs made some noise – clearly enjoying it. The first two fights were decided by points from the three judges. One thing I liked was at the end of each fight the fighters went ot the opponent corner, where the coach gave them some water as sign of respect. Then came the third fight – under 50kg. One fighter looked slightly more trained, the other one not so much. But he clearly showed muscles are not all you need. He gave his opponent no chance. After the fourth round the referee stopped the fight. Immediatey after the fight was stopped – the winner checked if the other one was fine. Nice gesture.
One of the organisers I met at the door and had a few conversation with during the whole fight, and who I spoke to during the whole night, told me he trained that guy before, and he was only 15!!! While I have no idea about the sport – he was very impressive.

The last fight was between two woman – Thai vs. Dutch. Ignorant as I was, i thought the Thai would win easily. Well – after one round I knew how wrong i was. At the end of each round the Thai one was very happy to be still standing – the Dutch one was quite good and fully deserved the win after 5 rounds – though it was very one-sided.Nontheless, it was enjoyable, and I think I would enjoy to watch one of the big fights in Bangkok.

 

On my third day I finally managed to do something I always wanted to do – a cooking class in Thailand, I used “We Cook” that was booked via the hostel, and the owner, Miau, picked me up at the hostel. The first stop of our group (4 other people from South Korea and China) was the local market, where Miau showed us the different ingredients, and we were able to try some food – coconut pancakes and deep fried pork skin – which turned out to be nice (and would be a great snack while having a cold beer – though to be honest everything goes down well with beer…).

The cooking class itself took place in the garden of her house. It was a lovely little house, and a nice setting for the class. You can choose one item from 6 different categories, including one curry paste, one main course, one soup, one appetiser, one noodle dish and one desert. I was looking forward to learn how to prepare a red curry paste, and cook Khao Soi, a coconut soup, Pad Thai, Papaya Salad and Banana in coconut. Some of the other guys have choosen other dishes, so it was interesting to see the various outcome

Miau explained the processes well, highlighting any pitfalls, explaining the various ingredients and also how you can substitute them if you cannot get some of them back home. Except of some chopping, which the friendly staff did before you have to do everything yourself to learn about it. Well, except the desert where one person was volunteered. Surprisingly I was chosen by the others, but thankfully it turned out to be tasty, which was good as you wouldn’t dissapoint two hungry women….
The whole course was very enjoyable, and I think I learnt quite a bit. Some of you might be surprised, but my dishes turned out to be quite good. Apparently my Khao Soi was seen by everyone as the best dish of the day. Well, as I am a modest person I won’t say that I wasn’t surprised by that!!!Actually doing the dishes was good and helpful, and equipped with my little cook book I can now threaten to use friends and family as guinea pigs to test my cooking back home. I just have to find enough chillies….

 

In the evening I met the Spanish couple – who decided on short notice to do a long 2 day trek including home stay and only returned earlier that evening. You could see the pain and tiredness in their face. For a change I tried to be nice (with mixed result), but it was a nice evening with some good food. As I was planning another day at the pool I headed out again to Zoe for another night out after saying goodbye to them

At the end of the night I was slightly worried that people might be able to read my mind, as the last song of the band playing in one bar was Oasis’ Don’t look back in anger – just when I thought that would be a great last song – reminding me of my good old time at University…

 

 

For my last full day I decided staying at the pool most of the time – reading a book, a bit swimming, heading outside the hostel for some great lunch (the place was literally opposite of the gate), and more relaxing. In the end I decided to head back to the Old Town, where I walked along some little side streets. Once again it is interesting to see the little houses and graffities you miss if you just walk along the main touristy places. I also found some nice looking guesthouses – maybe something to consider if I head to Chiang Mai again in the future.

For dinner I headed to the Riverside restaurant. I was told that you can listen to some good bands there. The food (seafood curry in a coconut) was ok – the street food I had was much better, but the band was very good (again covering well known songs). As it is located next to the river, I was surprised that the most guests were local, and not tourists. So it was a good place to talk to the locals – and drink with them

Well – and I am still a bit surprised how popular the song “Lemon Tree” by Fools Garden is with the Thais… For me it was a nice finish for a nice stay.

I must admit Chiang Mai is a great place to visit. You can do a lot there – spending time in the city, or head out for trekking, rafting or zap-lining (which i decided not to do…maybe next time). it is more relaxed than Bangkok, offers great food, and if you like shopping I am sure you would enjoyed it there. I am quite happy that I took it slowly. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I return to Chiang Mai again at some point…

Accommodation:
The Eco Resort is a good choice if you stay a few days in Chiang Mai and you would enjoy some relaxing time next to a good size pool. The rooms are basic, but they are clean, as are the shared bathroom. Howver, it is slightly away from the Old Town. So for someone who visit CM fir the first time one of the many guesthouses in the Old Town or slightly outside the wall might be a much better option. If you don’t want to book in advance just head to the Old Town (West side might be slightly better) and have a look around – plenty of good options around

Recommendation:
If you are in CM on a Sunday, head to the Sunday Walking Market. Great place to do some shopping, or trying some amazing street food (and drinks..).
Foodwise you can also eat well at the night bazaare (preferred the one more to the east – where you do not need vouchers…).
But wherever you go, do not miss out on Khao Soi – it is a great little dish.
Also, try to include a cooking class while there. I really enjoyed We-Cook, and for 900 Baht it was good value for money (and a good laugh with Miau).

(stayed in Chiang Mai November 2014)

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