Having spent five days exploring the city of Chiang Mai and surrounding areas I can say that I have found it far more relaxed than the other South East Asian locations visited so far. The roads are safer to cross, the city is quieter and nature is more apparent. I arrived in Chiang Mai just as it was entering its off season. This may have contributed to the quietness of the city but without knowing before hand that it was off season I never would have guest. The vast majority of cafes and restaurants were still open for business along with the attractions and bustling markets. Whilst here I have explored much of what the city has to offer and would like to share my favourites.
- Wat Chedi Luang – Is a group of temples located within the central square of the city. It’s a very impressive site with some structures dating back to the 14th century, built during the Lana Kingdom. Entrance is 40 Baht (about £1). However I felt entrance should have been a little cheaper for women as we are forbidden from entering one of the temples. I could only catch glimpses through the doors. My partner took a video for me and came out saying “it’s a shame you can’t go in. You would have loved it in there”. Still many other temples are available for people of my gender to explore and it is a beautiful site with a lot of history and culture. My favourite temple was the one at the centre. It was very old and parts of it had fallen into ruin. It looked like something straight out of an Indiana Jones film.
- Art in Paradise – Is a gallery set up in an old shopping centre. The only thing that gives away it’s former life is the escalators which are now covered with red carpets. The art works are 3d murals and optical illusions in bright fun colours depicting a variety of scenes. This is entertaining for a few hours and you’ll get some great photos to show friends and family back home. It’s at least a two person attraction though as you would most likely need someone else to snap the photo. The nice thing about visiting more touristy places though is that you are never short of a friendly stranger to offer to take your picture. It was a lot of fun even for someone like myself who loathes having her photo taken to the point that she will full on dive out the way just as the photographer presses the button turning the image into a horrific blur. Due to it being off season myself and my partner found we had the vast cavernous rooms mostly to ourselfs giving me the confidence to be silly without fear of others seeing. I can see how visiting this place during peak season would take away some of its appeal.
- Elephant Jungle sanctuary – I cannot recomend this place enough. Elephants are one of my favourite animals so I had to do a lot of research to ensure I found a sanctuary that was putting them first. That meant no chains, no riding and plenty of space for the elephants to get the exercise they need. I did a full day here which I booked online directly through their website. The day started with a hotel pick up in the morning and a long drive out of Chiang Mai to the sanctuary. When we reached it we were provided with bananas and sugarcane to give to the elephants. There was a ten month old calf amongst them. He would take the sugarcane from your hand but throw it on the ground. He continued to take and throw what he was offered until he received a banana. These must have been his favourite as after he ate them he would begin to search your hands and pockets for more. After the feed our group of about twenty tourists went for a trek into the jungle with the elephants. They looked so clumsy climbing up the sides of the jungle yet they never fell. It was only when I looked closely that I realised there was a strange grace to the way that they moved over the uneaven ground. This was of course their natural habitat. I got bitten a lot by large orange ants though. They were everywhere. Their bites were painful but only hurt for a second. It was worth it to see the elephants at home in the jungle. After this we had some lunch. The villagers had prepared curry, sautéed vegetables, rice and fruit. Water was also included all day. Once our lunch had gone down we went into the mud bath. The elephants trotted over in small groups and layed down waiting to be covered. It was the kind of dirty work everyone was more than happy to help with. Once we had rubbed them with mud we all went into the river to bathe. Washing an elephant is a lot of fun. They are so careful in the water but you do have to be aware of their size. One of the staff members was taking photos throughout the day. These were all available on Facebook which I thought was a nice touch. Once again if you wish to see elephants in Chiang Mai look into visiting the elephant jungle sanctuary. The staff have a special relationship with the elephants there and you feel like they are happy and well looked after.
- Chiang Mai National Museum – From what I saw this is a great museum. I was unfortunate during my visit that the museum was currently undergoing renovation work so some of the exhibits were closed (another downside to visiting a place during off season). A positive to this was that enterance was free. Within the museum I learnt all about the Lana Kingdom and founding of Chiang Mai. I also learnt more about the history of the ruined temple in the centre of Wat Chedi Luang and why Chiang Mai has so many temples compared to other Thai cities. I recommend this museum to anyone interested in history or someone wanting to know a little more background information on the city of Chiang Mai.
- Chiang Mai Night Bizarre – Shopping, food and more shopping that is what the Chiang Mai night bizarre is all about. Open every night and located just outside of Chiang Mai’s central square this sprawling market is a hive of activity. Stalls reach out accross the pavements and under covered walkways. There is a lot of noise, lights and people all in close proximity. Many of the stalls sell the same stuff seen throughout Chiang Mai and indeed Thailand. One or two appear unique though. The trick to this place is haggling. I found I was getting quite good by the end of the evening. The best tactic is to not show how much you really want something. The vendor will pick up on this and so not lower the price as much. I found if they are not dropping the price to one you are happy to pay you can always politely say no thank you and walk away. At that point they usually shout lower and lower prices after you. If you hear one you are happy with then you just simply have to stop, smile and hand over the cash. In the heart of the night bizarre is an area which is similar to a shopping malls food court. Prices are good and there is a variety of different cuisines available. I actually went to an Indian stall as I was intrigued by the gentlemans selection of vegetarian curries and sides. It was delicious and the atmosphere was very friendly. Chiang Mai has other markets besides the night bizarre such as the weekend walking markets. They cover a similar area and sell similar products within a similar atmosphere. I recommend visiting at least one of these markets if not for the suvineers on sale then simply for the sights and smells.
And so if you are planning a visit to Thailand then please do not forget to head up north to visit the beautiful, enchanting city of Chiang Mai. It really does have a lot to offer.