We left central Thailand ecstatic after a great weekend with Rudy. Up next, Chiang Mai, the old, walled, northern city known for its Khao Soy, hundreds of temples and nature.
To save time, although taking a night train was an option, we decided to take a one hour Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok to the north. Per usual, I remain incredibly impressed with the efficiency and warmness of the carrier.
When we landed, we grabbed a taxi and left en route to our "guesthouse". Our cab driver was also an official tour guide as she pointed out her badge. After failing to barter here, her English was great and was the exact opposite of the driver I had in Bangkok. She even called me handsome when I paid her. There's a high chance she had misused the word, but I like to think she didn't...the two girls thought this was comical regardless.
For context, guesthouses in this region are as the name implies, homes where people provide extra rooms for travelers. They are generally cheap, clean and perfect for what we were looking for. For a grand ol' price of 4 dollars per day per person, we were set.
Within the old city of Chiang Mai, there are over 100 temples (known as Wats in many SE Asian countries) with dozens more outside what used to be the confines of the old city walls. Having both been to Udaipir in Central India, Killa K and I thought there was something similar to the feeling of that incredible lake town - a quaintness with incredible food, tradition and natural beauty.
When we arrived just after 2pm on Sunday, the walking street market (different walking street than Pattaya both from a location and content standpoint) was the primary event. About 3 km of vendors stretching the length of the old town set up and prepared for an evening crowd. Everything from string instruments, elephant pants to papaya salad was available at this market. While tourists and backpackers were noticeably around, coconuts, street meat, and mango sticky rice caught more of the groups attention. We wandered around, ate incredible street food and got a feel for the city. From here, we had a low key day. TSB and Killa K enjoyed some massages, we watched the Wimbledon Men's Final at a sports bar, and called it an early night...our plan the next day was to wake up for sunrise and hike to the summit temple on Doi Suthep.
Day 2 - Morning
About 5km outside of the northwestern city gate is the Doi Suthep national park. Near the top of the area is Wat Phra that, a large golden temple created because of Lanna legend in the 14th century. The story, a white elephant carrying a piece of the Buddha's shoulder bone was set loose into the wild, climbed the mountain, and fell dead at the spot. That was viewed as a sign to build upon it by the villagers.
At 5:30 am, we forced ourselves up and made our way to a tuk tuk to get us to the area. There are two ways to get to the top mountain area. You taxi to the base, then pay a tourist price 20 U.S. Dollars for a cab to the top OR you hike from the base through the mountainside jungle, follow a path laid out by monk robbed trees and 2 hours later hope you pop out where you need to be...with the ambition to produce a memorable experience, we opted for the latter. But, what we learned later that more difficult than the hike itself was finding the hike trail. Giving the tuk tuk driver the proper coordinates, he still decided to take us to the base lodge where cabs transport tourists and not the start of the hike as the locals rarely hike, and the tourists rarely hike; only those tourists willing and monks consistently hike up using the walking path. After an hour of delay, transport and a second taxi, we arrived at the proper starting point for our "nature walk."
Having just rained the night before, the path was a bit damp and soft. As we entered I found a great walking stick, the symbolic manifestation of any great hike and we proceeded forward. For the most part, the path was clear and open, unlike my hike from Koh Phangan which was jungle brush. Every 5 minutes or so, we would see a small orange waistband wrapped around a tree representing a monks sign that we were going the right way. Although not always intuitive, I learned this time, and we had a walkthrough guide loaded, so we wouldn't wander 40 minutes out of the way. About midway through, we reached a monk living quarters called Wat Phalad. This area was empty as it was only 7:30am and monks were eating and praying at various temples. Stone serpents, and elephants lined the wooded jungle area, and a small creek streamed through leading to a small waterfall down the path we just walked.
As we continued on, past Wat Phalad, we began to ascend on barely visible dirt steps at maybe a 70 degree gradient. For the next 30 minutes, we would continue to do so until finally, after close to 2 hours we came to a road. The last stretch was a bit less travelled and less clear, but we knew at the end awaited the Temple on top of Doi Suthep, so kept trekking.
As we entered two white wooden gates, just off the road, we were warned by the walkthrough that we should move quickly as there were people's houses we would be walking through...despite that it was known that this last path existed and would be no issue. We approach a house at the top of the hill, and consistent with the guides direction, begin to walk towards it. As we look around for the correct next path, we hear some barks. Me and TSB are a bit further ahead with Killa heading towards us. She freezes where she is as in a matter of seconds the two of us are surrounded by 7 barking dogs (definitely not talking about cute little white malteses...think German shepherd meets Rottweiler)...some probably stray, some maybe owned, but we didn't really stick around to analyze the situation. As we looked for the best exit, we quickly decide to retrace our steps and the dog barking escalates as they become more hostile and move toward us. Walking swiftly but calmly, we successfully retrace and head up a staircase just before the house, the proper path or so it should have been. A combination of littering and rain caused the path forward to be full of garbage both in bags and sprinkled all over. With a necessary quickness and a fading but still present barking, the three of us don't think twice and climb as fast as we can until we finally reach the top.
Once back to absolute safety, and our hike finished, TSB turns to the two of us and says, "I think I got bitten." Thinking to myself, "ok, if we just finished the climb post a dog bite, and I didn't hear her scream at all, it can't be that bad." When she turned around and ripped off the pant leg, there was a small mark of 4 teeth, one that had clearly pierced the skin but was shallow...thankfully, it wasn't bigger but we all knew what that meant; there was a trip to the hospital in our future.
We headed to the temple area infirmary and yelled for help. Finally a small Thai older gentleman arrived, put on his glasses and looked at the wound, clearly confused. I pull up a google image of "dog bite" and make a similar biting motion with my arms, and he finally understood. Cleaning the cut and motioning to TSB to get a shot, we went out into the temple area and were now safe to continue exploring.
The Doi Suthep temple area is massive. It has a mountain village of its own, multiple tribes that live throughout the hillside and viewpoints looking over Chiang Mai all the way up to the summit. We took a taxi up to the summit from here, another few kilometers away, but at the summit we realized we meant viewpoint when the taxi driver mentioned he'd wait for us for a few hours. Confused, we realized that the summit area didn't actually offer views of Chiang Mai but was just the top of the hill where people hike through...given all events and the mornings activity we were done hiking.
Following the top area, we then came down to quickly walk through the temple before heading back down the mountain. Notably in the temple, there were little rooms with monks sitting, waiting to interact and bless those willing. In one room below a statue of Buddha, people would kneel down, pick up a container holding wooden sticks, and shake them while praying. Then, pulling out a stick without looking, a number written on the stick correspondended to a prophecy. All three of us did this. My prophecy and Killas below:
Considering on this trip, I have lost a phone, been to the hospital and gotten food poisoning so far (earlier posts to come) and TSB was just bitten by a dog, hopefully our bad luck had passed...it is still yet to be seen what is in store for Killa given her fortune.
Day 2 - Evening
After a short trip to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, we had some downtime before the nights event, a cooking class. Chiang Mai is known for its food culture. At 5pm we were picked up and brought to a house where we awaited our group. From here, we were given a menu and collectively chose which dishes to prepare. And, throughout the evening we went to a local market to understand more about the local ingredients, the Thai cooking style and would have a wok station to ourselves to fully cook our own Thai meals, for better or worse, and have dinner. The experience was a great learning and cultural one for all of us, and our "food host" was hysterical. She would use phrases when referring to the sides of an egg wrap when making spring rolls like, "rough side up, just think man rough, man on top," or "soft side down, like the soft women skin." More importantly she also imparted wise words to the group about cooking, most memorably, "when cooking at home, cook how you want..."
Following the cooking class, we decided to venture into the Night Bazaar. Outside of the eastern wall about 3km, similar to walking street, every night, Chiang Mai sets up an incredible night market...while the daytime market has much more natural, and artistic offerings, the night bazaar is much more like Times Square...all the same earlier offerings plus counterfeit everything. We quickly walked through, and headed towards the primary Monday night attraction, open mic night at Boy's Blues Bar.
Boy's Blue Bar was an open air second story platform that had a small stage, a bar, and nowhere near ample seating. Thais and ex-pats alike all flock here to enjoy improv live sounds, the atmosphere and a few drinks. The crowd was diverse and the highlight of the night was a guitarist named Harry. Harry, if you could picture a heavier, mid-50s, denim jacket wearing, tattooed Dan Akroyd with glasses, you may get the picture. Either way, he's introduced as Harry "doing a jimmy Hendrix type of thing," and he gets up and just blows the crowd away. Solo after solo on his electric guitar, "hey Jude" and a few others are the set list and it was a truly memorable experience given the locale and situation.
Although it probably sounds like Day 2 had enough emotion and circumstance to comprise a week long trip, we had one more day in Chiang Mai together before briefly parting ways for a day. After touring around on our own for the day, we all met for some dinner and to experience some nightlife in Chiang Mai. We ended up shortly after dinner at a locale hang out called the Warm-Up Cafe. Comprised of 4 rooms, this gem was like the rare find in Brazil, Rio Scenarium. With live bands in two rooms, a local crowd with some mixed tourists who found this place on tripadvisor, and us with a recommendation from Rudy, this open air scene was the kind of place that if in NY, would be swarmed and hated because of its uniqueness and popularity. After some socializing and meeting a Finnish recent father, Yanne, who had a 7 month old baby, a Thai wfe, and a probable Indian fetish, we headed to some of the bars near the hotel before heading to sleep.
Chiang Mai provided us an interesting look into Northern Thailand...after a brief pit stop in Chiang Rai, and the Myanmar Border, we will all meet in Luang Prabang, Laos in a few days. Stay tuned for the first guest post for Luang Prabang...since I'll be there late.
Lessons Learned in Chiang Mai
1) The Top of the Mountsin doesn't necessarily mean best view, or even any view at all
2) Consider booking more than 1 day in advance on a 13 seater plane. Also consider looking to see how small the plane is before deciding to book 1 day before when your group needs 25% of seats on the plane
3) Thailand is no different than in America. If you sit at a bar for any type of event get a drink or get yelled at. However, it Thailand, when you get yelled at its in Thai, so just sounds more serious
4) Healthcare systems in developing countries still amaze me. After a quick and easy 45 minutes in the Chiang Mai hospital ER for shot for TSB, we were out and ready to go for a mere 20 dollars...I'm so impressed with it, I almost look forward to the chance to go to more in different parts of the world.
5) According to Killa, I apparently am decent around a Wok...if only I had the kitchen space to get one for my NYC apartment.
6) Age is now a number and we have no idea how old anyone is despite how they look. Be it a club or bar, just assume if they are there, they are legal/acceptable to talk to...somewhere.
7) When I am in my 60s, I hope I have enough energy to go to a club alone, stand in the middle of the dance floor and dance however I want with no regret, shame.
8) People from Chiang Mai love Evanescence...in no way complaining but it's a bit random.
9) Locals In Chiang Mai also have a hard time understanding that I am just friends with TSB and Killa. Whether it's directly giving me the bill when out to eat, or laughing, pointing and smiling when we walk by as a group, it's incredibly entertaining as they smirk to me "lucky guy".
10) Most importantly, be absolutely sure before you walk into another backyard. In the U.S., depending on the state, you may get shot. In Thailand, you will just be attacked by stray dogs...if only there was a Martha Stewart "Beware of Dog" sign hanging out front somewhere in the jungle brush.
This travelogue was first published by Indochina Summer - 2015 .