My four days In Bangkok were up, it was time to get moving. This time I wanted to have a closer look at the north. When talking about Thailand, for the majority of people the north is synonymous with Chiang Mai.
In the morning, after I checked out, I walked to the train station to purchase a ticket. Very conveniently, the central train station Hua Lumpong was situated 10 min away from my hotel. Chiang Mai is the sixth largest city in Thailand, as well as a huge tourist destination, therefore there are several trains a day, serving the route. I had checked the timetable online previously, and was walking to the station with the intention to get a ticket for a 10pm train. I decided, that it was a perfect timing. First of all, it was a night train with a comfortable sleeper, so it would get me, where I needed to get, and at the same time, I would save on accommodation. Secondly, I would sleep through the whole flat and boring terrain, that stretched for hundreds of miles after Bangkok, only to wake up to the hilly beauty of the north.
I had no trouble getting the tickets on the day of the trip. They still had different options available – first class sleepers with AC for 870 baht, or the second class with the fan for 531 baht. I went for the fan. All lower sleepers had been sold out already, so I had gotten the top one, which I didn’t mind at all. From what I’ve seen though, the bottom sleepers were much nicer – they had more room, as well as a personal window. It makes sense to book in advance. For those, who are particularly hard up, there is an option of purchasing a seat in the third class for 270 baht.
I met a Dutch girl in Chiang Mai, who came there by bus. On the average they cost 600-700 baht, but she managed to get a deal for 300. The rest of the day I spent in Chinatown taking photos and checking gold prices. Thailand is the best place for buying golden jewellery. To begin with, it is extremely pure. They use mostly 23 carat gold, which contains over 96% of the precious metal. Forget about Argos’s 9carat trinkets! The earrings i liked were quite heavy at 5.6 grams and cost £130. It’s only £20 for a gram.
It was the second time I used Thai train. All I can say, they are great trains! What I liked most was that every sleeper had its own curtain, so you could have your little piece of privacy. Also they have a separate large room, dedicated to sinks and toilets, everyone can sort themselves out in the morning.
Chiang Mai is often referred to as “Pearl of the North”. It certainly has a great share of charm. Compared to Bangkok, I found CM to be more civilised and cultured. Some areas had a certain European feel to them. May be it had something to do with a large number of expatriates, who chose CM as their new home. There were loads of Dutch, French, English, Americans walking dogs, cycling or jogging, or shopping at the supermarkets. The streets were clean, the buildings pretty, the cars on the roads shiny and expensive.
The city offers a great choice of accommodation. I booked my hotel in advance, as I noticed, that very often the rates are better online, than they are at the hotel,when you walk in. My single room with a fan cost £5 online, while at the hotel they charged £10.
Also it was possible to book hostels for only £2 a night with Agoda. My hotel wasn’t bad, for the price I payed, I couldn’t complain. The unpleasant surprise came later, when I left fruit on my bed and went downtown. When I came back, I saw around 200 little ants crawling on my bed. I freaked, but decided to be tolerant. I shook them off with the words -“Go little buddies, be free!” As it turned out, they were not nice ants, they kept coming back into my bed, biting me. I have to point out, that my bed was a mere mattress on the floor. That’s when I had enough, got my insect spray out, and sprayed the hell out of them. I learned a valuable lesson – never leave any food unwrapped, as it can attract insects or worse.
Chiang Mai offers a great number of tourist attractions. The first thing you notice, while walking its streets, is an insane number of temples. They are simply everywhere. After you visit a few, however, you do get desensitised and they all start to look the same.
Cooking courses are extremely popular. They start at around 1000 baht for a class within the city, or slightly more expensive for the one at a farm outside. There are plenty of companies to choose from. The day normally starts with going to the market with your guide, where he introduces you to Thai ingredients. After stocking up, everyone is delivered to a cooking location, where 6 or so different Thai dishes are cooked by each student. In the end the food can be taken away, if so desired.
I didn’t have a chance to visit a cabaret show in Bangkok, fortunately there was a very popular one in CM. It’s also the only one over there. It received rave reviews on Tripadviser, so I thought why not. The cabaret is situated at Anusan market. They charge 200 baht at the entrance, but the price also includes a free drink. It’s a bargain, as in Bkk they charge 600-1000 baht. The show itself was very similarly to any other of the kind in Thailand, the performers were miming to famous songs, while wearing revealing, bright costumes. They also had back-dancers, whose dancing routines were so cheese, buy the guys really tried their best. The waiting staff were quite an experience as well. The “girls” were flirting with male customers outrageously. They were not shy, these girls. They were serving drinks on a tray, that said – “tips, please!” If someone didn’t see the writing,or chose to ignore it, the waitresses didn’t mind to read it out loud. I didn’t mind tipping them, as it was, probably, the only way they were paid. The drinks were not cheap for Thailand, but somewhere at the end of the show, they announced the happy hour. After the show all performers were available for taking photos in exchange for a small tip.
I always wanted to visit a cat cafe. They had one like this in London as well, but I never got around to checking it out. The idea originated in Asia. It was specifically created for those, who love cats, but for some reason couldn’t get one. As a compromise, while having a coffee, one could spend some quality time with the kitties. The one in CM was very small,containing only 5 tables, and very often it was too full. The cafe housed 12 feline residents, all of different breeds, ages and characters. They even had a chart with the cats’ names and photos, describing their qualities – who was playful, who liked to cuddle, or to sleep. As to be expected, the prices there were a few times higher, than in a regular coffee place, since sweet things needed to be cared for. I only hope, that they had more space to play, somewhere at the back, as the room was really tiny. Health precautions were up to the standard. I was not allowed to enter, until I washed my hands, then, to be on a safe side, they sprayed some more sanitiser. I also had to wear house sleepers. The cats had the softest fur I’ve ever touched, and I’ve had a few cats of my own, as if they were having regulars hair masks.
There were some things, that I wanted to do in CM, but changed my mind later. I wanted to visit a Long Neck tribal village. I was so naive, as to imagine, that in a relatively developed Thailand, they still had indigenous villages, that lived in the past. As I found out later, the village, they were taking tourists to, was created artificially, as a refugee camp for Burmese immigrants, whose livelihood now solely depends on tourism, hence the fancy traditional costumes, that make such great photos. It’s a really sad arrangement, as the people are not allowed to leave the camp. I’m not saying, its a bad idea to visit, as poor people do need money for the development of their community, but the attraction is often referred to as “Human zoo”. There are other real Hill Tribe villages,with people living in huts, but they drive cars and have mobile phones. I still might visit one of them, if it will be on my way.
Loads of people come to CM to see elephants. These days more and more of them get aware, that “elephant safaris” are not a very humane way to interact with these noble creatures, as they get poked with sharp metal hooks into submission. I understood that, when I wanted to book a visit to “Elephant nature park”, a rehabilitation centre, where abused and broken elephants get restored back to normal life. Even though the tickets were not cheap at 2500 baht for a visit, all slots were booked for the next two weeks. I should have booked ahead!
There is an averagely-sized night market every night in CM, but for those, who wants something bigger, they hold also Saturday and Sunday nights market. Even though they are situated on different streets, they are essentially the same, and there is no point of visiting them both. I did, and I can say, that they were identical, I even recognised some sellers from the night before. The market offers a great amount of clothes, souvenirs and begging cripples, there were also loads of blind singers. There are often some performances going on.
I often hear, how they say, that Thai people like haggling, and you can easily get the price reduced by half. May be, in some instances. But not everywhere. I witnessed a situation, where a couple of tourists were pressuring a poor old woman to sell something cheaper, she was clearly uncomfortable with the offer, as she was already selling quite cheap. I thought: “come on, guys, you won’t die, if you spend £0.50 or £1 extra, but these people also need to feed their families”. I judge by the situation. If something is adequately priced, I just buy it, but if the seller is clearly taking the piss, because I’m a foreigner, than I might say something.
The day I arrived I used tuk-tuks and sang taev a lot, as I didn’t know the distances. All I can say, if you don’t mind a bit of walking, everything is in the walking distance. It takes 30 min to walk from one side of the old town to the other. Also, I rented a bicycle for 50 baht a day, and in my opinion, it’s the best way to navigate the city. I felt very safe, as the drivers were very polite. Or may be, they just didn’t want any trouble with a bimbo, who was peddling cluelessly on her silly, front basket bike, therefore kept respectful distance.
I enjoyed my cycling experience so much, that decided to buy a bike of my own, so that I could cycle all the way to Malaysia.
Everyone keeps saying, how amazing food in CM is. I honestly didn’t get. There wasn’t much street food on offer, and the food during big markets just wasn’t that impressive. The only time I enjoyed a lot was at Anusan market, where they had tiny restaurants at the back.
They serve a lot of delicious salads at the north, papaya and mango salads were so good! But so spicy. I consider myself an adequate spicy food eater. If in Bangkok I was like – “Mmmm, spicy! Nice!” Then in CM it was more like- “Jesus, it’s just so hot”. The food was, for some reason, so much hotter in the north. I ate with baby bites, and had tears in my eyes for ten more minutes after the meal.
I had to stay in CM for a day longer, as my second rabies vaccination was due. I had trouble, finding much information online, as to where it could be done. In the end, I decided not to bother too much, and simply walk into the nearest state hospital. It worked. They asked to fill my details in. Again, they needed a passport. A few minutes later they called my name, and escorted me to the nurse. I paid 800 baht, and it was all done. It only took 15 minutes.
It is my last day in CM. Tomorrow I will have to go somewhere else, but honestly, I still haven’t decided. Hopefully, I will have a struck of inspiration, as the morning comes.