I wish I could say that our journey to Chiang Mai got off to a good start, but it really didn’t. Arriving in Phuket with a day to kill before our flight to Chiang Mai in the evening, we found ourselves caught in the mother of all thunder storms and so we had to take shelter with a local named Bank in his beach hut for 4 freaking hours!
When the storm was FINALLY over and it was time to catch our flight, we headed to the airport and proceeded to enjoy the relatively short flight to Chiang Mai. By the time we got to our hostel it was pretty late, so we had a drink with the other travellers in the common area before getting some much needed sleep.
The next day, we woke up and I went to check out the nearest temple with Simone before we both decided to get our second traditional Thai massage. Dear god. At first we were impressed with the place as it was swankier than the last place we’d been to (and we got complimentary ginger tea afterward, mmm), but as soon as the Thais started working on us, we knew we’d made a mistake!
No, I’m being cruel. The massage was good…a little too good. We spent the whole hour being stretched into positions that we didn’t even know existed, with the masseuses putting all their strength into pulling and prodding us in our every nook and crevice. To say that it was painful would have been an understatement: when the masseuses left the room after they’d finished the massage, me and Simone just hugged each other, incapable of words!
After that, we needed to relax (!) and so we headed to a Thai cooking class, something that the region of Chiang Mai is famous for. The class began with a trip to the local market, where the young woman in charge showed us around and told us all about the different spices and vegetables that we’d be using. Everybody else on the course was really friendly, and over the next 3 hours we found ourselves becoming good friends with the Americans, Canadians and Israelis that were sharing the experience with us as we cooked a range of beautiful Thai meals. I opted for pad thai, Thai fish cakes, Tom Yam soup and Panang curry but there was a wide array of dishes to choose from. When we’d finished cooking, we settled down on cushions around the low table and feasted on our creations. Mmm.
After our bellies were well and truly stuffed, we headed back to the hostel to have a few drinks with the other travellers before all going out together to see what the nightlife of Chiang Mai had to offer. It turns out that it has quite a lot! We started the night at THC bar, a rooftop bar with reggae music, neon graffiti all over the walls and cushions all over the floor. We must have made quite a strange group – we had a couple of guys from Japan, a girl from Latvia, two girls from Hong Kong, a Spanish guy, Polish Paula (as well as Me, Simone and Lucy, the token Brits).
After a couple of beers we headed to the main party area, ‘Zoe in Yellow.’ It’s actually only one bar that has that name, but travellers have affectionately come to know the whole area by it. We started at a reggae bar, before going to somewhere that played repetitive dance music, and then onto the infamous ‘Spicy,’ where everybody heads at the end of the night as it stays open until 4am.
God, how to describe Spicy? Imagine being stuck in a club in Glasgow in the early 90’s, Trainspotting-style, surrounded by hookers and bleary eyed white men trying to get some. Not great.
Day 2 saw us (me, Simone and Lewis) going to check out the Karen tribe. There is no other reason why the women of this hill tribe wear heavy rings around their necks other than tourism, which is a little sad as taking the rings off after years of wear would cause their weak necks to snap, so they are forced to walk around with the weight of the rings every day. However, any guilt I felt at being part of their ‘exploitation’ was quelled when we had to pay £10 just to get into the ‘village,’ which turned out to be nothing more than a few market stalls (that of course saw us all spending a lot more money). The Long Neck tribe are experts at milking tourists, and we silly farangs willingly pay through the nose for miscellaneous trinkets, just to say that we saw a couple of women wearing rings around their necks.
Who are the ones being exploited?
We ended the afternoon by going for some food next to a huge lake, accompanied by our friendly taxi driver, Art, before spending the night relaxing at the hostel with the new travellers.
The next day was LEWIS’ BIRTHDAY, WOOO. We celebrated by going to the hot springs with Art the taxi driver. The hot springs were…interesting. People were boiling eggs in the water. It was weird. After sitting with our feet dangling in the boiling hot stream for a while, we paid for access to one of the large mineral baths available, and spent the next hour relaxing (ie, having a giant water fight) in one of the huge bathtubs. Afterwards, my skin and hair were so soft thanks to the mineral water, it was incredible.
Following that I had the BEST wrap ever at a local deli bar, The Salad Concept, before spending the night at Zoe in Yellow with some of the other travellers. A day well spent.
The following day was even better. That’s the thing about Chiang Mai – there’s so much to do that just when you think you’ve had an amazing day, the sun rises in the morning and before you know it, you’re on your way to do something even better. After a leisurely breakfast in the hostel, Simone and I joined up with a few other travellers, Lucy, Lahiru, Alex and Lennart to go in search of Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon.
It took quite a while to find, but when you’re on the back of a scooter racing through the Thai countryside, with the sun shining on you, every second is beautiful. When we reached the canyon itself, we were all pretty speechless. It really is a sight to behold. However, it didn’t take long before we’d stripped off and proceeded to go cliff diving, with Simone and Lennart even attempting the huge 20+ metre drop!
By the time we got back to the hostel, we were starving, so me and the boys went to an all-you-can-eat Korean restaurant, where cold meat is provided, along with grills on every table for you to cook your own food.
On returning to the hostel, we were pleased to see that some of the travellers who had left for a trip to Pai a few days ago were back, and so after a quick change, Simone, Paula and I headed out with the Chinese girls, Fede and Jorg (who had both been in Pai) to Warm Up Cafe, a bar that Fede had heard was a local haunt and worlds apart from the touristy Zoe in Yellow. Well, it didn’t disappoint. Not only were there pool tables and live music, but there was not a single tourist in the place (with the obvious exception of our group). We spent the night slugging cold beer, learning Chinese games and dancing to the live band that were playing.
The following day was our busiest yet, and being an idiot, I’d decided to stay up all night drinking with Fede, despite the fact that Simone, Lewis and I had booked a tour and had a 7am start. After about an hour of sleep, I awoke to Simone hissing at me that we were going to be late for the tour, and so I groggily threw on some clothes and made my way down to the reception area, where our taxi was due to pick us up.
For the first stop, an orchid and butterfly farm, I was still drunk. I wandered around aimlessly on my own, barely taking in the orchids (I mean really, who wants to look at orchids at 8am anyway?!) before finding myself in the butterfly enclosure, where I absolutely shat myself at the humongous specimens that were flying about. I’m not kidding. They were monsters.
After a spot of lunch, we embarked on a 60 minute jungle trek. However, in my semi-drunk, half-asleep state that morning, I’d totally forgotten that there was to be a trek, and so I’d blanked and not packed my trainers. After struggling to navigate the rocks and steep climbs in my flip flops for all of 5 minutes, I gave up and did the whole thing barefoot (just as my hangover headache decided to kick in, woo).
IT WAS HELL.
The walk itself was beautiful, and the waterfall at the end was incredible too, but my poor feet were in tatters by the end of it. I lost count of the times I slipped onto sharp rocks and had to walk across long stretches of loose stones. My soles were like leather by the time I got to that damn waterfall.
The last stop on our tour was to visit a hill tribe, which I’m sure would have been very interesting if we could have understood a word our tour guide was trying to tell us. I ended up sitting on the floor playing with some stray dogs for the duration of our time there.
That night was our last in Chiang Mai, for we’d booked a bus to Pai the following morning. Not wanting to be sensible and get an early night, we headed to Zoe in Yellow for another night of hedonism.
Overall? Of course, I enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai. Our hostel was full of amazing people that we instantly clicked with and who became like family to us, and there is so much to do in this city that you could never be bored there. That said, I’ve always been more of a beach girl than a city girl, and while the greenery of Chiang Mai is beautiful, for me it comes second to the crystal clear waters and golden sands of southern Thailand. Not only that, but I prefer a slower pace when I’m travelling.
I got to tick a lot off my bucket list in Chiang Mai, and I enjoyed every second, but an ideal trip for me would have been slower paced. I’m not a fan of 7am mornings and itineraries so full that there is no room for spontaneity, and while I would not change a minute of the time that I spent in Chiang Mai, the next stop on our list, Pai, would turn out to be much more up my street.