Chiang Mai: The big city with a small town feel

My week in Chiang Mai is coming to a close and I am sad to say goodbye. I think Chiang Mai is to Bangkok what Portland is to Vegas:it’s slower, the weather is cooler & the vibe is more relaxed. CM is in northern Thailand &  set in a lush green valley along the Mae Ping river. It is notable for it’s crafts, trekking and it’s signature dish, khao soi.  The “old city” is in the center of town & although very little of the old wall remains, the moat surrounding old city is intact. The old city is easily navigable by foot, and even the most casual of strolls will reveal a “wat” or temple. Some wats I had all to myself, well, me the monks & the dogs.  If you don’t feel like walking there is always easy transport to be found. Tuk tuks are the most expensive way to get around so I have been relying on the red song taos that roam the streets looking for passengers. They are essentially a red pickup truck with a cover & seats in the back. You flag one down, tell the driver where you want to go & they say “kah” (yes) if they are going that way & otherwise “mai” (no) if not. Anywhere in the old city will cost 20 baht.

I started my week by strolling the saturday night market. It is a crush of Falang & locals alike. Food, crafts, massages it’s all there.

waiting for the evening and travelers with tired feet

Taking a cooking class was a great way to start the week. It was fun to meet other travelers & learn how to make some of thailand’s familiar & favorite foods.

Tom Ka Gai

The evening after cooking school I met up with a couple of Canadians for a “fancy” dinner on the river. All of us consider ourselves adventurous eaters but when Chris suggested we order fried serpents head (with cashews & chilies no less), I was a bit, well, scared. We also ordered some noodles & other snacks just in case the serpent was inedible. I was delighted & surprised that “serpents head” was an ordinary catfish. It was the highlight of the meal. Light & crispy and the accompanying  chilies &  cashews with slivers of kaffir lime leaves were the perfect foil to the rich & crispy fish. Live and learn: things are not always (usually) as they seem.

Another activity that I have been enjoying while in Chiang Mai is the prevalence of Thai massage. They vary from pure relaxation to just short of torture. When I went to get my most recent massage the proprietor asked “you ok with lady boy?”  uh, sure. no problem. I was secretly hoping for  a lovely Thai tranny or drag queen. But in walked a sweet, ordinary gay boy and  despite that fact that he spent the entire time on the phone (how did he do that, anyhow?) he gave a pretty good massage. Again, things are not always what they seem.

Today I made my way out of town to the Doi Sutep wat. It is one of the most revered wats in Chiang mai & a lasting tribute to the  lanna kingdom. Legend has it that one of Buddhas bones (a clavicle to be specific) was found by a priest after he was given a clue (divine intervention) as to where to dig. Said bone was then placed upon a white elephant & the place where the elephant stopped to rest was the deemed the spot where the temple would be built. Kooky legend, or not,  Doi Sutep is definitely worth the journey out of town  and the 300 step climb to the top.

Doi Suthep

My favorite mango & sticky rice lady

umbrellas from the paper umbrella factory

Another bowl of Khao soi

Beef Noodle soup

This beef noodle soup was soooo good. I got it at a little sidewalk joint where they only serve beef & pork noodle soup. The broth was rich & had that yummy silky texture that’s only accomplished by making stock from scratch with bones. It had an aroma of star anise & lemon grass. You choose your noodles (wide or thin fresh rice noodles or egg noodles) you also  choose your cut of beef. I chose the stewed beef & it was melt in your mouth tender. I may go back today………

So other than the mosquitos, I am having a grand time.  I have been bitten so many times I look like I have some sort of pox. I spray myself 3 times daily with eau de DEET, to no avail.  I just hope none of the little bastards are carrying dengue or malaria.  I am getting into the traveler routine of taking each day as it comes… which is sort of hard for a control freak.

I’m off tomorrow to hang with the elephants for a week at the elephant nature park……


About Miss Q

I am a travel obsessed foodie, with an inexplicable love of clamato, elvis costello & the unknown
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12 Responses to Chiang Mai: The big city with a small town feel

  1. Jenny says:

    Great post. Keep them coming!

    What’s on the exterior of the wat? It looks like gold.

  2. Lu says:

    Glad you survived the lady boy massage! The pictures are awesome!

  3. craig says:

    Thanks! sounds and looks delicious

  4. Wendy says:

    Those bells hanging at the wats are so enchanting….they’re a wonderful memento to put on the eaves of your house. I hear mine tinkling when I’m in my yard and the sound reminds me of time spent in the shade, sitting at a wat, enjoying all the people watching. Kudos to you for getting out of Chiang Mai and exploring – that wat looks divine.

  5. Margaret Goff says:

    Everytime I read your blog I get hungry! Between the yummy looking pictures and great descriptions I am craving thai food now! Keep the posts coming!

  6. lance says:

    so glad you are sharing your adventure…sounds so amazing, really love the pictures too! lance

  7. karen z says:

    Love your post. Skipped the elephant cruelty post. I am fragile! The way you write cracks me up. Self described control freak learning to take what each day brings. I cheer you on. How long do you get to stay on your adventure?

  8. Great posts, I’m planning a similar trip in early March. Curious what ways you found to get from Bangkok to Chang Mai and then onto Luang Prabang? Exactly the route I was thinking. Thanks for any planning insight!

    • Miss Q says:

      I took the night train from BKK to Chiang Mai. second class sleeper is around 800 Baht. Very easy & comfortable. try & buy your ticket directly from the train station ticket counter & not from a “travel agency” where you will inevitably pay some sort of extra fee, or more likely, they will tell you the train is all booked & you have to take a bus, their bus. I flew from CM to LP. it was expensive (225 USD) but it was one hour compared to the 3 days required when taking the well worn backpacker trail: bus to Chinag Rai, overnight, bus to border, slow boat to pakbang, overnight & then all day on another boat to LP. travelfish has great posts & info on the various travel options from CM to LP. safe travels-suzanne

      • Thanks Miss Q!

        Is it possible to buy plane tickets the day of or so once in SE Asia or is that crazy expensive?

        Looking forward to my adventure, thanks so much for your blog!

      • Miss Q says:

        J- it is possible on some airlines, but some have a 3 day wait period (Lao Airlines). Air travel can be expensive in Asia,but shop around & you can find some really good deals. I like booking at least a couple of days in advance so I have some semblance of a plan. But thats just me. Air asia is a good place to start.

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