Ravi and I have a word we use to describe the state of extreme lounging around, sleeping in after hitting snooze a few times, and generally being very relaxed-“luxuriating.” The word aptly describes our travels in the south of Thailand before heading to ENP and our time in Chiang Mai post volunteering. We loved Chiang Mai. Many people had told us that we would like the city and they were right. It is a comfortable city with a blend of old and modern, a relaxed pace, delicious fruit and food, good cheap espresso, amazing Thai massage, friendly people, clean and affordable accommodation, and walk-ability.
We arrived in Chiang Mai the day before the trip to see the Elephants (at this time we didn’t know we were also going to spend the week with the dogs) so we spent the afternoon walking around the old city, drinking “fruit shakes” which was my favorite food item in Thailand, and getting Thai massage. We also stumbled upon an interesting international festival celebrating Asian culture that had live music with great covers of music like Jason Mraz and impressive light displays. I had a lovely early morning run around the perimeter of the old city before leaving for ENP. There is a large moat surrounding the old city with a good paved side walk to avoid the cars and vendors so I took advantage of the opportunity to run and also got to see the monks receiving food from the generosity of the locals which although common was quite beautiful to witness. Then it was off to ENP which by now you have heard from both Ravi and I about our experience there.
When we returned from ENP we walked around the city visiting the many Buddhist temples (Wats), eating amazing fruit and vegan Thai food (a theme in Thailand), drinking coffee, browsing the markets, relaxing, and learning to cook. A highlight of our time in the city was a vegan Thai cooking class by the owner of Morning Glory Restaurant. We’ve been practicing what we learned there ever since, but miss the fresh fruit! The city reminded me of Portland at times with all the coffee shops, stores, and tourists riding bicycles.
I also enjoyed watching the tourists, including myself, adopt the “Thai tourist uniform” as I call it. Because it is so hot wearing light loose fitting cotton is super comfortable and cool. As a result visitors can’t help but pick up and sport loose fitting, but highly colorful and patterned pants coupled with a loose fitting tank top. I did! It’s pretty entertaining to watch all the tourists dressed in this clothing when I never saw a local dressed in this attire. As I strolled past the multitude of westerners in their technicolor dreamwear I had to laugh like “yeah-you too huh? Caught the baggy pants and tank top bug? I feel ya.”
A quick note on the markets and shopping, the markets are great places to window shop and pick up a few souvenirs. The Sunday market is huge and seems to go on forever, we didn’t get to see all of it but there are lots of food stalls, artists, trinkets, art, and other visual delights to be had. Well worth your time to be there on a Sunday night. The night market is also worth going to although not as creatively diverse, still will put you on sensory overload in an ok way. We didn’t spend much time going into the many small boutique stores, but the couple we ventured into had impressive artsy stuff from jewellery to clothing to soap.
One morning we chatted up a monk after seeing a sign outside the Buddhist University and temple encouraging travellers to speak with the monks to learn about Buddhism, their lifestyle as well as give the monks a chance to practice their English. The monk we spoke with was about 21 years old and had been a novice monk since he was 13. He said he likes the lifestyle which also brings honor to his family. He gets up around 4 am, practices prayer and meditation before going out to receive alms, eats a meal around 11 am, then heads to school in the afternoon. After school he studies, meditates, and eats another meal. When he finishes university he plans to become an interpreter but hasn’t ruled out becoming a full fledged monk for life. We learned a lot from our short conversation and enjoyed hearing his experience of balancing his education with being a monk.
In the old city, which is the tourist hub, there are Thai massage studios everywhere. A variety of treatments are available from massage to waxing to aromatherapy steam baths. We stuck mainly to massage and spent about $10-$20 per hour. I made a mental note that when stressed and overworked come to Thailand for vacation. Between the beaches, massage, and food it is a place of rejuvenation that is really affordable. We learned about a massage studio, Lila Thai Massage, that employed previously incarcerated women to help them find vocation after being imprisoned. The previous director of the Women’s prison in Chiang Mai started the program which trains numerous women in Thai massage and gives them a skill upon release. The facility was beautiful and clean, the therapists professional, and the massage relaxing.
We also watched the classic Ladyboy show which happens everynight at the night market just outside the old city. Ladyboys have made their mark in Thai culture and a trip to the country wouldn’t be complete without a show. The show is free but you have to buy a drink which isn’t a bad deal. The ladyboys sure know how to dance!. A top seller about Ladyboys and their culture is titled “Ladyboys: The Secret World of Thailand’s Third Gender.”
There is still much we didn’t see in Chiang Mai but we hope to be back at some point-both to visit the dogs and relax. Next time I will bring my uniform with me.
Here are some more photos of the city. There are over 200 temples in Chiang Mai and the surrounding area so there aren’t captions on each of the temple photos.