If you have met backpackers or people that have visited SE Asia at one point, you might have heard the name Chiang Mai as much as you’ve heard the word Thailand. They come in pairs — if you go to Thailand, you can’t leave without visiting Chiang Mai. And for as much as touristy as it might be, it really is a city work visiting.
Before even planning my trip, I had always heard nothing but great things about it, so when the time came to decide where to go, Chiang Mai was the first city on my list.
If you are there as a backpacker, you will probably stay in the old city, slightly far from the modern, residential area, which is great because you get to see the real thing. Sure there are lots of tourists every day of the year and it has a few Western shops, fast foods and cafes, but the environment doesn’t cease to be different than any other city in the country and give out that great, subtle energy that makes it so attractive.
Am I making any sense? I hope so.
The city has the highest concentration of temples in the country and you will see it’s hard to argue with that. Two steps to the right, you will find a temple; four more steps and you will find another one. It’s a rather unusual setting for a city; very characteristic.
You can enter most temples, though just remember to be respectful and cover up (that goes for all the ladies) — if you wouldn’t want to distract the monks during their chanting.
Speaking of which, on the first day that I got to the city and went wondering around, I entered one of the temples and got lucky enough to be there during prayer time. Watching and hearing the young monks doing their chanting was rather intriguing.
That same day, the market was on, which happens every Saturday and Sunday. It’s huge. It occupies half the city’s roads and goes on for quite a few hours. You will find different vendors selling a large variety of things, which of course you will have to haggle for.
Fruits juices and salads are very common and cheap as chips. Sometimes they cut the fruit in front of you, sometimes they have the pieces already put inside the plastic cups, ready to be blended into a smoothie. I highly recommend you try the passion fruit one. My, oh my!! I could live off those!
The fact that a cup is about 80cents might make you wonder what the hell you have been doing all these years instead of living a cool, simple life in Chiang Mai, sipping fresh juices every day and hanging out with monks. Just kidding. They are very shy — though I’m sure they would agree with me about the juices!
Clothes made locally with authentic fabrics, unique umbrellas, colourful art and tasty food are some of the many things you can find walking around the market. If you are a shopaholic, you will have a hard time keeping yourself from draining your wallet. Trust me.
Oh and if at one point you think aliens came down from the sky, stopped time and put on an incomprehensible song to mess up with you, don’t panic: it’s just the Thai National Anthem that is played every day at the same time (8AM and 6PM) and everybody drops whatever it is they are doing to stand straight and listen to it. You might find it freaky the first time and you will get a few mean looks if you don’t join the crowd. Just stop and wait for the minute to pass. It’s a useful extra minute for you to contemplate on whether or not you should buy that cute purse you just saw and really want to add to your collection.
Chiang Mai definitely deserves a visit for a few days. It’s for that reason that I will be sharing more pictures of the city in another post. One post loaded with photos was going to be too much for you not to fall asleep on your keyboard. Until the next post!