Touristy Chiang Mai

Photo credit: Benjamin Arthur

When I first set out to explore Chiang Mai, I was immediately reminded of my first day in Krakow, Poland. As had been the case in Gdansk and Wroclaw, in both Sukhothai and Lampang I was forced to make do with the fact that few people understood English. That definitely gave a different flavor to my trip. Tourists are so few in number that locals kind of look at them as a novelty. And then came Chiang Mai. All of a sudden, everyone speaks English, and a few other languages as well. Everyone wants to be your friend, know where you're from, and oh would you like to book a tour with us?

Chiang Mai is beautiful, of course, but way too touristy for my taste. But quality accomodation is not very expensive, the food is wonderful and cheap, and for Westerners it's probably the easiest city in the country to get around. Which likely explains why so many people rave about Chiang Mai. And which is probably why, though I'm glad I came, I'm not very sad to say goodbye and catch a flight to Phuket later this afternoon.

Speaking of digs, I'm staying at the Ban Kong Rao guesthouse. I've been to 31 countries so far, and this gorgeous guesthouse just might be the very best value I have ever encountered. I booked the superior room with a double bed and air-con for a little over 30$! And the food they serve is incredible! I was meaning to go into the Old City to have my dinners, but I ended up eating here every night because the food tastes like heaven and the prices are unbeatable. If you're considering coming to Chiang Mai, Ban Kong Rao is the place to be! Check out their website and you'll see how amazing this guesthouse is!=)

There are about 300 different temples in Chiang Mai. And for a wat-ted out guy like me, that's just way too much. I visited the important ones, like Wat Phra Singh,Wat Chedi Luang (where I attended a monk chat, which was very interesting!),Wat Phan Tao, and Wat Chiang Man. I nosed around a few others, and made my way to Chinatown to visit Talat Warorot, Chiang Mai's oldest marketplace.

On the following day, I caved in and booked a one-day trek, even though I had a feeling that I would be disappointed. I was right, of course. For 900 THB (less than 30$), they would take us to an elephant camp to ride some elephants, then we'd hike in the jungle to a secluded waterfall, visit two hilltribe villages, and cap it off with some bamboo rafting. But again, this was just way too touristy. The elephant camp was what I expected: some kind of tourist trap where the animals are not treated very well. The hike through the jungle turned out to be a walk along a dirt track, and the "secluded" waterfall turned out to be full of tourists and even boasted a coffee shop where you could buy snacks and drinks. The "hilltribe villages" turned out to be the equivalent of Native American reservations of sorts, and not the real deal. At least, the bamboo rafting was cool. Of course, the kind of trek I was interested in was the two- or three-day treks offered, but I wasn'y staying in town long enough to do that. Oh well. . .

Although I don't regret not relying on hostels for the better part of this Southeast Asian adventure, I do miss the social aspect of hostels. Guesthouses offer all the creature comforts of hotel rooms at a ridiculously low price, but you don't get to meet a lot of people. And when you are traveling alone, you are at the mercy of the people you meet. They can make or break your trip. And so far, well it kind of sucked in that regard. So I'm hoping that my stay in Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta will change all that!

Things are going to be more upscale and expensive in the south, I'm afraid. Don't know if I'll have the opportunity to enjoy tasty Thai dinners for as little as 3$ or 4$ down there. But I'm having fun, so that's what's important!

A hot and sultry day in Thailand sure beats freezing my ass off in Montreal!!!!:P

4 commentaires:

Pipin said...

Been to Thailand three years ago. The south, mainly the islands, are way more expensive, and speaking of eccesive tourism, I´m afraid you are gonna be quite disappointed.
Pity you couldn´t make a three-day trek around Chiang mai, it´s very different from what you wrote (on the first day, oru group went through the jungle and met NOONE :D )
From my experience, the locals in the north (Chiang mai, but also Ayuttaya etc) are much more friendly then the southeners. On several occasions, we were standing on the sidewalk in, lets say, Sukothai studying a map, when suddenly a local came and, despite his terrible english, showed us the way, somtimes even led us there. In the south, the locals are much more used to tourism and will often treat you merely as a cash-holder.
We spent a month in thailand and it was superb, your posts reminded me of it, thank you!

CJohnson said...

Best way to explore Northern Thailand, by far, is renting a scooter and escaping the big cities and tourist traps. And yes, you have to look pretty hard to find a quality 3 day trekking experience, most end up being exactly what you described.

Enjoy Ko Lanta! They've got some beautiful beaches there, make sure you check out the snorkeling and, if you aren't certified, do a "Try Dive"! Totally worth the money to go down for an hour and see the marine life and coral.

Unknown said...

If you make it down to Kata Beach in Phuket, there is a very cool outdoor bar on the beach built into the rocks. I think it was called Ska Bar and had a reggae theme to it.

Also, I hope you are getting a foot massage or two every day.

Benjamin said...

Hi appreciate you liking my work so much on this blogpost that you choose to illustrate it with one of my photographs.. however you are using it without permission and I would appreciate it if you could manage to give me a credit with a link back to my website;

thanks a lot!