Chiang Mai – Northern Thailand
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Paris in Transit – One last time
Back in Paris again after another lovely flight spent in the comfort of Air France’s new Business Class seat. This time I even had the seat next to me open – love it!
When I arrived in Paris this morning, I headed straight for the Air France Arrivals Lounge which features extremely convenient private shower rooms. After a hot shower and a change of clothes, I was ready to take the train into town and shop for a new camera.
Thankfully, there were much better prices here than in Cape Town (scene of the camera-sand debacle). I actually managed to find the newer version of my current Casio Exilim for under $300 after the tax refund. The new camera is awesome and has even more cool features than my last one. So, brace yourself for some serious photo-taking.
After another lovely overnight experience on Air France, I landed in Bangkok with about 2 hours to spare before my Thai Air connection to Chiang Mai.
Since my last trip to Thailand, Bangkok has opened a brand new airport – Suvarnabhumi International – and it is a huge improvement over the old airport. It’s much more in line with the other fabulous hi-tech Asian airports like Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul.
After checking out the new Thai Air lounge for a bit, I headed to my gate and was happy to see that the plane taking us to Chiang Mai was one of those 747 double-deckers.
I’ve never been on the upper level of a plane before and have always wanted to try that out. Even last year flying all of those international airlines, it never worked out that I had a seat upstairs (if there was an upstairs).
Well, this time I did, and it was pretty cool. A bit like you’re flying on your own little plane with about 20 other people.
Arrival in Chiang Mai
I finally arrive in Chiang Mai around 4pm. Though I’m pretty tired, I don’t want to waste any of my short 2 ½ days here. So I shower and grab a cab down to the Night Market for a little dinner and some shopping.
And WOW is there a lot of shopping.
The market is open every night starting at 6:00pm and it is huge. There are lots of options for dinner and I’m craving some pad Thai. I find a place to eat and sit down for a great dinner and a beer for a little under $3 US.
You’ve gotta love Thailand.
After a while, I give in to fatigue and try to find a taxi back to the hotel.
The Tuk Tuk experience
But there are no “car” taxis around, just the local tuk-tuk taxis. Believe it or not, on my last trip I never rode in a tuk-tuk despite their abundance throughout the Indian and Asian cities I visited.
Mainly because I’m pretty sure the dead guy on the side of the road in India was a tuk-tuk passenger immediately prior to his untimely demise. That incident scared me off of them and I steered clear for the rest of the trip.
But after a few hours in Chiang Mai, it’s pretty clear that this is the primary method of transportation here. So I need to get on board…literally.
I take a deep breath and flag one down.
Long story short, it isn’t horrible but the whole ride I keep thinking, “God, I hope no one hits us.”
And there definitely isn’t anything resembling a seat belt. You just hold on to the seat and hope for the best. This is not really my idea of adventure, but it does get me back to the hotel safely. And for just 80 baht (a little less than $2) – maybe they’re not so bad after all.
Day 2 in the shopping & massage capital of Thailand
By the next day I’m a tuk-tuk pro.
I take one into town to spend the day walking around the old city where most of the temples are located.
I visit Wat Phra Singh, Wat Lok Molee and a few others. After a full day of walking around the city, I am ready for a good Thai massage.
Last year in Bangkok, I visited one of the massage schools and had a great massage for about $7.
I quickly learned that in Chiang Mai, you don’t have to find a massage school – there are massage places all over town. Even better, the going rate is 150 baht for an hour (about $4.50).
SIGN ME UP!
The Thai Massage Experience
If you’ve never experienced a Thai massage before, I’ll try my best to describe it.
First, they take you to a small private air-conditioned room (this is a big deal in the 95 degree heat) and they give you loose linen pajamas to change into. Once you’ve changed, the masseuse (who is generally a tiny 80-pound Thai woman) pokes, prods and hand-chops your limbs into submission.
This is followed by a brief period of twisting and stretching you like taffy. And finally, she does a sort of walking/kneeling number down your back. By the time it’s all over (if you’re still awake) you feel like a million bucks.
And all for the bargain-basement price of a little less than $5. Genius.
After multiple nights spent on airplanes and time-zone hopping the globe in the past few weeks, this is exactly what the doctor ordered. After my massage, I have some great Thai food for dinner again near the market and begin a full evening of shopping.
They have a ton of beautiful things at the market and all are at very good prices. I buy more than I have room for in my luggage (which isn’t much), a few things for myself but mostly a lot of gifts.
Day 3 – Elephants & Temples (and maybe just one more massage)
For my final day in Chiang Mai I have a full agenda. I hired a taxi for the morning to take me out to the Maesa Elephant Camp. Visiting with the elephants is big here in Northern Thailand and it’s at the top of my list for today.
So at 8:30am, my driver Pat picks me up at the hotel and off we go to the elephant camp. It only takes about 30 minutes to get there and of course, there are a ton of tour buses.
The first thing to do at the camp is the elephant show and it’s actually pretty entertaining. The elephants dance, paint and play football to the “oohs and ahhs” of the bleachers full of Japanese tourists.
After the show, you can get in line to ride an elephant for either 30 minutes or an hour. Figuring less might be more in the world of elephant rides, I opt for the (introductory) 30-minute ride and head for the boarding platform.
The platform itself is a nice touch and vastly superior to the “pitch you forward and then hurl you backward” method employed in camel boarding while in Egypt last year.
In no time at all, I’m perched atop the wild animal we had to stay the farthest away from in a JEEP just a few days ago on my African safari. The irony is not lost on me.
A few minutes into my ride with Mae, who is lumbering along, I realized one thing about 30 minute elephant rides. They are approximately 25 minutes too long – give or take.
It’s not bad if the elephant is walking on a level surface, but when they go down a hill or up a hill you’ve got to hold on like your life depends on it. And the path we are on is pretty much all hills. It reminds me of some of the crazy taxi rides I’ve had in my travels.
After my elephant ride, I wander around the camp for a little while and visit the elephant nursery which is pretty cute. Then I find Pat (or actually, he finds me) and we head out.
Doi Suthep Temple
Next stop, Doi Suthep Temple on a mountaintop overlooking the city of Chiang Mai.
Doi Suthep is Chiang Mai’s most famous temple and definitely its most scenic. The views from the temple are amazing and the temple itself is just as beautiful as the many that I’ve seen in Bangkok.
It’s much more beautiful than the temples I saw in town yesterday.
I spend some time wandering around up there before walking back down to find Pat. I head back into town for one last massage (and a manicure and pedicure while I’m at it – total $8.50) and cheap meal before my flight back to Bangkok.
From Chiang Mai to Shanghai…next stop, China.