Chiang Mai a tale of two cities

Trip Start Jul 11, 2010
1
9
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Trip End Apr 22, 2011


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Monday, November 22, 2010

So after a 16 hour train journey on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai sleeper train we made it, the train was a really good experience, so much better facilities than we'd expected, big seats at the bottom that could be made up into a bed (big enough for two at a squeeze) and a fold down bed on the upper deck - the trip was made all the better when we got on carriage two and found our seats only to find out that all the carriages said two on the outside and we were on carriage nine so having to squeeze our way down 7 cramped carriages with our back packs was a bit of a pain but what we did find is that we had better seats when we got there!  We settled down into our little bunks by about midnight, the train was due to leave at 7.30 ish but didn't leave Bangkok until about 8.45 - apparently it isn't a Thai train if it leaves on time, but it's all part of the journey isn't it! Lucky for me, Rob let me have the downstairs bigger bed so we pulled our little curtains across, strapped Rob in (the top bunks have seat belts so you don't fall out) and got some kip, I think I slept a lot better than Rob but did wake up quite a few times being hurtled across the bed from one side to the other but the rhythmic motion and noise of the train soon sent me back to sleep - rocking us away like little babies in a cradle....ok, it wasn't that peaceful but it was good enough.  So we woke up early about 7 ish and spent the next few hours taking in the mountain landscapes and thinking about what our next destination would have in store for us before we arrived in Chiang Mai about 11.30 - so much for a 12 hour train journey hey.

So now we get to Chiang Mai and make it to our hostel to settle in, after a couple of hours sleep we got out for a wander about, our first impressions of Chang Mai were that it was very touristy, lots of bars to get drunk in, lots of restaurants (Italian, Mexican, Coffee shops, Burger joints, Pizza parlours....) lots of places for old western men to pick up women, lots of market stalls selling the same old stuff we'd seen everywhere else.....aaargh..panic...what the hell were we going to do here for five whole days?....we started off with dinner in a french restaurant - WEIRD!! The next morning we woke up and re-assessed, there were lots of trips to book if that's what you are looking for, boat trips, elephant trekking, trips to Chiang Rai, sightseeing tours, hot springs, cookery days the list is endless of trips and activities that you can book, after the trip we had in Kanchanaburi with the elephants and waterfalls, we didn't really feel like we wanted to do the trekking, waterfalls, rafting type day again - as beautiful as the landscape in Thailand can be, once you've been on an elephant, it can't change that much can it - anyway, I feel so sorry for the poor elephants, they look so sad.

There were a few busy days coming up in Chiang Mai as it was the annual Yi Peng (Loy Kratong in the rest of Thailand) festival which is a massive celebration especially in the Chiang Mai region of Thailand - the festival goes on for three nights and it to say 'thank you' to the water for all it provides.  The whole of the city is adorned with colourful paper lanterns which are lit up each night and there are traditions of lighting and setting off into the sky at night large white lanna style hot air balloon paper lanterns - sending with them a good wish - even the airplane schedules have to be changed because of the sky being lit up with peoples paper dreams.  As well as the paper balloons, candles and incense which have been delicately crafted into hand made garlands adorned with flowers and coconut leaves in all sorts of intricate and colourful patterns are lit and set sail on the Mea Ping river at night sending the bad luck away and wishing good luck to come - the pictures can probably describe it better than my words. 

Other than joining in the festivities, we had pre-booked a cookery day for when we got to Chiang Mai, however, when we eventually got there, we were a bit off Thai food and didn't fancy a whole day of getting hot cooking and eating so we decided to spend our money on a bit of pampering instead, we booked a 3 hour steam, spa, jacuzzi, scrub, massage and facial at the beautiful Sinitiva spa - the whole package cost about 3,000 Baht - which is about GBP60 but it was so worth it and just what we needed and like with most things you book, you are picked up and brought back to the hostel after. I must say that the scrub was the most interesting part, we were both lying on the massage tables having this green gooey scrub made of honey and soya plus other things rubbed into our bodies, I misunderstood when the lady pointed to my chest and said 'it's ok here', I nodded thinking she would rub it into the top of my chest...but I didn't think she meant my CHEST....still again I heard lots of giggles coming from Rob being tickled and then him shouting over saying 'I've just had my bum scrubbed!'...so I think we both got a bit of a shock!

Something else that had caught our eyes at the hostel was a leaflet for a Khantoke Dinner and Hill tribe show at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural centre - this is the kind of thing that we thought would have been in abundance when we got to Thailand, the chance to see traditional dances, eat traditional food and see traditional costumes but sadly we had found more singha beer and bucket cocktails so far - so we booked ourselves up for this the following night at the bargain price of about 700 Baht - GBP 14.

This was one of our most enjoyable experiences to date, we were picked up from the hostel and taken to the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center, when we got there we were taken in to a big dining hall and settle down on the floor for the Khantoke dinner.  A Khantoke is a pedestal tray used as a dining table by the Thai speaking people of the sticky-rice culture, apparently there are two types of khantoke, the Yum khantoke made of teak wood used in the North (the one we had) and the Lao khantoke made from bamboo woven together and used in the Northeast. Our khantoke dinner arrived and it was more than plenty for two people, small bowls of food that included fried chicken, Burmese pork curry, fried cabbage, pork tomato chili paste, fried pork skin to dip in the paste, fresh vegetables, rice and sticky rice - with staff providing top ups of the food when the bowls got empty, the food was really good and we especially enjoyed the Burmese curry which was so tastyand tender, everything tasted fresh and homemade and we definitely left with full bellies!

The meal was accompanied with traditional music preformed by musicians on a stage in the middle of the dining hall and then as the meal finished, the first of the dances were performed to us.  The first few dances were Northern Thai classical dances, some of which included the Fingernail dance - a traditional dance that Thai people are highly proud of where the dancers wear long metal fingernails and have very precise hand movements, the Sword dance which was developed from and ancient martial art where the dancer dances with 12 swords (this was amazing to watch) the Silk - Reeling Dance; a folk dance that derives the movements from activities in village life and many more, we were then moved to an outside amphitheater for part two which consisted of Hill tribe and Northern Thai folk dances all in all we were shown 14 dances each time which different costumes and the accompanying music - we were also told that all of the people performing the dances were genuine tribes people and not city people dressed up pretending, all in all it was a great night and something we would really recommend to anyone visiting Chiang Mai.

After the show we got dropped off in Chiang Mai centre - Chiang Mai is made up of four moats North, South, East and West, I was forever forgetting which one we were near but Rob was really good with getting us back to where we needed to be, we saw that a lot of people were setting alight the paper balloons and sending them off so we joined in and sent off our own wishes into the sky...we followed our lantern until we couldn't see it anymore and it became part of all the other lights floating accross the sky.  We then went for a drink in what must be one of the sleaziest areas of Thailand and people watched, we thought Patpong in Bangkok was bad but seriously, I have never seen so many old, old men looking for Thai women as well as then there were lots of drunk westerners getting into festival mood by setting off fireworks in the street and even throwing them at peoples feet as they crossed the road, call me a granny but that's just not on and definitly not fun!

The next day we took a river cruise down the Mea Ping river, a two hour trip all in all down the river to and old farmers house where we saw exotic herb, fruit and spice plants and were treated to freshe fruits and local teas before making our way back, a really relaxing day - oh and I forgot to say it was the place where Rambo 4 was filmed apparently - how exciting is that?! After that we wandered about and took it easy before getting into the festivities again, we watched the parade which went through the town - there were about 30 floats from different, schools, businesses, nurses etc paraded through the town towards the river before a massive fireworks display.  We walked along side and bought a garland and lit the incense and candles when we got to the river and left to float away our bad luck with everyone elses never to be seen again.  Then we went back to the hostel ready for the journey back to Bangkok the next day - but this time 1st class - oh how the other half live hey!

So here we come to Chiang Mai, a tale of two cities, yes there is drinking, girls, burgers and cocktails but if you delve a bit deeper there seemed to be a lot more too, it was just a case of going to find it...
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Comments

Teresa on

Lovely photos! Keep it coming love xxxx

tony horspool on

Well that all looks and sounds fatastic, you both looked well.
Love Dad & Smokey xxxx

Scousey on

Awww hun you look so relaxed and healthy!! i am a palid colour due to living in vampire hours! Its freezing here but feeling the warm glows of your pics! Hope all is good my dear! Cant wait for next post! xxx

Cat on

Sounds like you've been making the most of every minute! loving the photos - especially the lanterns :-)

debbie Hemmings on

Hope you both had a great christmas ....certainly different from last .....
looks like you are a lovely time enjoy reading your blogs and great to see so many lovely photos ....uk is still no better snow has gone but very damp and floggy today ( new years eve) Bak to work on tuesday not looking forward to that at all after having 12 days off its going to be very hard... still only a two day week so will break me in gently...... keep the blogs coming love reading them .....love to you both and a happy new year ...Debbie & James xxxx

debbie again on

Please could you add Julie Robinson to your travel blogs as she was asking about you
juliejane70@live.co.uk

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