Chiang Mai

Trip Start Nov 24, 2009
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Trip End Dec 14, 2009


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Thursday, December 3, 2009

We arrived to Chiang Mai from Siem Reap via Bangkok, and after the heat and humidity of Cambodia the pleasant warmth of Northern Thailand was a very welcome change...






Our visit to Chiang Mai coincided with the celebration of King Bhumibol's 82nd birthday on the 5th of December...





Born in the USA, educated in Switzerland, King Bhumibol is probably the world's longest-reigning monarch (more than 60 years on the throne!) who is also an accomplished jazz musician and composer, sailor, author, translator...he is not only very much revered and respected in Thailand - he is genuinely loved by Thai people...you could tell it from talking to them, from numerous hand-made shrines made in his honor that you can see all over Thailand, from the fresh flowers people place in front of his portraits...


It was our second time in Chiang Mai, and I remember this city very warmly...


2 years ago we spent quite a lot of time on educational activities there - we took a 2-day-long foot massage class (it was nice even though we haven't tried it since!), a cooking class (same thing here, too - was fun while it lasted, but have never tried to cook pad thai at home)...






We only had 4 days back then, so our rigorous self-improvement (acquiring massage skills! refining cooking skills!) left little time for anything else...yet we found time to go to the Elephant Nature Park (http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/ ) - an elephant rescue center and conservation enterprise ...we also came to the beautiful temple Doi Suthep to look at Chiang Mai from the top of the mountain where the temple is located...and we did spent some time at Chiang Mai Night Bazaar - a tourist trap, no doubt, but such a fun trap nevertheless!...





So - our last visit to Chiang Mai was fast-paced but well-balanced and interesting...and we knew that this visit would be no less fun!...





This time though we didn't take any cooking classes, and we participated in massages only as recipients (not as students!)...as I probably mentioned earlier - our motto in Thailand was "not a day without a massage!", and we tried to stick to it...especially since massages in Thailand are sooooooo good and very inexpensive...

At a current exchange rate of (roughly) 100 Baht = US $3, you can get a decent 1-hour long foot massage (and every foot massage ends with a 10-minute head and shoulder massage) for 120 Baht...if you do the math - it' s less than a venti latte that I get from my local Starbucks...



Even "fancy" massage places are inexpensive...one day we spent more than 6 hours being totally pampered - full body scrub, mask and wrap, herbal compress, aromatic oil massage, facial, foot massage - in a very nice private parlor where they surrounded us with fragrant flowers and served us tea and fruit between our treatments...they also picked us up, drove us there and drove us back afterwords...and all this came out to be about $60 per person...correct me if I am wrong, but in the US a simple facial might cost more than that...





I know people who would do anything for a good massage...not me - normally I can take it or leave it...but! massages in Thailand are truly good and skillful...and massage places are abundant - practically on every corner...you can have it at the local market under the open sky, and you can have it at a posh place with soft music and black silk...and everywhere in between...and each one of them would be good... there must be some secret to it...but while you are there - don't think too much about the secret - just enjoy!...












It's always good to balance leisurely things with active, sybaritic with rough, mellow with adrenaline-pumping...and so - we spent a day zip-lining in the jungle near Chiang Mai...this adventure tour was called "Flight of the Gibbon" (http://www.treetopasia.com/), and even though we didn't happen to see any gibbons in the jungle - we did have tons of fun!...








Nowadays zip-lining tours are offered everywhere, it's nothing specific to Thailand...in fact, when this trip was still in the very beginning of the planning stage, I seriously considered booking the "Gibbon Experience" in Laos - an adventure where you spend several days living in canopy-level tree-houses and moving around via zip-lines...for those who might be interested - http://www.gibbonx.org/, but as for us - Laos was replaced by Cambodia, and the "Gibbon Experience" was replaced by the "Flight of the Gibbon"...no matter - it was still great!...







And as it always happens - it's people you spend time with who make things fun...first of all, we had 2 terrific guides - Taifoon and Junior...competent and efficient, good-natured and funny - it was a pleasure to be around them...

We went through maybe 16 zip-lines altogether (long, short, fast, slow, horizontal, vertical, single, double), then had lunch and hiked to a waterfalls afterwords...















And our zip-lining group of 9 was quite international and turned out to be an interesting company:


We had the two of us (we always make an interesting company! or should I say - we always make any company interesting? *smile*),

a savvy sole traveler from Australia named Julie,

a man of few words from South Korea (also traveling solo) who introduced himself as "Mister Kim",

a couple from South Africa - Lara and Tony,

and an all-American trio from Santa Barbara, California - older parents and a college freshman daughter...I had a feeling that the parents would rather do anything but zip-lining and went there only to make their daughter happy...they were good sports about it though...









We all chatted and had a few laughs and got to know each other a little...that's one of the great things about traveling - you meet people, hear about their travels and experiences, learn something new, get useful tips...









Lara and Tony, for example, happened to be the owners of Monkeyland (http://monkeyland.co.za/) and Birds of Eden (http://birdsofeden.co.za/) sanctuaries in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa...and the stories they were telling about their country and their continent were so enticing that it's quite possible we'll now make South Africa our travel destination in 2011 (all 2010 is already spoken for)...Lara promised to help with the arrangements and itinerary, and we agreed to stay in touch...






The plans could change since 2011 is still far away, but I still find it amazing how people we encounter along the way could help determine where your path will lead you next...




While in Chiang Mai, almost every evening we would go to the Night Bazaar (or Night Market as it is often called...it was just a short walk (although more often than not we would still take a tuk-tuk) from our hotel...or - on Sunday - we went to a less touristy Sunday Market in the old city...

















I am not very much into shopping especially when we travel (traveling with just carry-ons does not encourage much shopping either)...

but so many tourists go to the markets in Thailand for lots of shopping, specifically for "designer shopping" - in search of fake designer goods: watches, bags, you name it...and it's true that in Thailand these goods are plentiful, inexpensive and of relatively good quality (same thing goes for Hong Kong, by the way)...in fact, sometimes the quality can be so good that I heard people claiming "nobody will know it's not the real thing"...I personally can never understand that...who cares if "nobody will know" - I will know...and that's what matters...so this kind of "designer shopping" is definitely not for me...other than the "designer shopping" - you can buy inexpensive local silks, locally made clothes and jewelery, souvenirs...

But the markets in Chiang Mai are much-much more than just shopping...


Markets are very spread-out, so you can walk in the maze of the stalls for the whole evening and not even see half of it...but no rush - they stay open and full of life way past midnight...if you are tired, you can just sit down near one of the stages where they have free live entertainment - local bands and dancers...or you can go to a massage place...






Markets are lined with numerous massage places, and you can either walk inside to get your massage or - as we often did - order a fruit shake made right before your eyes from whatever fruit you choose and sit down in one of the chairs outside under the open sky to get a foot massage...sip your drink and watch the crowds while your feet are being pampered...





If it's a fish massage that you prefer - you can go inside one of the "aquariums", dip your feet (and even hands) into a tank full of little hungry fish and let them eat the dead skin off your feet...it tickles at first, but then they serve you a big bottle of Singha beer and it numbs you a little and from that point on - it's all good :)


The markets also have tons of food stalls cooking various finger foods right before your eyes - chicken, pork, seafood on skewers, soups, salads, shakes or - my favorite (to die for!) - banana pancakes...







We even found a stall selling deep fried insects - cicadas, grass hoppers, crickets...I had always wanted to taste a fried grass hopper (just for the experience - you got to try everything once!), so we bought a packet of them...



Well, we each ate one and threw away the rest...crunchy yet at the same time chewy, slightly salty, with eyes and legs and all the inside - it was not exactly our type of food...besides, back in Bangkok our guide Tong told us that they use DEET to "collect" the insects, and "DEET" is a "spice" we could definitely do without...but - as I said - you got to try everything at least once, and try we did...


But all these fried grasshoppers, along with other exotic foods, fruits and vegetables that I hadn't seen before, abundance of colors, sounds and smells - all that makes Thailand markets so much fun to be at...no wonder we spent almost all our evenings there...






My blog about Chiang Mai would not be complete without mentioning our visit to Patara elephant farm...but the elephants deserve a whole separate blog, so - it'll be next...





Meanwhile, we'll be missing Chiang Mai...it's probably our favorite place of all places we visited in Thailand...and there is still sooooo much left there for us to see, discover and experience...maybe one day we'll return and then go even further north - to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle area...at least I hope so...



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