Chiang Mai

Trip Start Feb 18, 2011
Trip End Feb 17, 2012

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Where I stayed
Awanahouse Chiang Mai
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chiang mai is one of the biggest cities in north thailand, yet it has a great vibe and many things to offer. In total we stayed more than 2 weeks and even made a detour from Laos back to Thailand to be around for a big local festival called Yee peng - the floating Lanterns festival.The old part of Chiang Mai is - just like Ayuttaya and Sukhotai surrounded by water channels and the remainings of the ancient city-walls. Inside and in the vicinity of the old city there are dozens of well maintained temples and old ruins which you can explore by foot, bike or tuktuk. Although we had seen so many temples in thailand already, we had a good time exploring some more. A friendly teacher at one of the temples told us, that every thai guy has to spend some time as a monk in their life time - quite comparable with our compulsory military/social service. Even the King of Thailand did his religious service as a monk when he was young.
Every day a night market outside of the city-walls satisfies the shopping-needs of the hungry tourists, but on the weekends even several main streets inside turn into pedestrian areas and market-stands are everywhere. Some of the things offered are really nice and the expected bargaining sometimes even cuts the displayed price in half. We were also big fans of the fruit-stands where you can get super fresh shakes or your own icy cold coconut for as little as 25cent - delicious! 
Another thing you shouldn't miss are the massages that are available in many studios or sometimes even on the street or at the markets. The second time we arrived in Chiang Mai - after a quite painful 12 hour bus ride we decided to have a leg and back-massage which was a real delight. They really knew what they were doing and for 4 Euro per hour incl. a "big" tip this is another full recommendation on what to do here (or probably anywhere in Thailand). Luckily we found right in the beginning a map pointing out all the vegetarian restaurants of the city and after giving several of them a try we ended up alternating between Beetroot and Juicy4U, two outstanding little gems in the culinary scenery of CM.
The last week of our time in CM we spent attending a silver art workshop provided by NovaArt, a small Jewelry Shop along the ThaPae Road. We were quite surprised to be the only participants, but had a good time and learned a lot from our teacher Mr.Nugoon. Always starting out from a flat little stripe of raw silver we heated, pressed, bent, drilled, sagen, solder, atzen, hammered, sanded and polished it into super limited editions of our own pieces of jewelry. The first day was for introducing us to the basic handling of the material, still we could finish one pendant each. On the second day our first rings were forged. The third day was the trickiest so far... stonesetting on a pendant. and the last two days we could spend on whatever we wanted. We were really lucky to have the full attention and all the workshops tools for us, so we could produce in total 4 normal pendants, 2 stone pendants and 3 rings.
One more highlight, not just of Thailand but our whole trip was a day training as a mahout. As Wikipedia says: "A mahout is a person who drives an elephant. "There are many elephant-camps and mahout centers out there and after researching the net we chose the most reputable one we could find - important because some companies seem to treat the animals improperly, which we of course didn't want to support. After the two friendly guides picked us, two more girls from Canada and several big bags of bananas up and brought us to a quite remote mountainy area, inaccessible even by our 4x4 jeep. After crossing some little bamboo bridges and wading through a little stream of water we were met by the first curious elephant - clearly happy and excited to see us coming. After some minutes more and more elephants appeared - roaming freely in the forest between afternoon and the morning they knew some yummy fruits are arriving together with the excited mahout-trainees. We spent some time throwing bananas in the hungry mouthes and getting accustomed to these giant creatures. After putting on our pretty uniform for the day we were taught the 8 basic commands to "steer" the elephants. With the help of the expert burmese mahouts each of us first mounted the smallest elephant of the herd to give it try. We went on for a small 10 minutes round before our yummy lunch: Pad Thai in banana leafs. In the afternoon we started our big trip - each on an own elephant. With unexpected gentleness the animals walked across small streams and maneuvered between the trees and boulders. Riding without any saddle we felt the rough skin and borsty hair on our legs and the slow but strong movement through our body.A fully grown elephant needs around 200kg of food PER DAY (taking into account that the normal food like leafs and twigs are not so calory-rich), so it was no surprise that they took every opportunity on the way to grab a bite to eat. Once we arrived at the turning point of the trek - a little waterfall - we stopped and gave our animals a nice shrub. A pretty exhausting but memorable day.

Yee Peng - the floating lanterns festival I mentioned in the beginning:
Every year late october / early november (depending on the phase of the moon) within the Loi Krathong time (that's a big festival including many events) the release of thousands of floating lanterns is held - often close to temples and the biggest ones in and around Chiang Mai.
We saw many pretty pictures of the past years and wanted to be a part of it in 2011, the only thing that made it a little difficult was the total lack of english information on the internet about this years schedule. As it turned out the last year was so packed with tourists, that the city decided to stage an own event just for tourists - which was not only ridiculously overprices, but also outside of our time window for us to attend. So after quite some research and with the help of some friendly locals who called up the temple directly, we finally figured out the real dates.
Both easily reachable by motorbike, with big crowds of people, loads of food stands and even - what we didn't expect - english commentary.
The whole event is free of charge, even food is provided during the afternoon - but a donation is appreciated, especially if you are actually starting a lantern yourself. 
We arrived at the event field near Maejo University 4 hours before starting the festival to be sure to get a space for us, however the field was actually not full until about 30 minutes before the releasing time - then it finally got really crowded. The event started with meditation. After the chanting was over and the monks had left, the torches were lit up.
Then everybody prepared their lantern for the big synchronized release which was timed with a countdown over the loudspeakers.
All day long some lonely lanterns had been released all over the place, but now within a few seconds about 1000 really big ones were rising together. Beautiful and impressive.
We could see how the wind turned in the different layers of the air - carrying away the stream of candle light colored dots.
Everybody was cheerful and happy. On the way back home it suddenly started raining - but we were so glad it held back until then and didn't mind the warm drops that totally soaked us until we arrived at our place.

So now I'll shut up and you can enjoy the pictures, have fun =)

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