Thursday, 21 November 2013

Chiang Mai: Chapter One

So after leaving Bali we spent a long day flying, first to Bangkok then with a further flight to Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. We decided to focus purely on the north so opted to use this as a base for the next 12 days. We took a taxi to our new guesthouse, Tree Residences, and were greeted by a rather creepy gentleman (who we have now come to love) who showed us to our huge room complete with fridge, a flat screen TV and en-suite (thankfully Chiang Mai is super-cheap). We walked to the local market for a quick bowl of pork noodles before calling it a night after a long day of travelling.

On our first proper day in Chiang Mai, we decided to explore the city. Chiang Mai has a very traditional lay-out with an old, walled city surrounded by a moat and the newer buildings branching out on the roads surrounding this. Most of the Wats (temples in Thai) are in the older part of the city so it's quite easy to explore by foot. Firstly we called in for a quick lunch at a local street cafe, Harrads, where I had my first taste of Kao Soi which is a local dish of curried noodles (amazing)! Rob opted for the non-allergen option of Chicken in noodles (complete with congealed blood) and apart from this inclusion, we both thoroughly enjoyed our first proper Thai food, and for a pound a head we couldn't really complain. 

We walked through Chiang Mai gate into the old town coming across a fresh food market on the way. It all looked super tasty until we noticed a man in the drains seemingly collecting raw sewage with a huge spoon. After we dodged the splashback and our gag reflexes recovered, we headed to Propokklao Street, one of the major roads in the area. We wanted to book some tours for the following days as our plan was to explore other parts of the region during our stay here. After a bit of haggling, we booked trips to Chiang Rai, Doi Inthanon and a jungle trek (more on these to come).

Our first stop was Wat Chedi Luang, and we followed this by visiting some other Thai temples which we passed during the course of our wandering. We had a walk in and around each temple enjoying the view of orange-clad monks going about their business. Thai temples are very different from the temples we had seen in Bali, obviously being Buddhist rather than Hindu. The quintessential Thai-style pointed roofs are present on each one and you can see a lot of gold everywhere you look. We also saw Buddha in his various incarnations- reclining Buddha, nirvana Buddha and happy Buddha being the three most present.

After a giant cup of tea complete with jelly, we bumped into a Thai tourist outside Three kings Monument, who informed us of a festival taking place over the next four nights. He said it was starting there that evening so we decided to check it out. When we came back at nightfall, all the temples in the area were illuminated and there were lanterns everywhere, some of which were set up to create an archway across the street.

We have subsequently learned that the festival is called Loy Krathong and it is a huge celebration in Chiang Mai annually. We released one of the paper lanterns available for sale and admired the view, particularly enjoying the various challenges that people encountered when trying to release their lanterns! Safe to say we're guessing the fire brigade were busy that night!

Our stomachs started to growl so we headed along to one of the other gates to a different night market. This was a lot bigger than our local one and seemed to hold a larger variety of food. It was however much more expensive and we paid twice as much for a very similar meal (a whole £1.60!!!)

We had our first try of Chang beer however which is one of the nicer beers we have had so far! Contrary to the fact that we only had one, I still somehow managed to fall off my stool into a table full of Thai gentlemen much to their hilarity. After a couple more beers and avoiding any further disaster, we headed back stopping for some sesame and sugar pastries (not great) on the way.

After a reasonable nights sleep, not great due to our very noisy neighbours, we walked to a local cafÄ— for lunch and then headed to the riverside to go to Warorot Market with the intention of finishing our Christmas shopping. I got excited on the way when I saw some trousers and the guy told me they were only 100baht, but when I went to pay he revealed he was 'joking'. Strange sales tactic. At the market itself we didn't really find anything as it was more a wholesale market for local shopkeepers and restaurants. It was however, quite interesting to walk around the huge indoor and outdoor setting with so many stalls selling everything from fresh fruit to lucky cats.

As part of the festival the whole city had been decorated with various things. We passed a roundabout with lanterns in the shape of each Chinese Year, year of the dragon, year of the rooster etc. We also passed stands with the highlights of each south-east Asian country depicted. 

A festival which is a bit closer to home for us is Christmas, so we couldn't resist popping into a nearby Starbucks for a festive drink- peppermint mocha for me and white chocolate and cranberry cappucino for Rob. While the 30degree weather wasn't very Christmassy, it did start to get us excited for the holiday season.

With this area being a little bit further out of the city centre, we took a tuk tuk across to Chieng Mun Temple. Similarly to Chedi Luang, we had a walk around the grounds, although to be completely honest we've seen so many temples over the past few months, these have sadly started to blur into one. However, this doesn't mean that Thai temples aren't beautiful, and we've still tried to make the effort to see the most notable ones, while also popping into any that we pass along the way.

After a very strange dinner at a local Thai, Mickey Mouse themed restaurant and dessert of banana roti from a local stall (best thing ever and we've started having them every night although our arteries aren't thanking us) we had an early night in preparation for a trip to Chiang Rai the next day.

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