Chiang Mai is the largest city set in mountainous northern Thailand. Its slower, relaxed vibe provides a nice contrast to the craziness of Bangkok. There is no shortage of things to do while here. Some quick research gave us a long list to choose from. Visiting the elephants is probably the most popular item. We were hesitant about this, a lot of places claim to be sanctuaries or rescue centres but regardless, its still a tourist driven business. Is there such thing as a good animal based tourist attraction? We aren’t sure. Our taxi driver felt that as long as you don’t visit places that let you ride the elephants, then they are treated well. He also worked at one and sells the tours, so his opinion may be biased. They aren’t cheap either so we passed on it. Elephant riding out but we still had a big list:
- Zip Lining
- River floating
- Cooking Classes
- Temple tours
- Night Market
- Lady Boy Caberet
- Muay Thai Fights
- and more…
With all these options and this new city at our finger tips, here is what we ended up doing:
1. Condo Chillin’
This one is first for good reason. We decided to splurge on our accommodations for the 6 days we had here. Its still the 3 of us travelling together. After Bangkok we knew we would want some time and space to come down. We thought it might be nice to do a bit of home cooking too. So we found a 2 bedroom condo at Tree Boutique Condos. It had a full kitchen, big bathroom with separate shower, balcony, laundry and a decent living/dining room. Oh, and a pool! In retrospect this place was a blessing and a curse. It was nice to have the comforts but it seriously hindered our motivation to get out and explore. We probably would have done more had we booked a basic room in a more central area. Regardless we all enjoyed it! Its also worth mentioning Jeff was sick (again) for the first 3 days. This was probably the most comfortable place to lay in bed feeling like crap all day. And that’s pretty much what he did. Would you believe we never even took a picture of our temporary home!?
2. Walking Around Town
We spent a lot of our time in Old City. The historic brick walls and moats that surround this area are still partially intact. Small shops, restaurants and guesthouses give this area its cozy charm. Not many big name businesses around here, and its hard to see a building over a few stories high. We checked out some markets, and dabbled in some food and drink. We returned to the Old City daily, it was about a 10 minute tuk tuk from our condo.
3. Cooking Classes
Britt and Nicole took off on this full day excursion alone. Jeff spent the day recovering. The class was booked through Thai Farm Cooking School. It started off with a trip to the local market to pick up ingredients and learn about some of the foods the vendors were selling. The rest of the day was spent at the farm, in a nice rural area about 45 minutes out of the city. They each had their own cooking station and chose 5 dishes to make from a list of popular thai foods. Papaya salad, mango sticky rice, coconut soup, yellow chicken curry, pad thai and spring rolls were some of the options. The setting was beautiful, the guides were super friendly and they were left with a recipe book. They were also sent home with some food for Jeff.
4. Muay Thai Fight
This has been on our to do list for a while. Bangkok offers professional stadiums and better quality fights but it didn’t really link up with our schedule. We knew we could still check them out in Chiang Mai. It did not disappoint! Despite not being big fans of any pro fighting sports, we had a great time. The Chiang Mai fights are more general entertainment then the pros you would see in Bangkok. This was clear when the first fighters took to the ring and had to be no more then 13 years old. Next up, a female fight… the girls were maybe 16. But make no mistake, the fights are brutal. These kids train hard, and can land some serious blows. The girl fight ended in a knock out. Super entertaining stuff once you get over the weirdness of watching young kids beat the hell out of each other. Half time show was 8 guys blindfolded in the ring, throwing random punches. It was more of a comedy act then a fight. The last two fights were adults. Jeff started placing a few bets with one of the locals and we really got into it. Definitely makes for a good night out. Almost every seat is ringside and the ring is surrounded by bars. There are a few options, we chose to see that fights at Thaphae Stadium.
5. Getting a Tattoo
Thailand is littered with tattoo parlours. Trying to find out which shops have a comfortable balance of skill, cleanliness and a fair price is nearly impossible. But if you do the homework it can be totally worth it. Most shops are open 24 hours for those who find the courage after a few cocktails. We seen a guy who had to be pretty wasted getting tattooed on Koh Phangan during the Full Moon Party, probably 3:00am. But tattoos are definitely not just for the tourists. Thai’s love tattoos. Most have really good work done too.
A different way of getting tattoed in Thailand is “bamboo style”. A traditional method using a single needle, gently tapped into the skin by hand. An even more unique way, and what Jeff was interested in was getting a Sak Yant at a temple by a monk.
Traditional Sak Yant are hand-etched onto the skin using ancient geometric designs mixed with Buddhist prayers. They are believed to give the wearer magic powers associated with healing, luck, strength, and protection against evil. Buddhist monks originally engraved Sak Yant into warriors seeking protection and strength in battle.
Clearly the most legit way of getting this done was to find a temple. CM Locals website has good info. Of course there are downsides, a temple is not a sterile environment, you don’t get a new needle, risk of infection and disease is higher. The natural ink monks use can also cause an allergic reaction. You can’t get too picky about the vanity stuff either (placement, design, straight lines etc…). This is about the magic and honouring the tradition.
With every cool story comes risk but Jeff eventually opted for the shop. Sacrificing the mystical tradition, but also avoiding HIV so… thats good. The Best Tattoo Parlour was a western style shop, clean as a medical office and came highly recommended. Jeff went with a 9 Spire Sak Yant design he picked out ahead of time. He did get it done bamboo style. It was a painful, but really cool experience and the tat turned out just the way he wanted.
Chiang Mai was good to us. Our last day there left us only 2 more days until our Thai Visa’s expired. So, it was time to cross some borders. Vietnam bound!