The Thailand Diaries: Chiang Mai

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The next stop on my Thailand journey was Chiang Mai. The city is located in the North West of Thailand, and is well-known by tourists for its temples, markets and activities such as elephant parks and one of the branches of Tiger Kingdom.

We got to the city by plane, flying with the Nok Air airline. The journey only took about an hour and a half, although it’s probably going to be cheaper to get the train. We only paid about £12 each to fly though, and since we weren’t going to be in the country for very long we didn’t want to waste too much time travelling where possible, so for us it made sense to save time and to fly.

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We stayed in a fairly low budget hotel-come-hostel, but it was a perfectly comfortable if not basic room, with an ok breakfast, and the location was pretty good. Just a short walk from some local amenities, and not far from some great restaurants. The hotel were also pretty good at ordering us taxis and Tuktuks to get around. There is also an on-site cafe called ‘Improvise’, which we ate in a few times. The spicy pork and rice is pretty on point.

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It’s also the first place that we had a Thai massage. We just went to a parlour next to Pum Thai cooking school – the first that we saw when we decided that was our next objective for the day. It was one of the cheapest massages I saw in Thailand, at 300 Baht for 90 minutes, but it was really good. I’d been told to brace myself for a ‘proper’ Thai massage, but it really wasn’t as invasive as people made out to me. It is quite unusual though, if you are having one for the first time. Just don’t be surprised if your masseuse stands on you and punches you a few times, that’s all I can say.

In Chiang Mai I did three of the things I’d told myself I wouldn’t go in Thailand. One was ride an elephant, the second was to go to Tiger Kingdom and finally, to buy a pair of those crazy Thai printed trousers that tourists always buy in Thailand.

Riding the elephants and Tiger Kingdom I think deserve a blog post in their own right, so I’ll link to those here and here.

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Ultimately I gave in to the trousers after realising that I needed some full-length trousers to go to temples and things in, to cover up when the sun was a bit too much to handle, and after seeing them look pretty darn good on some other tourists around town. At first I wore them with shame, but after realising that, yes they scream tourist, but they’re just too comfortable to even care, and pretty much everyone wears them anyway. Embrace it!

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Our hotel was only about a 15 minute walk to the famous Anusan Night Market, so we found ourselves there on two of our nights in Chaing Mai.

It was one of the better markets I visited during my time in Thailand, but apparently Chiang Mai’s better market offering is the Sunday Walking Markets. See my pal Callie’s blog post to hear all about them. Unfortunately we weren’t in town on Sunday otherwise we would definitely have gone along – the food looks amazing!

Nonetheless, Anusan was a really cute little night market, with a lovely vibe, selling mainly handmade goods and your typical holiday souvenir fare. There was quite a lot of homeware, which I really appreciated. I found myself fantasising about an authentically-styled ‘global traveller’ themed living room. The dream?

I didn’t pick up that much from the market, though, as the things I wanted struck me as a tad expensive. I was after a fairly typical ‘Thailand’ tourist t shirt but the seller wanted a bit more than I was willing to pay for it, and wasn’t able to budge on price. This isn’t the place to come in search of a bargain, but a lot of the wares are really lovely.

The market is, however, a really great spot to find some cheap and tasty food. We found a lovely little stall selling authentic Thai food for a really low price. The meat was generously portioned, something that we only really came to appreciate afterwards when we were in the south islands where if you order fish you get it in abundance but meat is meagerly distributed.

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It may not look like much, but the food we got here was some of the best street-style food we tried in Thailand.

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Pad Thai

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Our first spread – I’m pretty sure we didn’t pay more than 400 Baht for all of this (that’s about £8)

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Sweet red pork

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Crispy pork and kale

Chiang Mai turned out to be quite the foodie destination, as it’s also where we did a cooking class. These are pretty much a must while you’re in Thailand, and our hotel was extremely close to one with particularly good reviews: Pum’s.

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We went to Pum’s right after Tiger Kingdom, as I was searching for things to do when we got back and it just so happened we were going to just about make it in time to one of the Pum classes. There was a bit of a mix up when booking, mainly down to something getting a bit lost in translation over email, but when we turned up unexpectedly (they thought we were coming the next day) they accommodated us and set up the class for just us which I really appreciated.

We enrolled in the ‘Little Lipstick’ class, which is one of their middleweight classes, lasting 90 minutes. We wanted a decent amount of time learning but weren’t quite up for one of the more intensive offerings which last for about 2-3 hours. Little Lipstick was perfect, and we learnt to cook four dishes: green curry, red curry, coconut soup and tom yum. Four pretty standard and basic Thai dishes.

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The course also taught you some of the basics of Thai ingredients, and we learnt about balancing flavours, and the popular ingredients Thai chefs use to achieve the four main taste groups: sweet, salty, spicy and sour. We also prepared our own ingredients to make a green curry paste, something I’m eager to try again now I’m back home.

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Tom Yum: spicy prawn soup

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Red chicken curry

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Green chicken curry

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Coconut chicken soup

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Green and red Thai curry pastes

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Mortar and pestle-in’

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On our last day in Chiang Mai we went to the highly-recommended Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, or the ‘Golden Sky Temple’. We hopped on a Songthaew (similar to a Tuktuk), which took us there and back for 400 Baht. At first we thought this was pretty pricey (when you’re used to paying around 100-150 Baht for any trip), but it is quite a ride away from our hotel, the driver waits around for you to be done (bearing in mind that you could be up there for hours). We were very lazy and got the lift up to the top, which cost 50 Baht, including the entry fee of 30 Baht. It’s pretty bad form, admittedly, but when it’s that hot the idea of climbing 300 steps isn’t the most appealing!

We walked and the way down, so that counts, right?

The temple was really beautiful, especially the impressive golden spire which is the main icon for the region of Chiang Mai. It features on all sorts of iconography from coins to brochures. This was the first temple we visited in Thailand and I naturally made a comparison to the Japanese shrines and temples from when I visited a few years back. Doi Suthep was a lot more bus and hectic, with tourists taking their selfies with their selfie sticks everywhere and others giving offerings to Buddah at the shrines. It was pretty bustling around the golden spire, but if you walk the perimeter you can find areas of peacefulness, and not to mention admire the impressive view.

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It was pretty cloudy on the day we went, but you could still make out most of the Chiang Mai skyline, and appreciate just how huge this city really is. It made me realise that I’d barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer, and reinforced the feeling I had that 3 days just wasn’t enough to spend in this place.

Even so I was so glad that I’d added Chiang Mai to our itinerary, even if the visit was brief. I’ll definitely be back.

Have you been to Chiang Mai? What are your must-do things to see and do there? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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