We left Bangkok hoping for something a little smaller and as nice as Bangkok was, a little more chilled. We found it.
A common theme throughout our time in Thailand so far has been increasingly ridiculous loads being carried on scooters and on pick up trucks. As far as I'm aware the design capacity for most scooters/mopeds is two, but in Thailand that's taken as more of a guideline, with the average number of people on a scooter being three and the maximum I've seen being five. Pick up trucks carry everything from farm goods to motorbikes and are often carrying people loose in the back along with whatever else they might be carrying. Almost as ubiquitous as scooters are Toyota Hi-aces; they are everywhere.
Our time in Chiang Mai began as our time in Bangkok ended; on a sleeper train. We were woken (well Nikki was, I hadn't slept) an hour before arriving in Chiang Mai so the beds could be made back into seats. At this moment the tall buildings and bright lights outside our windows had been replaced by thick green vegetation and rice paddies.
As we neared Chiang Mai though signs of civilisation started to pop up; billboards, main roads and big houses. We pulled into the station 15 minutes early (amazing) and got off, bleary eyed and not really knowing where we were going next but we decided to walk there anyway.
We politely ignored the offers of tuk tuks and the, new to us, red trucks. We checked a map of questionable geographic value outside the station and headed in the direction we assumed the city would be. Eventually we arrived outside the old city walls having walked, unsure of our direction, for about half an hour.
Once inside the city walls we tried to orientate ourselves and figure out where our accommodation, Jungala House, was. Eventually we found it and hoped that at the least we could drop our bags off so we didn't have to carry them around all day as it was only about 8am by this point. To our relief we were given our key straight away and both just laid down and napped.
Our naps turned into sleep and it was lunch time before we headed out, and only to find food. We'd got over our inherit preference for a 'proper' looking restaurant and just ate somewhere that had seats. Nikki ordered coconut water and was surprised when she received a whole coconut with the top chopped off! The thing was overflowing with water, not like you find in England. (Dad, you'd love it here!)
After lunch we explored the city on foot, in whichever direction we randomly chose when reaching a junction. Our method of exploring has already confused several tuk tuk drivers who ask 'where do you want to go' and we reply with a shrug and 'no where, anywhere, we don't know'.
Once we were sufficiently lost and hungry we went to find more food. Nikki had researched online and found Cooking Love, though when we found it in real life it was closed for the day. Doh. Wondering where we'd eat instead we continued to walk down the road and found another sign saying Cooking Love. We looked behind us, confused as it seemed there were two Cooking Love restaurants. The one that was open was inside a posh hotel and we felt a bit awkward going in but a member of staff ushered us in.
We got off to a poor start with me having to retrieve our own menus, but when the food did arrive it was delicious. We both ordered mango curry with rice, which probably isn't 'authentic' but my god was it good.
After eating we headed back out of the city walls in the direction of the train station to find the night market. We wandered around looking for a bag for Nikki and enjoying the sights and smells. We saw some really cool paintings and some really creepy ones. One had a naked human body with a cats head, weird! We came away with no bag for Nikki and managed to avoid buying all the other cool things we saw. [If you know me, you'll know how easily led I am by everything that I see! It was super difficult not to buy the pretty clothes and the beautiful jewellery but hey at least the food that I eat doesn't need to fit in my weight limit! So I bought some banana and chocolate rotee for us to share. – Nikki]
We walked back to Jungala House tired, ready to sleep and do it all again the next day.
We got up and continued to explore Chiang Mai before heading back to find the previously closed Cooking Love restaurant. The menu was exactly the same as the one we'd eaten at before but this one was decidedly less posh. I still can't figure out the connection or the reasoning behind the two separate and different style Cooking Loves.
Something they do have in common however is great food and once again we were very happily full, though I couldn't really taste my food as I seemed to, unexpectedly, develop a cold during the week. I also ordered a Lassi and Nikki a fruit smoothie so we were both very full when we left.
We headed back to our room to hide from the rain and to rest after eating so much food. We later realised it was a mistake to eat so much food at lunch because Nikki booked us onto a cooking course that evening where we were due to cook (and eat!) five courses. Nikki's written separately about our experience with Tom Yum Thai Cooking School, the TLDR version is; it was great. But you should go and read it.
A common theme of our trip so far is French Toast, something we continued on Saturday by going to get "the best French Toast in Chiang Mai" from The Hideout. Owned by Sammy, an enthusiastic Australian, The Hideout provides an array of great looking dishes. When we ordered he asked us if we were sure we wanted a portion each, to which we obviously said yes. When they came out though we could see he wasn't exaggerating about their size, they were huge! This was our most expensive meal yet at around £6 but it was worth it.
After lunch we waddled back to our room to recover after our French toast and then went out in search of a pen. Yes, a pen. Our pen ran out on the sleeper train from Bangkok while making notes in our diary. We'd seen a disappointing selection of pens in a nearby 7-Eleven but thought there must be somewhere else that sold pens. I looked on Google for a while and found something just round the corner from our accommodation.
What I expected to find was a small stationery shop with an okay selection of pens. What we found was a cavernous three storey stationery and office supplies shop! That would be big for any kind of shop here but for a stationery shop it was massive.
We walked upstairs to find one of the best selection of pens I have ever seen. At this point I should mention I have a weird obsession with pens, I don't know whether it's because I'm left handed and dyslexic or despite it. I've found a pen that works for me and was disappointed to think I'd have to settle for a crappy biro. But no, this shop had exactly the same pen! I was like a kid in a sweet shop!
It had versions of the pen I'd not even seen before and even better it had refills! I hate buying new pens when I know I can get refills. So we bought several refills plus a spare pen just in case.
Pen crisis averted we continued to explore Chiang Mai and continued to turn down offers of tuk tuks and red trucks. We wandered until dinner time and sat down in an empty restaurant which felt like a barn house and where the staff were watching a weird Asian game show. After dinner we headed to 'Saturday Walking Street' which hosts a market every Saturday night. This market had a lot more handmade craft stuff around than the daily night market we'd been to before. It still also had some of the same junk though!
The national anthem was played at 6pm, the whole market stopped and all the stall owners stood. Foreigners and tourists looked bemused while locals stood either in sombre silence or sang along quietly. As soon as it ended the hustle and bustle returned.
The market was absolutely rammed by 7pm and it was like the London underground at rush hour, we kept having to set meeting areas in case we got separated!
Note for future visitors to the market; skip the mochi ice cream. It was rock hard ice cream balls covered in a weird, almost fluffy, soft layer.
We decided it was time to figure out where we were going after Chiang Mai so we booked a few nights in a nearby town called Pai, another very popular traveller destination.
After that tiring display of organisation we went and got pineapple fried rice in a nearby restaurant called Too Lucky, which oddly is known for it's pizzas. Not that a restaurant in Chiang Mai shouldn't serve good pizzas, but it just seems odd.
After lunch we went on a walking tour of the temples around Chiang Mai, managing two before deciding we'd seen enough temples, we're bad tourists.
Instead we went to rest and on the way grabbed a sub standard mango smoothie on the way. We headed out in the evening to another market, the third since we've been in Chiang Mai. The Sunday market is the biggest and mixes the daily night market and the Saturday night market into one gigantic behemoth. Nikki finally found a handbag, having been looking for several days and in both the previous markets. We also got actual street food for the first time and tried egg fried rice, a spring roll and a banana roll which we ate in the grounds of a temple we neglected to visit earlier in the day.
Today we booked to go and see some elephants. I think nearly everyone who visits Chiang Mai will choose to see elephants. There are two main ways of doing this; you can go to somewhere that will let you ride them or to somewhere that won't.
Nikki did a lot of research to try to find somewhere where the elephants were looked after well and spoke to friends who had visited Thailand. We found somewhere that to us looked like it treated the elephants well.
To be honest I'm still not sure how I feel about this aspect of tourism in Thailand. I believe that we went about it in the best way we could, but I'm still uneasy about these animals being kept in captivity at all. The same could be said however for all animals in zoos around the world. Here at least they are able to roam with some freedom and are well feed and as far we saw, clearly cared for by their owners.
Nikki has written separately about our day with the elephants.
Our last full day in Chiang Mai started with Thai massages. Nikki opted for the normal Thai massage, while I choose a Thai yoga massage which is essentially a more forceful version of the normal Thai massage.
Green Bamboo massage was unassuming from the outside and we probably would have walked straight past it if we hadn't seen reviews online beforehand. Once inside though it looked and smelled the part. We were given some clothes to change into, which was easier said than done. I could have fit two of me in the trousers I was given and didn't know how they expected me to do them up. I shouted out to Nikki for advice but she just replied 'just hold them up'. Muttering about how unhelpful that was I managed to do them up somehow. We later realised we had completely different trousers, hers were elasticated and fit fine!
We were shown to a small room where two Thai ladies proceeded to inflict pain on both of us for the next hour. Two hour long massages totalled £14!
We left and searched for food, settling on waffles. After eating we went back home and napped, did some washing, wrote our dairy, started writing blog posts and caught up with some annoying paperwork from Student Loans.
Afterwards we headed out to Taste from heaven, a vegetarian restaurant, for dinner and then packed ready to move onto Pai the next morning.
We got up early and packed the last of our stuff, ready for the four hour bus journey to Pai. We got a lift in one of the ever-present red trucks and made it to the bus station early, after eventually finding the correct ticket office. We bought our tickets and waited.
We really enjoyed our time in Chiang Mai and the activities we did while we were there. We're still within our expected budget largely thanks to the food being so cheap. We're both settling in to the flow of travelling, me a little more so than Nikki; she still likes a little structure.
We're currently in Pai enjoying our last full day here, finishing off this blog post while watching some guys build a very questionable bridge across the river next to us. We're moving down to the south of Thailand tomorrow and will have a blog up about our time in Pai soon.