During my first trip to Thailand in 2009, the only one with my brother, I opted for this itinerary:
Chiang Mai, however, is the Thailand that I fell in love with and where I keep going back…
Getting to Chiang Mai
We opted for the slowness that I particularly love while traveling, and we reached Chiang Mai with the night train from Bangkok, leaving at 7.20 p.m. (€ 10 each). A journey into the journey, which treated us with a moving awakening at dawn, with a breathtaking view on the shiny green forest.
Once onboard, a beautiful and sweet lady, speaking only Thai, fixed a small coffee table between the seats (only two per side, facing one another), and let us have the menu for both dinner and breakfast (4 €). She served as a cold lager with chips (€ 1). At about 11.00 p.m., a gentleman came in to prepare our beds with clean sheets and blankets and wished us good night with a wonderful toothless smile.
The only very negative detail was the freezing air onboard due to a never-stopping air conditioning system above each bed. It’s the same thing in all buses and minivans all over the country!. I recommend sweatshirts and socks and a good dose of self-mockery and a sense of humor given the evolution of the looks on board during the evening!!!
Accommodation in Chiang Mai
We arrived in Chiang Mai’s elegant train station a few hours late, finding our host Peter waiting for us. Within minutes we crossed the chaos of the downtown to find ourselves at the Secret Garden. (70 € for two nights in a bungalow with a twin room and a living room, royal breakfast and dinner included). The name fits perfectly!
What to do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, the New Town, is the second largest town in Thailand in size and economy and is also ideal for trekking and shopping and its rich culture. It is a whole world.
His trail network offers endless hiking options, and its surroundings are dotted with factories of every kind and level. The manufacture of silk is my favorite one, ideal for those who want to get tailored clothes in a few days and buy souvenirs and gifts for friends and family.
Thanks to the proximity of sites and temples, it’s effortless to walk around and visit downtown with no need for public transport. There are over three hundred temples in town, and many propose thematic stays to attend massage or meditation classes. You can find all the information regarding classes on the Guide du Routard or the Lonely Planet, and even for architectural and historical details, I suggest you check the guides once on site.
However, of all the attractions, I recommend you don’t miss the Doi Suthep, located on a hill a few kilometers away from the ancient city. Once drove up the winding paths leading, there are still 309 steps to climb, guarded by two majestic snakes, the mythical naga.
The temple is really sumptuous, and from its terrace, you can enjoy a spectacular view of Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside.
Another temple that struck me is the Wat U-Mong; looking apparently abandoned, it doesn’t seem to be visited by tourists, but it put me in an excellent peaceful mood.
Its immense stupa and the monks’ residences are immersed in nature, between trees and streams inhabited by huge carps and catfishes, like a world apart. Its rocky galleries are also fascinating and host hundreds of icons and statues of Buddha. This Wat is, in my opinion, also the most suitable to practice meditation and offers both daily or weekly classes.
Here I also understood something being a mystery to me till that day. Didn’t you ever wonder how Orientals can meditate in the middle of forests surrounded by clouds of millions of bugs? Simple, shutting themselves under a tulle bell!
My brother has also spent the day at the zoo visiting various animal farms, including snakes, tigers, and butterflies. He also visited the Sai Nam Phung Orchid, getting lost in immense greenhouses of colorful orchids.
At the Secret Garden
During this same day so intense for my brother, I have done little or nothing, but wisely 😉
I spoke with Peter about his life as a Swiss immigrant, about daily life in Chiang Mai, about local traditions to discuss Thai cuisine.
I do not know how I found myself from this to be in the kitchen with a green apron around my waist! Pai’s kitchen opens into the garden and is huge and colorful, and her cooking skills are amazing. She was very patient, teaching me how to prepare various Thai traditional dishes, giving me useful tips on possible alternative ingredients more easily available in Europe.
Gradually I’ll be sharing all the thai recipes she taught me.
The only attraction in town that I did not appreciate is the Night Bazaar which has almost nothing genuine. A huge market pro-western tourists, which in my opinion is not worth a visit. If your itinerary includes the northern Lampang, I recommend postponing your evening shopping and do it during its Saturday Night Walking Street. A perfect one is also the one in Chiang Rai.
Apart from this detail, Chiang Mai is really a whole world, and it is impossible not to find something to do. An unavoidable stage in the emerald green north of Thailand, although not my favorite one…
P.S. For more information about train travels in Thailand, if you read Italian, you can check my interview for the Italian train blog Bassa Velocità.