I arrived in Thailand greeted by the noxious fumes of Bangkok. My partner, Miss X is asthmatic and the ventolin came in really handy. We hailed a cab down to Asha’s Guesthouse, near the Sikhumvit district, realizing later we got cheated on the cab fare.
We had planned to head for Krabi, an idyllic coastal haven but the train service was fully booked. And in a spur of randomness, we hoped on the bus and headed north to Chiangmai, the cultural centre of Thailand, at 8pm the next day. Tickets for a 1st class seat on a bus, with reclining chairs and blistering aircon cost 518 BHT for a 10hour journey with dinner too (congee and salted eggs).
The journey was lulling and smooth-sailing till we hopped off the bus at 5am into the cold of 11 degree Celsius. Clad in tropical climate clothes, conversation halted as chattering shivering teeth substituted words. We then took a songthaew (minivan) to Baan-Lan Sa guesthouse along Wat Pan Ping (‘Wat’ means temple in Thai).
We spent a night there before setting off to Fang district, a small town near the mountains. We stayed in UK hotel in small town Fang. It is THE creepiest place to bunk in. It is cheap no doubt! (215 BHT) but you will spend the entire night pondering whether are you going to get killed or robbed there. The next day, we hastily checked out of the place and hopped on another truck heading to a small village. I instantly fell in love with the place, we tried our hand at milking cows, harvesting rice, horse riding but most importantly the interaction with the people and children there is enlivening. This is the place where there’s beauty in simplicity. We spent a night there at a farm, where constellations of stars peppered the azure blue sky as sunset beckons.
We made our way back to Chiangmai city via mini-van the next day. A nauseating 3hour drive back along meandering roads down the mountain in which a lady beside me puked and stank up the van. Not forgetting the additional 2 motorbikes hoisted up the songthaew and also one half in it as well. Amazing.
Upon arriving in Chiangmai City, we had the best chicken noodles called Khoi Soi. We highly recommend it to foodies, it is really addictive. We were staying at Nice Place 2, a very decent and recommended guesthouse. It was such a ‘Nice Place’ in fact; we parked ourselves there for the rest of our nights in Changmai.
The hours before midnight was spent witnessing all the traditional white lanterns being set afloat into the dark cloudless night as we strolled along the city-center river. Spending New Year in Chiangmai was a blast, literally. Right from where we were standing, to our front, back, left and right were fireworks lighting up the skies. For a full 15minutes, the first quarter hour of this New Year, we simply stood there spinning around in the middle of the small road agape in awe.
Shopping in Chiangmai is another experience that can’t be forgotten. We headed to the Chiangmai night Bazaar, “the mother of all night market” as described by Lonely Planet. You could find nearly everything you could ever possibly wish for there, from samurai blades, salt peppers shakers, spices, Chanel to Arsenal jerseys, all at a great price; provided you know how to haggle. Always remember to haggle with a smile; in the spirit of Sanuk (have fun in everything you do).
It took us 3 days to complete the bazaar circuit before heading to Doi Suthep. The latter is the most sacred temple in Chiangmai and is located on top of a mountain. Try the strawberries with sugar and chili flaks the vendors were selling, if in season, wow! The mountain seemed to exude an aura of tranquility, perfectly complemented by a panoramic view of the city itself. The hypnotic chanting and the gong of the numerous bells rests the weary heart and time seem to stand still as one immerse in the harmony of the place.
We left Chiangmai after spending an enriching 10 days there. Chiangmai has much to offer to the traveler. However he needs to know what and where to look for the attractions. It is not as cosmopolitan or modern as Bangkok and there are few urban skyscrapers. Life passes by slowly here, the people are all smiles even when there is no profit intended, the weather is cool, and most importantly, we feel that Chiangmai depicts Thailand and what it was before the lure of capitalism took hold. If you have a chance to travel to Thailand, spend your money in Bangkok but exhaust your energy and time exploring Chiangmai.
“Travelers never think that they are the foreigners. ” ~Mason Cooley
Ahmad Azizul, 22, nomading wanderer, undergrad.