Northern Thailand was quite a refreshing break from the previous few months on the road through Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Thailand in general is a very easy and friendly country to travel around. The Thais are very much set up for tourism and this is why so many people from all over the world vacation or choose to live in Thailand. One can find just about anything they need. Most Thais are extremely friendly and willing to help tourists, especially in Northern Thailand.
Chiang Mai is a great place to stay awhile and hang out with a multitude of things to see and do. Chiang Mai old town is a square of 1.5 sq km surrounded on all four sides by a moat and a 700 year old medieval wall once used to protect the city from the Burmese. Inside the city walls are a number of small streets and alley ways filled with friendly family guesthouses, restaurants, cafes, shops and markets. The great thing about Chiang Mai is while you have many tourists and expats in the city, there is also a large mix of locals living all throughout the city. It’s very easy to mix in with the local people and get to know those friendly faces from Chiang Mai and their culture.
Muay Thai Boxing
After traveling non-stop since January, we decided to stay a month in Chiang Mai. We rented a studio apartment, bikes and signed up for Muay Thai Boxing training. The boxing course was quite intense with four hours a day worth of instruction…… in the morning 7-9am and the afternoon 4-6pm. We went full force for the first week and really felt the pain by weeks’ end. We were also biking quite a lot back and forth from boxing which was located a few km outside the old city. Each boxing session consisted of a cardio mix of running and jump rope and then stretching for first 40 minutes. Then, we’d do shadow boxing to warm up, followed by bag work and the practicing punches and kicks with trainers in the ring. Each interval is 4 minutes long with 1 minute rest. On alternating days we’d do a morning circuit of boxing exercises (which was our favorite) and then in the afternoons practice sparring, blocking or clinching (which Christie opted out of due to the fact that it was basically wrestling with sweaty men).
Unfortunately, about half way into the 2nd week, Christie rolled and sprained her ankle while doing kicks. The first few days were bad as the ankle swelled up black and blue. The swelling went down and she used a wrap and high boots for support. Needless to say, the boxing training mostly came to a hault with only a limited upper body workout left to do. Christie is still recovering from the ankle sprain and has to be very careful not to tweak it. Hopefully by Indonesia in May her ankle will be back to normal and ready for heavier exercise and workout.
We were disappointed about Christie’s ankle injury, but there was no shortage of activities in Chiang Mai. We had by far the best vegetarian food at a number of fabulous restaurants. Among our favorites were Blue Bird, Tianzi Tea House, Whole Earth, Pun-Pun, Cafe Compassion, Blue Diamond and Lemon Tree.
Thai Cooking School
We love Thai cuisine so much that we had to take a Thai cooking class at Baan Thai Cooking School. The class began with a visit to the local market to learn about Thai cooking oils, sauces, spices, herbs and veggies.
As vegetarians we had to modify some of the essential cooking items such as fermented soy bean paste, soy bean oil/rice oil, soy bean sauce/mushroom sauce and palm sugar. /We each got to choose four dishes to make which included one appetizer (Brett made Veggie Spring Rolls, Christie made Papaya Salad), one soup (we both made Vegetable Coconut Soup), one stir-fry (Brett made Vegetable Cashew Nut, Christie made Veggie Pad Thai), and one curry dish with learning how to create the curry paste (Brett made Green Curry and Christie made Panang Curry).
All the dishes were amazing and tasted just as they do in the restaurants. We were both very proud of our new Thai cooking skills and can’t wait to cook Thai food for our family and friends back in the States.
Shopping Night Markets
There are tons of shopping areas in Chiang Mai with the highlight being the Sunday night street market……… which spans across the entire old city on Ratchadamnoen and the surrounding streets. The street traffic is shut down as village people line the street with various crafts, arts and food stalls. There is also a Saturday night market on Th Wualai, but it’s smaller and of lower quality.
The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is another large tourist attraction. When Christie visited Chiang Mai in 2007, the night bazaar was huge and had endless rows of vendors in the adjacent buildings and surrounding streets. However, this wasn’t the case anymore. Many of the indoor shops were shut down and surrounding streets seemed to have minimal visitors. We found out from a local vendor that most of the night bazaar shops closed down in 2010 because business was so bad.
It was quite a different night bazaar then the one Christie had visited in 2007. We understood the core problem, since we encountered it in so many other towns and cities. There are too many vendors selling the same thing, shop after shop. How many scarf shops or wood carving shops do you need? Competition is too fierce, and the quality of items is mediocre with not enough demand to match such large supply. Asians in general don’t understand the western concept of value. They think tourists want to buy junk for the sake of buying. They put little effort into marketing, sales and customer service. The typical result is undifferentiated products and service. With most of the shops in the buildings being closed down it was a bit of a depressing feeling walking around the Night Bazaar. The outside vendors on the street and the Sunday Night market seem to be doing a bit better with sales.
Thai Royalty Photo Shoot
Amidst the Night Bazaar chaos, we thought it would be fun to do a photo shoot as Thai Royalty. In the buildings, there are several studios setup with costume and make-up artists, photographers and Photoshop technicians. See the fun photos of Christie & Brett’s Royal Thai photo shoot.
Relaxing day at Spa Oasis
Our new travel buddies Jeff and Neda, who we met in January (traveling through Chumphon, Thailand) were also staying around Chiang Mai for an extended time. They were studying the art of Thai massage at Baan Hom, so we had the pleasure of visiting them in their tropical oasis, about 10km from the city center. We spent the entire day there getting pampered with a two hour Thai massage, followed by a herbal steam bath. Then we had a delicious home cooked dinner with the host family and the other Thai massage students. Baan Hom was a nice break from the smog in the city. The grounds were very beautiful as we wondered around the fresh herb gardens and colorful plants and flowers.
Buddhism & Wats around town
Buddhism is very important to the residents of Chiang Mai. There is a beautiful Wat every other block around the city. We spent a day touring a few of the more popular Wats to see them up close and personal. Wat Suan Dok is located right in front of Pun Pun restaurant near Suan Dok gate. The grounds there are very calming and peaceful. We considered the three day meditation class offered within the “Monk Chats” building. This is where observers are encouraged to come and ask Monks questions about Buddhism and their daily practices. Wat Phra Singh is on Ratchadamnoen at the start of the Sunday night market. We were amazed at the monk sculptures in front of the large Buddha. They looked exactly like real images of popular local monks who dedicated their lives to the Wat.
As Christie left the Wat to put on her sandals, Brett noticed a strange flip-flop with Nazi-related writings in marker. We couldn’t identify the other flip-flop or person wearing them. Strange!
We both really loved Chiang Mai and it was a much needed long stop over. However, we encountered the same problem with the villagers burning their soil as in Laos, but much worse in Chiang Mai. Christie remembers Chiang Mai in 2007 when you could see the beautiful mountain ranges surrounding the city scape. This time, there was no visibility throughout the city let alone the mountains in the distance. The air quality was horrendous and we wore masks every time we left our apartment. Christie developed a respiratory infection that got worse everyday and it was very difficult to breath. Finally between the ankle injury and the bad air quality we decided it was time to leave Chiang Mai a week earlier than planned. We devised a fresh travel plan including some time in Malaysia (Perhentian Islands) before heading to Singapore on April 11th.
We spent our last Sunday visiting the Villages of Northern Thailand.
See our Photo Album:
Chiang Mai, Thailand