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Thailand: Chiang Mai - Culture and Treks

Exploring and the wonderful, serene and funky travellers paradise, and trekking the amazing jungles of the surrounds.

sunny 34 °C
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Chiang Mai

If I knew what Chiang Mai was like, I certainly would have come here sooner.....
It is the second biggest city in Thailand and capital of the north, however absolutely nothing like (if not polar opposite) to Bangkok.
It's quiet (even in the peak of tourist season where hotels are nearly all full), chilled, patient, friendly, health consciou and deeply cultural. It's hard to explain.
Everyone who comes here loves the place. There is plenty to do - yoga, meditation, cooking classes, cycling tours, trekking, museaums, etc. The tallest building you'll see must only be 4 storeys.

On a side note, it was great to see cycling fixie culture is popular here! The main square at the city wall was full of kids on fixies doing pretty impressive tricks!

Night Market

Close contender to Siem Reap as far as night markets go. Open air, sweet smells of incense, amazing works of art, light on trash, high on welcoming atmosphere. Just loved it!
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Trekking

I did a 1 night/2 day trek run by a truly great guide named Kai, and 9 other intrepid travellers of varying ages from USA, Korea and Netherlands.
It was a nice mix of people and great fun!
We were picked up at 8:30 and headed out to the maket to get supplies then on to a Burmese villiage, where the expats are allowed to live and make products (primarily for tourism). It did feel a bit fake - like the place was built for tourists to come and look, rather than a genuine village - with proper toilets, etc.
After that we went to an Elephant camp to ride, and learn about the elephants.
This part of the trip felt again a bit off, as the poor elephants were chained up, clearly in pain and hot and bothered. The fellows working there, were hitting the poor things with pointed sticks to make them walk when they gave up. We fed the elephants banannas as a reward, but I really felt like doing something to help them escape. It was awful, and I won't be supporting anything like that again. The sentiment was shared throughout the group, so I wonder why it is still included in the tour?!

From that point however things completely turned around and the remainder of the trip was a great and unforgettable adventure.
We drove to the base of one of the moutains outside of Chiang Mai, and did a 3 hour (pretty tough I must say) hike to the top, where an ethnic village live and farm rice and chicken, etc. This is the most scenic part of Thailand I saw - beautiful lush mountains, with rice paddies and flowing rivers and waterfalls!

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When we arrived, we were able to have cold shower sourced from their dam, and then a traditional massage (that almost sent me to sleep).

A well earned rest before dinner:
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Meanwhile Kai was busily making us a delicious banquet of fried chickn balls, green vegetables, masaman potato curry and rice. So much we couldn't eat it all.

Dinner! :
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Then we sat by the fire whilst Kai did his best to sing us some well known hits on with his guitar, and one of the village chaps cooked pork steaks over the fire for supper which were really yummy. A lovely evening.
We all slept on mattresses in the hut (a little chilly at night).

Supper by the fire:
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In the morning, Kai had breakfast ready for us - coffee, tea and continental brekkie, with fruits.

Breakfast:
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We then descended down the other side of the mountain (a little tough on the knees) to an enormous waterfall at the base.
Most of us ventured into the (very cold water) for a nice shower under the flowing waterfall - truly gorgeous!
After some sun bathing and chatting with other groups it was time to continue on.... this time on rafts down the rapids!
We split into two boats and learnt the basics of whitewater rafting (second time for me, and equally as fun as Borneo).
We got some serious pace, and kit a few tricky spots, but made it through unscathed.
(I'm guessing) a few kilometers down, we stopped to change transport. This time, traditional bamboo rafts.
Each group sits in a straight line down the raft. I was picked as captain, and hence charged with rowing / navigating the raft.
It was no easy task to steer, but one you get a bit of pace up, they are really fun!!

By the waterfall:
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Our fearless and jovial leader:
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At the end of our journey, we were met with some tasty pad thai to replenish our strength.
By this point everyone was tired, and we waded back into the truck bound back to town.
This is once of the best tours I have done, despite the false starts, and recommend Kai's tour to anyone!

Departing Thoughts

Chaing Mai is definitely in my top 10 cities list.
The people here are genuinely friendly, health conscious, and very gracious hosts for tourists. I saw a lot of signs and graffiti showing resistance to the emergence of bars and nightlife. They really don't want Chiang Mai to become a Bangkok, and it's so great that they actively retain their culture.
Thank Buddha that Julia Roberts didn't come here for Eat Pray Love, because this place feels a lot more genuine than Ubud and is certainly less crowded and touristy.
The fact that it isn't on the coast may also be a blessing. I fear a beach could have detrimental effects on the space, culture and state of the city.
Travellers here seem like the real deal, and again I met some great and wonderful friends here.
Sad to be leaving, but know I'll be back!

You can view all of my photos from Chiang Mai here

Posted by SkinnyFists 01:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls trekking chiang_mai chaing_mai _trek village_trek

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