Observations on Chiang Mai, Thailand

Posted: October 25th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

I shouldn’t compare one city to another, as each city is different and should be allowed to stand on its own merits.  Unfortunately, as the second city on our itinerary, Chiang Mai must put up with being compared to Bangkok.  The landscape in Chiang Mai is greener and the weather is cooler, not so suffocating.  The strays here are smaller, leaner, looking like they’ve survived a few more fights in their short lifetime.  Though I don’t know the exact history of Thailand, Chiang Mai seems older with its crumbling red brick walls lining the edges of the old city. 



What it lacks in relative humidity, it makes up in number of creepy crawlies.  Every day I went to sleep with a few more mosquito bites, cockroaches scurried across our path, and one night, I stumbled upon a GIANT furry spider that’d taken up residence in the bathroom.  Rick saved the day by exterminating the spider for me with the sole of my sneaker or else I may have never gone back into that bathroom.  We also had the chance to purchase some insects to eat (payback for all those who feasted on my blood).  Wood larvae tasted like, not much of a surprise, wood splinters.  And grasshoppers tasted like fried nothing.  I guess there is something to the phrase, "You are what you eat."



In our section of the city, Chiang Mai feels almost like a town constructed for tourists.  Each block contained at least one tourist attraction, temple, souvenir shop, or tour coordinator.  Despite the lack of efficient public transportation, there are hoards of tuk-tuk and songthaew  drivers at every intersection and all of them have the same laminated sheet of paper depicting all the sights that tourists can go to (and the drivers can earn commission at).  Every restaurant we wandered into had menus printed in both Thai and English set outside for perusal and when we decided to stop, a server arrived within a few minutes to take your order.  There was one small restaurant we stopped by, I remember vividly, which made the most delectable homemade coconut ice cream.  I like discovering little surprises like that, tiny moments to turn over and savor even when the visit is long past.   


And of course, speaking of tourist attractions.  there is the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar which happens every night from 6pm to midnight.The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is expansive and it segues into multiple smaller markets, so that the stalls seem neverending.  After the first couple dozen stalls, they start to blend together: the clothing stalls, the soap flower stalls, the wood carving stalls, so many of them offering the same exact products.  And the hordes of tourists, even towards the end of the main tourist season as when we were there, squeezing onto the narrow sidewalks.  It’s not for the claustrophobic. 


I much prefer the Weekend Walking Streets.  Sure, most of the same stalls are there, but the sidewalks are closed to cars so there’s more room to walk around.  Plus, there are a lot more variety of handicrafts and products on offer.  There’s also a whole section of the street where artists display their paintings, huge canvases laid out carefully in a patchwork of color and designs on the street.  The largest mall in Chiang Mai is near the airport and is called, appropriately, the Airport Mall.  It’s a little too big for us, though more spacious than most of the malls we went to in Thailand, a little too modern and clinical.  In the basement, however, there is a large food court for the locals (you can tell, because very few signs had English translations).  There’s also a supermarket there with the most delicious already-prepared mangosteens and peeled pomelos.  In fact, I’m currently at this very moment of your reading these words, either asleep or craving those mangosteens and pomelos. 



It’s a bit difficult to get around on foot, but it’s worth it to walk around.  Aside from the tourist traps, there are lovely gems of free museums hidden around the corner and tasty food sellers pushing their carts around.  If you’re ever there and you see the fish and chips seller, buy one and let us know how it is.  It’s a small regret that we didn’t buy from him the one time we spotted him.  There are many small regrets like that.  I suppose that’s the way all travelling is like, a series of small regrets trailing behind all the big fun experiences.  I think it leaves room for the possibility of return visits. 

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