Charmed in Chiang Mai

June 26, 2016 ASEAN Backpacking

Three days are never really enough to get to know a place. I am one of those they call a weekend warrior, so I know. While I am ready to embrace slow travels, I just don't have both the time nor the money for it.

So, to make up for satisfying my wanderlust, I travel as much as I can. One of my annual things is backpacking from the first to the second week of June around ASEAN countries with some friends. During this time, the Philippines is celebrating its independence day and in my way, by traveling, I celebrate.

It was me who requested the group to add Chiang Mai to our annual backpacking itinerary. I decided to forego the first part of the trip (Ho Chi Minh – Phnom Penh – Siem Reap) and just join them in Bangkok.

From Bangkok, we took a train to Chiang Mai.

The whole Chiang Mai experience started for me on that train ride.

It was charming waking up to the countryside view of Thailand then having slow breakfast. The train ride was more than 12 hours, and we had all the time to do everything we wanted to do slowly. Well, there was not much we really can do anyway but eat and sleep. Drinking alcoholic beverages was not allowed.

Hello, Chiang Mai!

It was past noon when we arrived in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is located in the mountainous northern part of Thailand. It is the hub of Northern Thailand and the capital city of the Province with the same name.

Our slow pace continued, which is just right for the calm and laid-back atmosphere of Chiang Mai.

Instead of rushing to explore the city after we checked in at Yindee Stylish Guest House, our home for 3 days and 2 nights in Chiang Mai, we had beers, chatted, and looked at the different tourism brochures in the hotel lobby.

We didn't have an agenda that day. After our happy hour, I went to the bookshop near the hotel and stayed there for a while. One thing that’s nice about our hotel is that it is near different restaurants and bars. After purchasing some travel books, I decided to order my first meal in Chiang Mai at Sheryle’s, another nearby establishment. We were delighted to find out the restaurant is owned by a Filipino.

Sheryle gave us directions to the night market, and instead of taking public transportation, we decided to walk to see more of Chiang Mai.

This Old City, enclosed by a now crumbling wall, is filled with ancient temples, cafes, and restaurants. It is small enough to walk through in just a few hours.

We spent the rest of the day, or night, scouring the night market for good finds, then capped our first night with some of Thailand's best beers.

Eco Tour North of Chiang Mai

North of Chiang Mai is where the adventure is.

Together with Travel Hub Thailand, we spent our second day North of Chiang Mai elephant riding, zip-lining, white water rafting, bamboo rafting, trekking, and swimming in a waterfall.

Sounds like an action-packed, exhilarating day, right? Well, most of it was relaxing, tiring but relaxing.

From Chiang Mai, Travel Hub drove us to Mae Tang Area for our one-day tour. We first rode elephants through the forest and along the river valley. I must admit, I was having second thoughts on riding the elephants but still went along with it.

At the end of the elephant ride, we trekked a bit, then had a bit of a zip-lining experience, with us enclosed in a cage.

After that, we went to the Mae Tang River for white-water rafting. It was the second time I wanted to back out. I couldn’t stand the pungent smell of the life jacket, which I think was due to overuse, but I was already there.

Despite the river being a bit calmer, probably a level 2 or 3 rapid, it was still enjoyable. It helped that I was with a fun group. The guide took his job very seriously, and he must have cringed a million times at our raucous group. I am sorry!

After the rubber boats, we changed to bamboo rafts, and it was a peaceful ride. I liked that we cruised very slowly on that brown water, enclosed by lush greens. We were also having a good laugh at how the bamboo rafts submerged when we rode them.

We had lunch after that. They served us Pad Thai. It was not one of Thailand’s best, but we also had beer, so we were satisfied.

Our next stop was the waterfalls. The 30-minute uphill trek to Huaysatan Waterfalls was just enough to burn off what we had for lunch. The cool water was enough to wash off the unpleasant scent from the life vests that got stuck on our skin and clothes.

Our tour was supposed to end after the waterfall trekking and swimming, but we asked to be brought to see the long neck ladies. We paid an extra 300 Baht entrance fee for this.

After reading and watching a lot about them, we wanted to meet them personally.

The long neck ladies wear a solid spiral of coils, which gives the illusion of a stretched neck, but actually, their collarbones are just pushed down.

The Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Village is a tourist village with several cultural groups aside from the Long Necks. They are also home to some members of the Big Ears, Palongs, Lee Saws, Yaos, and Akhas cultural communities. The cultural groups are mostly refugees who fled to Thailand from Myanmar and Laos.

It resembled a crafts market, offering mostly local souvenirs and crafts. There were also villagers who showed us how to make their local weaves.

After a full day of activities, we still had energy, so we returned to the night market—this time on a different street. The Saturday and Sunday night markets were held in distinct locations.

There, I stumbled upon my best street food find, picked up a few more souvenirs, and relished the experience of perusing the items for sale. We capped off the night with a few more bottles of beer before packing for our flight back home the following day via Kuala Lumpur.

This Chiang Mai trip was short and sweet, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that I missed out on a lot. It's a familiar sentiment I often have when leaving a place. But, as always, I reassure myself that it's just another reason to come back. The next time, it will be slow and sweet.

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