Roman’s last couple of weeks in India had him covering a lot of ground, so we weren’t too ambitious with our activities in Chiang Mai. A leisurely morning at the apartment followed by exploring the town on foot (with the occasional pit stop for coffee) was a pretty typical day for us. Chiang Mai has a laid back vibe and was a good match for our ambitions.
It reminds me a bit of a college town in the States. Somewhere between a town and a city, it seems like a place that has everything you could want without feeling too big. It certainly caters to tourists, but not so much that it feels overwhelmed by Westerners. The multitude of coffee shops, massage and yoga studios and colorful open-air markets give it a bit of an alternative feel. All that while still being distinctly Thai.
Here’s some more impressions and a few other things we experienced while we were there.
I can probably count the number of native women I saw wearing jeans in India on my hands; mostly women were dressed in Salwar Kameez or Saris wherever we went. And no matter what exactly they were wearing or how rich or poor they were, they carried themselves with an innate grace. Women in India work hard – they till fields, wash children, sweep gutters, cook food, scrub floors, carry fire wood, do road and construction work – in these bright, traditional clothes, and manage to look more elegant than I would if I were covered in silk and diamonds. There is a poetic poise and beauty at the core of Indian femininity and women that I’m still trying to get my head around (especially because of the contrast of the anything but elegant way women are often treated there…).
I mentioned that Chiang Mai felt like a college town with a bit of an alternative vibe. Certainly after India, the fashion in Chiang Mai felt really youthful, playful and fun. It was actually almost a bit of a shock in the beginning to see that much skin again after getting used to covering up in India. Seems like a lot of women in Thailand have great legs and they know it! Short shorts and the shirt-as-a-dress are everywhere, and people seemed to have a really playful approach to fashion, mixing patterns and styles at will with some really fun results.
So I’ve been loving the people and fashion watching, and I have to keep reminding myself that I am travelling on a budget and with very limited space in my baggage. 🙂
Observation has shown me one must-have Chiang Mai accessory that I can do without though, which is the pocket dog. Tons of shops and street stands had resident puff balls like this one – often in doggie jackets and sometimes even in little doggie shoes. Cute but not my style….
Night markets and street food
Chiang Mai is great for open-air shopping. The Sunday market is especially fun – not in the least because of the smorgasbord of exciting street food. Some more appetizing than others…
Spicy potato spiral on a stick – kind of like a cross between french fries and potato chips
More squid and other things on sticks (like eggs – impressive!)
Cute cartoon pancakes
Fried bugs (no, I didn’t… yes, I’m a wuss, and I’m ok with that)
Not pictured but two of my favorite Thai desserts are now 1) fresh mango with sticky rice: total comfort food and 2) the banana roll – think spring roll pastry filled with sweet banana, fried and served piping hot with a topping of sweet condensed milk. Num num.
The flight of the gibbon – zip lining
One of the few tourist things we did do was go on a day trip zip-lining through a rain forest outside of Chiang Mai. There were posters for “Flight of the gibbon” all over town, and I’d read about it in Lonely Planet.
I’d wanted to try zip-lining for a while and “FotG”’s website talked about some of the proceeds going to preserve the ecosystem, so it seemed like a good opportunity. The zip-lining was fun enough but Roman and I were slightly underwhelmed by the program. Moving through the course with 10 other tourists made the experience feel a bit clunky and while the guides were nice, the joviality felt at times a bit forced. We’re just not ones for those sort of group activities I think. 🙂
That being said, I think it’s probably a great thing to do if you have kids, and the location was jaw-dropping beautiful. The trees were massive, ancient and just gorgeous, the real highlight of the day for me. 🙂
Another thing we saw where ever we went was fish spas: small shops with big tanks full of little fish in the window. Apparently the fish have a natural habit of feasting on dead skin cells and a therapy was developed in Turkey based on this phenomenon. A bit weird, but, when in Rome… We ended up popping in to a shop one evening to give it a try. It’s a very strange sensation to have dozens of little fish nibbling at your ankles and toes! I was suffering in the beginning because it tickled and I had to fight the urge not to kick the fish off, but it was good practice to get into a Zen mind and eventually I could relax into the experience. Not something I necessarily need to do again any time soon, but I’m glad we tried it. 🙂
Many of you know Roman is a smoker. If you smoke or know someone who does in the west, you’re probably familiar with the printed health warnings or cheesy guilt-tripping pictures all over the cigarette boxes.
In Thailand they take things a step further and include really graphic photos on the boxes. They’re really disgusting. Whether they are effective or not, I can’t say. Certainly they haven’t had any effect on Roman other than getting him to buy a case to put his cigarettes in cause neither of us want to look at photos of autopsies while we’re having a coffee. 😛 Here’s one of the less disturbing ones for your viewing pleasure. My advice if you’re a smoker and planning a trip to Thailand, bring your own cigarettes, buy a case, or, better yet, use it as a good time to try quitting! 😉
Some other, random pictures
Sculpture on a bridge close to our apartment. I don’t get it but I like it. 🙂
The tuk-tuks in Thailand are similar but distinct from the auto-rickshaws in India (which totally have my heart – sorry tuk-tuks). Here is one particularly colorful one. Note the fake, red bullet holes and the “booty call” sticker. 🙂
Monks and novices leaving a temple
Incense, lotuses and chrysanthemums for sale in front of a temple