Chiang Mai – Serenity in the North
One of the things I love about Thailand is how easy it is to get around and how incredibly inexpensive it is at the same time. Whether it’s getting around by plane, train, boat, or bus, you can buy transit on almost any street corner for cheap. After spending our first few days in Bangkok we took an overnight bus north to Chiang Mai, which isn’t a bad way to travel. We boarded the bus around 7pm, had a stop around midnight for a meal (included in the ticket cost) and woke up the next morning in Chiang Mai (not bad for $20).
Arriving first thing in the morning you can instantly see the stark contrast between this city in the North and Thailand’s busy capital. Bangkok is a busy, chaotic city that isn’t known for being the cleanest. Chaing Mai, on the otherhand, is serene and almost peaceful. Our drop off point was in the Old Town along the canals and old walls that used to protect this ancient city, and more than a few people were taking advantage of the cool morning to go for a run along the palm tree lined streets. Generally not something you would see in Bangkok.
People tend to visit Chiang Mai because of how easy they can access the lush, green Thai country side. A large majority of tourists you meet here are there to check out the historic sites, take a cooking class or two, and get out into the jungle on one of the many treks that you can join, which is exactly why we were here for as well. We had actually bought a two-day jungle trek with our bus ticket so within an hour of being dropped off at a little café we were in the back of a truck and headed to our guesthouse (booked with the bus tour as well).
We ditched our larger backpacks and took what we needed to last a few days in our smaller packs and hitched a ride into the hills. As our truck sped along the roads through the hills to the meet up point we got to know a few of the people who were with us on the hike. Another thing I love about backpacking around countries like this is the different people you meet from all over the world. In our group was a couple from Quebec, an Australian, a South Korean, Norwegian, Welshman, and a Thai woman. We all talked and got to know each other while we had a chance on the ride… the hike into the hills during the hot midday quickly saps the energy from you and then you no longer have the urge to talk. While the hike was tiring (made more difficult by not quite being accustomed to +30 degrees weather after coming from even a mild Edmonton winter), the views were fantastic and made it all worth it. After about three hours of hiking, with a few stops to watch elephants and take a breather at a waterfall, we finished the day in a village on a large hill.
It was back to basics here as there was no power or running water, just a bamboo hut with a grass roof and a balcony with a fire pit that offered an amazing view of the surrounding valley. Dinner was made on the fire and we relaxed on the balcony all night, chatting amongst group and playing games with our guide before crawling into bed (a thin matt on the floor), pulling our mosquito nets down over us, and drifting off to sleep… until the roosters starting crowing at 3am… I swear that there was one directly below me when they started in the morning, and they decided to keep at it for a few hours.
Suffice it to say, we were up fairly early the next morning and ready to go, hiking back down the hills and through the jungle. While it was just as hot on our way down, stops at waterfalls for swims and later rafting down a river helped us beat the heat. By the time we arrived at our next meet up point to catch our ride back into town, I was definitely ready to sit down for a while and relax.
The treks offered around Chiang Mai are well worth a look for anyone who travels to Thailand. Besides great scenery they offer a wide range of activites – white water rafting, bamboo rafting, zip lines, cooking classes, elephant treks, off-roading, etc. and they can span several days. We opted for a two-day trek because we had a lot we wanted to see and only a month to do it all in.
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