After reading sooooo many travel bloggers raving about their mad love for Chiang Mai, I was excited to see this city of temples in the jungles of Northern Thailand. And then we got to Chiang Mai, and I couldn’t help but think:
Am I the only person who finds this place a little… vanilla?
I’m sure there are plenty of people who will recoil in horror reading those words, but I’m afraid that this was one example of those ‘high expectations makes for disappointing reality’ situations. Seminyak in Bali felt much the same.
I tried to love it, I really did. I wandered the streets and the markets, talked to the locals, and gawked at the myriad stunning temples that dotted each corner like Starbucks dot the corners of my suburban homeland in Orange County. But I just couldn’t summon the love that I felt for Bangkok or Ubud.
First, the good things:
- The shopping in Chiang Mai was top-notch, without a doubt. Much better quality of product, much lower prices than just about anywhere else I had seen in Thailand. And there were several really great artists selling their wares at the night market just outside the old city.
- The temples were stunning, and you couldn’t turn a corner without running into one. My favorite one had a peaceful garden with Buddhist proverbs hanging from the trees and a feeling of wisdom and joy that made my soul sing. And despite the crowd at the Doi Suthep temple, it had a spiritual presence all its own.
- The food here was consistently better, and there were several dishes that were famous to the North of Thailand that were truly scrumptious, like Khao Soi Gai. There was a mom-and-daughter restaurant just across the street from where we stayed on Soi 5 Rachadamnoen that had excellent food. Nothing I ordered there wasn’t spectacular, so I went almost every single one of the five days we were in town.
- I ticked off a line on my bucket list by spending time with the rescue elephants! But that needs it’s own whole post.
Now, the blah things:
- After a couple of days, there really wasn’t all that much to do. Other than see more temples (which are beautiful, but how many can you really see and maintain that breathless wonder that they instill in you) or shop more (not exactly the best option for budget traveling), we struggled to keep ourselves busy. Sure, there were the exploited Karen tribespeople we could inflict ourselves upon for a staggering fee, or we could check out more drugged-up tigers, but neither of those things really topped our list of ways to spend our time or money.
- We were there during The Burn, a time when the surrounding land is set ablaze in controlled burns to keep vegetation under control. Fortunately, it wasn’t too smoky while we were there, but it did add a tinge to the air that wasn’t the most beautiful.
- The countryside didn’t overwhelm us. We went out to Huay Tung Tao Lake on recommendation from a few people and websites. And we tried, oh we really tried to be wowed by the incredible natural beauty, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us.
Overall, I think maybe we scheduled in two days too many for Chiang Mai. But because so many people who live the location-independent lifestyle have called it home, we were certain we’d need as many days as we could spare there. For some it might be the best place to call home, but for us we were ready to go.