12.12.2008 - 17.12.2008 28 °C
I am horribly behind on my updates - I've already been to Laos, am currently in Vietnam, and still haven't written a word about Northern Thailand! Well here goes.
After a month in the south I was so glad to get to the north, and my first port of call Chiang Mai didn't disappoint me. Immediately the north of Thailand appealed to me more than the south. The sun was more gentle, people friendlier, things cheaper, everything just better!
I thought Chiang Mai was an ideal place to spend couple of days. It's a city, but it's not too big. Chiang Mai also had a brilliant selection of bookshops. Many of them only sold good books, there wasn't that usual load of crappy chick-lit at all. The downside was that prices were unusually high, I thought it was strange that you should pay almost the same for a secondhand paperback that you would pay for a new copy in Europe! Still, it was bookworm's heaven.
I was aware that Chiang Mai is considered as the intellectual treasure of Thailand, and that it's a good place to study anything from Thai language to Thai massage. I also knew that treks to visit the hill tribes are extremely popular, but it soon became evident that there is so much to do in and around Chiang Mai. As soon as I started to go through the information leaflets I was hit by stress. With all those interesting options and limited budget it was very difficult to decide which activity or excursion to take. I was wondering and pondering whether I should go for a trek or perhaps take a cookery class. Spend a day with rescue elephants - or maybe with tigers? Go zorbing or do a bungee jump? Everything was quite pricey, so with my pathetic budget I could only afford one thing.
In the end I couldn't resist the Flight of the Gibbon. It's a canopy ride through the jungle, you basically fly from platform to platform (built high up on trees) wearing a harness attached to a zipline. So you hang on a wire with the jungle beneath. It was something I had wanted to do in Costa Rica, back when Costa Rica was still on my itinerary, so when I found out that there was something similar in Chiang Mai, I couldn't miss it.
We started very early in the morning, I was picked up from my guesthouse at 6.30am with a Scottish girl who was doing the same thing. When we arrived to the village where the Flight of the Gibbon was taking place, it was so freezing cold that I thought I was gonna die before even getting into my harness! Fortunately it did get better once the sun was up, and we ended up having so much fun. Some of the ziplines are quite long, which is great cause then you actually have the time to look down and admire the jungle below. There are also couple of skybridges to cross. The funniest part was coming down - after flying from treehouse to treehouse, we got to fall down from a really big tree. I loved it! I think the whole thing was worth the money. Also the Thais working there were so funny, doing their best to scare us as went through the tour.
Afterwards we had a delicious lunch in the village, and then headed for a little trek to the waterfalls. The small waterfall itself wasn't that impressive but it was nice walk all the same, and we had a guide with us telling us about the surrounding nature and plants.
I have to say few words about my guesthouse called Julie's, as it was the best and cheapest place I've stayed so far. Julie's is extremely popular and getting a room there for 5 nights was a stroke of luck. It's recommended in Lonely Planet and on numerous websites, so every morning when they open the office at 8am the lounge is already full of people hoping to score a room. It's all for a reason though. Julie's is super cosy with roof terrace with hammocks and sofas to lie on, there's a pretty garden, the restaurant downstairs serves good and cheap food, and even the cheapest rooms are cute. The staff call you by name and remember your room number, which I think is a nice touch. As is the possibility to just help yourself for drinks in the fridge and write down what you've had.
As the dorm was full they hooked me up with other lone female travellers to share a twin room. That way I only paid 70 baht per night which is the cheapest I've found so far. After the cockroaches in Krabi and the cell in Bangkok, I was so happy with my little room with its dark wooden floor and bamboo walls. During my stay at Julie's I had three different roommates, from 35-year-old Belgian nurse to an American girl just out of high school. My first roommate was an English girl on an amazing, inspirational journey, and just chatting to her and watching her photos made me green with envy as I was getting prepared for my own tight schedule in Laos and Vietnam!
The most noticeable thing about Chiang Mai is that it's full of temples. You literally can't walk many metres without bumping into one and then another and another. It certainly makes for a picturesque city, but after a while they're all pretty much the same. Temples in Chiang Mai offer "monk chats" which allow tourists to ask questions from the monks and them to practice their English. There is also an interesting program available called 'Monk for a month'. It's a chance for ordinary people to experience the simple life that monks lead. I really wanted to participate for an over-night introduction to meditation, but as it was only organized once a week I missed it.
Every now and then there were buildings that looked so out of place in Thailand, that it almost felt like walking into a movie set in the middle of a Thai city.
When the stress of having to do things was coming back, I did what I always do when there's too much choice and I can't have it all - I got angry and decided I would do nothing. I played with the idea and came to the conclusion that not much harm would be done if I just ignored all the activities and the rest of the sights. If I just sat by the river for four hours reading a book, or walked around with no destination whatsoever, or wrote my journal in a cafe called Banoffee Coffee House (for obvious reasons), or for the first time on my trip went for actual breakfasts and sat in a normal cafe having a banana oatmeal instead of rice at all hours.
I did go to the famous Saturday market though, which is an attraction itself. Two Chilean guys I met at Julie's were looking for presents for their families, and I just hanged along. I've seen enough markets already and I wasn't gonna buy anything anyway - I'm dragging an impressive amount of luggage with me as it is! It was so crowded there, mostly Thais. It was a bit too much for me, in fact I think I'd be quite happy if I never saw any markets ever again! (Well food markets don't count!)
So I had a nice time in Chiang Mai, but to get the most of it, I need to return with more money one day!