Chiang Mai is a city of temples, monks, hippies and wanna-be hippies – but that’s not what caught my attention in this sweltering northern city. Searching for accommodation in a post-night-train-stupor (read: very broken and jolted-sleep), it was almost standing on a dead scorpion that woke me right up and reminded me just where exactly I was.
The scorpion was just the beginning though, as we were then greeted to our guesthouse with a family of bugs in our bed (fortunately not bedbugs, just big bugs). Exhausted and bugged out, I was left a little bitter and for the first day or so I didn’t appreciate what a great place Chiang Mai really can be.
Once I got over the stifling heat (yes, we visited in the hottest month), the cold showers, and the hordes of hippy tourists (a real change from the sarong wearing, sunburn sporting, tanning types found further south), I started seeing what Chiang Mai has to offer (apart from high prices in the low season). Chiang Mai draws you in slowly, tempting you to stay longer as you uncover more of its character, history and culture. It feels almost European with its quaint walled old town and its penchant for beautiful gardens and flowers with a sprinkling of street art – until you almost get bowled down by a tuk-tuk racing through the streets that is.
There are temples in Chiang Mai, oh my there are temples. There are temples with Buddhas, temples with jade Buddhas, temples with gold Buddhas, temples with elephants, temples with cats, temples with chickens, temples with fake monks! That’s right, those are not real monks in front of the Buddha.
But if temples aren’t your thing, what about stupas? There are plenty of stupas in Chiang Mai too.
Or if you’re after the triple whammy combo of temples, Buddhas and stupas, you’ll have no problem finding them either.
I discovered that once again my favorite form of transportation is the best way to get around and to see the city. Cycling is great in the heat as it creates your own breeze, you can easily pop from one temple to the next, or just take a break from the temple you’re at, cycle to buy a smoothie and then come back completely refreshed to continue your temple-ing.
Most importantly, Chiang Mai is definitely on my wave-length when it comes to food. Although I can never get enough of Thai Curry and Pad Thai, I branched out and had my first taste of the heavenly Khao Soi. It’s chicken, noodles and yum and in a bowl.
And if you don’t like Khao Soi then there’s always bulk Pad Thai to fill your rumbling belly after an exhausting but fulfilling day, getting lost in the old city while exploring temples.