Saturday, April 5, 2014

In the North...

I just realized that in the past four weeks events literally overturned and left me with so much to write about. Let me see, where should I start...?

Oh yeah, after Sukthothai I took another travel coach to Thailand's second largest city, Chiang Mai (that was already three weeks ago). During my travels so far I've heard so incredibly many backpackers raving about that place, so I really didn't know what to expect. In my imaginations I was first thinking of a traditional city, overcrowned by thousands of flying lanterns and elephants swarming all over the place. Furthermore there are lots of stories of how magnicifent the jungle trekkings of Chiang Mai are et cetera, et cetera... But now what's the reality?

A more than typical street in Chiang Mai
Already for decades Chiang Mai represents a Mecca for backpackers par excellance. Right after Bangkok and maybe Phi Phi island it's definitely one of the most popular (or obvious?) tourist destinations in Thailand. Over the time the town earned its fame through its many trekking possiblities, the weekend market, lots of elephants and the lantern festival Loi Krathong which takes usually place in November. It's therefore obvious that hundreds of cheap hostels and guesthouses sprang up like mushrooms in this busy place. For one night in my solid hostel for example, I paid a lousy 100 Thai Baht (approx. $3). And I'm sure that there are even cheaper places out there. 

The city itself has a long history (on which I won't elaborate on, as you may remember my last post) and some architectural characteristics remained untouched up to today. The inner city for example is surrounded by a square-shaped canal, which is additionally fortified by an ancient city wall.

The city canal

The canal as seen from the map

A fragment of the ancient city wall that stands alongside the canal

Of course the inner city was gifted with some more interesting places, but in my opinion much less than for example Bangkok. Here a selection of the more spectacular areas and moments:

One of the many temples in Chiang Mai

Even more interesting...

... in the inside.

And those guys aren't afraid of heights either...
Wat Chedi Luang, probably Chiang Mai's most iconic temple

... with its stereotypical signboards

Chiang Mai's Chinatown...
... Chinatown also offered a nice change to typical Thai architecture.

Along some market halls...

But the highlight was definitely the Sunday Night Market which attracted hundreds of visitors

Alongside with the usual useless stuff...
... also local delicacies were sold.

On another occassion I decided to pay a visit to the Flight of the Gibbon zipline park. While it was a fun experience after all I couldn't get rid of the impression that I've already visited way cheaper rope courses in Switzerland. But on the other side the rainforest alone with all its surroundings made this canopy experience unique.

A cool couple from China was in the same group

The local zipline instructors were also hilarious as hell

Nice Jungle. And what about the trekking stuff? I've got to admit that first I really was tempted to participate on a guided trek tour around the nearby mountains, but after a little internet research and some conversations with other backpackers it turned out that most of these trekking tours are just bland tourist walks with the opportunity of buying useless souvenirs from not so authentic hilltribes. To put it in a nutshell, I was 25 years late of looking for an authentic trekking tour in Chiang Mai.

So once again I took matters in my own hands and rented a motorbike to visit Thailand's highest mountain and national park, the Doi Inthanon. It was a thrilling 80km ride south west of Chiang Mai, and once more I noticed how respectful Thai drivers are. Most of them drive carefully, minding traffic rules, scooter drivers and pedestrians. I've been in places in Europe where car drivers were way more reckless!

Entrance to the Doi Inthanon National Park
Due to the dryness there are fires all over the place.

Nonetheless there were all kinds of waters.
Definitely the highest waterfall I've ever seen!

And there were dozens of more waterfalls!

But the rice(?) fields were even more amazing!

And of course a Buddha's inside

Two such Stupas stand near the mountain top

The view from there was once more awesome

Lucky me at Thailand's roof.
The army got there a RADAR base too

At this height some spectacular plants grow

I hear the jungle calling me...

Like in most other Thai national parks, Doi Inthanon offered a Nature Trail as well

A traditional «Spirit House» stands inmidst the forest
The road up was spectacular...

On the way back I discovered this van in top condition

And what about the elephants? I was actually lucky that the National Elephant Day took place during my stay in Chiang Mai, so I could go see the elephants for free. The Maesa Elephant camp near Chiang Mai organized a huge event for honoring those gray giants.

Hundreds of Thais showed up that day
And the elephants were of course the main attraction

Tying a small cord around the tusk allegedly fullfills a wish

There was also a ceremony held to honor the elephants

Fancy costume, dude.

A massive buffet was prepared for the «Changs».

These guys ate literally everything

And you have to see it by yourself to believe it...

So what is my final verdict on the whole Chiang Mai mumbo jumbo? I would say it's a nice town to stay for a few days, but other than that it's nothing really special if you're looking for authentic adventures. The best thing to do in my opinion is to rent a scooter and explore the less touristic places. Also note that Thai parties and events are way more fun than those for the farangs.

Doi Suthep, the golden temple that overcrowns Chiang Mai

I really have to catch up with this blog, as I'm already in Laos. Expect a next post soon with photos from Pai, Mae Salong and the dramatic border crossing to Laos...

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