Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand.
Not many people know that (forgive my Michael Cain impersonation)
And with Bangkok predicted to be swamped by catastrophic floods on an annual basis, Chiang Mai is getting bigger by the day as Bangkok Thais scamper to escape the rising flood waters and apocalyptic predictions. That’s what happens when you build a city on a swamp but that’s also a whole other story.
Chiang Mai is old. The ancient city wall which still remains in many places dates back to the 14th century. It must have been one hell of a wall. You can still see the arrow slots and the moat is still maintained.
Apparently, years ago, the Burmese used to pop across the border for a bout of rape, pillage, plunder and general nastiness on a regular basis.
I don’t know how long ago that was, but these days, the only Burmese in town are destitute and desperate and stand next to road side in the blazing midday sun trying to get work while the ever more affluent Thais drive past in air conditioned SUV’s.
How the worm turns.
If you’re a hippie and you’re into yoga, wheat-grass, spiritual healing and all that caper, then Chiang Mai is a must for you. It’s hippie heaven. Everyone is walking around in big baggy pants, has flowers in their hair and is weighed down by silly jewelery.
Observing these hippies try to ‘out hippie’ each other is one of my favourite things.
Fresh fruit juice bars are on every street corner and the smell of incense wafts through the streets and pisses the mosquitoes off.
I’m very much NOT a hippie, but I still love Chiang Mai.
It’s a great keep-fit city. They have world class sporting facilities that you can use for a pittance.
The local Olympic size swimming and diving pools cost a couple of pounds to use.
The top class gymnastics training facility costs less than that.
Athletics track – free.
It’s also really good for adventure sports. It sits just at the foot of the mountains so the mountain biking is great. There are elephants and rivers and waterfalls a plenty.
Just about 130 kilometres from Chiang Mai is the small town of Pai. If you’re into smoking weed, then Pai is weed smokers paradise and you must go there.
But you don’t have to cane the cannabis.
There’s plenty to keep you busy while the dope smokers lie about and dream of engineering world peace.
Pai is surrounded by rivers and waterfalls and you could keep yourself busy by walking through the jungle and finding these waterfalls. Some of them are quite remote and involve a couple of hours of jungle trekking to get to them. The advantage of this is that when you get there, you can strip off naked and skinny dip ‘cos you’re not going to be disturbed – probably.
The street food is the best I’ve ever had. It’s fast, cheap, healthy and so tasty.
The simple delights of chicken fried rice, pad thai or egg noodles flung about in a flaming wok and cooked in front of you in minutes and presented steaming and accompanied by chilli, garlic, peanut and fish sauce condiments are something I yearn for whenever I’m in Europe or ‘the west’ but one is never likely to find.
The South East Asians are the undisputed kings of fast food. No competition. They’ve got it down to a fine art.
To watch a busy ‘mamma san’ cook for 20 tables all on her own (perhaps her 10 year old daughter as waitress) without a cash register, without writing anything down, without a dish washer, without…well, without anything except a gas bottle, a whopping great wok, a few implements and a whole mound of the finest fresh ingredients fills me with awe, wonder and admiration.
If you think I’ve just pulled out a hyperbole then I challenge you to go there and see for yourself.
Get back to me. I’d be interested to hear what you think.
One thing I encourage you to do if you find yourself in this buzzing metropolis is to visit one of the fresh produce markets.
Sompet market on Moon Muang, soi 6 is my local market and it will blow your mind. The range of weird and wonderful produce on display and the manner in which it is presented is stupendous and if you’re a foodie you will love it.
As ever I could go on, but there’s not much point. The internet or a Lonely Planet guide book will do the job that I am not interested in doing.
I hope only that I have pricked your curiosity. The rest is up to you.
It’s easy to get to get to Chiang Mai. There are flights every hour from Bangkok for about 50 GBP each way.
A posh taxi from the airport to the old city centre is 100 baht (about £2) and there are guest houses and hotels everywhere to cater for all budgets.