The temples in Chiang Mai are much better and vastly more intimate than in Bangkok (the same likely applies to most any temple outside of Bangkok). Things aren’t quite as overrun with tourists and you can enjoy the atmosphere a great deal more. We walked through a couple near the Sunday night market before the market started and really enjoyed them.
We also went to Aroon Rai for dinner and feasted on a delicious bowl of khao soi, a dish native to the Chiang Mai region. The curries here are supposed to be extremely good but we both got khao soi. If this dish is any indication, the rest is certainly quite good, too.
The night market was great, too. There’s the typical tourist stuff that you can buy but there are also a great deal of locally handmade products from locals. In addition, the market is simply gigantic. The market stretches along one long main road and spills into the side streets and another large intersection. Getting there early is certainly worth it (we got there shortly before things started, had a massage and then walked along before the crowds got too intense) because once the crowds form, you will be moving slowly. Would have loved to spend more time there and photograph the market itself but unfortunately our visit had to be cut short due to health reasons.
Monday was quite the adventure, though. We woke up early and were picked up at 7:30am for our trek through the Doi Inthanon National Park. Funnily enough, our group consisted of three other Germans, so every time we spoke with our guide, Lex, we had to be sure to switch to English. Our guide picked us up in a slightly different, larger version of a songthaew (he gave it a different name, I forget what) and we hit the road.
The total drive took about two hours. We stopped at a local, very dusty market to get a few ingredients for what would be our bush lunch and then jumped back on the road. The drive through the Thai countryside was interesting – we saw temples, construction sites in the middle of nowhere (the crew camps out at the site), villages and some of the burning in the forest. Sitting in the back of a pickup truck snaking its way up a mountain was also quite a ride – there were no seatbelts of any kind and you had to hold on to the metal rails on the roof or wherever you could.
We arrived at a village that was part of a “Royal Development Project”, which had received a new primary school, sport fields, farms and other new infrastructure. The school was extremely rudimentary but the children seemed to have everything they needed (we were able to sneak a peek inside one of the rooms since schools are currently on holiday in Thailand). The farms had herbs, fruits, tea and modern-looking greenhouses, which is something we thus far hadn’t seen in Thailand.
The trek itself was long. We trekked about 12km through forest and jungle, climbing over fallen trees, crossing streams and across mountain ridges. Our guides, Lex and Chaht, showed us how the Karen hill tribe used various plants found in nature for medicine and other uses.
The lunch they made for us, while simple, was also one of the best meals we’ve had in Thailand so far. Chaht found a number of herbs in the jungle, including a large banana blossom, to add to the soup they made using banana leaves (instead of a pot) to add flavor to the vegetables we brought from the market in addition to what Lex found in the area around our little camp. The chicken wasn’t seasoned very much but the smoke from the campfire was more than enough and the soup was brilliant with the banana blossom, lemon grass and other things that you can’t find outside Thailand with names I can’t spell.
After lunch, we walked the final leg to a river outside a tribe village that grew strawberries where we had a swim. Once we had cooled off, we hiked for another small stretch to the Karen tribe village where I bought a bag of the best strawberries I’ve ever had and where we met our truck for the drive home. We took some time to look around the village, Lex talked more about the people (he’s Karen himself), I made a quick portrait of a woman there and one last picture of Chaht before we went our separate ways.
I would definitely recommend going on a trek when visiting Chiang Mai. There are a number of companies and routes to choose from and you can do day trips like ours or multiple nights, it’s all entirely up to you. We went with Pooh Eco Trekking, which is what our guesthouse recommended, since the company we originally wanted to trek with apparently had gone out of business. We were worried that the burning season would ruin the trek but aside from a few fires we saw in the distance or on the roadside, you never would have known there was something amiss.
Chiang Mai has definitely been our favorite. In fact, we would love to spend even more time here and explore the area but tomorrow we have to catch an early flight to Krabi and head to Koh Lanta for our relaxing beach vacation. If we ever come back to Thailand, we will definitely be visiting the northern region and all the nature-related attractions it has to offer.