Michael and I just got back from a few days in Chiang Mai. This was our second trip to Thailand and we totally loved it. We quickly settled into our own routine of eating, drinking coffee, shopping, eating some more, drinking more coffee, shopping the night bazaar, going to sleep, and repeating it all the next day.
We decided to stay at this cute little mom and pop “resort” a short ways north of town and right off the river. It got good reviews on TripAdvisor and it was cheap… like we’re talking less than $60 a night cheap. When we arrived I was so glad we picked this place. It had an awesome little upstairs balcony with a view of the Ping River. And the grounds were beautiful. It was so nice having breakfast outside every morning surrounded by so much greenery and quiet.
It was pretty easy getting around town. The Old City (which is literally the “old” city of Chiang Mai and still surrounded by the original moat and walls) is shaped in a nearly perfect square, making it almost impossible to ever be truly lost. Because of that and how “normal” the traffic is, we saw foreigners everywhere buzzing around on mopeds. But for those, like us, who don’t feel so confident sporting around town on scooters, there are plenty of auto rickshaws (like what you find in Bangkok) and covered red trucks that will take you from point A to point B.
Thursday we took a shuttle to a place called “Tiger Kingdom”. If you look it up on the internet, it gets pretty mixed reviews. Basically it’s a place set up by the zoo to breed and keep tigers until they find a place for them to be kept in an actual exhibit. To generate revenue, they’ve open up the facilities so you actually get to touch and take pictures with the tigers. It’s not an ideal system, but with the threat of extinction, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to get so close to such an amazing animal.
Michael and I spent time in the smallest exhibit with the baby tigers and afterwards walked through the rest of the park. It was a neat experience, but I think overall we were a little disappointed. It might have been a little more enjoyable if we were able to spend more one-on-one time with a trained care-taker and the tigers. But hey! At least we can say we cuddled with a baby Bengal Tiger. How many people can say they’ve done that?
Chiang Mai is also a coffee-lover’s paradise. If you walk for five minutes and don’t see a coffee shop, you’re not in Chiang Mai. In fact, you might want to check to see if you’re even in Thailand. Thais love coffee and they take it seriously. They like it strong and they like it bitter. Most places roast their own beans, which are grown by various tribes along the slopes of the mountains just outside the city.
We found one coffee shop called “Ristr8to” that was actually run by a trained “Master Barista”. In 2011 he won 6th place in the World Latte Art Championship and for every order he personally grinds, presses, pours and designs the latte art for each cup. He imports beans from all over the world and each cup is served with an informational card explaining the roast, region, grade, and processing technique used for the beans you selected.
When Michael ordered an espresso the owner took the time to come over to our table to ask when Michael would like to drink it so that he could prepare it fresh. He gave Michael a warm shot of water to “rinse his pallet” and explained how to cup the expresso and what characteristics to look for. This guy was legit! When we came back later on during the week, he gave us a list of home espresso machines he recommended and offered some really good advice for pulling our own espresso at home. Why can’t places like this exist in the US?????
Almost every night we went to the night market. During the week the night market to the East of the city opens around 6pm and lasts until midnight. Both sides of the street are lined with stall after stall after stall of vendors selling high-quality knock-offs. We saw tons of Loui Viutton and Coach purses, North Face backpacks, Tiffany jewelry, Beats headphones, pirated movies, Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. And these weren’t the cheap, fake counterfeits where you could tell the difference. They all had the identical logos and look of an authentic brand. So real, that most stalls had signs posted that no pictures were allowed.
For those of you who know Michael and I, it’s probably not a surprise we didn’t buy from any of those vendors, but it was still pretty incredible seeing so much authentic-looking counterfeit merchandise just out there in the open like that.
The Saturday and Sunday night markets are just as fun if not more so. We could only make it to the Saturday one since we weren’t in town quite a week and were leaving Sunday, but it was a really neat experience. They definitely had a lot more of the local handicrafts and wares verses what we saw at the weekday night market.
The abundance of chemical-free hand-made soaps, celedon ceramics, silks, clean air, and the world-famous Thai smile are just a few of the hundred other things I loved about Chiang Mai – but the food… Oh man, the food!
Who doesn’t sing the praises of Thai food? I think it’s their belief in “balancing” flavors that ensures every meal turns out tasting like heaven in your mouth. And salad! I could eat salad, drink smoothies, put ice in my water and not worry about paying for it later. Such a contrast to India…
Like the last time we visited Phuket, we left Chiang Mai feeling refreshed and charmed by this beautiful little Southeast Asian country. So thankful for places like Thailand. I hope we get more opportunities to go back in the future.