Chiang Mai might very well be my favorite place in all of Thailand. This is my second visit to the epicenter of northern Thailand; my first was back in December 09. Just like the first visit, I didn’t want to leave but this time I spent 5 days so I was satisfied with moving on. The first thing I did upon arrival was get a Thai massage at the same place I got one last time I was here. I was hoping it’d be 120 baht again but they wised up and are now charging the going rate of 150 baht, which unfortunately coupled with the dollar’s decline against the baht by 10% made the massage about 1 dollar more expensive than it was 9 months ago. Regardless, getting an authentic 1 hour Thai massage for less than 5 dollars is still a bargain. I followed it up later that evening with a short but fun fish massage and some beers.
The next day a group of us rented motorbikes for the day and headed on up to the Wat on top of Doi Suthep, a small mountain just outside the old city. Another traveler showed me how to drive a manual motorbike yesterday so we rented a manual one for the drive. We had a couple of small issues at the start like not being able to strap on my helmet but we got it all sorted and headed out. It took a few minutes before I started to get the hang of when to change gears but I quickly got comfortable with it. Amazingly we didn’t get lost and got to the Wat in no time although I did stall out once and burned through a lot of petrol going up the mountain because I wasn’t shifting gears efficiently.
On the way down from the wat one of the bikes got a flat tire and needed to be patched up. We were headed to Lamphun while the others were heading to a nearby lake so we carried on. Lamphun is a town about 26km south of Chiang Mai and is home to Wat Hariphunchai, the design of which Wat Doi Suthep is based on. Route 106 connects Chiang Mai to Lamphun. The road is lined by massive rubber trees which makes for a scenic drive. Upon arrival in Lamphun, it took us a bit of time to find the wat but it was well worth the trip even though by this point I’d already seen my fill of wats. The place was buzzing with activity; people were setting up for the yearly festival that was going to take place tomorrow starting early in the morning. We stuck around till just before nightfall and then drove back and had dinner with the others at the street food stalls at the South Gate and then drove over to the night market. While we were there we were informed of the local’s night market so we walked over and checked that out too. On the way back 2 of the bikes got flats immediately, it seems as if it was done intentionally but I guess we’ll never know. Not sure how or why, but Put Put (we named our bike Put Put because that was the sound it made when the gears weren’t shifted properly) escaped the flat tire epidemic that befell everyone else.
We woke up the following day at 06:30 and drove back down to Lamphun to check out the festival. We were re-routed due to rush hour traffic heading into Chiang Mai but eventually we found a way to get onto 106 and arrived at the wat around 08:00. Turns out the festival didn’t really get going till late morning however by the time we left at 10:00 to return the motorbike the place was nearly packed with people. We’d been told there was a raffle to win the towers of stuff with money at the top but since we were leaving there was no point in entering even if we could find the place to buy raffle tickets; since it was a local festival all the signage was in Thai and the 2 of us accounted for 40% of the foreigners there. Everyone was really nice to us, especially the little old ladies who made sure we tried the free (yes…FREE!) food that they were handing out. By this point I was really comfortable with driving so I pushed the bike all the way up to 80kph and pulled a couple of Thai driving maneuvers on the way back to town. However I did stall out once at a junction when the light changed from red to green. I spent the rest of the day hanging out and drinking.
The next day we took a full day cooking course at the Pad Thai Cookery School. The owner/instructor was really informative and experienced, not to mention really funny. We were given a choice of 6 courses to make; I chose pad thai, mango sticky rice, masamun curry, sweet and sour vegetable, papaya salad, and steamed summer rolls. Our first stop was the local market where we were given an explanation of all the ingredients we were going to be using and how they were offered for sale in the market. Cooking and eating all day wore us out so it was naptime right after class was over. I had a great time learning how to make all sorts of delicious Thai food and came away with a cookbook and a master chef certificate! Later on that evening we had dinner at the street food stalls again followed by some beers.
Our last full day in Chiang Mai we did pretty much nothing. Breakfast and internet was followed by mojitos, cheetos, beers, and naps on the rooftop daybeds. Then we walked around the Saturday night market, then got some more street food, then more beers. It was a good day J