Chiang Mai: How I Imagined Thailand

You know how you imagine a place you’ve never visited before, and then, when you arrive, it is nothing like the pictures you had in your head? Thailand has been like that for us. It has been very different from anything we’ve seen before. However, as soon as we drove into Chiang Mai, the images in our heads were lining up with what was unfolding in front of our eyes. Now you’re talking – this is the Thailand we had imagined.

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Chiang Mai is a fairly large and modern city, but the downtown area where tourists congregate is old and charming. Contained within moats and stone walls, the core has easy and picturesque walking distance to everything – temples, markets and street life.

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Chiang Mai has become extremely popular with tourists of all ages. It has a pleasing combination of traditional old-world Thai and new-agey kombucha bars. Yoga features prominently, as does buttery croissants. This is the city where ex-pats came for a visit and stayed for a decade. The streets and narrow lanes are full of unexpected little scenes, like this one – someone’s dainties hanging out to dry in full view of passers-by.

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Restaurants cater to locals and tourists, with everything on offer from fried morning glories to Belgian beer. The food is pretty much guaranteed to be great, whatever you eat and wherever you eat it. Street food is a bonanza of choice and flavour – if you are tired of Pad Thai, you can try fried pig intestine.

Thai coconut soup – so fresh and delicious.

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Local fruit and local yogurt.

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There are Thai cooking schools on every corner – we met new friends here (from Nanaimo!) who spent yesterday learning how to make chili paste, spring rolls and chicken with cashews. It was tempting to consider, but by the time we have a kitchen again, my newfound Thai cooking knowledge will likely be long gone.

Another service we will not be taking advantage of – custom-made suits or dresses. Tailor shops and massage parlours have cropped up like mushrooms after a rain to meet the demand of farangs (tourists, or foreigners) who are in the market for a $100 suit or a $10 massage. In Bangkok and Hua Hin we were chased by aggressive sales people; here in Chiang Mai their marketing approach is far more mellow – this store has simply posted written testimonials from satisfied customers.

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What I did try was the fish pedicure – much hilarity ensued. We have walked past a number of these shops, with tanks of tiny fish just waiting to nibble the dead skin from tourist feet. Yesterday I decided to give it a try. First, I was instructed to rinse my feet in a tub of clean water. Then, I hoisted myself up on the bench, swung my legs around and dipped my feet in. Well! It was not the tentative little nibbles I had anticipated – a GANG of fish swooped in on my feet and just went to town. The sensation was almost unbearable at first – an intense combination of tickling, almost electric, kind of annoying and quite relentless. These fish were going after my dead skin like it was their life’s work. After five minutes or so I got used to it, but 15 minutes was more than enough.

We’ve had a wonderful time mixing it up – visiting a few temples and then just wandering the streets. We turned a corner and came upon this universal scene – children feeding (and chasing) pigeons.

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More pigeon fans.

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The architecture of Chiang Mai is an intriguing mix of new and old. The traditional old teakhouses are still around; many in varying degrees of decrepitude. We wonder how much longer before they start to disappear, or if there is a movement to restore them.

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Some of the newer buildings are replicating the teakhouse style,
but in a more upscale fashion.

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I always love to discover the street art in any city, and while Chiang Mai does have some great examples, you have to look a bit. What else would you expect to find here but elephants?

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Northern Thailand is famous for its hill tribes, especially the Long-necked women, and there is considerable controversy about whether popping by their villages for a photo op helps or hurts them. When we walked past this image, I was struck by the art Рthe work looked very familiar. Sure enough, I Googled Facteon, and discovered he is a Mexican artist Рwe had seen his work in the Yucatan. Here is a link to his FB page for more examples of his incredible art : https://www.facebook.com/facteone/

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On one of our walks, we came across the Police Station with this attention-getting statue. So open to interpretation – I wonder if the body in his arms is just unconscious.

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We’re in Chiang Mai for another day before we continue our way north. I have a few more images to send your way about this area – just way too much to include in one blog. Blog part 2 in a day or two. There’ll be temples…this is one of them. I wanted to leave you with an orange Buddha and a sleeping dog who appears to be obeying the sign.

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