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 – the work looked very familiar. Sure enough, I Googled Facteon, and discovered he is a Mexican artist – we 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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29 thoughts on “Chiang Mai: How I Imagined Thailand

  1. Patricia Brown January 22, 2017 / 7:18 am

    Fantastic! I remember that police statue!

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  2. naturalrunning January 22, 2017 / 7:34 am

    OMG. That fish pedicure is just too funny!!! Patti

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:18 am

      Oh, it was hilarious, Patti. I had a number of clients inside the massage room laughing along with me.

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  3. sawgblog January 22, 2017 / 8:34 am

    So great to be travelling along with you both virtually! Wonderful posts and photos – always something to look forward to when a new post arrives in the inbox.

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  4. Sheila Swanson January 22, 2017 / 8:35 am

    Loved the video..you gave us a morning laugh! Chiang Mai has certainly changed in the last 20 years.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:21 am

      Thanks Sheila – I laugh again just thinking about it. I’ve changed a lot in 20 years, as well.:>)

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  5. Joy January 22, 2017 / 10:20 am

    I love the fish pedicure, I could us on of those about now.

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  6. My Magpie Instinct January 22, 2017 / 10:55 am

    So this is what it’s come to…you’ve become fish food!

    Loving following along with you. My winter vacation!

    xo margy

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:24 am

      I guess that is better than “swimming with the fishes”, yes?

      Glad you’re enjoying the trip – miss you all back on Gabriola.

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  7. Vikki January 22, 2017 / 11:05 am

    Not sure about the pedi ! I bet that tickled .. Good for you for trying it ginny .! That’s what I call living on the edge !

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:26 am

      Hi Vikki – the end result was not like a Vikki Vettese pedi, but the experience was unique!

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  8. Danielle January 22, 2017 / 11:25 am

    Great stories, I can see the similarities with Nam !!Happy travelling!!

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  9. Alex January 22, 2017 / 3:25 pm

    Another great post! Did Dad get a fish massage? The world needs to see that footage!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:28 am

      “Footage” – nicely done, Alex. Now you know as well as I do that there is nothing that would persuade your father to have a fish pedicure, but wouldn’t you dearly love to see it?

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  10. K. Miller January 22, 2017 / 4:43 pm

    Great Blog Gin. Always so interesting to travel along with you & Stephen.
    Would love Chiang Mai, without the fish pedicure. Can you imagine Mr. K
    with his very ticklish feet!!!
    from the 2K’s

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:32 am

      Oh that is quite the image – Dad perched up on the bench with his feet in the tank. Don’t you wish we could see that?

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  11. Linda Whitely January 22, 2017 / 5:13 pm

    Love it Ginny! Pics are so vibrant! Looking forward to next installment! Hugs.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:33 am

      thanks Linda – as you know when you’re in such a colourful place, the photos take themselves.

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  12. Cindy Burr January 22, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    I’m really enjoying reading your blog Ginny! It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Thailand, but this is bringing back some great memories, and I’d love to get back there one day soon. Now if I can just talk Greg into it lol. Have fun!!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:35 am

      Hi Cindy – isn’t Thailand a great place. As for Greg – it’s easy – look for a place with a golf course! big hugs to you all.

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  13. Mike January 22, 2017 / 7:18 pm

    I really liked the video clip – any chance of more in future posts? Gold-plated statues are fine, but nothing beats your candid reactions to the things you see in your travels, especially for us here at home who miss you.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:39 am

      Hey Mike – how great to hear from you! I had no idea Steve was taking a video – I thought he was just doing a series of still photos of me screaming and laughing. We had the whole salon laughing along with us. He also took a video today of me moaning about a crummy cover version of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” (I didn’t like the original either), but that is not for public consumption.
      There will, however, be another brief video on the next blog! xoxo

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  14. Heather Scott January 22, 2017 / 7:28 pm

    You are such a sport, Ginny! I got such a kick out of the video. Now that’s one to put in your memory book!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 23, 2017 / 1:40 am

      thanks Heather – we’ll see how much of a sport I am – I’m hoping I’ll get up the nerve to hop on the back of a scooter once we arrive north in Pai.

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  15. Elisabeth Charlotte Dieryckx January 28, 2017 / 11:28 am

    Hello Ginny, the fish foot eating skin experience you had in a Tank, I have had the very same experience in Brasil, but happening in a natural hot water River in the middle of Brasil, in the State of Goiais, in a Hot Waters city called Caldas Novas. You’d love to be bathing in such a soft flowing warm water shallow river, full of stone boulders around, and thousands of these little fish nibbling at your legs and feet…….Delightful experience ! Have fun, and take good care,
    hugs,
    Lis

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