I instantly liked Chiang Mai better than Bangkok. It has a lot going on but it’s not quite as crazy. My best comparison would be Florence to Rome, Italy. Still a bustling city but smaller and not as chaotic.
We stayed at Galare Guest House right on the river. Conveniently, it was located just steps away from Chiang Mai’s famous night market! Basically, a street where, at night, hundreds of vendors open up. It’s Mostly just clothing/souvenir vendors. Still many tourists but a different atmosphere as the bar and restaurant scene on that street is minimal. We really enjoyed walking around, checking out what each vendor had (even though its mostly all the same stuff) and bargaining for items… which is one of my favorite things to do!
I have a new addiction to Mango Sticky Rice. Probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. At first I thought it sounded disgusting but after trying it, I cant get enough. Chiang Mai offered it everywhere so I was in heaven. It’s also mango season here, making all the mangos super ripe and sweet. Along with the sticky rice, Chiang Mai is the place for coffee lovers, every other building is a different coffee shop. Our favorite was Wawee (mostly because we liked saying the name, of course).
Thanks to our personal travel agent, Jennifer (Margaret’s mom), we found out about a guesthouse that doubles as a travel agency for activities around Chiang Mai, Funky Monkey! We ended up booking a full day trip to the mountains on our first day and a half day with elephants/ Thai cooking class for our second day.
Funky Monkey arranged a private taxi/driver for us for the whole day, which turned out to be perfect. Mr. Rung, our driver, was able to take us to some great locations on the way up to the top of the mountain where we visited a coffee plantation and a Hmong village.
Our first stop was an ancient temple in the jungle. We arrived there early enough to beat all the other tourists, meaning, we had the place to ourselves, and it was beautiful! Mr. Rung explained to us that the dialects are different in Chiang Mai and Bangkok (different alphabet completely), which I had no idea about (I should probably do a better job researching). Our next stop was Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple. We climbed about 350 steps to reach the top only to find ourselves wanting to leave because of the massive number of tourists swarming the place. It was overwhelming! 10 minutes was more than enough time.
The best part about that stop, though, was the Jade Factory at the base. Two pairs of earrings and three pendents later we continued our journey up the mountain (I just couldn’t resist the gorgeous jade). I was extremely thankful we had a driver at this point because many people were on scooters and, with the curvy roads, it looked incredibly sketch and dangerous. No thank you! Meanwhile, I’m busy getting car sick… of course. We stopped at a view point but it was too hazy to see anything. We were told the farmers in the area still burn their fields during this time of the year (even though it’s illegal) causing all of Chiang Mai to rest under this impermeable layer of smoke… that may be partially to blame but, I on the other hand, believe smog is a large contributor.
After a quick pit-stop at a campground, we made our way to a coffee plantation that’s tucked away in the jungle. We sat under a small enclosure, looking over the coffee plants in a small valley. It was the perfect scenery to enjoy a delectable cup of organic black coffee. I’m quickly learning that great coffee really doesn’t need sweetener.
At the top of the mountain is the Hmong Village. We spent a short amount of time there but moved on rather quickly as we were STARVING and Mr. Rung informed us we probably couldn’t eat in that village (but he could because he’s used to it).
With full stomachs, the last stop on our journey was much more enjoyable. We visited a small waterfall. The ground surrounding it was full of large flakes of mica, making the dirt glisten!
The tour lasted about 7 hours and by the end we were exhausted and ready for bed. What a great day, though, and totally worth the 1,300 Baht (roughly $40USD) we paid.