Previously I wrote about our first sleeper train journey in Thailand between Bangkok and Chumpong on-route to Koh Tao. That first trip was kind of OK and since we were about to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north, we decided to get on a sleeper train again. This saved us a lot of money, not only because the train tickets were that much cheaper (1700 Bahts for the two of us, about £36), but also because we saved on a night’s accommodation. The train journey was 14 hours long, but because we were travelling overnight it meant that when we arrived in Chiang Mai the next morning we were fairly well rested and had a whole day ahead of us to explore the city. This time the train was much more comfortable as well, we managed to get two lower bunks across from each other, so the air-con was less of a problem for me.
From the train station we got in a taxi which took us straight to our hotel in the old town of Chiang Mai. Yet another guesthouse booked last minute through Booking.com, which so far has proved to be an invaluable resource for us in our planning on the road.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city and the capital of the north, but it doesn’t feel like it, especially in the historic centre, where you get the distant feeling of being in a small town. The old quarter is set within a 2 square km moat and had a very laid-back vibe. Most of the tourist sights are situated within this moat.
We spent our first couple of days walking around town, exploring its markets, wats, cafès as well as booking ahead for our activities and doing some general housekeeping like our laundry and deciding our route from here all the way to Laos.
Before I go on to talk about the Wats of Chiang Mai let me tell you how appreciative I am of the laundry services kindly locals have set up in all the major tourist, traveller and backpacker destinations in Thailand. Now 3 weeks into our journey this is a service we are making good use of for sure, especially now that we have exhausted our collection of clean clothes. In Chiang Mai there was a laundry service right across our guesthouse, so we walked over with a big plastic bag of our washing and handed it over to two very lovely smiley ladies. They put the bag on the scales, told us it was 3.5 kg and at 35 Bahts a kilo that cost us a rounded up figure of 125 Bahts (around £2.60). We paid and than that was it – we left our clothes in their very capable hands. We returned the next morning by which time our clothes had been washed, dried and folded into a bag. Easy. It’s funny how as you go along the side streets of Chiang Mai and other towns there are several of these laundry services with people’s clothes and smalls hanging out in front of the shop, flapping in the breeze and drying in the hot midday sun 🙂
You cannot visit Chiang Mai without setting foot in one of its many many Wats – it is inevitable, they are everywhere. And they are beautiful.
I think Adam had a fill of them by day 2, but I just love them. They are all pretty much the same, but different (:-D). They are stunningly intricate on the outside and quiet and humbling on the inside. I must confess I don’t know all that much about Buddhism, but Wats sure make me want to read about this peaceful religion more in detail.
Here are some of the most notable Wats we visited while in Chiang Mai:
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chiang Man
When visiting temples and other holy sites in Thailand (and even some cafès or shops) you have to watch what you wear. No one is allowed in wearing footwear, so you leave your shoes outside by the door, or bigger Wats provide shoe-racks. As a general rule you cannot expose your shoulders, cleavage and tummies and should not wear short skirts and shorts. Days however get incredibly hot in Chiang Mai so you will be forgiven for not wanting to wear long sleeves and long trousers all day. I usually carried a big scarf that could double up as a sarong to cover my shoulders or legs as necessary.
On the evening of our first day here we managed to catch the Sunday Walking Market. This is a must do in Chiang Mai, it’s fantastic and huge! The stall holders start setting up at about 5pm. By sunset, so about an hour later the market is bustling, there is no square meter left unused on the pavements and visitors are shoppers quickly make up a huge crowd. The quality if goods here is really impressive, I found it much better than goods in Bangkok’s night markets and almost every stall we walked past I wanted to buy something from!