Monday, June 6, 2011

Back to old habits in Chiang Mai

After our stint in Laos we went to the north of Thailand to visit Chiang Mai. As we had done in Luang Prabang, we arrived there without a place to stay. We knew of one that was well rated and cheap and got dropped in front of it. In this case the place was sadly overpriced and not really good so we took our bags and walked around in search for a place to stay. After looking at a few guesthouses we found a good one and settled down. This is fairly easy to do since we're traveling in low season and most of the places have rooms available. It often allows us to get a cheaper price than if we booked online. We only do it in small-ish, easily navigable places where many hostels and guesthouses are available within walking distance of each other.

Staying in Chiang Mai is fairly easy. The old city is not very big and you can find anything you need, inexpensively. When you can rent a scooter for $3.5 per day, there's no point in bothering with a cab or a tuk-tuk! Chiang Mai, being the second largest city in Thailand, has all the comfort of a big city but the feel of a small one. It even has some signs of a modern city, like street art.

This being south east Asia, there were a lot of temples to see and we started with those more or less randomly, while getting lost in the city as a way to get our footing there.

We love how one dragon is eating the other one

It's always strange how they have many Buddhas, even when there's already a huge one

The dharma wheel is an ancient symbol of Buddha

Who's the scariest?

The next day we went back to our roots and went climbing (that's where we met after all). There is a fantastic rock climbing site near Chiang Mai that has been completely developed by the climbing shops in the city. They organize day trips there so all the routes are super well bolted and secure. We were really impressed by the location: Crazy Horse Buttress. It has hundreds of routes, all bolted and safe, and the hard granite walls are a pleasure to climb. We mostly climbed the easy stuff as I had to lead climb each route to set up the rope at the top and we hadn't really climbed in over 4 months. The rain popped its head for a little bit and thanks to it we migrated to an area of the site called The Cave. And what a cave it is! We had to scramble down fallen rocks, then up a little bit to arrive in a beautiful area of the cave, lit by a skylight. It gives the wall a lovely shine and it also means that even though there's light, it doesn't rain inside. It was the most scenic place we've gotten the chance to climb! In the end, we had an awesome climbing day and if you're a climber, and you make it to Thailand someday, you should definitely check out the area.

Make sure you don't bother the locals

The cave in the background is where we climbed

For the next two days we rented a scooter and the first order of business was to go to the Doi Suthep temple on the nearby mountain. The locals say that you haven't been to Chiang Mai until you've been to Doi Suthep. We arrived at the bottom of the 300+ steps to reach the temple, which is richly decorated in gold. It is beautiful and very much a place of pilgrimage but it also felt crowded, but not with people: You can't really step back and take it all in, which makes it hard to truly appreciate it. There is, however, a great view of the city from the grounds!

Since we were already up the mountain we decided to push the scooter a little more and visit the Bubhing Palace, a sort of vacation home for the royal family in the north of Thailand. I would say only one thing: don't bother. It was so disappointing that, to entertain ourselves, Denise and I started to crack more and more stupid jokes to get us through the walk around the place. Which means we ended up having fun despite how boring it was. +1 for travel buddies!

A variation on one of our wedding photos

On our way back to the city we drove randomly through the streets to explore a little and ran into two really cool temples. One of them had the biggest Buddha we had seen yet and the other was a really nice grouping of temples, shrines and sculptures.

During our stay Denise also went to yoga a couple times, and luckily had her best class out of San Francisco yet. She was stoked. I also took the night off and went to see some Muay Thai fighting. I couldn't pass up the occasion since we were, of course, in the home of Thai boxing. The quality of the fights was pretty average overall but it was a fun experience and I ran into a German guy who gave me some info about the particularities of that martial art. All in all, a fun and very unconventional way to spend the night.

In the end, we had fun in Chiang Mai. In addition to the local stuff, we also went climbing, riding and Denise went to yoga. It's almost like being back in SF!

Our badass biker for Thailand. The handlebar has been moved to the side car where she controls from her wheelchair

A funny sign: you get your suit there to get your Pimp On

You can find more photos here (map)

View Thailand - Chiang Mai in a larger map

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