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Chiang Mai

2008 March 19
by rob

Oh wow. That’s all I have to say about Chiang Mai. It’s one of my favourite places that I’ve visited so far on this trip. It’s the hot and dry season here, but my hostel, the Spicythai Backpackers’ is one of the chillest I’ve ever had the pleasure to stay in.

I came to Chiang Mai to attend the wedding of my friends Adam Freed and Michelle Gauthier. The story of the wedding is covered in a separate blog post — I won’t repeat any of the wedding story here. I’ll just tell you about the rest of my stay in Chiang Mai.

I’m going to consider Chiang Mai to be a Good Place. I use capital letters since I really mean it. It’s a smallish city (about 100,000 people) in northern Thailand. The city seems to be located in a wide, flat valley, but surrounded by low mountains. The mountains are one of the southernmost extensions of the Himalaya mountains.

It’s an old city — it celebrated its 700th anniversary just a few years ago. It was the capital of an independent Thai kingdom long ago. However, it was only fully incorporated into the modern Thai kingdom about 70 years ago.

Because of its ancient capital status, it’s filled with several pretty government buildings and hundreds of Buddhists wats (temples). In fact, it has 300 temples — about the same number as Bangkok. That’s astonishing, considering that Chiang Mai is a city with only about 100,000 people and Bangkok has something like 10 million.

I stayed at the Spicythai Backpacker’s hostel here in Chiang Mai. The owner of the hostel, Pong, is a really cool guy. He’s really friendly, hangs out with his guests all the time, takes them on tours, arranges weddings, takes his guests out drinking, and is just awesome in general. The rest of the staff is cool, too.

I generally try to shy away from dorm rooms as large as ten people, but its not so bad here. The guests are really nice, too, and don’t cause problems (not like the Danish kid that peed on my in that eight-bed dorm in Coffs Harbour, Australia). I’ve made good friends with a few of the guests in this hostel, especially: Alexandra Weaver (from Hamilton, Ontario; Damaris Zellweger (from Zurich, Switzerland); and Brent Haas (from San Francisco, California. These are the sorts of people that I want to try and keep in touch with for a long time. I hope that, using the power of the internet, I will be able to. In the short term, at least, I think I will be exploring part of Laos with Alex for a while. Hopefully we can meet up with Damaris in southern Laos in a few weeks — and maybe in Switzerland in a couple of years! Brent told me about Burning Man in Nevada and I promised him that I would try to go in August 2009. I hope I can make it.


The four of us made one of the saddest bowling teams in history. Lots of gutter balls — but lots of Singha Beer, antics, and horseplay made it all worth it! We horsed around so much that we would have easily gotten kicked out of any bowling alley in Canada. Good times!

Many hostels have walls with photos on them to show you the cool things that past guests were doing. I’m pretty sure, because of my connection with the wedding, that Spicythai is the first hostel I’ve been in that now features MY picture on a wall. In fact, I think there’s like eight pictures of me up on the wall now!

To be honest, I didn’t really even see much of the city of Chiang Mai. I could have spent all eight of my days here exploring the city, its temples, museums, and people. I could have gone on a multiple-day trek into the hills and jungle. I could have ridden and taken care of an elephant. I could have gone whitewater rafting. Mostly, I chilled with my new friends at the hostel (it really does feel like a home), restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. Oh yeah, and we watched a lot of House. Like, a lot.

It doesn’t help that my motivation to go out and do things is being slowly sapped. I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the malaria pills. I do know that I’m wary of doing lots of tours and stuff because of cost — I am serious about trying to save money for long term traveling.

I did spend one day wandering around the old town and took random photos. I enjoyed a Thai-style massage at the Women’s Prison. It only cost me 225 baht (CA$7) for an hour and a half massage. I’ve never been hit and pummeled by a women so much in my life. Not quite relaxing, but very vigourous. I felt very loosey-goosey afterwards, which I assume was the goal.

The only very touristy tour that I partook in Chiang Mai was a one day cooking class. It was held on an organic farm about a half hour away from Chiang Mai. I enjoy Thai food a great deal, and learning how to cook it was a great experience. We started at a market in town to learn about some common Thai ingredients and them buy them. At the farm, the instructor, Fias, showed us many Thai ingredients growing in the garden. Since the garden was organic, we got to sample many of the leaves, roots, and fruits directly from their plants.

I made five dishes: red curry with vegetables and tofu, Thai vegetable soup, stir fried chicken with cashew nuts, a Pad Thai, and mango with sticky rice (a dessert). Every dish was made directly from its component ingredients. The cooking school peeled many of the vegetables and cut them a bit for us, but the dishes were probably 80% prepared by the students themselves.



Many of the pictures I’ve posted to my Picasa Web Albums are from the cooking class itself. That’s probably a reflection of how much I enjoyed the class.

I’m going to wrap up this blog entry now. Tomorrow morning I am (temporarily) leaving Thailand and heading to Luang Prabang in Laos. It’s a three day journey: one day on a minibus to the border, and then two days on a slow boat up the Mekong River to Luang Prabang itself. I should be back in Thailand in about three weeks. However, if Laos is as good as people say, I might stay in Laos for the full duration of my thirty day visa and go straight to Cambodia from there. We’ll have to see!

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