Since I've been bumming around in Thailand I've heard non-stop praise for Chiang Mai from Thai and foreigner alike. So much so that I decided to plant myself here for a solid month and see what all the fuss is about.
I have to admit it's growing on me - with the big flat grid of cafes and bars it reminds me a bit of Melbourne, Australia - but I'm curious to know what other people love/loved about it so I can make sure I go and experience it for myself before my visit is up.
Have already enjoyed the big Saturday street market last night, before the heavens opened up and drenched it, and I'll be devoting a day to that huge zoo. Besides drinking my weight in coffee every day, what else should I be sure to do?
I love Chiang Mai because it is a great place to just be somewhere. I first visited back in 1985, and have been a dozen or more times since. It is always evolving. I particularly enjoy just wandering around the different neighborhoods, particularly up near the moats, to discover the small breakfast restaurants and hole-in-the-wall bars that seem to be everywhere. On my last visit, I stumbled across and stumbled out of quite a few funky, friendly, stylish spots.
While in Chiang Mai you might also look into some massages and spa treatments, since you'll find a wider range of affordable options there than elsewhere in Thailand.
Lampang, less than two hours to the south by bus, has a smaller, more locals-only feel too. Have fun. Cheers.
It is pretty neat how you can walk everywhere. I'm debating whether or not to get a motorbike for the month, since all shopping and amenities are a short trot from my apartment and buses appear to run constantly, unlike the half-assed public transportation system I was used to in Phuket.
Been a while since I had a decent foot massage too...
I would get a bike/scooter for the month. Sure you can pretty much walk everywhere in and around the old city area, but IMO one of the best aspects about Chiang Mai (living here 7+ years now) is getting out of town to the surrounding hills/valleys/lakes and smaller villages. Take a bike up Doi Suthep - awesome twisty scenic ride to the busy temple and beyond. Keep going to the Phuphing Palace and then down to Ban Meo Doi Pui (Hmong village) or up to the "summit" then you have a campground, coffee growing (tasting) and Ban Chiang Khian (another less-visited Hmong village) and lots of little forest trails in the area. If you're feeling strong keep going past Ban Chiang Khian where the pavement ends and you'll descend on rough road past lychee orchards, rice terraces, and eventually arrive at Huay Tung Tao lake which is worth a visit in its own right. Then the busy canal road connects back to the city (or do the above in reverse riding up the backside of Doi Pui). Look for the GT-Rider "Mae Sa Valley" map at most book shops (or I sell 'em too) which covers these places and other good daytrips out of town best done on two wheels.
Put it this way...I had my first foot massage at the night market there and didn't even attempt to have another one for about 5 years.
Classic Thai massage CM style ... you know that *relaxing* bit where they massage your temples? That resulted in a severe headache for about 3 days ... in fact I wondered if I had a skull fracture!
Massages are one of the few things that have actually turned out to be cheaper here than in Phuket (200 avg in CM vs 300 in Pkt), but I've yet to try one and feel the difference.
Will have to earn it by hitting the gym first. The Smith Res rooftop "gym" is pretty crappy - just a bench with fixed long bar, 2 useable dumbbells and not much else. I was very disappointed to find the Central Airport Plaza gym - California-something - not only doesn't allow one off walk-ins (EVERY gym in Phuket I went to did), but their pricing is stratospheric - 3200 for a month (Avg price for a month pass in Phuket was 900-1500, max) So basically at the mall it's double the most expensive membership in the Pearl. I've heard of some place called Dontawan or something having a more reasonable price - will have to look into it.
I wouldn't harp on about prices so much, except that it feels like I've been hearing forever about how terrible and expensive Phuket is, and then I finally come up here to see some of the good life and find everything except massages costs the same or more - plus I keep getting the vibe that crime is much more of a factor here. Every rental place supplies and encourages the use of chain locks here (never a req in Phuket) and some shmuck stole my helmet the other night.
After all the hype I really want to like Chiang Mai, but besides having a more constant source of public transportation and cheaper taxis (irrelevant when you hire a bike for a month as I've now done) I'm having trouble seeing what all the fuss was about.
"Hey Cranky - Go back to Phuket!!"
*dodges rotten vegetables
Being very lazy by nature and also rather skint, I like to keep fit effortlessly by swimming around looking at pretty fishes and coral in the sea. Gyms not only cost money, there are hyper tedious ways of getting exercise, and I get bored out of my mind after about 5 minutes.
Unfortunately opportunities for snorkelling around CM are rather limited to say the least!
I did a trek once though (sans elephants or hill tribes). We slogged up a steep hill in the jungle for about 6 hours (sweating profusely and not seeing a lot except trees) but we came back down again by river much faster.
White water rafting is what I call fun exercise (but a bit pricey).
Cranky, Whatever you do don't give California Wow your contact details or they will hassle you for the rest of your life to join (sucks!) But check out Fitness Thailand behind the computer shopping arcades near the Huay Kaew (NW corner) of the old city. If you want to swim check out the public 50 baht pool at the end of Chiang Mai Land road (go to night bazaar turn right go 2km turn right on Chiang Mai Land Road and tun right at the end just before the highway). Or check out The Center of the Universe, a swanky pool complex out the canal road toward Huay Tung Tao lake. http://www.therealcentreoftheuniverse.com Also the 700 Year Stadium in the same area has an olympic-size pool and exercise equipment. It takes a while to find CM's "hidden" gems.
"It takes a while to find CM's 'hidden' gems"
@CBob - Ah yes, but GPS really gives the whole process a swift kick in the bum. I'll have to start plotting some points on my map app.
Now I've seen that centre of the universe place online before, but 200 baht per visit is a bit mmmm.... That's pretty much what it used to cost me to go to Leichhardt Pool back in pricey, pricey Sydney. If I could afford that I might as well go swimming in a big vat of my own money like Scrooge McDuck. Now the public pool sounds more like my speed at 50 thb. Or the 700 year stadium might be alright - especially if there's a decent amount of gym stuff as well as the pool and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
The staff at California Wow were a bit pushy and rude - the whole place smelled like a scammy chain back home called Fitness First. Even though there was no chance I was going to pay more for a gym membership than my motorbike rental (3200 vs 3000 per month), I was still curious to have a poke around in there. They had an ironically portly woman show me around, but she wasn't much for idle chit chat. "Hey, so California Wow - is that like 'Wow! - I can't believe what a ripoff this place is?'" I jested with her. Nothing. I just walked on out without looking back in the end. I know there'll be a better option in town somewhere.
@SBE - Have you tried listening to podcasts while you're exercising in the gym. If I'm not in the mood for music, I can easily lose myself in a pre-recorded radio show or podcast while I'm doing those reps. You might like a show I've started listening to lately called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe I oscillate between that and the Howard Stern Show - an eclectic mix that rarely leaves me bored while doing my wrist curls.
"Being very lazy by nature and also rather skint, I like to keep fit effortlessly by swimming around looking at pretty fishes and coral in the sea. Gyms not only cost money, there are hyper tedious ways of getting exercise, and I get bored out of my mind after about 5 minutes.
Unfortunately opportunities for snorkelling around CM are rather limited to say the least!"
Yeah, what she said! Couldn't agree more.
Cranky, I stayed about 5 days in CM a few years ago, and wasn't overly impressed. Maybe I wasn't there long enough, maybe I just didn't find the right of things to do that worked for me. But ultimately (for me), it's just another city.
There are two sides to Thailand that I love - the islands (as per SBE's comments) and the smaller provincial towns - which are quieter, cheaper, friendlier and ...I dunno, more representative of 'real life' in Thailand (whatever that means!). I just find them more relaxing and interesting.
Have you made it out to the islands yet? (Can't remember....)
PS Do any of you long-term Chian Mai-ens know this guy - the happy chappy riding the tuk tuk in the third pic down? I ran into him about three times the other day, cackling madly as he rode passenger-less down the road. He seems kinda rabid.
Don't know the cackling mad-hatter samlor guy in your pic, but Chiang Mai like anywhere else has it's local "characters". Your sure to bump into the "need bus money to go home" guy at some stage. He looks like Charles Bronson (not Manson) and always has this little screw-on cap and usually the same smelly polo shirt. He's been walking the streets every day for at least as long as I've lived here. Relatively harmless, just wants 50-100 baht from everyone but is quite persistent and targets young backpackers with the same BS story over and over. I've even sat him down in our reception and had a chat where he unapologetically claimed to be doing a few thousand baht per day with this and why go get a real job when he makes so much more this way. Cheeky monkey (but he does have a point)!
His photo here
Lol! Yup - I know that dude. He approached me with the usual "Hello, where are you from?" small talk that inevitably leads to requests for money. After we got that shallow chat out of the way I told him I was a writer and therefore had no money. He didn't seem so interested in me after that and just kind of floated off.
Came up to me at that area near Tha Prae gate (I know I probably spelled that wrong, but you know - the East gate area where those kids play on their push bikes at night) And yes, I didn't buy into his bus ticket BS for a moment. 1000 a day. huh? Maybe I could find me a beat up old hat and get some scratch.
Just got back from the 700 Year stadium. They have pretty much what I was looking for; a gym with free weights and bar bells for just 30 baht, and a nice big Olympic swimming pool (used during actual Olympic games way back when) for 60 baht.
I'd pay three bucks for a good workout and swim. Oh, and the gym has a beaut view of Doi Suthep too - something to keep me inspired when I'm doing all those pull ups.
"used during actual Olympic games way back when"
That's a good one. With a bit of research you could have known that the Olympics were never held in Chiang Mai. Or anywhere else in Thailand for that matter.
Glad you enjoy the place though. Have a good time.
No Captain, I stood out enough at the pool this arvo as the only falang in the place - didn't need to go showing off with any high dives or anything to attract further attention. It was some kind of school carnival training day or something though, and the place was teeming with kids.
Got 10 solid laps in. I'm out of shape - aiming for 20 next time.
The weights room was pretty full too, or I would have got a pic. The equipment is old but functional. Plenty of freeweights and benches. A couple of the machines are broken. Still, at 30 baht you get more than your money's worth.
Thanks for that vid Cap Bob. I was looking online for gym pics but couldn't find any. Thanks for the description Cranky. Its good to hear that it is doable in my next visit to Chaingers which is long overdue.
@Thomas922 - Hey, here you go. Signed, sealed and delivered -- three covert gym pics. As you can see here, here and here, it's a crude but sufficient setup. 30 baht for non-members. The olympic-sized swimming pool upstairs is 60 baht for non-member falangs.
The gym also has a pile of boxing gloves for general use (ie your hands will stink to high heaven after you use them) and a couple of punching bags.
The gym and pool close at 8pm and 8.30pm respectively, and open way before I roll out of bed these days [img]smileys/wink.gif[/img]
Yeah, I've noticed groups of Thais tend to monopolise the long bars in front of those mirrors, but if you choose your time you'd probably get the place to yourself. Since the 700 year stadium is a 20+ minute drive from my apartment, I mostly make do with what they have in the hotel. Jogged around that main city square too - smokey!