A Bit of TLC Part 6 – A Bit Awry in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand December 2023

After a 6 hour (which went v-e-r-y slowly) train journey to Chiang Mai, the last thing we wanted to hear when we arrived at our hotel was that our rooms weren’t ready. The very posh sounding Royal Peninsular Hotel was just outside the ancient walls of this famous city, and we were expecting a bit of luxury after our travels.  I had been looking forward to visiting this much lauded destination, so reluctantly we dumped our cases and trudged off, tired and sweaty, to find somewhere to eat.

Air Trafffic Control nightmare!

The historic old town is contained within a square still marked by a moat and four gateways.  Thais were still celebrating Loi Krathong, and the waterways and buildings were alight with pretty coloured lanterns.  In the far distance we could see paper lanterns floating up into the air – Lanterns, balloons, fireworks, laser lights, drones and other items that might damage aircraft are banned around Thailand’s main cities and airports during the festival, and people are warned they could face the death penalty if they flouted the rules!

Blue burrito anyone??

We stumbled upon a Mexican (yes, I know!) restaurant which actually served half-decent burritos and margaritas, so the evening picked up a little for me! 

Finally allocated a room, which was very dated and underwhelming, we hoped that things would look better the next day.  A lack of any discernible Wi-Fi, cold fried eggs, rice and salad for breakfast and a night manager who held loud phone conversations right outside our room, forced us to look for somewhere else to stay. This 4 star hotel was definitely a 0 star in our books.

We certainly had a Hard Day’s Night at this hotel!

Feeling a bit jaded by this experience, we decided to splash out on an apartment and chill out for a week or so.  Checking in to the Grand Wipanan condo felt like we were “home” and we relaxed in our new surroundings.  As much as I love travelling and experiencing new places, sometimes when you are away for this long, it’s comforting to stay put and take a breather from time to time. This was one of those times, and we enjoyed a very pleasant week, chilling out by the pool, using the gym (yes!  I really did) and ordering in dinner (thank goodness for the Grab app).

A bit more like it!

We did take time to explore the old town with our guide Kan, who explained the history of his people – the Lanna – a tribe who had originally moved south from Yunnan in China to Northern Thailand from the 13th century.  The Lanna people have their own language, architecture, cuisine and customs and the Lanna Kingdom covered most of Northern Thailand as well as neighbouring parts of China, Laos and Burma. Kan told us that he hadn’t encountered a “farang” as us Westerners are known, until he was at college!  He was a very interesting and engaging guide as he took us around the city – sampling the local snacks and telling us tales of his experience as a trainee monk. Chiang Mai is home to several impressive temples, and the backstreets were easy to walk around, but sadly it seemed to have been taken over by backpackers, with plentiful cannabis and souvenir shops, hostels, yoga retreats and vegan restaurants.

Basket case?

Kan advised that a grand parade was due to make its way through the city that evening, so we found a spot amongst swelling crowds to watch.  A young Thai marching band took their place in front of us, and there it remained for the next hour!  This must have been the slowest procession I’ve ever seen and eventually we lost patience and made out way back through the throng to our hotel.

The waiting game

One evening we re-visited the old town and discovered a great little bar/restaurant called “Annie’s Bar” owned by a very hospitable West Ham fan called Trevor!  They even served home-made pies (including a very nice leek and mushroom) and mash – and we vowed we’d be back on Sunday to watch the match.

One other excursion was to extend our Thai visas at the immigration office situation in one of the huge malls they seem to love in Asia. It took two attempts as we had been given the wrong form by our hotel, but after returning the next day, and waiting several hours for paperwork to be processed, we were good to go for another few weeks!  Whilst there we took the opportunity to stock up on some decent bread and cheese, and had a nice night in catching up on TV.  With our feet up on the couch, the air-con going full blast, we had to remind ourselves we were in Thailand, and not back home!

Chiang Mai street art

One evening we discovered the North Gate Jazz Cooperative – a brilliant little (and I mean tiny!) jazz club along the city walls.  We were warned it was very popular, but managed to grab the last two seats upstairs on a comfy sofa (my poor bottom was grateful after many nights of rock-hard beds/chairs!).  The two bands we watched were pretty good, and the audience was spilling out onto the pavement by the time we left.

The Thai Art Blakey

We were advised that the Sunday Night walking street market was a must and I was surprised by the scale and variety of the stalls.  This was no normal “street market”.  It seemed to extend for miles, interspersed with (mostly blind) musicians, stalls selling every type of food imaginable, the usual tourist tat, but lots of local products and proved an interesting (if slightly crowded) diversion on the way to watch West Ham draw with Palace at Annie’s.

Feeling energetic the following day, we took a tuk tuk to the start of an uphill hike called “the Monk’s Trail”.  Although quite steamy, the trail snaked up through the forest before reaching a stunning temple overlooking the city.  I imagine that the monks find it a peaceful haven once all the tourists have left for the day!

A quick rest on the way up The Monk’s Trail

On our last day in Chiang Mai, we collected our brand-new hire car from a very professional local company.  Memories of Malaysia came flooding back however, as we made our way up the very windy road towards Doi Suthep and one of Northern Thailand’s most sacred temples, Wat Phra That.  The story goes that the monastery was established to contain a fragment of the Buddha’s shoulder bone (he was very thinly distributed throughout Thailand!), which was brought to the hill by a wandering monk.  It broke in two at the base of the mountain, and one piece was then placed on a sacred white elephant (obviously!)… that roamed the hillside until finally collapsing and dying on the spot where the temple now stands.  Hence the abundance of elephant statues!  There was also, unfortunately, an abundance of tour buses and people, so we decided to continue on up the mountain to a village inhabited by Hmong people.

Dress up time

The villagers are descendants of an ethnic minority who settled here from China in the 1950s. It was all very touristy but quite picturesque as we strolled through the streets lined with stalls selling local crafts and quite delicious strawberries.  Many of the villagers were dressed in traditional Hmong costumes and had cultivated pretty gardens for visitors to walk around (no doubt for the photo opportunities). 

We say “bye-bye” to Chiang Mai

We did stop off briefly at the Wat Phra That on the way back, and after climbing another 300 odd steps, were rewarded with fantastic views over Chiang Mai.

Next stop: The Life of Pai 

More photos!…

Interesting Thai bed linen part 3
The last resort!
The local sweetshop
Return of the "Naga"
It's a fair cop!
Ex female cons are re-trained amongst other things as "masseurs" - not sure I fancy a massage from "Big Sue"....
More Lanterns...
Animal lanterns!
We three kings
Chubby the Golden Monk
Golden Ghandi
Jumbo street art
Float on...
And the band played on (eventually!)
The monks retreat
Should be "blisterfullness" hill!
Doorway to heaven?
Does my bum look big in this??
Canoe with a view
Do you have it in orange by any chance??
Getting a bit "tyred" out
The gardens of paradise
Hmong Barbies
Not very reassuring to find in the back of a taxi!
Roofing was a real art here!
You should have seen "dad"

6 thoughts on “A Bit of T L C – Part 6 – A bit Awry in Chiang Mai”

  1. Noreen Catherine Allen

    Hi Kathy
    Lovely to read of your travel/photo exploits again – always very interesting and exciting places you visit. Teresa is sending blog to me on email ! Enjoy the experience and just to let you know I only have 2 left – all being well (it’s been good news so far !) – I can have my hols to Australia ! Love to you both keep well and safe Noreen & Patsy xx

  2. Great read as always. Informative interesting and witty as usual. Glad you’re still enjoying your travels and can’t wait for the next instalment. Happy travels and happy Christmas to you both. Lots of love xx

  3. It did seem quite different and intriguing when we were there but we were certainly not as adventurous as you – we were the ‘tourists!’ I envy the warmth you have there and keep thinking how nice it would be to get away from our horrible winter weather, like you do. Have a Very Merry Christmas both of you and a Happy New Year xxx

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