Ahhh yes – we’re back in Thailand. Although we’d never been to Chiang Mai before – we always love coming back to Thailand. There’s something about this place that just feels good. It feels “easier” in a sense – and it feels really normal, as weird as that sounds. Regardless – we made it to northern Thailand and we couldn’t be happier about it. A long travel day (always to my dismay) but a beautiful flight from Bangkok helped ease that pain.
First Thoughts and Feelings
One of the most draining and difficult things (I find) when arriving in a new city is figuring out how everything works and where to find everything. Things like – where’s the nearest grocery store? Where are the cheap (but good) restaurants? Where do you go and what do you do when you want a fun night out? Not to mention arriving at the new dwellings and figuring out what works/what doesn’t – what’s supplied/what isn’t. It’s always the same – just a different place.
One thing I noticed about Chiang Mai right off the bat (versus let’s say…Bangkok) is that it’s not super catered toward tourists/English speaking people. Yes, there is a giant shopping mall with every amenity you might need. But if you go to the food court? The menus are in Thai. And not “English-Thai” where it’s written in the A-B-C’s we’re used to – I’m talking straight Thai. Their written language is beautiful, no doubt – but if you don’t know it? You’re not going to figure it out just by looking at it.
There’s tons of retirees here from Western countries – and young Western tourists as well but it’s nice to still feel like you’re very much in their culture. There’s super hip coffee shops on every corner if you want to feel a bit more “at home” but for the most part – you’re entrenched in Thai culture – it’s great.
Figuring Out The ‘Hood
So first thing was first – we got situated in our apartment (Airbnb link here) which was perfect. Great space, great location – couldn’t have asked for a better spot to settle in for a month. But it was time to do some grocery shopping and get some staples.
Luckily there’s a gigantic mall (mentioned above) about a 10-minute walk away called the Maya Lifestyle Center. It has freaking everything. Clothing shops, food courts, electronics shops, name brand everything – and even a grocery store. The store is called Rimping and it’s very modern. Lots of Western items but still local fruits and tons of meats. Pretty much anything you need can be found here. Not the cheapest but definitely convenient. We stocked up on everything we needed. Score. These are things that I always can find in Thailand – basics. Basics without too much hassle. Everything you need is always nearby and you can generally always find it without feeling completely lost.
During the evening we found that there was a pop-up night market outside the mall. We’re not sure how often it happens (since we haven’t seen it since – maybe just the weekends?) but this is when we pretty much looked at each other and said “YES!” We love Thai outdoor markets/night markets. Always the cheapest garb – whether it’s clothing or trinkets or whatever. And best of all? CHEAP FOOD! And my favorite? MEAT SKEWERS! God it was good to be back in Thailand! We know there’s tons of these around the city and we’re excited to explore more of them but so happy this is pretty much in our backyard.
Sightseeing Around Our Area – The Old City
Another thing about our area that we were super excited about is the walk-ability. It’s been a while that we’ve been in a city/area where you can walk to just about everything. For one – it’s convenient. For two – it just feels better…health-wise. It’s nice to be moving instead of just getting around by scooter or taxi.
So? Once settled in our apartment – it was time to get exploring! About a 30 minute walk from our place is the Old City of Chiang Mai. It’s a walled area of the city that dates back to the 11th-14th century. There are many temples (or “Wats”) here, along with tons of streets to wander. The Old City is surrounded by a brick wall and even a moat. There’s tons of history contained in this area but also new coffee shops and boutique hotels.
Seeing the gorgeous Thai-style temples never gets old. They’re all very similar but still…you can’t help but stop and admire each and every one, every time.
Keep in mind that the temperature is in the upper 80’s and humid – but it’s still necessary for people (women, mostly) to cover themselves when entering temples and other religious areas. So I brought a big scarf and sarong to cover my shoulders/knees – goodness gracious – I think I almost had a heat stroke. But it was worth it to see everything.
Wat Chedi Luang
Perhaps one of the most famous landmarks within the Old City is Wat Chedi Luang (entrance temple pic above) – built somewhere between 1385-1402. It was damaged to almost half its size during an earthquake back in 1545 but it’s still incredibly impressive.
At the center of its peak – each staircase leads to a beautiful golden Buddha. There’s even a separate building in the back with a giant golden reclining Buddha. The entire property is incredible.
Day Trip to the Chiang Mai Zoo – Plus a Bonus Waterfall!
We tend to always make a trip to the zoo of whatever city we’re visiting. It’s a bit of a sadomasochistic thing to do but we can’t help it. We love going to zoos because we love animals – that’s really just the bottom line of it all. We love seeing them, being around them and discovering (in person) animals that we’d never have a chance to otherwise see. But of course, there’s the sad side of it all – you realize that all of the animals are in captivity and you are so happy and grateful to see them but so sad for them at the same time. It’s a weird thing, right?
Asian zoos are even weirder. It’s strange because they tend to have lots of animals that you’d see at an American or Western zoo but…the safety standards are just thrown out the freakin’ window. We’ve been amazed at the zoos we’ve seen while abroad at the serious lack of safety procedures in place. Want to feed some hippos without any barriers whatsoever? Go for it! How about a jaguar? Here’s some meat on a stick!
They’ll let you get extremely up-close and personal with animals at these zoos – it would just never ever fly in America. Ever. It was cool but scary and sad all at the same time. I must say – we were pretty impressed with the size of Chiang Mai’s zoo and the beautiful grounds that it was located on.
The saddest part for me were the elephants. I don’t know why but elephants seem special to me. Not that other animals aren’t special but there’s something about elephants that make me feel like they are wise beyond comprehension…and when you look at them…I feel like they can feel what you’re thinking.
The elephants at this zoo broke my heart in particular. I’m not sure if it’s just because of the proximity in which we were able to view them or the fact that I could just reach out and touch them but…wow…it was a real emotional moment. I can only hope that they felt my love. They’re the Thai national animal but yet their used to entice tourists for “rides” and “feed the elephant” moments. It just made me sad.
Sadness aside – the zoo was truly beautiful. There were times that we were walking around and we’d reach a path where it was just us. It was gorgeous. And we were only a 20 minute walk away from our apartment!
After the Zoo? A Short Hike to a Waterfall
Spending hours at the zoo – we walked about 10 minutes further up the highway to a waterfall just outside the city called Huay Kaew Waterfall. What a gorgeous reward after a long day walking around in the sun.
It was super peaceful and a great place to chill out with a picnic blanket and some snacks – maybe we’ll do that at some point but when we discovered it – we just walked in and out. What a cool local discovery. It’s on a road that leads up into a National Park with many other waterfalls and temples to see. I’m sure we’ll discover them in the coming weeks.
Markets, Food, So Much to See!
We couldn’t be happier to be in Chiang Mai. Having been to Thailand a few times now (this being our 3rd…but in a different area) we always feel a sense of relaxation here. It feels good. It feels right. And we’re happy to be back.
The food is amazing – we’ll be eating a ton more of the local cuisine, for sure. The markets are awesome – so excited to more of them! And we love our location. What more could we ask for?