Not every travel experience is amazing.
I know that we are incredibly lucky to be able to travel like we are. Taking a year off from our real lives, stuffing a backpack with the essentials and going where ever the wind takes us is a privilege and a very humbling experience. We know that loads of people back home who read this blog and see our pictures on FB, wish they had the opportunity to do what we’re doing. Knowing all this makes you feel almost guilty when you have a bad day on the road. When you have a runny nose so you lay in bed all day watching Netflix, when you can’t be bothered to try and find yet another ‘great’ place to eat so you go back to the same stall at the markets you’ve been to the last 2 nights or when you visit a new place and you don’t love it.
We didn’t love Chiang Mai. I didn’t even like it very much. I know that will be an unpopular statement since everyone else seems to love it. The city gives a great first impression, after being immersed in the crazy that is Bangkok for a week, Chiang Mai’s clean streets and slower pace were a refreshing and welcome change.
On the surface it was great. An old city hidden behind a crumbling wall, an abundance of quality Thai and western eateries, amazing walking street markets, good internet, and a cooler climate than the south. Still it just wasn’t for us.
Our first day in a new city we always try to get the feel of the place by walking the streets and seeing what we can find. We did this in Chiang Mai and apart from a few temples, which granted were nice the only other note worthy thing we found was a nice park. Everything in Chiang Mai was nice, but nothing was amazing. It felt like a curry without the spice, bland and a little boring.
We kept trying to love it, and I’m not saying that everything in Chiang Mai is awful. There are a lot of things to see and do so we tried a few to see if we just missed that ingredient to discover the universal Chiang Mai lovefest we’d read so much about.
We went out to Doi Suthep which is a temple on the mountain 15km outside Chiang Mai. The Songthaw ride up there was exhilarating if a little terrifying and when we got to the temple it was nice. You walk up some 300 odd steps to the top of the temple and you are rewarded with an incredible view across Chiang Mai.
Night markets in Chiang Mai are awesome. The street food is tasty and cheap and the stuff on display is varied unlike other markets we’ve visited where every other stall is selling the same products. If you happen to be there over the weekend there is a Saturday walking street and a Sunday walking street. Sunday is where it’s at, with vibrant stalls, hundreds of vendors and loads of visitors both locals and tourists alike there’s something for everyone.
Chiang Mai is filled with cooking classes, by day 3 we were starting to feel like we’d go crazy from boredom so we decided we may as well book a cooking class, little did we know this would turn out to be one of the best things we did in Thailand. We got picked up by the staff at Basil Cooking school early enough to go to the markets where they explained all of the produce and ingredients we were buying to us, this was really useful as many of them were unfamiliar to our western palettes. We then went back to the school and spent to day with a fabulous teacher and learnt how to make about 7 different dishes all of which were amazing. We were pretty chuffed with our efforts and in our inflated opinions now fancy ourselves Thai cooking experts – Thai party at ours when we eventually make it back to oz!
There are a lot of expats in Chiang Mai, so there are a lot of western amenities and services, this is great for convenience, bad because you sort of feel like you’re in this weird hybrid world where you can get a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast or venture to the café next door for smashed avo and poached eggs on gluten free toast. There’s a very evident juxtaposition which is probably great for a lot of people, but to me it just made the city feel unauthentic. The yoga classes are great though!
Chiang Mai is home to some fantastic festivals, the biggest Loi Kratong and Yipeng lantern festivals are held in Chiang Mai and it is definitely worth a visit to the city just to see the moment thousands of lanterns fill the night sky.
There are some great things about Chiang Mai and I can understand the appeal. But I realised I need something with a little more edge, the whole time I was there a voice in my head kept screaming it’s Canberra, it’s Canberra! It’s nice, it’s pleasant, it’s easy, but you know what I mean – it’s nice for a weekend but bloody boring otherwise – sorry Canberra friends but I feel like I can say this after my 4 year sentence in our nation’s capital!
Besides a few temples everything in Chiang Mai was outside the city. There is a beautiful National Park, Doi Inthanon, but it requires a day trip and a 2 hour drive to get there. You can go trekking or visit hill tribe villages but since we were on our way to the mountains we decided to save this for there.
The other thing that was really evident in Chiang Mai? Creepy old white guys with very young Thai girls. Yes, you see this all over Thailand and so long as everyone is a consenting adult live and let live I say. But in Chiang Mai it was uncomfortable, it was everywhere, in every bar with not just old but really old white guys and not just young but really young Thai girls, maybe it’s just me but it made me sad and the feminist in me was really pissed off that these poor girls have to put up with this crap to make a living.
Truth is I’m still a little confused by Chiang Mai. Am I an expert in all things Chiang Mai- absolutely not, is it possible that I just didn’t see the Chiang Mai everyone raves about- sure maybe, but would I go back? Only if I was passing through on my way to Pai!
8 thoughts on “Chiang Mai – we didn’t love it”
Well, we liked Chiang Mai quite a bit. Far more than Phuket…
Btw we were at Basil too for the cooking. Too much food…
Would we return? Yep, and drive out of the city!
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I love that you loved it! And that’s what I mean some people love it and others not so much. I love that as travellers people go to the same places and have completely different experiences, you’ve hit the nail on the head though ‘drive out of the city!’ Way too much food at basil if you were to try eat it all there – agreed!
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So love the honesty in your piece! We didn’t love Chiang Mai either, but I have friends who would be offended if I said that…our blog “audience” controls our writing, and we rarely give them much of a glimpse of the true trip we are on! I keep the blog for public and a journal on the side telling the true story.
EVERYWHERE in the world seems to be built for tourists nowadays. I have resigned myself to being one for awhile…it sounds like you both have as well!
It will be fun to follow you! https://switchinggearsblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/thai-girls-western-guys/
It’s so great to get this comment! It’s certainly a little scary putting out a piece that you know goes against the general consensus but I figured I had to be true to our story! Appreciate you stopping by and be warmed by the fact that you’re not alone in your CM impressions!
Great post, I totally agree with you! I had spent around 5 days in Chiang Mai and after a day of walking around I already wished I was back in Bangkok. It was a nice city but not more than that. Most people I met told me to not waste much time in Chiang Mai and head up straight to Pai, because Pai should be amazing. Sadly I haven’t been there yet. I think in Chiang Mai it’s more about the activities in the surrounding areas that you can do there: I went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, took a cooking class and did a day tour to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle, all of this was amazing. I also heard there are great trekking tours but I wouldn’t waste too much time in the city itself 🙂
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Totally agree! Make sure you do get to Pai one day it really is as gorgeous as everyone says!
Congrats on your honesty! As a reader of various blogs & follower of youtube channels I’m often disappointed when I get to a place only to realise there’s a huge difference between the hyped-up and photoshopped version on the internet and the real life one. I think honesty and transparency are crucial because it gives people the option to make up their own minds and choose their own adventures rather than follow a trend..
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