From Koh Yao Noi we took the speed boat to Phuket, then to the airport for a great flight on Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai. What to do when you are in Chiang Mai for one week? Here is what we did. Hold onto your toques, you’re in for a ride.
First off we stepped out of our cab to be greeted by the couple across the street who operate the laundry service. Once inside the doors of Tip Top Thai House we were greeted by the MOST wonderful Noi who set the stage for a most joyous week. Later we were also warmly greeted by her brother Dang. Set up in our deluxe rooms, overlooking the lush gardens we set out to explore our area of the old city. Shaun was determined to have a barber cut at The Cutler, where I had frequented my last visit in 2016. We made an appointment for the next day and continued our walking tour of temples and stalked up on snacks and essential items from Tops Market at Kadsuankaew Shopping Centre. That night we ate at Ole Mexican Gourmet owned by Yao, who also owns Birds Nest Cafe next to Tip Top. They serve Thai/Mexican fusion very near the Night Market off Thapae Road. Thapae East is a great jazz venue that sits just behind Ole and is one of my favourite places to go.
Tuesday morning a taxi arrived in the morning to take us to TMC, the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai, where I had studied Thai Massage in 2014 and 2016. While Noo gave Shaun and Debbie a personal tour of TMC, Jan and I talked about logistics surrounding the study tour the I would be leading there in February. It is always a joy to be in the presence of Jan and Noo and seeing them again at TMC and sharing this experience with Shaun and Debbie was special.
For lunch we went to the market across the street from TMC for a BIG reunion hug from Yupin, who I had lunch from almost every day while here in 2016. Yupin came to Thailand from Burma and one of the dishes in this fabulous lunch was a Burmese specialty. We bought some fruits and snacks from the market before hailing a songthaew (a truck with seats on either side of the covered truck bed for passengers).
Shaun and I had our barber cuts and back at Tip Top met three people at the door of the guesthouse. After chatting for only a minute we discovered that we each had a close friend in common. Jane has known Jen Budney (our dear friend in Saskatoon) for over 20 years. Shaun and I are godfathers to Jen and Richard’s son Julian! Jane was here with her husband Foster and son Tony. We posted a picture on facebook to see what would happen and just before we shared a meal at By Hand Pizza in the Old City, Jen answered back, completely flummoxed! “How can this be? she asked, is there only one guesthouse in all of Chiang Mai?” We were all stunned at the chances we would stay at the same guesthouse.
The next day Shaun and I went on a cycling tour of the countryside south of Chiang Mai organized by Noi with Phillip, Jane, Foster, and Tony. We first stopped for coffee at No. 39 an exquisite coffee shop, stopped at Phillip’s beautiful home for tea and snacks, had lunch at a Praw & Plean Green House, and wandered around Baan Kan Wat, an artist’s village, and had another fabulous coffee. Once returning to Chiang Mai we freshened up and all went for a fantastic Burmese meal in the Nimmenhieman area. We just couldn’t go home without stopping for coconut cheesecake at Charin Homemade Pies.
On Thursday we hired Warrachat, a charming young taxi driver who drove us from the airport to Tip Top, for the day. We began with a visit to my friends Jenny Rae and Mark. They are building their home and yoga sala on land surrounded by rice paddy close to the Grand Canyon at Hong Dong Quarry south of Chiang Mai. We donned our work clothes and helped prepare for the making of the bricks used to construct the walls of the main house and create the domes which will be the entrance to the house and the bedrooms. We could only stay for two hours so I planned to come back next week when I can spend the day helping. From there we swam at a crazy water park newly opened at the Grand Canyon. I had been here in 2016 when it was a relatively quiet swimming hole and now it is an inflatable water park with water jets, kayaks, wake boarding, and a zip line. Our next destination was the Orchid Farm where we ate a scrumptious buffet meal, and captured images of some stunningly beautiful orchids and butterflies. Our last visit of the day was to the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. We had a fabulous day with Warrachat! After freshening up we met up with my friends Peter, Erica and her son Ravi (from the UK) at Horumon, a Japanese BBQ restaurant north of the old city suggested by Peter. The last time I saw Peter, Erica and Ravi was here in 2016. It was an evening of great excitement, food, more food, and just a few beer. We were definitely in a happy place.
Our most enjoyable morning routine became set with a coffee at Akha Ama Coffee on Rachadamnoen Road, then breakfast at Bird’s Nest. Another great coffee shop is Ristr8o in Nemmin. Friday we hired a songthaew to take us to the Wat at Doi Sutep and Bhubing Palace. Suthep is one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples and a beautiful example of northern Thai architecture. You acquire good merit by climbing the 306-step staircase flanked by naga (serpents) to reach the Wat.
The monastery at Doi Sutep was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone. The story of Sutep is that a piece of bone from the Buddha’s shoulder was mounted onto a sacred white elephant by a Lanna monk. The elephant wandered the jungle and upon it’s death, the site became the foundation for the monastery.
The terrace at the top of the steps is dotted with breadfruit trees, small shrines, rock gardens and monuments, including a statue of the white elephant that carried the Buddha relic to its current resting place.
Steps lead up to the inner terrace, where a walkway circumnavigates the gleaming golden chedi enshrining the relic. Pilgrims queue to leave lotus blossoms and other offerings at the shrines surrounding the chedi. Monks recite prayers while tying a knotted string around your wrist for good blessings.
Once back in the city we had a coffee and visited the Secret Cafe and Gallery for a unique art exhibit. Each of the three artists involved created a piece based on the same theme. One theme was that of a rooster; with a quilted piece, painting, and sculpture each exploring the theme within it’s own medium. For dinner we reserved a dinner cruise on the Ping River through Riverside Restaurant. I love the view of a city from it’s river and Chiang Mai is no exception. The river’s edge is often light up with lights and lanterns from the many restaurants lining the banks. There were even people fishing in the coolness of the night. We had great food and a 75 minute cruise up and down the Ping, but that wasn’t yet the end of our day. Melanie and I met Jenny Rae at Thapae East for a Jazz/Blues concert where I got to introduce Yao, the owner of Ole Mexican and Birds Nest, to my sister. We stayed for a “secret concert” by the Isra Liberal Orchestra who played incredible original music that astounded me. This was their rehearsal concert for a Jazz Festival they were to play the next day.
Early Saturday morning the van from the Elephant Nature Park picked us up for the 90 minute ride north of Chiang Mai to spend the day with the Elephants. The plight of elephants in Thailand is a disturbing and sad one. There are only a few true Elephant Sanctuaries that protect and respect elephants allowing them to live in as natural an environment as possible. Elephants fortunate enough to live here have come from illegal logging and the tourist camps that allow riding and picture painting by elephants. In order for an elephant to be ridden or perform tricks a cruel and torturous process of breaking an elephant’s spirit takes place in order to instil fear as a way to control them. Organizations such as this Sanctuary are only able to rescue previously tortured elephants and their campaign is to stop the cruelty to elephants all together. However, tourists still visit Elephant Camps in great numbers and brings in huge amounts of money allowing for hundreds of camps to continue unethical treatment of elephants while only a handful of true Sanctuaries exist. Until tourists stop going to Elephant Camps that torture these magnificent animals there is no incentive for the Thai government to step in to ensure the elephants’ safety. Spread the word and when in Thailand be sure you are not supporting a camp that is cruel to Elephants. Many camps such as the one we almost visited in Koh Sok National Park, have caught on to the desire of tourists to visit Sanctuaries and advertise their ethical treatment of elephants. They say that you won’t ride elephants, but still provide the opportunity for others to ride if they choose. Don’t be fooled. Spending the day at a true Sanctuary and hearing about the plight of the Asian elephant gives you the realization at how cruel humans can be and yet how utterly loving and devoted some are to providing love, respect and a place for elephants to roam in community as they are meant to do. Each elephant is named and has their story on the walls of the sanctuary. Being near the elephants and hearing their stories is an inspiration. It was a moving experience for us all.
Back in Chiang Mai we ate at CNX Rooftop Chillout for dinner, and walked to Sense Spa for our two hour massages. This was the first massage we had since arriving in Chiang Mai. Three of us had foot massage for an hour and then an oil massage for an hour, while I had an hour each of thai and oil massage. Sense is a wonderful spa with a relaxed atmosphere and super friendly owner and staff. On our walk home we bought an assortment of steamed buns from my favourite shop in Chiang Mai conveniently located a short distance from Tip Top. It was an incredibly full day and we all collapsed into a deep sleep that night.
Sunday was the last day for Shaun and Debbie before heading home. We wandered Charoenrat Road which has wonderful shops, galleries, riverside cafes and restaurants. According to Noi of Tip Top this street has good quality items, at reasonable prices, and of great taste. Some of the highlights were Torboon, Sop Moei Arts, Graffiti, Suvannabbhumi Art Gallery, Kome Tong Classic for Men, Woo Cafe, and The Gallery. This is one of my favourite streets in Chiang Mai for high quality gifts and items to bring back home as a special way to remember a trip to Thailand. We returned to Tip Top for a rest and gave Noi a beautiful bouquet for flowers as a thank you for all she had done for us. In the evening we took a stroll through the Sunday Walking Market in the Old City which is full of art, clothing, souvenirs, crafts and more. Every Sunday the centre of the Old City is thriving with crowds walking through the stalls and eating at the many food vendors that set up in the temple grounds. We decided to stop and eat at Villa Dang Champa, one of my favourite people watching sites along the market. It is a multi story white washed hotel and restaurant serving great food, cocktails, and has excellent live music.
Then it was back to Tip Top so Shaun and Debbie could be ready to catch the taxi to the airport. One final flurry of airdrop photo exchanging and they were set to go. After three weeks together it will be odd to not share each day with them both.
Earlier in the day Peter had called to see what we were up to and offered the perfect antidote to moping in my room at Tip Top after Shaun and Debbie left. I met Peter at Maya Mall later Sunday night where they have a rooftop garden and several live music clubs and bars overlooking Doi Sutep and the Nimmen area of Chiang Mai. At one point in our walk around the rooftop, the music of over six live bands converged at one point into a cacophony of sound. Lights, crowds and the views made for a high energy atmosphere. A set of lit stairs provided seating for many looking out over this social scene or back over the city and mountain range. Peter and I sat at the oyster bar area, the highest point on the roof of the Maya, and completely enjoyed ourselves in conversation and eating (of course) oysters and treating ourselves to a Whiskey Sour.
And so ended week one in Chiang Mai.