While we were sad to leave Cambodia and felt that there was still so much to see, we were looking forward to returning to Thailand to see more of the country.
Just a few departing shots the morning that we left Siem Reap – which was Christmas Eve day. So, lots of Christmas decorations, which we found funny since it’s a Buddhist country! The ‘tree’ to the left was really cool, though, made from baskets. And the macarons were vanilla and pineapple flavored – there was a macaraon shop that sold all sorts of tropical flavors. We stayed fairly conservative, skipping out on jackfruit and other such exotic options.
Most people and guidebooks recommend touring northern Thailand and then finishing up with beach time in the south, and we followed that advice. Our first stop was the city of Chiang Mai, which was probably our favorite place in Thailand. After Siem Reap, it felt more like a ‘normal’ city. Yes, it was plenty touristy, but that was not the ONLY industry or the one driving force of the city. Also, while there was a certain hustle-and-bustle typical of any city, it felt MUCH more low-key than Bangkok which we enjoyed as well. Despite being smaller, it offered plenty to do. We mainly walked and walked and walked – and ate! The food was amazing! Northern Thailand, at least in December, is a bit cooler than the south and than Cambodia, so that came as a welcome relief too. Finally, the culture is distinct (I know that it goes without saying, but really, it is!). Northern Thailand was an important part of the Silk Road trade route, and even today, arts and crafts and markets abound. Also, the Lanna architecture differs – they use more wood, especially in the temples, and different designs.
It was Christmas – and Thailand was showing off its holiday spirit. And this is the inside of a coconut – they scooped it out but left the skin around it. Kind of crazy!
There is a TON to see in and around Chiang Mai, and I think that we kind of failed on that end, but we enjoyed the temples and, again, the food. We also spent some time in the Lanna Folklife Museum which was informative and allowed us to appreciate more northern Thai culture. We stayed at Rimping VillageRimping Village, a lovely hotel that was just outside the old city, but an easy walk to the river (sadly we forgot to take a photo of the hotel, but the rooms were nice!). It had an amazing breakfast buffet! I think that I missed it for the rest of the trip.
We mainly walked the city, visiting different temples – Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang were the main ones, but there are smaller temples throughout the city, and I also had a massage at the Vocational Training Center of the Women’s Correctional Institute. The masseuses (spelling? masseures?) are all inmates, and their training will allow them to rehabilitate and find a job when they have served their term. It definitely isn’t a ‘spa-like’ setting – all of the clients are in a long row, lying on beds (for the massage) or sitting in a chair (if it’s a foot treatment). Also, for Thai massage (and also Khmer massage – I had one in Siem Reap and it was very similar), you wear clothes. In Chiang Mai, they gave us scrubs to change into, which let the masseuse do all the work she needed – and put me into all sorts of uncomfortable positions! This massage was probably one of the best I’ve EVER had in my life, and I’m not just saying that because it was for a social cause, it really was amazing. If you want a massage that will just relax you, the Thai massage won’t be your thing, but if you like a body treatment that will work the muscles and tendons and ligaments and energize you, then definitely try a Thai massage! It’s a little painful at times, but I left so refreshed, and, even more important, my body felt great. Definitely an experience that was worth every single Thai baht (which wasn’t much – I think the massage was 300 baht, or around $12!!). By the way, this was a question on NPR’s “Wait Wait” for Neil deGrasse Tyson! CRAZY! He also got it wrong. 😦
Touring Chiang Mai:
And the food – Chiang Mai is well-known for its cuisine. We ate at a few restaurants, but the highlight was a New Year’s Festival where food vendors were set up, so we had tons of options! One of the most popular dishes in the Chiang Mai region is a noodle soup called Kao Soi Gai, made with buckwheat noodles. We had a bowl at the bus station, while waiting for the bus to Chiang Rai, and, even in the bus station, you couldn’t get a bad meal for all of $2.00 US! The coffee shops were also pretty amazing – I am a terrible blogger and can’t remember the name of our favorite place, but it was amazing!
Just like Cambodia, there is a LOT to see in Chiang Mai. We really just stayed in the city, but, if/when we return, we will definitely venture outside the city! Still, after the longer sight-seeing days in Cambodia, I think that lying low and spending time wandering the city, eating good food, popping in and out of temples and perusing the goods at the markets was just what we needed!