Big city life and over the top energy in Bangkok was a blast but getting off the plane and seeing green fields and such a relaxed pace of life was just what Barbie and I needed. We were nonstop in the thick of the Bangkok action for 6 straight days and now its time to cool out in Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand. The peaceful and serene atmosphere here, has been a real nice change to help us recharge our batteries. Now I see why so many digital nomads make Chiang Mai their home base and why so many expats choose to retire here. The only thing missing here is the ocean.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s 2nd largest city but it is a world away from Bangkok. The city has quite a cosmopolitan feel when compared to other northern Thai provinces and it has a lively entertainment scene. The nightlife is more mellow than Bangkok but with lots of live music, expat pubs, trendy riverside bars and college student bars (There is a big prestigious university here, Chiang Mai University). There is also a very big backpacker/flashpacker scene here as well. It’s not like the craziness of Khao San Road in Bangkok but one that is a lot more laid back but still quite vibrant.
Chiang Mai is famous for its Khao Soi (a Northern Thai dish). There is an unspoken competition between the cafes, street vendors, street markets and even the upmarket restaurants which are in on the competition on who makes the best Khao Soi dish. I tried it in Las Vegas before our departure and just loved it. From that point on, I knew I was going to jump right in upon arrival in Chiang Mai and declare myself an official judge on who has the best Khao Soi. I guess, It is sort of like the competition in Philadelphia on who has the best cheesesteaks. I am armed with a list of supposedly, the 5 best Khao Soi joints in town and hope to try them all, in an effort to form my own opinion. Once you establish an opinion, you must puff up your chest and boldly declare a winner. Hedging is for wimps so, No hedging here. And the winner is Khao Soi Mae Sai, who has the best fu*king Khao Soi in Chiang Mai. It is a hole in the wall joint filled with all locals and
savvy flashpackers like us who possess the unique skill sniffing out these hidden gems. If you prefer a more fancy place to slurp and inhale your Khao Soi than sweating your butt off in this hole wall joint, I would visit Dash Teak House located in the Old City. If you are lucky enough to see Khao Soi on the menu when you visit your local Thai restaurant, I encourage you to try this dish. I doubt they will make it nearly as good as the indigenous Chiang Mai version but maybe you will get lucky.
Speaking of hidden gems, there is another hole in the wall fish joint that fortunately happened to be located directly across the street from our guesthouse. It is called Lert-Ross. You may ask how much better than ‘great’ can a fresh whole fish possibly taste. Well, this place takes it to another ludicrous level. They slow cook and season the whole fish outside all day on a homemade charcoal grill and it is simply unreal. The best tasting fish on this entire planet earth. END OF DISCUSSION!
This restaurant is also located in the Old City. Check out the videos below of the master chef slow cooking the fish during the day and then serving up this thing of beauty at night.
Chiang Mai serves as the base for hill-tribe trekking, which is one of the more popular activities here. In my opinion, these treks are much more touristy and watered down from when I did my first trek 20 years ago and I now question the authenticity of them. Therefore, we will not be partaking. (we will save our moolah for more Khoa Soi). Another big activity is visiting one of the Elephant Conservation Camps. However, you really need to be careful and research these camps before visiting as you should only visit the camps where riding on the elephants is prohibited. You really should never consider chair-riding an elephant as that is a huge ‘NO, NO’. Basically, you attend one of these camps and adopt an elephant for the day. What does that entail? You bathe the big dude, feed the big dude, chill with the big dude and play with the big dude. These elephants were rescued from unsavory characters that abused them. They were fortunately rescued and placed in select safe camps in the Northern Thailand jungle. You can opt to stay on to volunteer and look after these elephants for an extended period of time if that toots your horn.
Regarding the climate here in Chiang Mai, for a place that should be cooler because it is located up north, I can say its hot as crap. We are used to the heat having lived in Las Vegas for 20 years but the sun coupled with the humidity is enough to fry your brain. Luckily, our guesthouse had an awesome pool to cool out at. Bangkok is also sweltering but fortunately the days we were there, we got some relief from cloud cover. If any of you have ever used Gold Bond powder to combat the oppressive heat and humidity, you will always vividly recall your 1st experience sprinkling some of that stuff on your tushie. Well, I introduced Barbie to my stash of Gold Bond for her first taste of this fine stuff and after letting the magic of Gold Bond settle in, I asked her how she liked it. She replied, “It’s great, It’s like putting a peppermint pattie up your ass.” Now that sounds refreshing, huh? Just another strong testimonial for Gold Bond.
As for accommodations, The Old City is the area I would recommend to stay. It’s so much more relaxing to base yourself in the old city inside the moat. I would not even consider elsewhere. There is no traffic in the Old City, it is just fantastic to walk around or ride your bicycle in and it’s saturated with lots of real cool funky health focused cafes. And believe me, you will find yourself constantly chilling in these cafes sipping fresh frozen fruit shakes watching the world go by cause its so damn hot. It also is where most backpackers/flashpackers set up shop so its gotta be hip.
Chiang Mai is so visually stimulating with incredible Wats all over the place and action on every single street you turn onto. The locals do a great job catering to all the tourist needs. There are tons of street markets and street fairs to feast at all day and night with many going on at the same exact times. Chiang Mai has some of the best eating in northern Thailand — this is not a town you’ll go hungry in. Massage parlors are everywhere and I mean everywhere. When walking down the street, I am beginning to wonder if anyone can just say ‘Hello’ without offering a “Hello”…..followed by, “Massage, Mister-Ka”.
How can you possibly not like a place when just about every other storefront has a $6/hr. massage on offer? Basically, If you don’t like to eat, chill in funky cafes sipping fresh fruit shakes or get your feet and back rubbed, then you probably should not come to Chiang Mai. It is a solid place to hunker down. Good people, Great Food and No Hassles. It is now time to split and head north to the more remote hippy town of Pai.
Restaurants Visited –
Lert-Ros (multiple visits), Peppermint Cafe, Dash Teak House, Blue Diamond Breakfast Club, Khao Soi Mae Sai, Dada Cafe, Archers, Mho O Cha Restaurant, Butter is Better, Street Markets
LOOSE STOOLS INDEX – 7 Remain pleased with my bowel movements but this can be attributed to multiple sessions at the fish joint which must have provided a bonding like effect. My mother has always told me to eat my fish.
THRU THE BINOCS –
One of the observations I did notice so far during our current travels was the lack of intrigue with westerners by local children and adults compared to 20 years ago. I am guessing it is probably because the world is now so interconnected with widespread Internet, 24 hr. TV news and rapid advancements in technology, I can recall back in the day Barbie and I going to small villages in SE Asia with children running around us with such excitement in seeing a western face. We would bring pens and pencils to give away and the kids would fight over them. They used to get so excited seeing their own image on our digital camera screen. Fast forward to today…..they now could care less about seeing a westerner and a pen giveaway is basically meaningless. Probably the only way to get their attention now is by giving them the latest shiny iPhone with the newest videogames loaded onto it. The curiosity has basically disappeared. How times have changed.