Chiang Mai, Thailand is described by guide books as a relaxed city, with a cool, chilled-out vibe. I now know that this translates to a hipster city with not much to do. We had barely made it out the airport before the dudes with the man-buns in their hair and baggy yoga pants passed us in droves. I thought perhaps that heading to the north of Thailand might have been a mistake.
We stayed at the (self-proclaimed) Yindee Stylish Hotel, which was located down a narrow cobblestone road. It was set among trees, with frogs belting out their hymns all day long. The hotel was lovely, but the staff were a little frosty at first. Luckily they thawed out during our stay.
Our first night in Chiang Mai was a Saturday night and we learned that Chiang Mai was known for its Saturday night walking street market. This involved multitudes of vendors selling drinks, food, trinkets, supplies, clothes, and anything else you could want. Now that I was a street food master, we ate spring rolls, sausages on sticks, and a passionfruit smoothie, all made on the side of the road. The food and drink was delicious. The market stretched on for miles and our feet were aching by the time we made it back to the hotel.
The next day we didn’t rush to get up, as there really was very little to do in Chiang Mai. The top activities involved getting a coffee in a café and visiting the temples. Whilst we went to a café and the coffee was exceptional even by Wellington standards, it seemed ridiculous that this passes as a “thing to do”. We walked around the city, admiring the temples with vague interest. Having recently visited Siem Reap, we had received our dose of temples to last us for a fairly long time. We walked over to the river outside the city walls and it was a little disappointing. Its poo brown colour was unappetizing and the floating rubbish was not a nice touch. We walked down the river for a while, before turning back into the town and back to the hotel for a rest. That evening, lo and behold, it was Sunday night walking market. So again we ventured out to look at the same trinkets and get some more street food.
Ben had organized a mountain biking day trip for early the next day. He booked the most extreme trip he could find down a muddy, steep trail on Doi Suthep Mountain. He reported falling off his bike regularly, but thankfully came back in one piece. I had plans to get a Thai massage that day. Unfortunately, my stomach had a different plan in mind. It had decided that it had had quite enough of street food and to twist itself into a Rubik cube, leaving me doubled over in bed for the day trying to ease the pain. It did give me a chance to lie in bed all day watching movies, a hobby of mine that I haven’t been able to indulge in since we started the trip. I was only a little sad that I was sick and thankfully it had passed the next day.
For our final day in Chiang Mai, we decided to hire a motorbike and ride to the top of Doi Suthep Mountain. We had visited the rental company a few days before and picked the most reputable company we could find. However, when we arrived that morning they had a sign saying they would open at 9am and it was 10am. Disappointed, we headed to a café to find Wi-Fi to find another reputable alternative. We struggled to find another one in town that had good reviews. The best ones were either closed on Mondays or too far away. It seemed the world was conspiring against us getting a motorbike. If only we had listened.
We decided to go with a company that the reviews suggested had questionable morals, but acceptable motorbikes, and a trustworthy name. On arrival, the motorbike looked in good condition and we did our due diligence by photographing the motorbike, refusing to hand over our passports (instead paying a significant deposit) and reading the paperwork thoroughly (interestingly it says if anything goes wrong you have to pay for it, even if it is the result of normal wear and tear). As we motored out of town, we saw a police checkpoint in front of us. What could possibly go wrong, we thought naively. As we pulled in, Ben handed over his license as requested. The police man looked back slyly and told us to pull in. He informed us that Ben did not have an International Driving Permit (IDP) and therefore was to be fined 400 Baht. The rental of the motorbike itself was only 200 Baht, so the fine was a significant increase to the cost of our day out. However, 400 Baht is only $17 NZD, so it wasn’t exactly a crippling cost. The police man told us we had to pay in cash on the spot. He smiled at us informing us that lucky for us, now that we’ve paid the fine it is “valid” for three days, so we wouldn’t be fined again. Great.
We paid the fine, received our receipt and were on our way. Being somewhat intelligent beings, we had done our research and we hadn’t come across a legal requirement to have an IDP to drive in Thailand. What is frustrating is that our insurance is only valid if we are driving legally in the country. Did this mean that we weren’t insured? From subsequent research I believe that firstly it is illegal to demand cash for fine payment on the side of the road and secondly, that no IDP is required for those on a tourist visa if a treaty is in place (which it is with Canada where our licenses come from). Take from that what you will. I don’t know what this means for our insurance, but we won’t be driving a vehicle in Thailand again.
We continued on our expedition up Doi Suthep Mountain. There was a waterfall along the way, which involved a short walk. The water flung itself down the rocks, surrounded in dense jungle, which we had to ourselves. Continuing up the hill, we weaved our way up the winding road. At the top, the heavens opened and it began to pour with rain. We very quickly abandoned the motorbike and ran for shelter amongst a small market in a mountain village. As the rain thundered around us, we sipped on instant noodles and tried to dry our clothes. It didn’t take long for the rain to stop and we were off again up the hill to visit a mountain tribe village. It was close enough to the city that it had been touristified. After a brief explore we headed back down on the motorbike and went to our one and only temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Umong. In a spasm of immaturity, Ben wanted a photo with the sign.
Early the next morning we left Chiang Mai on a flight/bus combo to the islands of Surat Thani. Whilst Chiang Mai grew on me with time, it was a fairly uneventful place. Would I go back? No. Would I recommend it? Not unless you’re a hippy who likes to wear Aladdin pants, is a Vegan, has one too many piercings and likes a good coffee.
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