(Durban; South Africa)
In November 2009 I took a trip to Chiang Mai Thailand and after travelling around the beautiful but often commercialised Southern coastal area flew via Bangkok to the Northern city of Chiang Mai. I stayed just a few days there but without doubt it was the highlight of my trip and the number one reason was the openness, tolerance, hospitality and friendliness of the people.
It’s much cooler than the steamy South and Bangkok.
Chiang Mai is smaller than Bangkok and doesn’t have anywhere near as much traffic and the old walled city centre is a comparatively quiet area with side streets and hidden temples to explore. I found that after a couple of days I became almost a local in the area around the guest house and was greeted by the tuk tuk drivers, chatted with the pretty girl in the café and made friends with the guys at the trekking company.
There’s plenty to do in and around Chiang Mai. I took a bike ride in the Southern suburbs through quiet lanes following Emily in her pink bonnet where we visited a leper colony, temple ruins, a local market, a biscuit factory and taught English to the school children.
A trip up numerous hair pin bends to visit Wat Phra That Doi is a must although we went at the weekend and it was crowded. This is a very holy temple with good views over the city but we were unfortunate as it was cloudy and quite cold. We also visited the Mien people in their village but this was rather commercialised and disappointing.
A trip to an elephant reserve is not to everyone’s taste, I’m not a big fan of tame circus type shows as it’s clear that a lot of cruelty is used to break the animals’ spirit, but a ride on an elephant is quite an experience.
I enjoyed a stop at a local market where one can sample the specialities; grasshoppers, flies, frogs, crabs, eels, snakes, exotic fruits; you name it they’ve got it. Presentation of the food is all important and everything is beautifully set out and served. A well dressed lady took it upon herself to show me the exquisite orchids for sale.
In the evenings the roads are cleared and a large night market takes over selling everything from textiles, food, jewellery, art and all spiced up with music and lots of food stalls. Sit down with the locals and have a spicy soup from 25 baht ($0.80).
I did a cookery course with Asia scenic, they take you first into the garden to pick herbs and then a walk to the local market to buy the ingredients. After cooking the dishes one sits down and gorges on the result; this was the only time I had an adverse reaction to Thai food; I only had myself to blame!
I then did a 3 day trek on the Burmese border with Pooh Eco-trekking, where we hiked to a Poe village and stayed overnight with the headman’s family. The following day we hiked to the river and stayed overnight at a private campsite before wading through the amazing Bat cave. This was a wonderful but strenuous trip and the highlight of my visit to Thailand.
So would I retire to Chang Mai? Well it’s certainly an option; the cost of living is very cheap, the people are tolerant and friendly, the climate is good, there is plenty to do and see and there are good connections by air, road and train.
Of course to retire to a country not knowing people and leaving behind family and friends is a gamble so I would suggest one first spends three months there and then make the decision to stay or return home. Either way it won’t be time wasted.