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Entries in TRAVEL Thailand: Chiang Mai (1)

Friday
Dec212012

(Asia 2012) Third stop: Chiang Mai (Thailand)!

11/24:  We hired one of the hotel's cars to take us to the airport.  As crushing as it was to be leaving Phuket, I was pleasantly surprised to find three bottles of water and three chilled hand towels in the back seat of the sedan.  With an orchid on top!  What a pleasant way to depart.

Hospitality in Thailand cannot be beat...

The long ride to the airport was silent.  Yet again.  Just like the one after last night's meal.  The three of us had such a perfect time in Phuket, we just couldn't come to grips with the fact that our time in paradise had come to an end.

However, our spirits were lifted upon arriving at the airport.  For one, we were flying Air Asia to Chiang Mai, which proved to be a much better carrier than Tiger.  Then, we ended up gawking/laughing all of our blues away at some of the crazy signs posted throughout the terminal.  It was too much...But in the best way possible!

(FYI:  Durian, shown in the picture, below, is a fruit whose "...edible flesh emits a distinctive odour that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as pleasantly fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and revolting. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine, and gym socks. The odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia.")

WWAZD? "What would Andrew Zimmern Do?"

For reals?

...

Flying in to Chiang MaiBy the grace of god, we found ourselves with the coolest cab driver.  Ever.  While en-route from the airport to our hotel, "Mr. Thip" explained that he would chauffer the three of us on a 1/2-day excursion - to as many sites as we wanted - for about $8 (USD) per person.  Sha-wing! 

We told Mr. Thip that we would reach out to him after we were settled in our room.  After all, it wasn't yet noon.  We had 1/2 day to explore Chiang Mai!

Another gracious Thai welcome:  Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai

"I do not want to waste too much time here," Cousin Eric said to me and my sister as we were unpacking.  "We only have 1 1/2 days in Chiang Mai.  Let's make the most of it and get going!"  We called Mr. Thip, who came to fetch us within minutes.

We asked Mr. Thip to take us to "the most authentic Thai restaurant you know.  Somewhere with no white people."  Well, since all he saw in his rear view mirror were three white, American faces speaking English, we ended up at a place accessible through a parking lot filled with tour busses.  Ugh.  I suppose all of the other tourists at the restaurant asked their guides the same thing...

Dining al-fresco. With fellow tourists. #boringKhao soi soup with porkLuckily, the food was solid.  All three of us really enjoyed our hearty bowls of khao soi.

After lunch, we headed to Thai Silk Village, where they manufacture and export pure, hand-woven Thai silk.  Oh, and there's a huge onsite shop, too...

Thai Silk VillageFrom silk worm...

To silk manufacturing on-site!

After doing some "silk retail therapy," we ventured down the road to some random, ginormous jewelry store before heading to the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Buddhist temple, named for the mountain in which it is located.  It also happens to be the oldest temple in the city, founded in - are you ready for this - 1383!

The temple stood 309 steps above the road...!

After what seemed like a never-ending climb, this was the first thing I saw as I approached the holy site...

But she was the second... :)

People removing their shoes prior to entering the templeShoes at the bottom of the temple steps"Proof we were here"

Intricate architecturePaying their respects...

Religious symbolismWatching the sun set over Chiang Mai from the temple's expansive overlook...

After a very productive afternoon, Mr. Thip returned us to our hotel around 7pm.  "I'll see you tomorrow morning at 9," he said while waving us goodbye. 

For dinner, the concierge recommended a restaurant near the hotel called The Whole Earth, specializing in both Indian and Thai cuisine.

Clearly, dining al-fresco at the restaurant was the right option...

Mango lassiAloo paratha: I've had better...A deliciously spicy, creamy shrimp curryAfter dinner, the three of us briefly strolled through the night bazaar before calling "lights out."  Later that evening, the rain began pouring so hard that there was a brief power outage!  Thank goodness we made it inside before the storm.

...

11/25:  If you're fortunate enough to get to stay at the Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai, then make sure to snag a room package that includes the breakfast buffet.  Or, if you're a real baller, just pay full-price for it each morning.  From assorted tropical and exotic fruits - international cheeses and sliced meats - a massive selection of Asian options - an egg station - freshly-baked breads and pastries - waffles and pancakes - and so on, and so on, this is probably the most outstanding spread that I've ever experienced. 

After breakfast, the three of us went to the front driveway of the hotel in anticipation of Mr. Thip.  So, you can imagine our confusion when a strange man approached and introduced himself as Mr. P.  "Mr. Thip's car was damaged by last night's storm, so he sent me to take you out today."  Alrighty then.

First stopMaetaman Elephant Camp

Located about an hour's drive from Chiang Mai, the three of us could hardly wait to experience a 1/2 day filled with various elephant activities at the Camp

First, there was a show, which featured the Camp's star elephants doing a handful of amazing tricks.  Guests were able to purchase rods of sugarcane and banana clusters to treat/praise the elephants. 

But the coolest stunt, in my opinion/most worthy of the sugarcane and bananas, was when the animals were presented with a canvas and colored paints.  We got to watch as they created lovely paintings with their trunks!  One of which I purchased...

After the show, we got to take pictures with the elephants...

Finally, we got to go for an elephant trek/ride through the jungle!  Leave it up to my sister and I to have the quirkiest "driver" at the Camp.  He was funny as hell and kept yelling, in an American ditzy girl's voice, "Oh my Buddha!"  (Instead of "OMG," since his god is Buddha).  Then, when my sister and I started singing "Gangnam Style," he squealed and started dancing.  It was a shit show, but in the very best way possible!

I'm telling you, if it weren't for "Gangnam Style"...

A view from the top (of an elephant)...

We also got to enjoy an ox-cart ride...

By noon, we were hungry.  And ready to move on.  We asked Mr. P if he would *please* take us to "the most authentic Thai restaurant you know.  Somewhere with no white people."  I had to speak very slowly and point to my pasty-white skin multiple times.  I'd be damned if we were taken to another tourist trap.  He smiled, nodded and, 30-minutes in to our drive back to Chiang Mai, he pulled over on the side of the highway.  "Lunch," he said.

Good to know!"I come here a lot," Mr. P said.  "See, they have a table with all of their offerings.  You pick out what you want, and they bring it to where you're sitting."

Pork offal, fish, and other delights on the grillTableclothPork larbA variety of stewsGrilled whole fishEnjoying the authentic spreadAnd for dessert...the best coconut ice milk that I've ever had.After lunch, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at our hotel's pool.  I, for one, wanted to lounge, swim a bit, and just relax.

Before we bid Mr. P adieu, my sister and I asked if he would be able to fetch us the next morning for our early flight to Bangkok.  "Of course," he said, "enjoy the rest of your day and see you tomorrow."

A cool sculpture I spotted on our way to the pool...Under the cabana lies a massage table!Hahhahha!After toweling off from my swim, I noticed that an outdoor wedding was about to start.  Like, feet away from our chaise lounges!  "Guys, I'm going to grab a drink before the ceremony begins!  This is going to be like watching a movie.  And a cocktail will serve as my 'popcorn!'" 

Thai mojito (lemongrass and sugarcane)A traditional Thai wedding, happening right before our very eyes!And then, the weirdest thing, I suddenly started to feel really exhausted and weak.  My throat began to tickle, and I had no choice but to exuse myself and go back up to the room.  I took a hot shower, in the hopes that the warm water would alleviate my aching muscles.  Alas, it was no resolve.  I laid in bed and fell asleep for a bit, only to wake to my cousin and sister asking if I was ready for dinner.  "Guys, I hate to stay behind, but I just feel too awful to move.  And you know something's wrong when I decline a meal."  

After they headed out for the evening, I phoned room service and ordered two glasses of orange juice before passing out around 8pm.  What the hell was happening to me? 

To be continued from Bangkok.... 

 

...   

 

To conclude:  Chiang Mai is the kind of place where, even if you didn't believe in God/Jesus/Allah/Buddha before, you constantly feel the mysterious, yet comforting, embrace of a higher power.  From its emerald green mountains dotted with lush jungle foliage - golden Buddhist temples - remnants of the wall from the "old city" - affordable lodging, dining, and shopping - clean streets and public areas - friendly people - and opportunites/experiences rarely offered elsewhere, Chiang Mai is a winner all-around.  I fell in love with this magical, spiritual city.

~~~

Until Bangkok,

The Lunch Belle