After Remy and I went different ways in Ayutthaya, I headed up North to Chiang Mai. I took the night bus which took about 9 hours and arrived at Chiang Mai at 7 in the morning. Difficult to find a place at that time of the day. I eventually found a place which was a little more expensive than my average accoodation budget. It was quiet though, which wasn’t too bad at that point. I again felt sick and just wanted to rest for a while and take it easy. After a day of doing just that, I still didn’t feel much better so I decided to see a doctor at the hospital. Apparently I am having a resistant virus which takes its time. The doc recommended getting a few days of rest which I find hard to do while traveling.
Chiang Mai – an international center of Buddhism
I took it easy the next couple of days, went to look at the various temples, resting at each one of them and taking in the meditative atmosphere. The temples are not as busy as in Bangkok and many of them feature lush, green gardens inviting you to rest your body and soul.
Chiang Mai is actually a major center of Buddhism and Buddhist education, famous throughout the whole of Asia. Around literally every corner you can find a temple or small Wat and you run into monks every 500 meters. Although it is Thailand’s second largest city, it is absolutely not comparable to Bangkok. The quiet and narrow lanes of the old city have a soothing effect when strolling around and the vista of the surrounding mountains just add to this. It feels like you automatically calm down, relax and walk at a lower pace. Especially at around dusk, walking through the hidden lanes and residential areas is very idyllic and made feel at peace with the world. Still feeling ill and after the strenuous couple of days, that was a more than welcome change.
The third day I caught up with Sam from Finland, whom we spent a couple of days in Ayutthaya with. We met for lunch and Sam brought a bunch of people from his hostel along. All of them great people and we spent the day going to the Museum of Arts and Culture and having coconut drinks afterwards. That night we all met again to have a big dinner at the local night bazar. It was 8 or 9 of us and we all shared a bunch of different dishes – Chinese style. So delicious – a little bit more pricey than my regular street food, but you have to treat yourself every now and then, right?
After Sam had left for the city of Pai, Annie, Diana, Naomi and I met up the next day to explore Doi Suthep, the famous temple high up in the mountains, overlooking Chiang Mai. It was a fun trip and the temple was definitely worth the visit. However it was quiet crowded which was a little bit of a downturn. In the evening we all met up again to this time go cheaper and have some local street food. I have to say that it is just my favorite. The variety is so great, you can look at the different dishes and it is hell of cheap. I had rice with chicken, 5 extra skewers with chicken and pork plus a fruit shake for about 2 Euros. Just unbeatable. We topped off the day at a bar with live music, having drinks and a good laugh before almost everybody had to say goodbye since going separate ways.
Chatting with monks
I had one more day before embarking on my motorbike trip around the Chiang Mai / Mae Hong Son area. Since I felt really tired, I just walked to one of the temples where you can have a chat with Buddhist monks. Funnily it’s actually called monk chat. I sat down at a shady table beside the temple to talk to two young monks. I wanted to learn more about Buddhism, the monks’ lifestyle and what they think about the challenges we all have to face. It was very informative and interesting. We talked about their daily routines, the role of meditation and the concepts behind Buddhism. If you are in Chiang Mai, I can absolutely encourage you to go there and talk to the monks. I think it is good to at least have a little understanding of the culture and religion of the countries you are traveling. Especialy here in Asia, where it is completely different from anything we know at home in Europe. The chat with monks definitely shed some light on that. It seemed that they also enjoyed talking about these issues and for them it’s a good chance to practice their English.
Chilaxing at the local park
I finished the day at the local park, which I had discovered a few days before. It is small, but very calm and serene. The sunlight of the afternoon shimmers through the palm trees, birds flocking around and people relaxing on bamboo mats or doing yoga. The tranquility of the place made me forget time and space falling asleep and waking up two hours later. Exactly what I needed.
Chiang Mai is a cool and relaxed place. You can easily spend a few days there just kicking back. However, during the last years it has become very touristy. Everywhere you go, there are tours, treks and activities on offer and it’s full of backpackers and first timers. I was there in 2008 and it wasn’t that touristy back then. Our trek was quiet authentic and actually worth the expression trek. But nowadays everything seems to be very commercialized. The atmosphere is nice in a way but it’s good to get out again. I can’t take that typical backpacker atmosphere for too long. It just bores me and I hope that the upcoming roadtrip will bring about the needed change. The impressions here also leave me with high hopes for Northern Laos, where it is supposed to be more rugged and remote. We’ll see…..
So tomorrow I will rent a motorbike (scooter) to explore the Mae Hong Song loop. Hope everything will work out…wish me luck.