Chiang Mai

Trip Start Dec 31, 2009
Trip End Jan 25, 2010

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blog number one.... 

Tonight is our 3rd night in Chiang Mai. It's 6pm our time (9pm Brisbane time).

Leaving Brisbane was slightly chaotic, but we managed to make our flight and bring everything we need. Spent some time with family for christmas before heading to Sydney for a night. We had a great time in Sydney (God bless Wotif), gorging on fantastic Tapas and staying in an incredibly comfortable hotel room with views of the harbour and the bridge. I had an allergic reaction to the hotel's bath gel, which has never happened before and is just a hassle having to now check ingredients of things, but it was dealt with with lots of antihistamine and didn't hang around too long. 
Mum has a fractured foot which was problematic when flying. The jocular french man who checked us in assured us we had seats that gave her a bit of extra leg room but it was all lies, and the trip wasn't the most comfortable. We had a changover in Bangkok, before jumping on an AirAsia flight to Chiang Mai (AirAsia has the prices of Jetstar, but they still retain the ability to act like compassionate, normal human beings).

 We'd arranged for our Chiang Mai guest house to pick us up from the airport, and sure enough there was our guy waving a little chalkboard with our name on it. He had zero english, and we can only say hello and thank you, so we just followed him out to a bank of cars that had all seemed to park each other in. I got a bit worried when he headed towards a great big, old ute that had seen better days and could only take passengers in the tray. Instead he opened the boot to a wonderful big, black Valiant! It was quite something. On the way to the Guest House the driver pointed out bright orange lights hanging in the sky, looking very pretty, but we couldn't understand what they were.

The guest house here is fantastic, although we are on the top (4th) floor and the stairs are SO steep and narrow! The building is beautiful, with lots of teak and stained windows, and lovely little touches in the furnishings. Most important, everything is super clean. The staff here are helpful and friendly and fast. We weren't here long before one of the staff directed us to the "new years celebrations" down the road. (Not before a very evangelical sort of a canadian woman came by, handing out new years hats to young and old). 

 New Years in Chiang Mai is beautiful. The bright orange lights turned out to be big lanterns that people were lighting, and letting go.
 All around the banks of the 'moat' people had lanterns and it was such a beautiful sight.
There were also fireworks and crackers going off anywhere and everywhere, that seemed to be all bang and no sparkle. We watched the lanterns going up for a while, and then bought our own two.
It was a very nice celebration to be part of, and such a nice way to spend New Years. 

 We headed further down the road where there seemed to be more celebrations going on, but they were of a different 'sort', and we turned and left the red light district as fast as you can with a fractured foot. We didn't have the energy to stay up til midnight (we'd been awake almost 24 hours), but we did hear the bangs of the fireworks in our sleep.

Chiang Mai is a fantastic city. It's like a smaller, grungier Bangkok (although I think it smells worse). It has the same frenetic energy, although somehow it still manages to feel like a country town. There do seem to be more creepy old men, with their pay-per-day girlfriends than there were in Bangkok, but each to their own. The people are friendlier, chattier, and the prices are cheaper. The food here is fantastic, and plentiful. The buildings are a mish mash of different styles, but overall the city has a lovely architectural aesthetic. Lots of french influence, which I assume has come from Lao/Vietnam. 

Yesterday morning the owner of the guest house introduced herself and made it her priority to organise the best itinerary for our time in Chiang Mai. She organised a driver for today, and chose the places she thought we should visit. We spent a very lazy morning in their very gorgeous courtyard, eating fresh fruit and drinking smoothies (their tea and coffee, on the other hand, is a story we won't be telling). We were then picked up and whisked over to a Day Spa, where we spent two and a half hours having the most amazing body scrub, massage and facial. The perfect antidote to almost 20 hours in transit the previous day. In the afternoon we visited a temple to hear monks praying, only to find the monks setting up for the cremation of the Regional Chief Monk, who has recently died.
   They are the only people I know to put a marquee together before carrying it to where it needs to be. A woman out the front was selling baskets of tiny, brown birds that were supposed to bring you luck when you set them free.
   The evening was filled with a trip to the local shopping centre (or maze/deathtrap - whichever term you choose!) to buy some camera accessories and look at local crafts and before we knew it, it was 9pm. Time goes very fast here.
Today we went on the tour organised by the manager, heading first to Doi Pui, a Hmong village on Doi Suthep, a mountain on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. 
 The drive up was hideous, on a winding, one lane road (with two lanes of traffic on it), cut into the side of the mountain. Cars driving so close to one another that their mirrors were almost, if not just, touching. Most cars had one wheel off the road, one wheel on. At one stage we were slightly stuck and the whole experience was very unnerving. My solution on the way back down was to go to sleep. 

 Doi Pui was a lot of fun and really interesting. Whilst home to the Hmong people, it is perhaps not authentic as it could be, due to the overwhelming amounts of tourists there and it was very obviously just a big market, relying heavily on the tourist trade. Most of the villagers were dressed in traditional Hmong clothing, and looked amazing, some wearing the most intricately detailed clothing I've ever seen.
  We journeyed further into it and wandered around the homes and sheds.  
 Wandering the incredibly crowded market streets, I played a game of spot the westerner (there were 5, most shoppers seemed to be thai people). Mum made some purchases before we gave up and headed for our car. On the way down the mountain we decided to miss the Palace, as the crowds were enormous due to today being a day for respecting an important Monk who built 300 temples. Instead we headed straight to a Tiger sanctuary. I fell asleep and apparently the driver had been going the wrong way, but when I woke up we weren't far. 

Tiger Kingdom is a strange place. The name is a lil corny, and when you first arrive you can't work out whether what they're doing is ultimately good or bad. I feel it's the former, but many people feel it's the latter. Although there is something odd about a tiger conservation project that sells leopard print slippers. We had lunch overlooking a rather large pen that had three full grown tigers in it. As we ate, various tourists came in to pat the tigers, and the keepers played with the tigers in the water.
 I had gone there with the plan of spending time with newborn tigers, but instead chose an 8 month old (a few months ago a tourist was bitten by an overexcited tiger whilst playing with it, so now no playing is allowed - was a bit of a letdown). Our tiger was beautiful.  
 He was a lot bigger than I expected, but so calm and gentle. He barely moved when we were with him, although at one stage we had our backs to him and were watching his brothers play, and he rolled over brushing Mum's leg with his paw. She shrieked and just about jumped out of her skin. 
 They were really amazing animals to see up close, the power in their movements and play - even in the enclosure, with the keepers, you still didn't totally trust them to not attack. We took plenty of photos, although we declined the offer of lying on the tigers stomach as other tourists do. It just seemed a bit too ridiculous!
 We then visited the younger tigers, although we didn't go in and pet them. On our return home we were thoroughly exhausted, and had a fruit smoothie, before heading up to the air conditioned comfort of our room (I write to you from my very hard but surprisingly extremely comfortable bed). Dinner tonight is at a restaurant that Mum has chosen and that comes recommended and tomorrow we head out to a very big temple on the edge of town, before doing a bit of a tour of the older architecture of the town. In the evening we head to Bangkok where we stay for a night before heading to Hanoi at the crack of dawn on Monday morning.

Til next time,
Hannah and Louise.
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