Frankie Goes to Thailand
Chiang Mai: The Power of Love
Chiang Mai: “capital” of the northern Thailand. A city with a history dating back to the end of the thirteenth century, when it was built as the new capital of the Kingdom of Lan Na. Although nowadays home to almost one million people in the area, it feels more like a cozy provincial city when you arrive there straight from Bangkok.
I had boarded the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the late evening. There is something about the idea of the night train that has always intrigued me. Perhaps it is my romantic idea of an old luxurious, wooden night train as shown in many movies. Maybe it’s the idea of being able to sleep comfortably while you are being transported hundreds of kilometers. Whatever the reason, traveling on one had been on my bucket list for ages, and I was excited to finally cross it off my list. Unfortunately for me, the train I boarded was modern and far from the romantic picture that I had created in my mind. Nevertheless, even second class was quite comfortable although you shouldn’t expect a bed, but a hard Asian mattress and it was a nice experience.
Make sure you buy your tickets immediately when you arrive in Bangkok; I was lucky to get one of the last tickets four days before departure. The great thing is that a ticket costs as much as an overnight stay in a hotel, but with the convenience of being transported to the other side of the country. However, don’t expect to see much of the surroundings while traveling in the night, as it is too dark to see properly. Wake up early instead, when the sunlight allows you to get a glimpse of the Thai country side. Not only will you see beautiful nature, but also people living their daily lives in small villages and farms.
Transportation in the city
I arrived in Chiang Mai in the morning. Once I got off at the station, I immediately noticed one very big difference: you have to use another type of transportation in Chiang Mai. The cheap and reliable tuktuks are much more expensive than in Bangkok, probably due to the fact that they are better looking and have all kinds of fancy lights and sound systems.
Instead, you rely on the Songthaew, better known as “Red Taxis”. These are red trucks with place for up to ten people in the trunk. European safety regulators would most likely recommend you to stay away from these unsafe constructions as they drive at a speed of at least 80 kilometers/hour with no backdoor nor safety belts. I, on the other hand, would highly recommend you to take these taxis because they are incredibly cheap, exciting and very social. Indeed, they are especially social, which also explains its cheap price: you share the taxi with different people. Compare it to a public transportation bus, except that they have no fixed destination nor route, limited seating, and are much quicker. You can hail them from anywhere on the street, and if they happen to go in your preferred direction you can hop on. Otherwise you have to find another red taxi, but with many driving around the city, this usually doesn’t take long.
Chiang Mai’s city center is shaped like a square, surrounded by old city walls and a large moat, all clearly visible when you are up in the mountains looking down at the city. Most importantly, it serves as your primary reference while navigating through the city. Whenever you are walking or taking a red taxi, the wall will help you keep track of where you are and if you are going in the right direction.
Like Bangkok, there are many temples to visit in Chiang Mai. And like Bangkok, I will recommend my favorite three temples:
They are beautiful and tranquil; the perfect place to sit down and relax a bit.
Central to Wat Chedi Luang is the ruin of the temple that partly collapsed in 1545. However, the most impressive in this complex is not the ruin, but the wax statues of monks. They are incredibly well done and almost lifelike. Madam Tussaud would eat her heart out. Although you might have to search a bit to find the statues, they make visiting this temple worth your while!
The most impressive temple in Chiang Mai is the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The 45 minute drive from the city itself is already breathtaking. As you slowly climb the mountain on which the temple resides, you get to see more and more of the nature surrounding the city. Once the red taxi drops you off near the top, you still have to climb another flight of stairs. But once you are finally on top of the mountain you will find a beautiful temple complex. Central in the complex is the big golden chedi, surrounded by smaller colourful rooms. Make sure to also walk to the corner of the complex, to have an amazing view of the city down below.
Chiang Mai felt different to me: all the chaos of Bangkok was absent and the traffic was much better; the city itself and the surroundings were breathtaking; the people were nicer; and the food was better. I cannot tell you exactly what it is that makes Chiang Mai better than Bangkok, and maybe it’s just a lot of small things. Or maybe it was just because I did so many awesome things that I will tell you about in the second article about Chiang Mai. Whatever the reason, in the end …
… I simply fell in love with the city.
Up next in this series: Chiang Mai: Watching the Wildlife
By Frank Mütze