From Chiang Mai to Ayutthaya… Northern Thailand

4 01 2013

Northern Thailand is all about activities… whether it is a visit to some of the virtually millions of amazing pagodas, trekking through villages of different tribes in the mountains, just enjoying the changing scenery on a motorbike, riding elephants or playing with tigers, or exploring the ruins of former kingdoms… all this and alot more is possible north of Bangkok! But the first three days I had to spend in a hospital of Chiang Mai. It turned out that the reason for my fever and weakness was the Dengue fever and because I was travelling alone the doctor wanted to keep an eye on me. The hospital (Mc. Cormick hospital) was well equipped, not worse than European standard I would say… but as I hardly know the interior of any European hospital you might not want to referr to me 🙂 When I got the bill after 3 days I was reliefed because it was less than I would have to pay for one day back in Germany!

Obviously this is not the morning gong :-)

Obviously this is not the morning gong 🙂

After my detour to the hospital I started the holiday/sightseeing program again. First on the list were the numerous pagodas and temples of Chaing Mai. If you stay in the old city most of them should be within walking distance. First I stayed in a cheap chinese run hostel in Soi 9 off the Moon Muang Road. The hotel would be very good value but especially the staff that did their morning shower and throat emptying from 6AM with a lot of loud talking was a bit annoying! After 3 days I changed to a cafe with a couple of nice rooms on Soi 6 and the loud staff was replaced by loud scooters roaming the streets from early morning…

Chiang Mai temple.

Chiang Mai temple.

The best way to explore the city is to rent a bike. There are may places renting granny bikes (maybe even the same age as your grandma) from 40 Baht a day, mountain bikes the double. Out of reach via bike is the Doi Suthep temple, which is situated on a mountain just outside of Chiang Mai.I highly recommend to go to the Doi Suthep. It is a bit like Disneyland with a lot of vendors selling souvenirs, food, drinks, and more on the steps to the temple complex I made it to the zoo with my bike but preferred to take a shared taxi to the top. Foreingers have to pay a small admission fee (I think it was 30 Baht) and are rewarded afterwards with amazing views of a fully gold-plated stupa, the biggest I saw until then. From the terrace behind the stupa one has also splendid views of Chiang Mai!

Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep

One way to or from the Doi Suthep to the zoo is 40 Baht, the price from/to the city center should be around the same, although this depends on your haggling skills 🙂 the shared taxis (Chiang Mais public transport) are easily recognizable: pick-up cars with different colors, indicating their general routes. I saw only the red ones that go all over the town with no specific route, so you have to ask the driver first before hopping on.

Of the numerous temples in the old city of Chaing Mai I would recommend at least the Wat Phra Singh. It’s the biggest complex in the old city and provides a little area with benches and tables where buddhist students hang out and are keen for a chat.

My scooter feels comfortable in the mountains near Pai.

My scooter feels comfortable in the mountains near Pai.

Another day I rented a scooter to explore the surroundings of Chiang Mai. My initial plan was to go to Pai, a little laid-back village in the mountains north-west of Chiang Mai. The problem with this plan was, that I had to move to another guest house this morning, rent the scooter and some other thigs so I started really late around noon. The first part of the road in the direction of Pai isn’t particularily interesting, but as soon as you leave the highway and into the mountains, it gets alot better! Due to time problems I made it only to some ugly bridge that seems to be regarded as sight some 5 km from Pai. There I took a really small dust road to be able to see the real village life off the tourist track and this was one of my better decisions. Along this road was a really nice scenery with traditional houses, people working on fields like decades ago, surrounded by mountains, and with a river flowing by.

I realized that I made some mistakes in my time calculations as soon as the sun was down and I was bitterly freezing in my flip flops, shorts, and jacket… especially at 80 km/h, but I just wanted to be back in Chiang Mai as soon as possible! These were the most freezing 120km or 3 hours I ever experienced…

Feeding the little jumbo.

Feeding the little jumbo.

Another great way to spend your time in or around Chiang Mai is the elephant training. There are various companies offering almost the same package at comparable prices. Book in the „Jaidee Guest House“ for big discounts! I chose the „Woody’s elephant training“, some local guy that worked for another company before and then started his own business. At Jaidee guest house it was 1950 Baht for the full day tour instead of 2400 at all the other places! You get picked up at your guest house in the morning and drive to the elephant camp for about 1 hour. Everything is provided there: changing cloth, towels, lunch, snacks for tea time, and water. You start the day with some introduction to the camp and their philosophy and you have to learn basic commands in Thai language.

Although with two girls at the same time, this was the worst kissing ever ;-)

Although with two girls at the same time, this was the worst kissing ever 😉

Afterwards you feed the elephants and sit on them for a first time trying to command them. After a lunch (suprisingly a very good one) break of 1 hour you’re going on a little trip. Two people „share“ one elephant, switching positions (on the neck/on the back) after half of the time. The last activity is the most fun: bathing and washing the elephants in a little (muddy) pond and swimming with/on them. This was really amazing and a lot of fun!

Where's the fire?

Where’s the fire?

Chiang Mai’s night market and saturday/sunday walking streets are also very famous. The night market is in the new city, 10-15 minutes by walk from the old city. It is very!! touristy so you’ll find almost no local produce but a wide variety of T-shirts, souvenirs, jewellery, and fake bags and watches. The night I went to the night market I met a very funny guy from the UK. After I knew him for 10 minutes and we have been to the night market for only 5 minutes he already disappeared in a hidden stall to see the „real“ (good quality) replica Rolexes 🙂

Chiang Mai is very good for some relaxing days as well. It lacks a few parks where one can sit down but numerous cafes and bakeries are scattered around the Sois off the Moon Muang Road. For dinner Chaing Mai provides everything one can think of. Italian, Mexican, Indian, German, and Thai restaurants… uncountable street stalls… my favorite was a stall at the beginning of Soi 6. Over the day this is the first stall of the local market but after 6-7PM it turns into a food stall serving the most delicious „Khao Soi Kai“, which is a curry soup with normal and crispy noodles and chicken (the „Kai“ I guess). I ended up there on three of my 5 evenings! And with 40 Baht it’s very cheap.

Some petrified dude at Sukhothai.

Some petrified dude at Sukhothai.

Due to my early escape from Laos I was in no hurry to get to Bangkok so I decided to stop on the way in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. In both citys one can explore excarvation sites of old temple complexes, some of them with at least Khmer/Cambodian influence. Actually, one can see a mini Angkor Wat in Ayutthaya.

Sukhothai historical park.

Sukhothai historical park.

In Sukhothai the temples are concentrated on a few areas. Every area charges an admission fee and I found that only the main site and (coming from new Sukhothai) the one behind are worth the money. All charge 100 Baht and sometimes a bit more for bikes/motorcycles. Most of the (cheap) accomodation is in new Sukhothai, about 14km from the old city. There is no need to take a taxi except you are in a hurry or don’t like to travel with the locals on wooden benches on the platform of a pick-up truck. These act as the local transport, cost around 30 Baht, and go every 20 minutes between the two cities.

More of these guys...

More of these guys…

In Ayutthaya on the other hand, the temples are scattered around the city and the area offers a lot more than only old temples. I did the sunset boat tour that was offered by the hotel (Joey’s Place) and can warmly recommend it. For 200 Baht you boat the canals around the city and stop at three sites you most probably had on your list anyway: a pagoda with a huge Buddha, another pagoda with some Khmer-style structures in the „backyard“, and the Angkor replica.

Huge Buddha in Ayutthaya.

Huge Buddha in Ayutthaya.

I was very lucky to be there in the middle of December because a huge festival celebrating the world heritage site was on. In one of the historical parks amid the excavated temples one could watch a show about the Thai history with traditional dance, elephant fights, and laser shows. Behind the stage was a historical market with souvenirs and a lot of food. A very pleasant and interesting night!

Mini Angkor!

Mini Angkor!

Ayutthaya hosts a night market as well and this one is primarily packed with locals, buying everything from underwear to cutlery to furniture. But it has a good share of souvenirs, (Asian) beauty products and, most important, food, that attracts tourists as well.

This must be a deep sleep.

This must be a deep sleep.

If you don’t have the time to visit both cities I would recommend Ayutthaya. In regard to the temples and excavations it is more diverse and the city itself offers many more things to do.

Historical show with "war elephants".

Historical show with „war elephants“.

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