Chiang Mai: Lasting Impressions

I wasn’t quite sure how to approach writing about Chiang Mai. I have been here for a month and there have been so many things that I have done and experienced and I wasn’t sure how and where to begin, but now I think it’s about time that I give this city the justice it deserves.

So what have I done with my time outside of TESOL courses? Lots of things and nothing at all. I haven’t spent too much time getting to know the city. Weirdly, there hasn’t been enough time. We are picked up to leave at 7:30 every morning and we don’t get back until around 4:30/5 every evening. Then there is homework, eating dinner and running errands.  While we make time to do the things we should, I feel like I didn’t get to do enough exploring.  If something isn’t within walking distance, the best and cheapest mode of transportation is a songtheaw.  They’re great, except you don’t do much looking out the windows.

But even if I can’t be a tour guide, there is still a lot to know about Chiang Mai.

The night market. Those of you who have seen my China videos know that I have a lot of night markets documented. I have stopped documenting them because while they’re all different from each other, they’re also the same. They are amazing in their own unique ways, but every place has their own night market and I’m not going to make you look at pics of every single one I go to, since they’re literally everywhere. The Chiang Mai night market is particularly dangerous, but not in a crime related way. There is so much useful stuff there, along with things that every tourist needs and also many things that nobody needs at all. I can easily spend a LOT of money there (hence the danger). The main market is located near Thapae Gate to the Old City. It’s huge and easy to get to. There is a lot of western food available for those who need a break from Thai cuisine, however, everything you get anywhere near there will come at a higher price.

Muay Thai! Much of my free time outside of TESOL and eating and the rest of life was spent at my Muay Thai gym. Xplore Asia arranged for us to go to a Muay Thai gym on the first day of culture training and I loved it. It was a nice little taste of what Muay Thai is about. I was curious enough to seek out a gym a little closer to our accommodation that I could attend more regularly. The wonderful Girls Who Travel community that I have mentioned before came to my aid yet again. The lovely Jess directed me to the Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym gym where I ended up going a few times a week. There was usually a small group of us who went together but sometimes the people rotated around or sometimes I went alone. I ended up getting to know a few of the trainers and a few of the other people who attended regularly.

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Some of whom were not so bad to look at.

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But most of the time I trained with Master Taywin who is a complete and total badass. He is one of the Yoda’s of Muay Thai, internationally known for both fighting and coaching. He has trained people from all over the world and has even worked with Jet Li. At first he was terrifying to work with, making sure that you’d get your ass kicked if you didn’t do it right. If you didn’t block in time, you got hit. If you didn’t keep your hands up, you got hit. Unfortunately my reflexes are probably worse than a sloth so I would get hit a lot.  I left with many bumps and bruises but it was always worth it. But it turns out that he’s got a huge heart and sense of humor.

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He has a long beard that he ties up behind is ear when he trains and then he hits the tequila hard after the gym.  It’s really something we should all strive for.  When he took a few of us to a Muay Thai fight there was a surreal moment when I realized, hey, I’m taking tequila shots at a Muay Thai fight in Thailand with my internationally renowned Muay Thai master.  Life doesn’t get much better than this. The fight was at the Kalare stadium in the night bizarre where they have fights Monday and Fridays. It’s around 400B to get in (I think?) but we got in on a discount because of Mr. T. The Muay Thai gym has fighters there but unfortunately I couldn’t see any of the ones I knew fighting while I was there. It was awesome though, getting to see these badass mofo’s in the ring and to see what I’ve been learning applied to a real fight.

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Lady boys are also a big part of the night market. As most people know, Thailand is quite famous for their sex tourism and in particular, the popularity of the lady boy.  Loosely put, ladyboys are men who dress like women and can be either pre or post op (meaning before or after having had surgery to become a woman. While lady boy doesn’t sound like the most PC term, that’s what it’s referred to here and they own it! The lady boy shows are the BEST. I went to the Cabaret show right in the night market and it was PHENOMENAL! It was fun, it was hilarious, it was entertaining, and the women were beautiful!  At a ticket price of 250B which includes a beer, it doesn’t get much better than that. The show is a bunch of talented lady boys with a great sense of humor and flare. The costumes are big, the singing and dancing and the performance is giant. Males beware! If you don’t have a good sense of humor about the whole thing, then stay away. Many of the men in the front row are kissed, given lap dances, and one (although he wasn’t in the front) was brought on stage, had his shirt ripped off, and was given a lap dance in front of everyone. It’s great fun and it’s much funnier when it happens to a boy that you know.

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Sticky Waterfall! This should be the top thing to do on a trip to Chiang Mai. Its real name is the Bua Tong Waterfall but locals and tourists alike know it as the Sticky Waterfall for its unique qualities. While the waterfall isn’t actually sticky it’s incredible because it’s not slippery at all. Mineral deposits provide a grip and there is no algae or gunk that sticks on the rocks leaving it perfect to grip and climb.  The waterfall is located about an hour away 50 km north of the city and you can go by scooter or songthaew. A group of us went which made the trip a little cheaper and easier! You spend more time getting there and back than you actually do at the waterfall, but it’s totally worth the trip.  Where else can you CLIMB a waterfall?! The scenery is beautiful and it’s something you can’t do anywhere else!

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The Chiang Mai Grand Canyon is also right up there at the top fo the list. For those of you who like to swim, it’s paradise.  The view is incredible but it’s nothing compared to the rush you get from jumping off a cliff into the canyon. The water is bathtub warm from being in the open sun all day and there are bamboo rafts to lay on for as long as you’d like. The lower jump is probably around 4 meters? while the highest one is maybe 8? I have really no idea but I think that’s a decent estimate. There is also a ramp for those who do not want to jump in from that high up. The water is warm from the sun beating down on it all day and it’s an excellent swim.  There are bamboo rafts floating within the canyon to hang out on and on a sunny day there isn’t much better to do.

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In the city of Chiang Mai, Doi Su Tep is a must see temple.  It’s on the top of a mountain and there are some stairs to get up but the view makes the climb worth it! There is an option for a hike from the bottom but you can also take the road there and only have to climb the stairs. It’s beautiful. There is an overlook with a stunning view of Chiang Mai.

IMG_8320We also got the opportunity to spend some time with a monk! We were able to ask him anything we wanted which was really interesting to learn about because I don’t know much about being a monk. He led us in a brief meditation period which was great (although not for me) and his cheeky sense of humor made a lasting impression.  He made us handmade bracelets which I still wear to this day.image1 (2)Chiang Mai is a MUST when it comes to Thailand! The culture, the life, the city has so very much to offer! I’m so glad I was able to call this place home, if only for a month. It has the memory of all of the people I’ve met here and it will always mark the start of what I hope turns into one of my most thrilling adventures yet.