Chiang Mai. A pointless post.

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We left Chiang Mai three days ago and I still can’t figure out what to say about it. Simply put, we don’t know what all the fuss is over. People love this place and we can’t figure out why. It’s not a bad place, we just felt like there were better cities in this part of the world to visit. But I feel the need to tie up loose ends, so I’m writing a post so that this portion of the trip can be appropriately memorialized. Forgive the rather blasé writing- I am uninspired and really forcing this write up.

Chiang Mai offers plenty of the ‘Thailand Experience’ that can be found, well, all over Thailand. Thai massage, trekking tours, village visits, and the tourist driven extreme sports that seem to have popped up everywhere. But for Chiang Mai specific activities, we identified five main subjects of interest for the traveler:

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1) The Exploitation of Exotic Animals: For an overpriced admission ticket, you can hold a sedated baby tiger or watch abused elephants do tricks. Of course, this is advertised in a much more colorful format than my description. But it is what it is. Admission includes free pickup from your hotel. It’s ridiculously expensive especially for SE Asia standards, and the price includes a small donation of your self respect in exchange for supporting these businesses. Obviously, we skipped this- the cat above was as close as we got to wildlife on this visit.

2) Day trips to an Elephant Rescue Sanctuary: The sanctuaries for animals who have been able to live happier lives than those mentioned above. We looked into this as we were interested in the chance to be out with the elephants for a day. The trip included feeding and bathing the animals, and cost a bit over $80 per person. Sadly, this was far over our budget.

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3) Temple Touring: the temples are abundant here, and most of the touring can be done on one’s own for free. We also attended a free Sunday afternoon lecture on the Teachings of Buddha, held by an English speaking monk at one of the larger temple grounds outside the city. It was a worthwhile afternoon and we are glad we made the trip out there, but the lecture itself left more questions than answers. We are more confused about Buddha now than we were before.

4) Cooking Schools: there are hundreds of cooking schools in Chiang Mai and as a result prices are competitive. We took a one day class and plan to report details about all of our cooking courses in a later post. In summary, Thai food is good and the recipes we learned back up this statement. With that said, the food at the cooking school was by far the best food we had during the entire week. This is great for promoting the schools, but it shouldn’t be hard to find good Thai food when in Thailand… And it was. Chiang Mai is not a food city in the same way Bangkok or Luang Prabang is. This remains a paradox- since this city is the cooking class center of the country.

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5) The Markets: there is a market on Saturday, a different one on Sunday, and a night food market on the week days. We went to all of them. The weekend markets are enormous, taking up entire streets and packing the neighborhood with people. Markets in Asia are always fascinating, and these were by far the busiest ones we’ve been to. For me, they were too busy. I’m short and crowds can bury me. I spent most of my time staring at someone’s shoulder blades and trying desperately to find which direction Dave had gone. It got old.

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So this was it. Our week in Chiang Mai in a nutshell. I am shocked about the way I feel about this city- it was talked up so much, and my expectations were high. The experience here has been my biggest surprise in 8 months of traveling.

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