Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rediscovering Chiang Mai

The first time I went to Chiang Mai, I wasn't that impressed. It was no cooler than Bangkok or Sukhothai had been, despite it's proximity to the mountains, and I was quite bored in the luxurious hotel my father had picked out for us, where we would inevitably retire after a few hours of temple-hopping per day. The food was fine, but uniformly Thai and nothing to make especial note of, and by the end of the trip I wasn't upset to be leaving. Overall I got the impression that CM was pretty boring, the people possessing a glum kind of character.

I decided to give it another chance last year, this time finding budget accommodation in the Old Town. What a difference the location made! The old city was alive with independent second-hand bookshops, vegetarian restaurants with imaginative titles like 'Dada Kafe', massage and beauty parlours, handmade jewellery stores, travel agents that promised everything from getting up close and personal with big cats at the Tiger Kingdom to visas for Vietnam, Chinese medicine clinics, street food stalls aplenty, cuisine ranging from Israeli to Japanese, and there were signs for new age activities all around. If trying Burmese salads and Mexican-inspired cuisine seemed too adventurous, you could always retreat to McDonalds or Starbucks (I did all four during the course of my stay). I bumped into one temple after another, richly and beautifully decorated, and they weren't listed as main attractions. I picked up stunningly designed Thai postcards for less than a dollar and pretty key-holders for similarly absurd-seeming prices.

And this time, I actually met some pretty interesting characters. A meditation leader approached me on the street and I hung out with him for a while, I briefly chatted with a Polish couple he worked with, and I had pleasant exchanges with many of the people I bumped into along the way. Chiang Mai was now charming my socks off.

If I could be there right now, that's where I'd be...

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