A September 1998 trip
to Chiang Mai by actonsteve
Quote: Chiang Mai is the exotic Thailand that you are looking for. A tranquil languid town in the far north surrounded by tropical forests. From here you can trek with hill tribes, raft rivers, ride elephants or simply settle back and absorb this beautiful northern city...
Hotel | "A family run pleasure - The Libra Guesthouse"
If you are staying on a budget in Thailand beg, grovel or plead to get into the Libra guesthouse. It is situated just into the Old City along a soi off Moon Muang Road within easy walking distance of the Thae Pae Gate and Night bazaar. The guesthouse is a family run affair and the front desk is manned by two sisters. Tables for guests are out on the verandah, the kitchen is viewable from these tables and you can smell the chefs cooking lemongrass and chicken.
The rooms are very clean and cheap (100 baht when I was there, £1.50) and are on the upper storey or along a soi (lane) and grouped around a tropical garden (see photo)and the lane gives a view into the surrounding houses whose smiling families seem to live their lives outside. But the Libra guesthouse is primarily a trekking guesthouse and has an excellent reputation. Guides hang around the guesthouse and the family will arrange a 5/4/3 day trek for you for a reasonable price (500 baht a day). There are no worries about leaving your valuebles behind as they seal them in envelopes and lock them in a safe. The professionalism of these sisters gives the place an excellent reputation.
Along with hot showers, free-roaming dogs, tropical plants and affable owners - does life get any better then the Libra guesthouse.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 29, 2001
The Libra Guesthouse
Moon Muang Road
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Restaurant | "Prawns with lemongrass - Dining in Chiang Mai"
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 30, 2001
Thae Pae Gate
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 31, 2001
Jade, incense and haggling - the Night Bazaar
Chang Klan and Loi Kroa Road Junction
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Attraction | "Wat Phra Singh and the Old City"
The Wat is in the western side of the Old City not far from the Sunthop Road and the SuanDork Gate. But most visitors approach along the Ratchdameon Road from Thae Pae Gate. The Old City is an absolute pleasure and escapes the high-rises and congestion of most Asian cities. It is narrow lanes surrounded by walled gardens, palm trees, shop fronts and low-key traffic. One thing I must stress as you explore Chiang Mai is take plenty of water. The heat, (though less then Bangkok), can wear you down and if you are out all day can lead to serious dehydration. Bottled water is very cheap (30 bahts) and even the Thai's find the mid-day sun hard going. Many of them carry parasol's.
Wat Phra Singh is housed in a large compound at the end of Ratchdameon Road. It's main temple of worship is the great viharn (temple)and stretched around it are gardens and lesser shrines and temples. Wat's are not just temples but also monasteries and places of teaching. You may see the shaven-headed, barefooted, yellow-robed monks as you move around. To enter the viharn you must remove your boots and step across the threshold barefooted. Inside is a long assembly hall where the faithful worship a 10ft golden buddha. Electric fans cool worshippers in this red teak room and monks burn incense in front of their gold idol.
I think the gardens outside are the most rewarding part. Carved golden naga's (dragons) flank stairs leading up to the rear of the viharn, and golden stupa's, palms and ponds dot the compound. The atmosphere of serenity is completed by a group of monks playing chess on a table. As you pass by they give you a hearty hello - and once again you are astonished at the sheer friendliness of the people in Thailand.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 1, 2002
Wat Phra Singh
End Of Ratchdameon Road
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
Attraction | "Wat Chedi Luang and the Thai Massage School"
This is in easy walking distance of Wat Phra Singh and the Thae Pae Gate or any tuk tuk driver in Chiang Mai. It is situated inside a walled compound and was built in 1545 and consists of a massive brownstone ziggurat with steps leading up to a temple (see photo). A set of stairs is on each of the four sides flanked by monstrous white marble naga's (dragons). A platform circumnavigates the top of the temple housing stone elephants each with limbs or trunks missing. At the top of the ziggurat is a temple with an alcove housing the Buddha whose bright gilt could be seen from below. At the back of the temple is an open-air viharn containing about five Buddha's. These were some of the most accessible and impressive I have seen - seated, reclining, cloaked in gold and jewels - with enigmatic arched eyebrows and tight hair (see photo)
I combined the Wat with a visit to the Thai massage school. I had recently returned from a 2 day trek to see the hilltribes and my toes and knee were aching. Others at my guesthouse had suggested the Beer Massage school on the Thae Pae Gate. This was my first experience of massage and for 200 bahts worth a try. Upstairs twenty mats were laid out under a whirring fan. A young smiling Thai girl takes off your shoes and gently massages your feet with aromatic oil. After half an hour all aches and pains leave your feet and I felt it was money well spent. And if you think that they are laughing at you during this. They probably are - they find foreigners very funny.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 1, 2002
Wat Chedi Luang
Phrapokklao Road within the old city
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50100
+66 53 248 604 (Tour
Attraction | "Hmong, Karen and Lisu - choosing a hilltribe trek"
Each hilltribe has different customs, costumes and language.The most popular, the Karen, originally migrated from China and occupy the mountains west of Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son. But others such as the Hmong were forced out from Laos after they sided with the Americans in the Vietnam war. And the Lahu have escaped Burma were their relatives are still persecuted by the repressive regimes there. Each has found the 'slash 'n burn' policy hard and in the past has fallen back on heroin production. The authorities have tried to wean them off this by introducing tourism aka trekking. But there are still poppy fields in jungle clearings watched over by armed guards.
The only way to visit them is with a trek. Choose the trek which suits your budget and fitness level. If you don't want to do any ardous walking then there are treks in which you are taken by car to villages near Chiang Mai. But for the big treks you will be taken twenty miles west into the mountains and made to walk from there. There is alot of 'Lonely Planet' snobbery about undiscovered villages but you will bump into other trekking parties on the trails - it's a fact - as trekking is big business and the trails nearest to Chiang Mai are used by alot of groups.
Shop around for your trek. Also chose wisely abou the length of trek. The 5-7 day treks can be agonisingly exhausting and we saw one come back to the Daret Guesthouse where the trekkers looked half-dead. You must also remember that this is not a luxury expedition it is likely that you will not shower or sleep in a bed for the nights you want to be away. A good trekkng company will charge 500-600 baht a day which should include rafting and elephant riding. You guide should be knowledgeable and make sure he has a good grasp of english as he is in your trust for a number of days. He is responsible for your welfare and should cook for you. Take as little as possible - you will probably only need - insect repellant, spare shorts, shirt, cold water, toiletries and sturdy boots. Be prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 6, 2002
Hmong, Karen and Lisu
The mountains around Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The trek I went on was two days including elephant riding and bamboo rafting. They collected us very early in the morning in a bemo and sped us west to the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai. I was grouped with a bunch of four Scottish lads, a Dutchman and an Israeli girl. Each of us had paid 1500 bahts (£16/$20.00) to trek in the jungles and stay with the hill tribes. Our guide was the ebullient Soppong, a short-haired chubby Thai whose English was excellent. He stopped off at a market where he loaded up with supplies and cold drinking water. And after an hours drive the bemo pulled up along a shallow river. A rickety bamboo swaying bridge led across and we crossed in a chattering state of excitement as we had seen what was on the other side - elephants!
These were magnificent brutes. About four adults and youngsters were tethered in the shade or reaching for nearby greenery. We had to climb steps to be seated on the howdah which was about 12ft from the ground. The elephants would then plod for two hours through the jungle. The great leathery head of the elephant was in front of us and you had to keep your shins away from her flapping ears. We watched butterflies and flying insects flit around in the heat and as the jungle closed in on us the humidity got worse. We stopped every thirty seconds as the elephant in front of us halted and reached for its trunk for fresh vegetation. It would only move on when the mahout shouted at him or he had fresh grass to chew.
After sloshing through a river we returned to camp and went back to the bemo. And after an hours more ride stopped at a roadside restaurant and looked around. We were surrounded by towering mountains with jungle vegetation right up to their summits. The hilltribe village was eight miles up this mountain. We met with our Karen guide - a shirt wiry fellow who set an incredible pace. He led us through emerald green paddy fields ringed by jungle. When we entered the jungle the humidity nearly bowled you over and for miles we ascended a track following a stream. The incline was very severe and the track was crossed by roots and stones and was very hard on the feet. Soon all you cared about was putting one foot after another - the humidity made our T-shirts and shorts wet rags.
The last two miles of the trek were at a very severe incline and everyone was wheezing in the heat especially Soppong who was carrying our supplies. The last part was clambering over the stones near a waterfall - everyone was so hot they just stripped off and stood under the rushing water. But soon we began to see buffalo pastures and women in traditional costumes. Then we were there! A palmroofed longhouse stood on the edge of a paddyfield. From its verandah were views over the jungle and mountains. We were staying with a Karen family with father, baby, and mother working on her loom. With their dogs,hens, cockerels and tethered pig's - I thought I was in the middle of a BBC2 anthropology documentary.
The wooden longhouse was built on stilts and we would be sleeping on mats upstairs which was only reachable via wooden ladder. Soppong cooked us a delicious meal of curried potatoes and green beans and there was nothing else to do there but talk and watch the sun set over the jungle. Night falls about 6.00pm up here and the sound of cicada's was deafening. Most of us went to bed about 11.00pm with a mixture of Coca-cola and hilltribe moonshine to aid our sleep. One of the Scots asked for something stronger but the guide refused - saying the police regularly raid to make sure they are not providing opium to trekkers. So we let the sounds of the jungle send us to sleep.
One of the Scots lads was seriously ill when we woke up and despite insect repellant we had all been biten by mosquitoes. The lad was probably suffering from simple heat exhaustion but was very weak and couldn't eat. Toilet amenities are very basic in a hilltribe village. You have to brush your teeth with bottled water and the toilets are of the slop variety. Toilets in Asia take a little getting used to with the one in the hilltribe village being just a hole in the ground flushed by a bucket of water nearby. But to watch village life go on around you is fascinating. Every so often you would hear the sound of cowbells coming down to the village and buffalo would be driven along the trail to pasture. A villager was spurring them on with a catapult and grinning and giggling when scoring a direct hit.
After saying goodbye to the family and giving them parting gifts, we hitched up our packs and were gone from the village by 10.00am. Due to one of our group being very weak we were going to do the easier descent along the spine of some mountains. The pace was gruelling but we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. You can't really enjoy them as you are concentrating on keeping up and dodging stones and roots on the trail. Soon the jungle closed over us and we were dripping with sweat, the descent was steep and soon we were running down the mountain with the back of our calves taking the pressure. This went on for four hours and eventually we reached level ground and crossed numerous streams on slippery rocks. A further walk through paddy fields and we were at the road. I had never been so glad to see the bemo in all my life.
For the next part, after an eagerly devoured lunch of garlic beef and rice, we were driven to a wide river flanked by jungle where bamboo rafts were drawn up on the shore. Each raft consists of 15 bamboo tubes lashed together and with a Thai man propels the front of the craft while one of us has the rear. The current takes you downstreams past jungle, rocks and rapids and it was very relaxing trailing your fingers in the water in the bright sunshine.
At one point I took the rear of the raft and concentrated on keeping us away from the rocks with the pole. It was very enjoyable with cool water rushing over your bare feet, trying to keep your balance on a tiny raft, and the guide telling you which side to pole. The exhileration of the raft rushing tiny rapids is terrific. The only problem is when are not quick enough with the pole and the raft hits the rocks with a jolt. This can knock you off your feet (as happened to one of the Scots)or the raft can get lodged and you have to rock it from side to side to get it free.
As we approached the finish we got a round of applause from Thai picnickers who were nearby. And it was a very wet and exhausted group who climbed back aboard the bemo. When you think of it we are quite mad - most of the year we do no exercise unless it is running for the last tube. But because we are in Thailand we think we can climb jungles in high humidity, ride elephants and negotiate rapids - and we do! Very proud of ourselves we laid down and relaxed returning to Chiang Mai. It was seriously agreed that what was needed now was a beach....
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