06 March 2009

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, which is the second largest city in Thailand, lies close to the boarder of Myanmar (Burma) and Laos in the far North of the country. Historically the city was the centre of the caravan trade in opium and silk from the Yunnan province of China to the port of Mawlamyaing in Myanmar. The town is still well known for its numerous markets and infamous night bazaar which sell many of the local and tribal handicrafts (as well as the usual big brand knock offs).

The city is centred on the old town which is bounded by fortified walls and a moat that were built in 1800 to provide protection from Burmese attacks.

The town has a very different atmosphere to anywhere else that we have been in Thailand. A lot more relaxed and laid back, in fact it feels more like Laos.

The other really noticeable difference is that the cost of everything is far cheaper here than the other places we have been to in Thailand. We've found the cost of living in Bangkok and the beach resorts of the South to be far higher than expected and nearly on par with back home in the UK. It hasn't been helped by the fall in value of the pound in the currency markets. However; the biggest factor by far is what appears to be the overpricing of things for tourists. The cost of everything in Chiang Mai from hotels and transport to food and drink is about half of what we have paid elsewhere in Thailand and more like the rest of Southeast Asia.

Chiang Mai is also home to many temples which we've spent a bit of time exploring.

Some of the temples were really interesting, at Wat Chedi Luang you could even have "monk chat". A lot of the temples had scarily realistic wax dummies and gold leaf covered statues of respected deceased monks which was all very strange.

One of the temples, Wat U Mong, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment though. As always seems to be the case, it's the ones that are hardest to get to that are the most disappointing. It was really raved about in a couple of the guide books and listed as a must see temple amongst the forest. In reality it was just a collection of 3 or 4 brick lined tunnels in the trees!

The bar and restaurant scene here is really lively too with plenty of variety. There's also a really big live music scene with lots of the bars and restaurants having bands. We took another tip from Jon and Linds and headed out to the Riverside Bar and Restaurant which is just outside the city walls on the banks of the Mae Nam Ping. There's a row of about 6 or 7 restaurants in a row which back onto the river. We had a great night but got our timing a bit wrong, as when we left Riverside Bar to go to check the music out at The Brasserie everyone else went in the opposite direction and we ended up in an empty bar with no atmosphere.

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