It’s my second day in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and I have elected to spend the whole day walking around. There’re dozens of great excursions in the area, but I just want to soak this city in while I’m there. It’s my first time in a foreign country utterly and completely alone but armed with my map, I’m not too worried.
It turns out I can’t read street signs in Thai. This issue is something you don’t think about when you’re in South America or Europe. Even if you can’t speak the language, the letters are the same. You can easily decipher where you are, if not what you’re reading. Not to be discouraged, I walked in a straight line out of the hostel for blocks, before turning around and zig-zagging across my path on the way back.
Luckily, it’s not easy to get lost in Chiang Mai. The “old city” is surrounded by a bit of a moat, with crumbling walls separating it from the newer apartment buildings and shops. As long as I could find my way back within the walls, I could easily wander to my hostel. I loved this aspect, as I quickly began to feel more at home within the area… eventually stowing my map and just taking in the dozens of temples, shops, and markets.
With my evening open, I signed up for one of the many Thai cooking classes available throughout town. I cannot recommend this experience enough. Our class was shown to a local market, where we discussed signature Thai spices and traditional ingredients before selecting a four-course meal to cook. I had an amazing time learning how to cook traditional Pad Thai, spring rolls, soups and curries. We literally ground up curry paste by hand!
I am always an advocate for hostel accommodations, and staying in the dorm style rooms proved even more advantageous as a solo traveler. After returning from my dinner, I befriended a few individuals in my room and walked around to some of the Chiang Mai bars. Every night I spent in the town, I ended up wandering around with new friends from around the world.
The next morning, one of my new friends and I made our way to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, an extravagant temple located outside of town. To get to the temple, we climbed 309 steps up a large staircase. The temple itself was ornately decorated in gold, with multiple large pagodas on the premises. From the far side of the temple, you can look into the valley at Chiang Mai. Though crowded, the temple is worth the trek uphill and was the most memorable site I visited in Chiang Mai.
Why visit Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is a short flight from Bangkok, and worth the trip. The beaches may be why Thailand is famous, but the culture in Chiang Mai was exactly what I craved. The town is laid back but rich with temples and markets. For those interested in excursions, you can visit elephant sanctuaries (pick the ones that don’t let you ride them), short backpacking trips, yoga retreats and dozens of cooking classes. A couple of other towns, such as Chiang Rai or Pai, are a short drive as well. When I return to Thailand, I will stop by Chiang Mai again.
Why didn’t you visit the Tiger sanctuary?
Excellent question! Petting a Tiger used to be on my Bucket List, however, since doing a smidgen of research I realized the Tiger sanctuaries in Thailand are extremely unethical. There is a reason those big cats are so lethargic and calm, and it’s because they have been drugged. Please don’t support this practice. Tigers are wild animals, and they simply don’t want to be cuddled.