If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA, specifically 2012. Ill also write further about other experiences in the USA and other countries I have been to, now Ill briefly go through my latest adventure in Thailand, Chiang Mai and Bangkok including a few Tips.
Chiang Mai is the northern capital of Thailand, originally founded in 1296 it still has the remnants of the Old City Walls surrounding the Old Town in the centre of the city. The official population is around 180,000 though the number of Western expats and others means this is only an approximation. It is also the cultural capital of Thailand meaning there are hundreds of Buddhist temples located around the city. The amount of outdoor activities, spirituality and cheap affordable accommodation for Westerners coupled with quality shopping and a vibrant social scene make it a popular draw card for tourists, both short and long term. It certainly has made an impression on me and first Tip is a great place for any potential budding English language teachers that want to make the move.
Whilst staying here it is crop burning season meaning that there is a lot of pollution from the burning of crops such as sugar and mushrooms, this doesn’t make it unpleasant but for a few months of the year there is a haze that blankets the city. This and the sweltering afternoon heat means another Tip is renting a hotel with a swimming pool a must to get some chillout time at one of the many reasonably priced hotels in downtown area. This means most of my time was taken up by touring some of the temples, going for a swim, looking at markets and enjoying some of the nightlife on offer, not a bad way to spend some time here.
One of my tours was to Doi Inthanon which is the highest mountain in the region and on top of that are two spectacular temples standing elevated at about 2600m. These temples sit on opposite peaks facing each other and are surrounded by gardens and forest, the entire mountain range is worth touring and includes waterfalls scattered throughout the park. The views are spectacular and the my personal impression is they appear like something from a fantasy adventure, its truly worth seeing and only a few hours by tour from the downtown area.
If not keen to head out that way, there are over 300 temples within the city itself, 200 of which are in the old town itself. Wat Phan Tao is in the city centre and is the largest of the temple complexes. There is a series of varying shrines which Buddhist and tourists alike are free to enter as long as they take their shoes off and is an excellent and peaceful way to spend a few hours in the slowly heating up day. Originally constructed as a palace in 1846 it was a few years later converted into a monastery and the monks there are more than happy to talk to tourists at “speaking areas” when approached. At the centre is a large stone temple which can not be entered, but plenty of the shrines can be and there is plenty of gold buildings and Buddha statues on display.
Other activities I managed to fit in included going to many of the shopping markets in the area selling fresh food, clothes and art which is quite cheaply priced. This includes the famous Night Market which is very large area on the outskirt of the old city which is where I was staying, a series of shopping malls, street stalls and food vendors selling all different Thai dishes. I went down to the market a few times to enjoy some dinner, listened to live street performers, drink a few beers and enjoy the vibrant colourful lifestyle, the locals are very hospitable.
If not keen on the night market there is plenty of quality restaurants along the river which are also reasonably priced. There is a vibrant nightlife within the city including plenty of backpacker Western bars as well as kitchens where locals tend to frequent and Girl Bars where tourists can buy a woman a drink and choose whether or not they wish to pay a Bar Fine and head out with their companion. This is not behavior I personally choose to participate in but it seems to be part of the way of life, strictly speaking Thailand made prostitution illegal in 1960 though this law does not appear to be enforced. I found myself a local bar where I could watch some live kickboxing, chatted about Thailand with a few locals and enjoy a few beers. I wasn’t particularly interested in hanging out in Western bars nor paying bar fines so finding a place where I could sit relax and have a laugh was much appreciated.
After a few days of relaxing Chiang Mai, it was off to the madness that is Bangkok, with a population of maybe 10 million people the traffic is chaotic hundreds of thousands of cars on the road, Tuk Tuk drivers weaving in between and the air is polluted by not necessarily just from burning crops. It’s a very different experience to Chiang Mai but just as Chiang Mai is full of Buddhist temples, shopping markets, street food and friendly Buddhist locals, so is Bangkok.
There are plenty of tourist attractions within Bangkok and there is a lot written about the place so I won’t go into detail about the history of the city. A few of the activities I got up to included cruising up the Chao Phryaya river watching the mix of new buildings, old housing and temples along the river, also plenty of water taxis and other ferry services making their way up and down the river, it acts as a motorway. My first stop was the the Grand Palace, unfortunately I could not enter the palace at 11am as royal officials were still inside and would be leaving at 1pm so a tour guide organised me a Tuk Tuk to kill a few hours and see some of the Buddha shrines and check out a few textile factories. I saw a few shrines including the 32m tall Standing Buddha statue covered in gold it towers over the shrines below. There were hundreds of locals engaged in activities I have no understanding of though I think a lot of it was to do with praying for wealth as there were ropes on display with bank notes hanging off them…. I really don’t know. The textile factories were actually just an attempt get me to buy a suit but the temple and hurtling around in a Tuk Tuk made the experience worthwhile.
Upon my return to the palace I had to TIP purchase pants as shorts are not allowed to be worn on palace grounds. When entering the grounds, I was made to stand in an area whilst the a motorcade left the ground and then after purchasing a ticket, I was allowed within the palace complex itself. A series of shrines and the palace building itself is spectacular and must visit from the thousands of tourists coming into the complex itself. The shrines are obviously spectacular and the detail that has gone into creating them is intricate and complex, the palace itself is large in size and can’t be entered, well at least not by me.
Another activity I participated in was a few hours out of Bangkok at the Damnoen Saduaok Floating Market tour. This was a totally amazing experience, the tour included a personal taxi to and from the market, my own guided tour boat and of course the shopping experience itself. The market appears to be an endless maze of crisscrossing waterways with long boats hooked up to old car motors and a series of stalls selling all kinds of touristic and local goods. I pulled up to my first stall, purchased a bottle of beer and then engaged in some haggling with many of the friendly stall owners, all very friendly, colourful and a truly unique cultural shopping experience. After a few hours of river cruising, having some lunch and a few more beers it was back to Bangkok.
I’m sure there is nightlife in Bangkok far more sophisticated than what I experienced, rooftop bars and or backpacker bars. At this point in time however and from what I understand the main areas to go out in are the red-light districts, these include Patpong and Soi Cowboy. Patpong was near where I was staying so I tried this area first, a maze of night market shopping, food vendors and Girl bars, I drank in one of the regular bars nearby and watched the crowd go by majority of which being tourists, Western couples and Chinese as interested as me in what went on there. Most of the bars appeared to have Thai lady boys standing out front attempting to draw in customers, great for people watching. Around some of the streets were also gay bars, it seems that Bangkok whilst being deeply religious, is also very tolerant regarding sexual preferences. The Soi Cowboy, one long street of neon light and a seemingly endless amount of girl bars with all types of tourists watching and or experiencing what’s on offer, as indicated whilst bar fining women has no appeal for me it is an interesting people watch.
I have really enjoyed my time in Thailand and comparing two of its major cities, the casual relaxing Chiang Mai and the hectic fast paced Bangkok. As you may be able to tell my preference is Chiang Mai as its a little more easy going and relaxed whether its walking to a temple, getting a cheap meal or catching up with the some friendly faces for a few nights. Bangkok is more for those that really want to chase the nightlife and love of the big city feel, but it also has enough for those that want to experience some of that spirituality and friendliness that is Thailand, to which both cities have in abundance.
Well anyway I’m now in Seoul which I hopefully will have a blog about shortly, just killing some time before I head out to Kazakhstan, should be interesting….