We arrived at Chiang Mai late on Tuesday evening. Our hotel, the Park, is very lovely, but a bit far from city center and the night markets. Luckily the hotel offers a free shuttle, but unfortunately it only runs until around 10:30. We walked around the area quickly, then settled in, following a day of commuting, etc.
On our travels around the immediate area of the hotel, we ran into another nuance of Thai life, specific to Chiang Mai. There is a serious obsession with Karaoke, with bars lining the streets. Additionally, one unique feature is the inclusion of women "hostesses" who participate with your group or cheer you on for a fee. Clearly, this is a lot more tame than some of the theatrics we saw in Bangkok and Phuket...
The next morning, we awoke and went out to see the major tourist sights in the area. The big attractions are buddhist temples, which I was frankly tired of (between China and Thailand, I think we've visited at least 10)... Howard however was still very excited to see them, so we split up. Before we went our separate ways, we went to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and Wat Chiang Man, both beautiful in their own ways. The first included an amazing temple building with beautifully painted murals on the walls, depicting scenes with the buddha. The second had temples housing both a marble and a crystal buddha (see what I mean :-) ):
I walked past one of the temples to the main road, where there was a massive computer shopping mall. It was certainly not an essential trip for me, but I did have a good time checking out the machines available in Thailand, as well as the cellphones. After seeing this, and knowing how much farther along Singapore is on this front, I can only say that I am very excited to be in Southeast Asia for the next several months:
That evening, Howard and I visited the Night Market, home to thousands of shops selling wares from all over Thailand (at substantially lower prices to both Bangkok and Phuket). In checking out the markets, and realizing that Chiang Mai is actually a fairly normal place, with the red-light district clearly out of the mainstream view, I made the following observation -
The next morning, we traveled to Chiang Rai and northern Thailand. Our tour involved stops at a hot spring, monument, wat, "The Golden Triangle", and two local villages, with lunch in between and lots of travel time. Long story shorty, the trip was a bit funny, since the content was light, in lieu of shopping destinations (much like our trip in Bangkok).
"The Golden Triangle" was pretty neat. The meeting point of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Laos, "The Golden Triangle" is actually a neat place to visit. We took a quick longboat tour that took us into Laos for about 30 minutes (of course, just to a shopping section). This section was called the "Golden Triangle" because it was the center of the Opium trade. Here's some photos of the "Golden Triangle" from our boat on the Mekong river (please note the Snake whiskey bottles, which have actual snakes and scorpions in them. Apparently, this is the "National drink of Laos"):
The water was incredibly gross, with a strong brown color
Good to the last drop (now with snakes and scorpions in the bottle)
Yes, they make a lot of it
Here's the mother load (the tasting container). They offered us each shots, but we declined (apparently, king cobra and scorpion taste like Chicken, but who knows...)
After a quick lunch, we headed to the northernmost city in Thailand, Mai Sae, which borders on Myanmar (seemingly, the city's only redeeming quality). We opted not to enter Myanmar due to our time constraints and the recommendation of some locals (apparently, not much to see there for 5 minutes). Here's the border:
After that, we grabbed a quick lunch, then headed over to two local villages. Here too, it was a bit strange, but for a different reason. The two sites were quite poor, and the locals were asking for money. It was really awkward and kind of shameful for the tourist company to take us to these places (unknowingly). What can I say...
That night, we headed to the Night Market and grabbed some Thai food (Pad thai for 30 baht or $1usd)...
The next few days, we relaxed and took in the scenery of Chiang Mai. Specifically, on Friday we visited the Phra That Doi Suthep, another Buddhist temple on top of a mountain in the Northwestern part of Chiang Mai, above the Chiang Mai Zoo. We travelled by tuk tuk to the zoo, then picked up a bus that took us up the mountain. There are 300 steps from the top of the mountain to the temple, with an amazing staircase covered in beautiful stones and designs. Here's some photos of the site:
After we walked the site for a while, Howard and I found a food stand selling lots of products in a waffle, including bananas and hot dogs. We opted for banana waffle sticks, which were amazing:
After the bananas, we took a tuk tuk to the shopping mall for some R&R. We ended up watching "The Simpsons Movie" for 120 baht per person (~$4 USD) and another 100 baht for soda and popcorn (coming in three varieties: original, sweet and cheese). At the opening, we caught an amazing Pepsi commercial as well as several hilarious local commercials. Additionally, during coming attractions, they play a video in honor of the king, during which the entire crowd stands. It was pretty cool... As for the movie, it was just OK...
The next evening, we went back to the theatre and took in "The Bourne Ultimatum". Also, a good time... We then hit up some local bars and shops at the Night Market.
The next morning, we would fly to Singapore, our last stop on this journey...