MANGO STICKY RICE [III]
Day 5, 6, 7, 8: Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon, Chiang Rai.

What we experienced:

  • banana pancakes at Libernard Cafe in Chiang Mai (https://www.facebook.com/Libernard-Cafe-218779181486811/). Don’t be fooled by the slighty decaying appearance, there’s actually a reason if these pancakes have been awarded by the Lonely Planet as the best ones all over the whole country. You will find yourself addicted.
  • Talat Warorot market. It’s time, finally, to give in to a pair of those baggy cotton trousers with elephant patterns that you’ve secretly craved since the moment you landed. These beehive of a market is the perfect place for bargains of every sorts! Not ideal if you suffer of claustrophobia, you’re too sensitive to smells, and don’t fancy the challenge of solving a maze.
  • Jungle adventure and elephants encounter. If leaving the city buzz to spend the night in a eco hut on a river in the middle of the jungle in Chiang Mai’s surrounding mountains is not enough for you, how would you feel about waking up to find the elephants outside your window and run down the river to see them bathing? This is made possible at Chai Lai Orchid (http://chailaiorchid.com), a sustainable resort which is aimed at raising awareness on elephants welfare and where at-risk young women can find shelter and a chance for a better future.
  • Doi Inthanon National Park. Float above the thick layer of smog in the sky and reach the peak of the highest mountain in Thailand. On your way to the top, feel the drizzle of the waterfall on your skin, meet the local hill tribes and discover their craftworks (and why not, buy those so ethnic, watermelon seeds made, necklace and bracelet, that won’t ever match any of your London outfits), stuff your face with alkekengi and dry fruit, and get chilly while discovering the beautiful gardens of the two monumental stupas, erected in honour of the royals.
  • don’t trust booking.com (part I). Being organized doesn’t always pay off. But, sometimes, you can be unexpectedly lucky. That’s how, on a solitary dirt track in the middle of a pitch dark rice field, while your girlfriend is hopelessly knocking at the door of the accommodation you booked the previous night, a car stops and somebody enquires what you’re after in a very friendly American accent. It turns out that the guy at the wheel knows the owner of the property and offers to call him to let him know that we are there. That’s how we acknowledge that, currently, nobody’s taking care of the business and that we better move on. A bit scary when it’s dark, you don’t have internet and your GPS has been calling every road you crossed in the last hour just “ROAD”. Moved by our not so disguised discouragement, Walter and his wife Anna, who live in the area, offer to guide us to a guesthouse run by some old time friends and save our evening.
  • rural Chiang Mai and the rice fields. Soaking up the morning sun on the veranda of Lha’s place (http://www.chiangmai-homestay.nl) while eating ripe papaya and listening to the stories of our host, Max, a Dutch gentleman, who moved to Thailand more than 20 years ago where he found love and fortune.
  • the white temple (Wat Rong Khun). Beautiful and absolutely absurd at the same time. Not much spirituality and sacred atmosphere left in this newly built triumph of kitsch, where Jack Sparrow, Darth Vader, Hello Kitty, Batman and several others cover the walls of the main hall of the temple.. A bit of a trap for tourists, but undeniably eye candy.
  • don’t trust booking.com (part II). This time around we ended up in a post apocalyptic Wisteria Lane. A whole neighborhood of beautiful pastel villas in state of disrepair, not a soul around, not a sound. No traces of our guesthouse. Under other circumstances, without the fear of ending up without an accommodation for the night in Chiang Rai, I would have taken the chance to do some urban exploration. Actually a pity that we didn’t go back afterwards.
  • Chiang Rai. Hippie vibes, music in the air, cocktail bars, massages, cheap accommodations with loads of attitude (our room at Mercy hostel made no exception, http://www.mercyhostelchiangrai.com)… In few words a backpacker’s paradise!
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A breathtaking Buddhist temple on top of a hill just few miles away from Chiang Mai. Ignore the elevators and the people complaining about the “too long” dragon decorated stairs, and climb up the steps to the temple. Once on the top, get ready to give in to a shooting frenzy. Every golden detail, from the big stupa to the bells, statues and pagodas, is too beautiful not to be captured.
  • Thai traffic jams and car accidents. There’s no way to be in Chiang Mai and missing a Thai food cooking class. However, we did. Mainly because it took us forever to drive around the completely chaotic and unpredictable city streets and reach the airport where we were supposed to return our rented car. Also because we forgot to fill the tank and we had to drive back to find a gas station. And well, I guess hitting another car just outside of the airport and wasting one hour filling out a jointly agreed statement for insurance purposes didn’t help either. Always opt for a full coverage car insurance, especially if you’re not a Schumacher.
  • Saturday night in Chiang Mai. Treat yourself good and pick a luxurious, yet cheap for the westerner standards, colonial style hotel in the heart of the old city (Villa Duang Champa: http://www.villaduangchampa.today), just one step away from the temples, sip a cocktail on the balcony and get ready for an evening massage session from an ex inmate at one of the Lila Thai massage next-door (http://www.chiangmaithaimassage.com/index.php?name=aboutus). Isa had a proper laugh when, during her relaxing oil body massage, she opened her eyes to find me in the most awkward position with my masseuse wrestling against me and making every single joint of my body crack! Thai massage is not for weak spirits, keep that in mind. Made hungry by this intense experience we ventured the buzzing Saturday night market where we literally swore to ourselves to try all the street food we hadn’t tasted yet. Result? 10 meals for less than £5! Back home for a quick nap and ready to jump on a plane for Valentine’s day. Destination: Phuket.

Nikon N55, Petzval 85, Fuji Provia 100 (35) / Kodak Portra 160 (35) / Fuji Velvia 50 (35, expired), 10-11-12-13/02/2016, Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon, Chiang Rai (Thailand)