C is for Chiang Mai

When I originally planned my month of A-Z blogging I had intended to write a book review for The Colour Purple today, but after mentioning Chiang Mai in Monday’s post, I couldn’t not talk about my favourite place in the world.

When you arrive in a place and it becomes somewhere you would go to any day of the year, given the chance, and it isn’t a city as large as London or New York, you begin to have mixed opinions about telling people about it. On the one hand, you love it so much that you want everyone to experience it, but on the other you know that with too many numbers and too much growth, the place as you know it will cease to exist.

This second attitude is pretty selfish, obviously, and slightly self-important to think that you’re amongst the first to experience it at its best, when thousands of tourists pass through its airport each year, and will already have changed the culture of the place for locals and tourists alike over the last decade.

I would hate to see Chiang Mai become the next Bangkok, revolving around the sex trade and drunken western tourists, CIMG9830but I know that places such as these thrive from the tourist industry and it wouldn’t be my favourite place today without the visitors it has already seen.

But enough about the social implications of tourism. Chiang Mai is an historic city located in northern Thailand, and is split into two areas. The first, and oldest part, resides within the city walls and moat, containing beautiful markets, art schools, cafes and relaxed accommodation. Beyond the walls the city grows into an area with a large university, more markets (or walking streets as they are known locally), street food vendors, yoga schools, temples and more. It is the ultimate Southeast Asian city with the unique feeling of a smallish town.

The food is beyond incredible. I went to the same place for breakfast most mornings during my stay there, aptly named Nice Kitchen. It was extremely nice. Street served Pad Thai became my favourite dish, followed by fried banana or mango in coconut milk, and the homemade tomato curry served at the Funky Dog café (complete with resident funky dog who sits by the door each night) was the best thing I tasted the whole time.

I visited Chiang Mai three times during my trip, the last occasion being an instinctive go-to after some visa problems in Laos, as by then it felt like home and I knew upon arriving I would be greeted back by people I’d met there, happily still refilling their wine glasses from the large silver buckets at night, lazily chatting in hammocks and swapping stories.

Chiang Mai's walking street
Chiang Mai’s walking street

I spent my days attending painting and drawing classes, getting daily massages, going for waterfall walks up to mountain temples and working out a way in which I could stay forever. My absolute favourite thing to do though was to attend the walking street markets. Spread across the city, there were usually three a week, and if you climbed the city walls they looked like a great canvas of colour and lights from above. Locals sell everything you can imagine, from clothing, jewellery and art to food, furnishings and more. The atmosphere was such that I went every chance I got, if only to walk around and observe rather than buy (I had to save that for my last visit!), and I could have spent my life savings there had I been able to carry everything home.

I don’t think I’ll ever have fonder memories of anywhere more than Chiang Mai. I got my travelling independence there and fell in love with everything about it. So if you get the chance to go, please do, and tell the couple at JayJay’s bungalows that Laura from hut 12 says hi.

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