Before arriving in Chiang Mai we put a public trip up on Couchsurfing to see if anyone was about to meet us or host us. We received a message from Kate of Thailand Wow 2 hostel saying that she would put us up for free if we did 4 hours work for her a day. We were sceptical and asked what the work was and when we were able to complete the hours. She replied saying we could work between 1-9pm, choosing our hours, splitting them up if we wanted to, and all we had to do was to talk to guests and play games with people. This helped the hostel to maintain a good atmosphere. After checking out the hostel on our first day and meeting Kate we took her up on her offer.
We spent a week at Thailand Wow 2. It was a great hostel, not the cleanest, very basic but we met some great people whilst completing our four hours a day. The hostel had great places to chill out with sofas, a pool table and a table to play cards. They also had options to book basically anything you wanted to do in Chiang Mai from Muay Thai, cooking classes, trekking or onwards bus/ boat travel. Our week in Chiang Mai was very relaxed and we enjoyed our time there. Each day we spent a few hours talking to people, mixed in with doing our own things in Chiang Mai. We spent a lot of hours playing card games such as Shithead and bullshit. We made some great friends: Alice and Dan (UK), Alex (UK), Sandra (Austria), Michiel (Holland), Jamie (Ireland), Garry and Sue (UK), Tim and Bronte (Australia) as well as meeting a host of other people. We also later went on to see most of these again in Pai at some point.
Kate also made our time here as she was lovely, full of good advice but also accompanied us on nights out- taking us to a few local bars one evening, joined us when we went to Chinatown and showed us the local Northgate Jazz bar.
On our first day there we went out for lunch at a local Thai restaurant with Luis and had Khao Soi a local dish from northern Thailand which is chicken and noodles in red curry soup with crispy noodles on top.
We also went out in the evening for dinner with a guy called Alex and he then joined us for a beer at Thapae Gate where we watched people using poi and playing their didgeridoos before going to a Muay Thai fight at Thapae Stadium.
Muay Thai consisted of us seeing 6 different fights with a couple of ‘special fights’ in between. The first couple of fights left us feeling slightly awkward as they are full on Muay Thai fights between children as young as 7 years old. They begin practising the sport young in order to earn money for their families. As the fights went on they became more interesting to watch, with a womens’ fight being particularly brutal. The special fights though were what made the evening with a couple of fighters doing a routine with swords whilst there was another match which was ‘blind boxing’. This was where a large number of fighters got into the ring put blindfolds on and then just hit anything they thought was a person (including the ref at some points). It had some very comical moments in it. It was an interesting evening but it has not converted me to want to watch fighting and I am not sure it is worth the money at 400 baht per person.
We spent a day just walking around the Old Town, as you can pretty much explore the entire area in a few hours. Each side of the city has it’s own gate so it is easy to navigate where you are. On our walk around we saw several more temples that were very impressive including Wat Phra Singh which had lovely gardens, even though we accidentally stumbled onto it because I needed the bathroom. We also walked down to the south-east corner of the old town where there is a lovely park with a lake that you can while away the hours in.
For a couple of days whilst we were there I had what we thought was food poisoning, or now what we think was a bug that was going around the hostel (as the bathrooms were shared and there was often no soap! Plus about 7 other people had it in the time we were there). This put me out of action for a couple of days, apart from doing my few hours of being sociable each day. On the first day I was ill we had arranged to go to Chinatown in the evening to see the celebrations for Chinese new year although I could not make it. Dave went with a group of people from the hostel at about 5 pm. They saw all the stalls for great and interesting food and saw some interesting acts- beauty pageants for young children who were then performing inappropriate dances on stage and Dr.Pain who was performing dangerous feats with his body. However, they went too early and did not get to see any of the major celebrations.
The next day I was still very ill so Dave went out with other Alex and travelled to the Sticky Waterfalls (Bua Thong Waterfalls) for the day on the back of his motorbike. These are waterfalls, named to be sticky as you can climb up and down them easily due to the mineral deposits that have built up on the rocks underneath the water. They spent the day exploring here and were shattered at the end of the day.
In the evening we all went out to Chinatown at 9 pm where there was a great atmosphere for Chinese New Year. Stalls selling delicious and bizarre treats, children wearing costumes and we saw amazing dragon performances. I still could not stomach any of this kind of food so just clung to my bottle of water but Dave tried some insects that someone had bought as well as fish stomach and blood soup that other Alex had bought.
We wandered back to the main square for 11 pm where we saw two teenagers dressed as a dragon performing on top of metal poles, jumping in between them dangerously and slipping at points. All the performers then raised a young child about 3 years old up onto a pole, held on by just a ribbon, apparently telling a story. Another performer free climbed up the pole and realeased the boy from the ribbon- holding him up above the end of the pole (and his head) before climbing back down with him. After this, a number of performers made a huge LED dragon dance through the street as music played eventually hoisting it up another pole using people to wind it around. Once it had been wound all the way around the pole fireworks were set off from its mouth spraying bits all over the crowd as the finale. Definitely something worth seeing if you are in Chiang Mai over Chinese New Year.
On Alice’s birthday, with me finally feeling OK, we went up to Doi Suthep which is a temple in the mountains. The initial plan was to get a red truck to the zoo for about 50 baht per person and then walk the monks trail up to it. However, with me still not feeling great we decided against this as the walk would have been continuously uphill for about 2 hours in the forest/mountains. Instead of getting a red truck up we ended up getting an Uber for 380 baht which meant we got taken straight there and we could split it between us. We were dropped off at the car park area where we had to walk up the initial dragon stairs before reaching the main naga (dragon) staircase up to the temple- a nice 300 odd steps up. You have to buy a ticket as a foreigner at the top to enter which cost 40 baht per person. This was worth it though as the temple was very grand and gave great views over Chiang Mai despite it being slightly misty. After an ice cream, we made a different decent down where we could bang one of the largest gongs in Thailand and it sounded like we had started thunder! At the bottom, we haggled our way back to Thapae gate with a red truck driver for 350 baht for 4 of us. The journey was long and very hot due to us basically being in a tin can stuck in traffic in the midday sun. In the evening the others played some drinking games before we ventured to Zoe in Yellow for Alice’s birthday.
On our last full day there we did a cooking course. There are many different cooking courses and classes in Chiang Mai some that are full days or just mornings/ evenings. They also vary in the amount of dishes that you cook and where you cook them as farm retreats are more expensive. We went with Basil cooking school doing a morning course (9am-3pm) and were very happy with it. They picked us up and we went with the other people in the class (5 Chileans from Santiago) to the local market. Apple, our teacher, took us through some of the local fruits, vegetables, condiments and spices. We surprised ourselves by how many of the ingredients we knew from cooking Asian food from scratch when we were at home.
We then went to the cooking school which was out past the Northgate. It was set up very nicely with a table for us to eat the meals at as well as having tea/ coffee. In the class, we got to cook 6 types of dishes (noodles, curry, soup, stir-fry, appetiser and desert) and we had a choice of three in each category. Each station was set up with the ingredients we needed for each meal and then we followed Apple’s instructions to prepare the ingredients before cooking them. It was incredibly easy to follow and great fun. At the end of each couple of meals we got to eat our dishes, we were very full so ate the first couple and then only tried a few mouthfuls of the last ones. We did get to take the rest back with us but we were still too full to eat it later on, unfortunately. At the end of the course, we were also given a small cookery book with the recipes for each of the dishes so that we can cook them when we get home. The cookery courses are expensive (approximately 1000 baht each) but I would definitely recommend doing one if you are into cooking.
At the end of our time in Chiang Mai, we booked a minibus from the hostel to take us to Pai (180 baht including transport to the bus station), although we will have to return to Chiang Mai afterwards before we can travel onwards to Chiang Rai.