Chiang Mai en Pai

After Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand, and is located in the northern part of the country. The differences are enormous though while Bangkok is a chaotic metropolis, Chiang Mai is more clean and quiet.

After an hour-long flight from Laos to Chiang Mai, we finally arrived at the airport, where we looked for a place to stay after the initial necessary formalities. The most fun place to stay is the old part of town, which is a square area surrounded by a canal  which used to be a wall. Inside this square, many alleys crisscross.

On our first night here, we got some streetfood and went to bed pretty soon after. Chiang Mai is loved by tourists because of the many tours you can book here. Often times, people book a trip to the jungle, combined with a visit to the ‘Karen Long Neck Tribe’ and something with elephants. Or you could go for an adventure and zipline your way through the jungle. The Long Neck Tribe isn’t really ethically responsible, and little authentic either.

Like many of us know, elephants aren’t meant to be rode by humans. In order to be fit for these rides, elephants have to be domesticated first. Now, domesticating an elephant isn’t much like domesticating a puppy. You can watch this and this video if you want to inform yourself on how elephants are being tamed around here. Warning: this imagery isn’t pretty.

There’s also opportunities here to get a picture with yourself and a tiger. But a tiger is like a wild, 200-kilo heavy cat with a considerable hunting instinct. Selfies with tourists isn’t part of their DNA. You can watch here how tourists manage to survive these photoshoots.

So no please, no wild animals for us — not as part of an attraction, we mean. If you want to see elephants from up close, you can go here. No rides, no elephant with a hat and a paint brush in its trunk, but a respectful treatment.

We also booked a massage in a Thai spa here in Chiang Mai. Hopwever, if you’re looking for a relaxing massage where you doze off, this type of bodywork isn’t for you. During the ‘massage’, your whole body is torn apart, after which they kind of put you back together. And when your limbs and organs feel kind of back in place, the ‘massage’ is over. And yes, we made it out alive. Thanks for asking.

From Chiang Mai, you can go to Pai. Pai is a small village in the upper north of Thailand, where lots of hippies go. Pai thus typically has a relaxed atmosphere. The road to Pai is the legendary ‘1095’ road, which meanders its way through 762 (!) bends over a stretch of 137km between to places. With quite some differences in altitude, too. You can travel in a minivan, where there’s room for 12 people and a Thai driver in the front. The driver wants to be asap in Pai, because that’s where his shift ends. So they really race across the road. I estimates that in every van, at least 4 people will probably say hello to breakfast again…

So obviously, not our cuppa tea. Instead, we rent motor bikes and drove for ourselves. And what an incredible ride it was! Lots of bends going up-and-down through the mountains. After driving for 5 hours, we finally arrived in Pai. It’s a fun little city with a night market every evening. Lots of cheap food and of course, the typical Asian souvenirs. Also: amazing banana Nutella pancakes. Sorry, Pascale!

On day 3, we drove to a waterfall, which was kind of disappointing. We didn’t stay too long here and drove on to the ‘land split’. That story goes as follows:

“Hu Lang was a farmer in the hills of Pai, who started his day one Monday morning in 2008. When he arrived at his land though, the ground had moved that night. Not just a 30-cm ditch, but a 15-meter deep canyon, over a length of 20 metres had appeared — something to do with tectonic plates. So from one day to another, his land had become useless for farming. But… When life gives you lemons, you turn them into a tourist attraction! Our farmer probably didn’t go to Harvard, but he had quite a decent comprehension of marketing. And so he turned his canyon into a tourist attraction.”

When you arrive at his land, the farmer offers you local snacks and fruit. You only need to make a small voluntary contribution in his donation box. Not spectacular, but interesting to visit this place nonetheless.

On Sunday, we drove back to Chiang Mai — same road, different direction. Once back in Chiang Mai we planned the rest of our trip. We had another week between Chiang Mai and the start of the diving course we’d be following in Koh Tao. We definitely wanted to revisit Bangkok as well as Khao Sok National Park, and the southern part of Thailand. So we arranged our future travels in those directions.

In Chiang Mai, we stayed in Old Town Place. Nice, new rooms and friendly owners. In Pai, we stayed at the Pai Loess Resort, which were well-maintained bungalows made of stone (less hot than when they’re made of wood). Get the best lunch in Pai at OM Garden. A very good restaurant in Chiang Mai is Chef Restaurant. Equally cheap as other restaurants, but de-li-cious food! The spa we went to is called Fah Lanna, a nice and neat spa. The massage was very professional, although you gotta love it. We rent our scooters at Mango Bikes Rent, which was more expensive than most other places, but you get good quality bikes in return — which will definitely come to use when you want to drive to Pai!