For those unfamiliar with the WTF-inspired viral video from years back, let's just say I have been anxiously awaiting the moment to utilize this Thai-translated phrase since our trip commenced. I apologize in advance to those lacking my "unique" sense of humor
After enjoying our first experience on the rickety Thai train system during the 14 hour overnight jaunt from Bangkok, we arrived at the "Rose of the North," a more-than-fitting nickname for the northern city of Chiang Mai. Comprising a population of just under 200K, Chiang Mai provided an immediate welcoming reprieve from the chaos and commotion of our prior destination. With coffee shops, cafes and the obligatory fruit shake vendors lining every which road (mango smoothies have become our own crave-inducing version of crack), our days were spent at a slower "clip" (as Julie enjoys saying during our nautically-inspired conversations), at a rate of 1-2 sights/day.
Without further ado, onto the highlights:
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep - Despite being known for an absurdly high number of wats (i.e. Buddhist temples), we only managed to visit a handful of the over 300 Buddha-adorned shrines within Chiang Mai's limits. Comprising a standard formula of barefoot tourists + monks + gold-spray-painted-everything + Buddha(s) (typically in seated or, the more comfortable, reclining position), it is very easy to find oneself suffering from the ailments of "wat-overdose" after experiencing just a few days within the premises of these religious sanctuaries. Nonetheless, after hearing all the rave reviews regarding one of Chiang Mai's most sacred temples, we decided what better excuse than to to give our motobike-riding skills their first windy/hilly test.
Pronounced however you wish (it will probably be incorrect as we have discovered time and time again with any word/phrase in the Thai language), the temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (#WPTDS for those twitterers in the group) sits high above Chiang Mai in the refreshingly cool-yet-still-not-that-cool hills of the Northern Thai countryside. With a breathtaking view over the city below (if breath still is to be had after the surprisingly tiring walk up all 309 steps), one is able to enjoy a true moment of serenity and solitude (that is, if you ignore the hundreds of selfie-stick-holding-tourists within arm's reach).
Sunday Night Market - In a region where the hours between 8AM and 6PM are characterized by heat, humidity and a helpless sense of exhaustion, it is no surprise that life truly picks up during the hours after the sun has set beyond the horizon (poetic, I know). Chiang Mai is no exception, as the city comes alive as darkness overtakes its confines (even more poetic, go me!). And what better way to celebrate the temporary break from the onslaught of mother nature than by setting up thousands of stands, selling everything and anything one can imagine (matchboxes from the 60s were our pick-of-the-litter).
With multiple night markets throughout the city, the one held every Sunday evening, conveniently located a stone's throw from our guesthouse, proved most impressive. The main thoroughfare of Chiang Mai's old city is converted into a pedestrian-only walkway, with roadside stands lining the streets for miles (yes, miles) as well as every open-area Wat along its path turned into a temporary locale for a wide variety of delicious Thai food stands. With crowds only dispersing much later in the evening, it is no surprise that Monday in Chiang Mai, is usually everyone's day off.
Massages with Convicts - "Hello, massage?" It is almost impossible to walk down any street in Thailand, as a tourist at least, and not hear those two sing-songy words uttered in your direction. With prior requests falling upon deaf ears, we finally decided, after several painfully-spent days upon our motobike to and from Pai (more on this to come later), that a good deep tissue rub down was in order. However, as to ensure such an experience would not only provide relaxation and rejuvenation, but also a solid story to boot, we decided to seek out the most "unique" massage shop in Chiang Mai. And that, of course, is how we wandered upon the growing trend of "massages with convicts."
For the all-encompassing sum of $10, one is treated to the muscle-soothing relief from the well worn hands of an incarcerated female convict. Yup, we shit you not. Unfortunately for us however, with all the "cons" being booked up for the day, and only a few hours left on our watches prior to our flight to Laos (hypothetical watches of course, aka phones), we resorted to the 2nd best option -- Ex-cons. Thus, while still experiencing an hour of relief at the hands of Thailand's most notorious (aka probably not-so-notorious), at least with these special ladies, they had already paid their debt to society.
Baan JaJa Guesthouse - Good idea = Finding a guesthouse for less than $10/night. Bad idea = Said guesthouse lacking the good-nights-sleep-accompanying presence of air conditioning. 3 sleepless/90 degree nights later, valuable lesson learned.
Onto the pics: