Everything You Need to Know About Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand has been on my list since a few of my friends from college studied abroad 3 or 4 years ago. I knew very little about it other than that there were tons of opportunities for adventure activities; walking with elephants, trekking through the jungle to visit hill tribes, incredible cooking classes and cliff jumping into the “Grand Canyon.” Little did I know that when I finally visited Chiang Mai, these activities would mostly be unavailable to me. Unfortunately, the number one thing on my todo list, visit the Elephant Nature Park, was fully booked due to Songkran and all the cooking schools were closed for the holiday. PSA: Book activities in advance!
A few months before our departure, Chris and I read about a festival taking place in Thailand a week before we were scheduled to arrive. We immediately moved our trip forward in order to attend. The festival, Songkran, is the Thai New Year festival. To celebrate, locals and tourists alike spend 3 (or more) days in a country-wide water fight.
On our first night in the city, the night before Songkran, we picked up our water guns from a local vendor, teamed up with a group of Aussies and took to the streets. Even though the festival, technically, hadn’t begun yet, you couldn’t walk anywhere without being bombarded by locals throwing buckets of river water (which is really, really gross btw) at you every few feet. The first night was definitely the most enjoyable. Everyone was basking in the excitement and the newness of the experience.
Day two, we found a new group of friends, who were a lot younger than us and you could tell. They called themselves Team LIT (Legends in Thailand) and we definitely liked the name more then the people in it. However, roaming the streets with a large group during Songkran is definitely the way to do it. We were able to gang up on other groups, as well as defend ourselves. As soon as we could, we ditched the babies in favor of two Canadian girls we had met the night before.
By day three, we were pretty tired of being constantly wet. During the day, it was tolerable because it was rather refreshing in the 100+ degree heat, but at night I started to get annoyed with the kids chasing after me with buckets of ice water. I had to keep reminding myself that this is an incredible experience and I shouldn’t be complaining. To try and relax, we found a massage studio and paid 400 baht (approximately $12) for a 2 hour massage. Yes folks, $12 TOTAL for 2 hours. I would suggest a 1 hour foot massage and a 1 hour Thai massage. It was one of the highlights of my time in Chiang Mai. The studio we visited was called Natchan Massage, in the Night Bazaar neighborhood. It was really clean, and not as all sketchy which a lot of them seemed to be. However, there are massage studios on every corner so you will not have trouble finding a place for a good rub down. After our massages, we decided to hunt down some Khao Soi. I have written previously about Khao Soi that I tried in Seattle, but our first bowl in Thailand was on another level. The restaurant would recommend is called Khao Soi Islam. It closes really early though, so try to visit for lunch. After our first bowl of this coconut curry noodle soup, we proceeded to eat it for every subsequent meal. I am honestly disappointed that we didn’t have our first bowl until the third day. I could exist on this dish alone for, probably, the rest of my life.
To avoid the water fight, on day four we rented scooters and drove 45 minutes outside the city to accomplish our one and only adventure activity. After getting a little lost, and thanks to a nice Thai gas station attendant for letting us use his computer, we finally arrived at the “Grand Canyon.” Though it wasn’t quite as grand as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, it was still pretty spectacular, especially at sunset.
The main draw to the “Grand Canyon” is cliff jumping. If you know me, you know that I am petrified of heights. This is not a small fear that I can get over easily with the help of a few beers. Standing on the edge of this cliff which was probably “only” about 25 feet high, I was almost in tears. My entire group had jumped multiple times while I stood about 10 feet from the edge trying to convince myself that the drop wouldn’t kill me. After about 2 hours, and too much cooersion from my friends (there may have been free beer involved), I finally took the plunge. Mostly because I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t. But I still overcame my biggest fear. What have you done lately that scares you?