Pie in the sky Chiang Mai…finally doing the laundry Chiang Mai…it's good to be high Chiang Mai…buy a lady get a guy Chiang Mai - these are all the names our group thought up to help market the city in the States because, in the words of Tony the Tiger, its grrrrrreat!
Chiang Mai is a blast and a half and during the course of the last few days our group got a much needed massage, completed an 'amazing race', visited a Wat (temple), and spent a morning at a Burmese children's school. And of course many amazing Thai meals along the way. (Note: Our time in Chiang Mai time was intersected by a 2-day visit to a rock-climbing and caving area which will be covered in a separate entry)
The economic powerhouse of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai's atmosphere is more relaxed than the massive-city appeal of Bangkok, with a mixed appeal of riverside live-music bars, beautiful temples, a sleazy sex-tourist district, numerous open-air markets, rooftop lounges, and noticeably cleaner air than its larger city cousin. Our first activity upon entering Chiang Mai's fray (Chiang Mai literally translates to 'New City', the northern Thai area was recaptured from the Burmese only three hundred years ago), was embracing a much needed massage after three days of trekking to the Karen-tribe village. Phenomenal (said Shannon), Baller (Colin) Soothing (Emily), Dreamy (M.E.), were all words we used to describe the experience.
The next day (Feb 1st) we were off to visit Wat Doi Suthep, a magnificent temple built hundreds of years ago highlighted by the ridiculous 300-some steps (I lost count) to climb up into the main temple area, adorned with a massive golden Buddha (but beware the wandering elephant, for it expects bananas).
The 'Secret Activity' ended up being The Amazing Race: Chiang Mai. We were set-off in three groups to complete a dozen tasks as fast as possible and return by a set time to the hotel. After grueling hours of beer, sweat, and tears, The Pimp Daddies (Jeremy, Taylor, Emily Long, Mackenzie) completed the challenge first (albeit using questionable strategies…), the Tiger Paws (Shannon, Jack, Katie, Emily Maeder) completed second (completed every task perfectly), and then the Buddha Bellies (Colin, M.E., Will, E'Beth, Sam, Audrey) finished last, although (coincidentally perhaps?) they seemed to have feasted the finest that afternoon. The race involved a mix of learning about the city with visiting various places all around Chiang Mai from temples to a mall to a restaurant and more. By placing exploration in competitive circumstances, it created an inventive twist to get many of us exploring the city and interacting with the locals.
Children are the best. Yes I know there are many parents reading this who may say otherwise, but I'm talking about the younger, cuter sort. The group taught at a Burmese school this Wednesday. Some of the older students practiced their English by interviewing some of our group, while the rest (and most) of us played and drew pictures with the children. The older students were surprisingly good at English, and displayed a real drive to learn the language, while the younger kids were, well, typical kids and a lot of fun.
All-in-all, Chiang Mai is an awesome city that I wish I had the opportunity to stay in longer. The dynamic nature, fun, chillaxed people, amazing temples were a great experience for everyone, and a welcome breather from trekking. Now we are off to Laos, tune in sometime soon for the next post!