It is difficult to sum up my time in Chiang Mai. There was so much to see and do, a few blog posts cannot do it justice. But as I leave Chiang Mai for the beaches of the south, I'm compelled to highlight a few of my favorite things about this astounding place.
The Temples - There are over 200 temples in Chiang Mai from small city wats to bigger, more famous temples such as Doi Suthep. Walking through Chiang Mai I constantly came across wats I had never seen before and likely would not be able to find again if I tried. I took to carrying a t-shirt and flowy pants with me when I went out so I would never be without the proper coverage. On a hot day, which was every day, stepping into a cool temple was relaxing and serene, a true reprieve from the busy streets. One morning I had the honor of joining the owner of my guesthouse in giving alms. Alms are a daily collection of food and items by monks that are then dispersed to individuals in the city without basic necessities, the food collected also serves as the monk's one meal of the day. After placing the items in the monk's offering bowl, you are then blessed and perform a water ritual in honor of a loved one. I can truly say it was an experience like no other.
The Markets - Chiang Mai is well-known for its Sunday walking street, however there are numerous markets during the day and a nightly bazaar located outside the city walls. These are home to a number of clothing and trinket shops as well as artwork and food stalls. Just a block from my guesthouse was a food market where I could find everything from live fish to fruit smoothies. The street food in Chiang Mai is completely safe to eat and some of the most authentic Thai food you can get. In addition, the fruit is unbelievably ripe and I must have had at least two smoothies a day.
The Cost - In Chiang Mai you eat for less than $10 a day; full plates of pad Thai, kol soy and mango smoothies are all less than $3 each. At the markets, you barter the cost of goods down from 250 baht to 120, ultimately paying the equivalent of $4 for a dress or necklace. Even the cost of lodging is cheap, $14 a night is average for a basic guesthouse and it only goes up to $40 a night for a nice hotel. For a traveler on a budget, Chiang Mai can't be beat!
Chiang Mai's notoriety pales in comparison to Bangkok and Thailand's islands. However, I would argue my time in Thailand would not be complete or authentic without a trip to this city.