Chiang Mai is defenitely one of our favourite places in Thailand. It is more "Thai" than anywhere else, very relaxing, more traditonal and weather is much cooler and forgiving. The old city of Chiang Mai is the square bounded by moats and walls, built 700years ago to protect themselves from the Burmese. We stayed again at one of the Starwood Hotels on staff rate, "Le Meridian Chaing Mai" which was just newly opened a few days before our arrival. The hotel was literally brand new and you could still smell the paint.
Chaing Mai has more than 300 temples, almost as many as Bangkok, which is far larger city. We enjoyed looking through a few temples again here. One of the temples we visited, Wat Chiang Man, was the oldest in Chiang Mai built in 1296. The Crystal budda used to be kept here before moved to Bangkok. It was amazing to see the archtecture that is so old. There was also another great wat high up on the mountain, Wat Doi Suthep. It has great panoramic views over Chiang Mai. We were again prayed by the old monk, he splashed water all over us and Lexi jumped as unexpected with our eyes closed!!
One of the most popular activities from Chaiang Mai is trekking through the mountains to visit traditional hill tribe villages. It took us one long day journey to see some of the villages. We hired very knowledgable local tour guide with a few other people. We left the town at 8am, travelled by car for a few hours till we arrived at an elephant camp. From here we took an elephant ride for one hour, this was totally different experience compared to one on Ko-Samui, This was more "real" than touristy elephant ride, the route was so rough and steep through the jungle. After the ride, we walked for another hour, crossing a few rivers, rice feild and jungle, we finally arrived a hill tribe village of "Karen". these people wear very colourful clothing with heaps accessories. They have very basic (alomost primative)life here. They grow rice and keep livestocks such as poultry and pig. Many of Karen people continue to migrate into Thailand from Myanmar, fleeing Burmese government persecution. We were very suprised to see how they live in such primative way and poor environment( we'll see a few villages in much worse environment later on in Laos). We were welcomed by a bunch of kids trying to sell us their hand-made bracelets. They already tied a few on our wrists before we could say no.
We also visited a few other hill tribes while in Chiang Mai, We were very glad to see some "long-neck" ladies in some villages. One of the ladies put the rings on us,and we were so suprised how heavy it was. One the way back, we took the famous "bamboo-rafting" down the river. This was amazing experince!! Our boat?(if you call it boat) was just bamboo sticks tied with old tyre tubes. We went through the river on it, scenery was just magnificent with rice field, jungle, elephants etc.. We really enjoyed it even though we got completely wet by the time we finished the ride.
We were originally staying Chiang Mai for 4days, but we extended for extra two days. One of the reasons is that we loved this country town and there is so much to do and see. Another reason was that we wanted to see one of the nation's biggest festival "Loi Krathong" aka the festival of lights. To be Continued...