Arrived in Chiang Mai from Lampang in less than 2 hours by bus. Another easy trip!
Chiang Mai is known as the cultural center of Thailand. This city of 1.6 million people has over 300 wats, countless traditional massage schools and lots of new-age-goings-on. It's also known as the jumping off point for trekking in the North with hill tribes.
However, our first impressions have not been great. Having been here over 14 years ago, nothing is as I (Christy) remember. The city is so much bigger, hotter, louder and more chaotic than I recall. There are mosquitoes biting at all hours of the day and it's just a bit too big to easily walk around to all the neighborhoods and sights. Somehow, we still haven't found the same character or charm I loved before. Part of the problem may be that we LOVED Luang Prabang in Laos and that everything that seemed so genuine there, seems so much more commercial, here.
Spent a total of five days in Chiang Mai, and after changing hotels to a more charming and central part of town, grew to like it slightly better. However, not a place we will likely return.
We visited three of the area's temples: Wat Phra Singh known for door and mural paintings; Wat Chedi Luang famous for a 13th century stupa slightly in ruins from an earthquake 450 years ago; and the sacred, hilltop Wat Doi Suthep surrounded by beautiful mountains and forest. Also woke up early to visit the flower and fruit market (best mango we've ever had was from a fruit lady near our hotel). Decided to go to a dentist for a cleaning as it would be less expensive than in New Zealand. Both of us had an excellent cleaning plus Christy got two fillings (doh!) for under $75! With such a high standard of care, we understand why such an industry has grown-up in Thailand servicing Westerners with dental clinics (teeth whitening is particularly popular!), optometrists and surgeons.
The highlight of our time in this region was the time we spent at the Elephant Conservation Center. It was such a treat to get so close to these amazing creatures!
Flights out of Chiang Mai were so inexpensive that we opted to fly vs. bus or train to the South (saved us a 24+ journey!)