As soon as I got home from work yesterday I jumped right into the shower and changed into my warm comfy clothes. Yesterday’s cold and rainy weather only furthered encouraged me to spoil myself to take out. I thought about getting sushi but I decided to go for Thai food instead. I ordered myself some Khao Soi and the taste immediately took me back to my adventures in Chiang Mai. Talk about nostalgia. Chiang Mai was my first stop in Thailand. I remember being ecstatic to finally visit the country that was home to my great-grandparents. I heard so much about the city and could not wait to explore its stunning temples and taste its unique cuisine!
As soon as I arrived at the airport in Chiang Mai, I took a cab to my hostel and immediately asked the front desk for lunch suggestions. They helped me scope out a local restaurant called “Its Good Kitchen” that was just steps away. The entrance of the restaurant was adorned with colorful hanging flowers baskets and the host instantly welcomed me. I took a look at the menu to see if they served the one thing I was craving for. Can you guess what I ordered? Khao Soi and a coconut smoothie, of course! I absolutely love spicy food and the noodle soup reminded me of my mother’s cooking. Khao Soi is actually a local dish from northern Thailand and is a must try when you’re in the region. I enjoyed my dining experience so much, that I made frequent visits during my time there.
Being in Chiang Mai was ultimately the first destination on my backpacking trip where I was truly traveling solo. I knew absolutely no one but luckily I made friends along the way. After my lunch, I made a visit to Wat Doi Suthep. The temple is situated right on top of a mountain that overlooks the city of Chiang Mai. It is about 45 minutes away from the city center and the best way to get there was to take a tuk-tuk. When I arrived, I spent some time observing the temple perimeters and stopped by the altars to pray. Whenever I visited temples it has been rooted in me to donate to the temple and pray for my family and friends. From the spires to the statues, nearly everything was covered in gold. It was truly such a sight to see!
However, my overall memory of my experience at Wat Doi Suthep was a bit spoiled when I encountered some trouble heading back to the city. As the sun was setting, I was rushing to find a way to my hostel and the drivers refused to take me unless I paid for a full car. In a way, I understood because was traveling alone but it still felt awful to know I was being haggled and taken advantage of. There weren’t many people around that I could seek help from and the worst part was that even though I am Thai, I was still considered a foreigner in their eyes. I never thought my life was threatened at any point but the aggressive treatment I encountered made me feel so unwelcome to the country. Luckily I found two other solo travelers who were willing to split the fare. Let’s just say that one negative experience taught me to bargain better during the rest of my time in Thailand.
The driver dropped us off outside of the old city gate and we made our way back on foot in the dark. Old Chiang Mai city is not as populated as the new Chiang Mai city at night and I was fortunate enough to meet my current friend Elvira who walked with me to the city center. Elvira did not have an active phone or GPS but I did so we decided to help each other out and make sure we got back safe. Once we arrived together at the drop-off, we both discovered later that we were staying at the same hostel! I don’t know if that sounds like fate to you, but I truly believe we were meant to cross paths. It was too much of a coincidence! I remember praying to my grandfather and ancestors after departing Wat Doi Suthep and I felt like I was blessed to have Elvira with me after such a negative experience. We discussed the strange but awesome coincidence on the way back to our hostel.
After returning to our hostel we decided to get dinner together and check out the Chiang Mai night market. The night market was located close to the new Chiang Mai city. It is good to note that if you enjoy the nightlife, the new Chiang Mai city (located outside the old city gates) is the place for you. It is filled with restaurants, bars, and the night market is only a few minutes by foot. For my solo travelers out there, new Chiang Mai city is safer to travel at night alone as well. Chiang Mai night market was home to local vendors that sold anything and everything from trinkets and clothes, to home décor and most importantly MORE street food. That evening, I got to meet Elvira’s boyfriend, Martin and we all spent time getting to know each other. I learned that they have been traveling for 6 months since graduating high school. I couldn’t believe how young they were, not to mention how brave! It was refreshing to meet people from around the world who live life so courageously as they did.
The next couple of days, I spent some time outside of the city. I had an opportunity to visit an Elephant Sanctuary and also went cliff jumping at the Hang Dong Grand Canyon. The elephant sanctuary was an unforgettable experience for sure. The elephants in the sanctuary are rescued from other camps that encourage abuse for profit. The mission of elephant sanctuaries is to provide a loving and nurturing place for these gentle giants. There were no elephant riding, painting, or performing during my time there. We fed the elephants and bathed them in mud right after. It was so fun! Cliff jumping at the Grand Canyon was a crazy experience as well. I am still a little bit in disbelief that I did that. I was a bit hesitant to jump at first because the water is 40 meters deep. Then I thought to myself that I could not back out especially since I already spent 40 minutes traveling to Hang Dong. I thought I was a bit crazy for jumping in the first time, but I had the courage to do it once more. Chiang Mai, in general, is known for their laid-back lifestyle. Cliff jumping at Hang Dong Grand Canyon is something I would recommend all thrill seekers to do!
My last night in Chiang Mai was spent with Elvira and Martin browsing the Saturday night market in the old city. We then had some dinner and a spent the last few hours playing a game of Jenga back at the hostel. It was bittersweet to say goodbye but I was so grateful that I got to spend my time in Chiang Mai with them. Moreover, I never thought I could develop a friendship over traveling like this. Before turning the night we wished each other a safe trip during the rest of our journeys. As I was packing my things that same night, I could not help but reflect on how much the city challenged my personal growth. The next morning, I made my way to the airport to fly out to my next destination, Bangkok.