With so much emphasis on being a traveler and not a tourist, some holidays can seem a guilty pleasure. So far I’ve focused on sharing journeys which felt adventurous. However we all want to avoid too much adventure under our fingernails now and then, so let me share one of those.
Having an alarming amount of friends who teach, you try to get used to their ‘now or never’ holiday styles. So when August came along with its school break in Thailand, tickets were bought without double checking much of anything. This resulted in a bit of inefficiency, as I flew via Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but we got to experience Thai dance music at 5am in a speeding taxi, a psychedelic affair when you’re exhausted.
So with 4/5’sh days and nights around Chiang Mai, here is what you can do if you’ve already cooked sufficient Thai food and bathed ample elephants.
Disclaimer: We rented a car for this one, although the cost justified itself nicely over all.
~Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens~
Queen Sirikit has some nice gardens, situated North’sh of Chiang Mai. Taking about an hour to drive there, make sure not to get distracted by the Dragonite that spawns next to the highway 10 minutes outside town.
Admission for a foreigner is 100 baht, and you can pay to take your vehicle in as well, but it’s really not necessary as the walk is immediately enjoyable if you enter and turn to the right along the river.
Meandering through all the cobwebs and mosquitos (#nozika), the gardens can be explored in an oval route, with its perimeter between the entrance on one end and the restaurant, green houses and displays at the other end, further up the mountain side. The last bit up the mountain was mostly walking along a tar road, as the sky-walk was closed, however the gardens over all have plenty of variety on offer throughout and even this section benefited from the height, starting to unveil the view across the valley.
After the gardens, we continued further into the mountains, as we saw you can make a loop through and back to Chiang Mai. Eventually making a choice from the many restaurants we passed by, we found some delicious food and the peace and quiet of off-season Thailand.
~Getting lost in a sandbox~
Stopping to take a photo of the view coming down the mountains, my genius idea was to jog down a dirt road going downhill and up a small hillock, hoping for a great view from the top. Scooby Doo transition later – and I’m lost. The track up the hill didn’t really exist, so coming down, it seemed fine to ignore it and just head to the creek at the bottom. Classic mistake though as I ended up turning and heading down a slightly different section, arriving at the creek in a totally different area with no ability to hear my friend honking the car horn back on the road. It’s a sign of trouble when you’re slipping face first into the soft earth from exhaustion, while climbing back up to where you expected the road to be. So much for being ‘run through the jungle’ fit.
These stories are never as scary told as lived, so skipping to the end – I emerged exhausted, muddy, full of thorns and cuts, about 2 kilometers down the road from where I started. The headline that had blurred across my vision, “Stupid foreigner dies 50 meters downhill from civilisation”, still plagued me a while as I figured out where the blood was coming from under a tap at a nearby station.
~Doi Tao Lake~
If you grab Google maps and look about 120km south of Chiang Mai, you’ll see Doi Tao. Maybe you’ll get on the old Google machine itself and see what stunning photos are available of this place. Maybe you’re like us, feeling that a short road trip with an amazing lake at the end is well worth it. Let me save you the surprise on this one.
Doi Tao was hit extremely hard by the Thailand water crisis and by 2014 the lake had turned into a an extension of the river that once fed it, without sufficient water to sustain the agriculture and populace of the area it once nourished.
After about 2 hours of driving, we arrived at the lake edge, except there was no lake and there was no edge. In the overgrown and abandoned car park, of what once was a shopping/information area next to the lake, the only other people were an old couple staring forlornly out at the open space in front of us. Dramatics aside, it’s likely they may have been some of those who’s lives were impacted when the water crisis hit, which isn’t so funny.
Citing ‘years of Kalahari experience’, we drove onto the dirt roads for a bit, taking a look at where houses have been moved to the edge of the new river. Eventually we had to admit defeat though and move onto the other idea we had, about 100km back the way we came. This time it was my turn to dodge vegetable trucks on the road, all apparently filled with cabbage heads.
~Doi Inthanon Nature Park~
My absolute favourite part of our time in Thailand was Doi Ithanon Nature Park, situated fairly close to Chiang Mai. Before I get ahead of myself though, here’s a look at where we stayed the night after driving down to the missing lake and coming back up.
There really are some amazing benefits to traveling in off-seasons or irregular times. With more staff than guests that evening, we had a truly serene and enjoyable stay. Special mention to the sunrise in the morning, waking up to such a lovely view out the window and sitting by the little lake while studying was amazing. Another benefit was that we were 5 minutes from the nature park’s entrance gate.
Our little 1.nothing engine Yaris struggled up the mountain passes, even in ‘sport’ mode which simply seemed to drain fuel and convert the energy into more pointless revs on the engine. There were times I suspected that walking up would’ve been faster. So why all the 20km/hour riding up the mountain? Doi Ithanon is an extension of the Himalayan range, which personally I’m starting to suspect everyone claims in Asia. Due to the geography and resulting weather, at the top you find something termed ‘cloud forests’. Simply put, there is almost always mist or rain and a drop in temperature at the top. It also happens to be absolutely breathtaking.
Once at the top you can learn a bit about the role that this mountain range plays in Thailand has a whole, including some of the fauna and flora points. There is a short little walk to the marker at the highest point, where you will also find a shrine for a long-passed king, built by his daughter and later rebuilt and maintained by others.
The true joy is a 400m board walk on the other side of the road. It’s short, but what it lacks in length it well makes up for in danger-of-slipping and that ever elusive sense of peace that I only seem to discover while traveling in unknown places. A feeling like no other, I wish I could bring it home with me.
Don’t rush and if possible go when there aren’t other groups arriving yet (earlier is probably better). The cloud forest is damp, cold and gorgeous. The hues of green and brown found here are nothing like I’ve seen elsewhere, partly thanks to the moss that grows across much of the open surfaces.
Close to the end of my loop I came across a little information board with a quote. Like much in life, it’s not perfect, and neither is the English, but it fits and reminded me of a perspective I frequently forget.
The second place we visited up the mountain was a temple site. By this time the rain and wind were picking up, and the danger of slipping was approaching ice-levels. So when we parked there was a clear objective – coffee shop. Sitting down with our drinks at the window, we casually opened up Pokemon (As one does…) and found that there were 3 Pokestops right there, even a gym further up – go Temple guys. What followed was a Pokeparty of note. With the occasional ‘YESSS’ or ‘DAMNIT GET IN THE BALL’ we caught as many of ‘them all’ as was possible in the space of 30+ minutes.
Afterwards we still visited the temple itself, which had some really pretty murals on the outside walls. I snapped a photo of one but the wind and rain and slippery footing just didn’t make it appealing to go look further out.
The last stop in the mountain was the signature waterfall. It’s further down the mountain so the temperature is higher once more, the footing is not so slippery and the rain and wind also dies down. If you follow the path to just below the waterfall against the river, you can feel the press of wind and spray that is generated by the water’s impact as it hits the pool and rocks below, a perfect reason to lie down on the rocks for a few minutes.It was great, everything in Doi Ithanon is great, just go there already.
And so we returned to Chiang Mai again, for our last evening before returning to our respective lives the following morning. We stayed in Lanna’s Rich House again and planned two things for the evening. 1 was Northern Thai Beef Noodle Soup, my absolute favourite meal in Thailand and possibly the world. 2 was a massage, minus the happy endings.
So we googled a noodle shop and decided to walk there. 2 kilometers later we were standing on a soccer field, looking up at a university building, because we walked to completely the wrong place in the wrong direction in the wrong section of town. Google hadn’t found our shop and instead given us a similar sounding location outside old town. The walk back was fraught with danger, such as me hitting something from becoming hangry +_+ and then being hit back much harder.
As the shop turned out to be really close to where we started from originally, we headed back and got some touristy bicycles from the hotel. But don’t worry, the troubles didn’t end there. We struggled to find it and then it turned out to be closed, potentially permanently or at least for the season. Dinner turned out to be burgers…
The massage was more successful, although no one should have to see their friend in those small, black, see-through briefs they provide. I still believe this is a scam of a sort. My masseuse found it hilarious that each limb after the other was covered in cuts and scratches and without intention removed any of the remaining thorns I had missed.
Oh, one of the evenings we also came across this little shelter. You guessed it, Pokemon central. We stuck around a bit and when a few locals left, others would almost instantly join and fill up the space again. Good times were had by all.
~And so another trip ends~
And so, with a nice breakfast and a last visit to a friend’s coffee stall (meeting a friendly face with delicious coffee on offer really does one good), we were off to the airport. Northern Thailand remains a really lovely place for repeat visits in my opinion. Personally I seem to get more out of forests and mountains than I do out of sea and sand, but ideally you could also find areas where both combine of course.
A last thought, which I repeat a bit too often maybe. As I write this, I’m reminded of making the things that count in life for you personally, take priority. An extended family member passed away this week and he always seemed to have a lot of dreams and plans on the go still. Perhaps that is the norm, but which plans are you willing to keep in your head when that day comes for you, and which are too important to leave for another tomorrow? ❤
What’s playing: Nujabes
Where to next: Tioman island
What’s news: Registerd for JLPT N4. Sep-Dec is looking packed.