Chang Mai is a haven for art, nature and religion nestled in the north, and demonstrates another aspect of Thailand. Chang Mai oozes this cosmopolitan ambience that is confined behind the crumbling walls of its historical fort. The business of a city contrasts with the rolling mountains in the background, calling all nature lovers to come closer and trek deep into the dense jungle. The city hums with life, with character and art, as temples cry out in prayer or light the darkness of night by their glittering candles.
You can easily spend a number of days here in Chang Mai, soaking up the atmosphere and culture of the place and people, without noticing time has drifted past. The most popular reason many tourists flock north, avoiding the densely touristic islands and smoggy sweltering Bangkok, is to do a trek deep into the jungle. Make sure you research well and choose a trek, purely for its trek, and how knowledgeable the guide is. Thus, you can stay a night or two with a local village, and spend days hacking your own path through the jungle. There is much competition and packages on offer, advertising white water rafting (which is a float down a stream), elephant rides- with elephants who are ill treated and the rides short lived, and “village excursions” to isolated shops. Don’t fall into the trap of time restraints and be wise with your options.
Cooking classes in Chang Mai are also extremely popular. Here, pick your choice of ingredients at the local market where you can test your bartering skills with the local people and actually feel the vegetables yourself, choosing the perfect accompaniments for your dish. After returning from the market, following your teacher, you cook at your own individual stations, after pounding; grinding, mashing and bashing everything possible to form the perfect blend of spices to your dish. The class is five dishes worth, so food is a plenty and all is shared with one another- allowing you to learn from other cookery students on how they differed to your final product, and the variation in technique. I did it with Banyan Thai Cooking Class, whom I cant recommend any more, they give you a lovely little book filled with recipes and insights into local foods.
The night life in Chang Mai was interesting. The area where most watering holes are based, is far away from the town centre. Old woman pester you with smiles to buy their rude and vulgar bracelets, whilst you sit under hanging branches of trees and swinging lights. You really feel a buzz in the atmosphere and dance floors are filled with welcoming people.
We stayed in Julie’s Guesthouse, a hub for travellers and perfect for any backpackers on a budget. Rooms are basic but are all brightened up by various licks of paint and hip pictures creating a homely feel.