Sawadee-ka from “The Most Splendid City of Culture”: Chiang Mai

by Alana Morgan
( March 22nd, 2012 )

For having such an unassuming nature, I think Chiang Mai takes the cake for superfluous city slogans….although it does have a lot to be proud of.

Chiang Mai is Bangkok’s little, nicer, cleaner, smaller, better, prettier sister in the north.  (I’m clearly not biased at all.)  Called the “Rose of the North” or “The Most Splendid City of Culture”, according to the government, the city was founded more than 700 years ago after several auspicious signs marked the area as a new capital city for the Lanna (Northern Thai) Kingdom.  Today, nestled in between the jungle-y hills, this walled city is known for its stunning landscape, abundant resources, generous hospitality and all-around general…coolness (that’s a technical term).

Looking up at Doi Suthep from Wat Suon Dok on the west side of town


From a tourist perspective, Chiang Mai has a ton to offer as a popular base for various trekking, hill tribe and elephant camp outings, is home of some of the best markets for traditional, handmade goods, incredible scenery, food, people and nightlife.


Umbrella-ella-ellaAt the Sunday Night Walking Street


From a “local” – or rather expat – perspective, the town is artsy, earthy, active, yet peaceful and has an abundance of incredible, fresh food, sunshine and cultural activities.  It’s not too big, but not too small and has any comfort (or peanut butter) you may want while still retaining a culture and a feeling that is undeniably Thai.  I love how comfortable I am here, knowing my way around the city, but also continually finding new sois (little streets) or wats (temples) to explore, different food stalls to try and new activities to check out.

Nothing I can say can fully describe the feel of the place.  It’s a mix of contradictions – and perhaps that’s why I feel alright here at the moment as I am also filled with conflicting likes, interests, thoughts beliefs and desires.  It’s somewhat dingy and not the most attractive city, yet still charming and exotic  A wide range of travelers flock here, but you can still get away from the tourist areas with just a strategic turn down the right soi.  There are prostitutes and yoga, McDonald’s and food stalls, massive double-decker tour buses driving alongside old 50cc Honda Waves, meditation retreats and zip lining, thumping night clubs and shacks selling glasses of whiskey sodas right off the street.

It’s a beautiful, dirty, tacky, genuine, unbelievable, interesting, energizing, lazy, crazy place and I’m fortunate to spend a little bit of time here.


Spirit TreeSpirit Tree along the moat encircling the Old City


Have you ever been to Chiang Mai?  What were your thoughts?



Photographs by Alana



For having such an unassuming nature, I think Chiang Mai takes the cake for superfluous city slogans…  Although it does have a lot to boast about.

Chiang Mai is Bangkok’s little, better, nicer, cleaner, smaller, prettier sister in the north.  (I’m clearly not biased at all.)  Known as the “Rose of the North” or “The Most Splendid City of Culture” (according to the government), the city was founded more than 700 years ago after several auspicious signs led King Mengrai to build a new capital city of the Lanna (Northern Thailand) Kingdom.  Today, nestled in between the jungle-y hills, the old, walled city is known for it’s beautiful landscape, abundant resources, generous hospitality and all-around general coolness.

From a tourist/traveler perspective Chiang Mai has a ton to offer as a popular base for various trekking, hill tribe and elephant camp outings, has some of the best markets for traditional handmade goods, incredible scenery, food, people and XXX.

View from Wat Suandok


Looking up at Doi Suthep from Wat Suandok on the west side of town.


From a “local” perspective:  artsy, earthy, food, active yet peaceful pace, abundance of XXXX

Spirit TreeA “spirit tree” along the moat that encircles the old part of town



When people ask why I chose to live there or why I like it ……. It’s not too big, not too small and has any comfort you may need while still retaining a culture and a feeling that’s undeniably Thai.  I love feeling comfortable, knowing my way around the city but also continually finding new little sois (streets) or wats (temples) to explore, different restaurants and food stalls to try and XXX events to take in.

Nothing I can say can fully describe the feel of the place.  In my eyes it’s a mix of contradictions.  It’s somewhat dingy and definitely not the most attractive city, yet still beautiful, charming and exotic.  Travelers flock here but you can still get away from the tourist areas with just a strategic turn down the right street.   There are prostitutes and yoga, McDonald’s and food stalls, massive double-decker tour buses driving alongside old 50cc Honda Waves, meditation retreats and zip-lining, buzzing night clubs and shacks selling whiskey and sodas on the street.   It’s a dirty, beautiful, crazy, lazy, energetic and I’m fortunate that I get to spend a little time here discovering all it has to offer.

8 comments
 
Comments
1.
On March 24th, 2012 at 9:57 am, Susan said:

Welome to Chiang Mai, Alana! I made my way over here from the CM Couchsurfing group. I love living in CM and I moved here having never been to Thailand, let alone the city. I agree with everything you’ve said here.

My favorite places to spend time in the city are the lake, the falls, the produce markets, and the malls—a little something for all my vices!

2.
On March 24th, 2012 at 5:46 pm, Alana Morgan - Gen Y Wanderer said:

Thanks Susan – I think my favorite things are the food and markets, weather, and zipping around on my motorbike. I could be perfectly happy riding around all day and then grabbing something eat on the street!

3.
On March 27th, 2012 at 6:26 pm, Keely Herrick - Weekend Duchess said:

I really enjoyed this – sounds like a fun place to explore and hang out. :) Nice pix, too!

4.
On April 4th, 2012 at 4:39 pm, Wiley said:

I served in the Peace Corps in Thailand and traveled throughout the country quite a bit. Chiang Mai was one of my favorite places there. Big enough to be interesting, small enough to be very charming and manageable. The people seemed much more relaxed and friendly than other parts of Thailand, especially Bangkok. From your description, it sounds more touristy now than when I was there in the 90s but still a cool place. Chok dee na kop!

5.
On April 5th, 2012 at 4:31 am, Alana Morgan - Gen Y Wanderer said:

I’m afraid it is getting more and more touristy (not that I can talk considering I’m kind of one of them here! ;) ) but it definitely still retains it’s charm! Korb kuhn na ka!

6.
On April 9th, 2012 at 1:57 pm, Chiang Mai House said:

I have lived in Chiang Mai for over ten years now and still love the place. Yes, it has changed but I still love it..

7.
On April 11th, 2012 at 7:09 pm, Julie said:

Alana!! You know my thoughts on this wonderful city!! It was so good to see you when I was there, and I too hope to end up there sometime soon! I love the people the most. They are so kind and warm and welcoming! Even just talking about it makes me want to pack up and move there now!

8.
On April 12th, 2012 at 8:25 am, Alana Morgan - Gen Y Wanderer said:

Do it You have a place to crash ;)

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