''The New Travel Centre Of Thailand?'' July 13 2016

A real life travelling story from Samantha Barr


When people think of Thailand as a holiday destination, they think Islands, bustling cities and street food. They think Bangkok with its busy streets, loud music, affordable prices and party scene. They think Koh Phangan with it’s white sandy beaches and Full Moon Parties or the resort town of Phuket, where the mountains meet the crystal blue seas and a town small enough to walk it’s entirety in a day.  When thinking about Thailand, it’s enough to make you want to pack your bags and head over to relax and unwind and usually to those destinations. Before you go calling your travel agent, Thailand has a town which travelers are loving and is up and is sure to be on the next “100 Best Places to go” lists.

The city is called Chiang Mai and is the second largest city in Thailand. Chiang Mai was founded in 1774 and was the second and last capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Situated 700kms North of Bangkok and completely inland, Chiang Mai is filled to capacity with culture, history and the best variety of food you could possibly need.

Surrounded by mountains and evidence of the kingdom walls and moat which provide character and atmosphere as you walk through. If you haven’t been to Chiang Mai, the one word I would use to describe it would be: relaxed. Now, as a town that is almost as old as the colonisation of Australia, I am sure you’re wondering “why hasn’t this town been talked about sooner?” That is a question I am asking myself and still haven’t worked it out but am glad to have set foot in this mystical city.

A question you should be asking Is “Why ARE people going?” this is much easier to answer. Apart from food and culture, Chiang Mai boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes and temples in Thailand (in my opinion). Just 30 minutes out of the City, you will find yourself at the foot of Phra Suthep (Mount Suthep) most famous for the Wat Phra Doi Suthep Temple nestled on top. If you can make it up the 309 steps (or alternatively pay the extra $1AUD for a tram to the top) you will find yourself surrounded by gold temples and a breathtaking view of Chiang Mai. Note: If you are headed there in the dry season, it can be quite hazy and the view isn’t as breathtaking but the temples are always amazing.

If you decide to head there in the wet seasons and should your luck run out and be in need of “wet weather” alternatives I would recommend the array of Museums and Galleries. My personal favourite would be the History and Cultural Museum right in the centre of town which will set you back about $3 AUD for entry or $9 AUD for all three Museums within walking distance from each other. In these museums, you will learn about the history of Chiang Mai and have a chance to walk through villages which have been recreated to paint a picture of what life was like in the City. Another favourite is “Art in Paradise” which currently has an Optical Illusion exhibit among the three levels which will provide a bit of fun, entertainment and some great snaps for Instagram.

One very big reason tourists are visiting and often spending longer in Chiang Mai are the Self Development Classes. From Muay Thai, Massage or Cooking, many backpackers and taking part in these programs and are enhancing their skills. I was fortunate enough to part take in this practice and took a cooking class just 13kms outside of Chiang Mai at the Best Thai Cookery School. Be assured, there are many cooking schools in Chiang Mai but as the name suggests, this really is the best one. In this class you will learn how to cook 4 Thai dishes on the organic farm. Classes start at around 850THB ($32AUD) and take around three to four hours in total. The entertainment and bad jokes are included and if you love a good pun, you won’t be disappointed.

Speaking of food, the variety around Chiang Mai is sure not to disappoint. During the Burma-Siam war, Chiang Mai was invaded and the Burmese resided in Chiang Mai for a century later. Many of the dishes in Chiang Mai reflect the dishes brought in by Burma (Now Myanmar) which include a popular dish- Khao Soi which is hand cut rice or egg noodles, coconut milk and a curry soup base. If you are in dire need for cuisine with more of a western influence, a personal favourite of mine is “Butter is Better Bakery” which showcases a variety of baked goods with a completely Americanised Menu. I urge you to eat in and try the Meatball Sub with a Brownie for dessert. If you are feeling homesick and need comfort food, this is enough to cure you and possibly block your arteries.  Alternatively, I would urge you to try the “street food” markets in town. Unlike Traditional street food, there are stalls in the city that also offer tables and chairs for you to sit and enjoy that Khao Soi or Pad Thai.

If you’re looking for something to do when night falls (assuming you aren’t curled up in your hotel room with a monster food baby) Chiang Mai’s nightlife will not disappoint. You have a selection of night markets to visit within close proximity. Anusan Night Markets also offers a selection of bars including an Irish Pub, with excellent live music scenes from 7pm. One thing to cross off of the bucket list would have to be “Chiang Mai Cabaret Show”. This outdoor style theatre is home to an hour long Lady Boy show that will keep you laughing until you cry. After the show, many of the bars stay open until 1am so you’ll be able to continue partying on.

So if you’re in need of a trip to Thailand, I would add Chiang Mai to the list. You can get there by Plane, Train or Auto-mobile and it’s worth the trek.  The city with the small town feel with a lot to offer. Experience the nightlife, the history and the culture without the traffic, party stigma and travel cliché attachment. Leave with a few more skills, a lot more knowledge and a few more kilos. My prediction is that Chiang Mai will be the new travel centre of Thailand.