Chiang Mai is a breath of fresh air. No. That’s not exactly correct. After the hustle, bustle and sleaze of Phuket Chiang Mai feels like a veritable gust of revitalising wind. It really does soothe the soul to be in a place as authentic feeling as this.
Sure it’s still filled with thousands of tourists. But the local people feel different. More genuine, less corrupted. Even the tourists seem to be a different breed. The old men with whores have given way to dreadlocked backpackers.* Interestingly, all the westerners seem to be overwhelmingly less fat. And in direct contrast to the Phuketians (is that a word? No.) hassling for Ping Pong shows, hookers and sunglasses, the people of Chiang Mai seem to shine with warmth and happiness.
For me, the most striking difference was simple. It didn’t feel like it had all been put on for us. There was no shortage of tacky souvenirs at the markets and most restaurants sold French Fried (sic) But there were almost as many Thais in the market as tourists and we actually saw them buying food from the same places as us.
The city itself is achingly beautiful, a perfect square encapsulated by a tree lined, free flowing river, about twenty metres wide. Amble around the inner city and you’re guaranteed to see countless Buddhist temples, Glistening with Gold from every angle.
Chiang Mai’s also the gateway to some of the best adventure tourism in Thailand, Mountain biking, rafting, trekking, inordinately huge flying foxes populated by monkeys, you’ll ind it all there. But most of all I guess it’s a vibe thing. Chiang Mai is a pleasant place to be.
*obviously not all of them were dreadlocked. That would be ridiculous. Some were dreadlocked though, and sweeping generalisations are kind of my thing.