Chiang Mai, Thailand – 01.19
We noticed it in bits and pieces. First the beanies in 80 degree weather, and soon after the various trendy haircuts and Warby Parker-styled glasses. Then we encountered coffee shop after coffee shop and knew. We were in Thailand’s hipster central. Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand, and with a huge student and artist population, it’s no surprise we were seeing more skinny jeans per capita than all of Thailand combined. For two days we made ourselves at home, enjoying the delicious food, exploring the highest mountain in Thailand, and drinking coffee to our hearts’ content.
We chatted with the driver during our short taxi ride from the airport to the hostel. From the way he beamed with pride talking about Chiang Mai, we could tell this was a special city to its locals. Pulling up to the hostel, we found ourselves transported to a beautiful nature-filled hostel grounds with running streams, crowing roosters, and various seats to just chill outside.
Our room was one of the nicest-furnished rooms on the trip so far, sporting a urban-industrial-chic vibe that wouldn’t feel out of place in SoMa, San Francisco. Jay took the nook next to the window while I caught up on emails on a desk made from two old Singer sewing machines.
For lunch the hostel recommended Huen Phen, a local and traveler favorite for authentic Northern Thai cuisine. We weren’t disappointed – the khao soi (beef noodle soup with fried noodle strips) and northern-style curry were out of this world good. Our waitress laughed at as because we finished our first glasses of Thai tea in 20 seconds. We promptly ordered more $1 glasses and every time she walked by we could tell she was prepared to bring more.
To beat the post-meal food coma, we walked around the well-known Ratchadamnoen Ave, which was filled with small shops and cafes. We stopped by Akha Ama Coffee and two baristas sporting trendy combover haircuts greeted us. The decor was ridiculously hip and I watched one of the baristas make a perfect cup of pour-over coffee, served in a Japanese tea cup. We left with bags of whole bean coffee, which they roast in-house. I was really liking Chiang Mai already.
Since we got in during the afternoon, we decided on a chiller day and visited Wat Chedi Luang, a 14th century temple now in ruins. Walking by the other smaller temples, we glanced up and saw it rise out of the ground. Wat Chedi Luang was impressive in size and looked like an ancient Mayan temple. I admired the crumbling structure, giant elephant statues, and huge steps leading to the top of the temple. It absolutely glowed in the afternoon sun and I imagined the interior during its time must have been beautiful. We snapped some pictures and ended our first day in this amazing city.
Doi Inthanon, Thailand – 01.20
For our second day in Chiang Mai, we booked a day tour to Doi Inthanon National Park, which looked promising as a beautiful nature reserve containing the highest peak of Thailand. Our tour van picked us up at the hostel and after an hour-and-a-half ride we arrived at the park grounds. Our tour guide took us to our first stop of the day,Wachirathan Waterfall, which was a medium-sized waterfall that shined in the sunlight. We took some pictures closer to the running water at the bottom of the fall and enjoyed the nice scenery while walking on the pathways.
After another stop at the smaller Siriphum Waterfall, we went up to the highest point of Thailand, the summit of Doi Inthanon. It was entertaining seeing all the locals dressed up in the warmest winter gear and shivering in the 60-degree “cold.” But at the same time I didn’t blame them since it’s been 80-plus degrees in the dead of winter all throughout our trip so far. The summit didn’t have too many interesting sights, save for a large sign proclaiming the highest point and some nice cool fog rolling in among the greenery.
The King & Queen Pagoda was essentially a giant garden built in honor of the king & queen of Thailand. The Queen Pagoda was teaming with pretty and colorful flowers and the steps led to a beautiful purple pagoda. In the back we walked across a wooden bridge built over a small pond and Soham threw a coin in for good luck. The adjacent King Pagoda rose out of the ground and even though the pagoda wasn’t purple, it had some really cool carvings depicting mythical and historical events. We tiptoed into the temple at the top and read about the story of Buddha, with the faithful paying their respects to him close by.
Pretty soon we found ourselves closer to ground level, walking through the roadside Hmong market run by the local Hmong hill tribe. The market was both colorful and filled with scrumptious-looking fresh-picked fruit, dried fruit bits, and snacks of all shapes and sizes. It was a relief that we had lunch next, since staring at all that food made us super hungry. At a local restaurant, the tour group enjoyed local Thai food, including Tom Yum soup with coconut milk, stir-fried chicken, and fried fish.
Our final stop of the tour was the most eye-opening and also the one I’d been looking forward to the most. We visited a tribal village of the indigenous Karen people, who are well-known for their colorful handmade scarves and their very strong mountain coffee. We watched from inside a hut several Karen women spinning the scarves on traditional looms and wandered around the village admiring the raised huts and buildings coming out of the ground. There were plenty of cute dogs and lots of other animals running around.
Soon it was time. I stepped up to a small counter and ordered a cup of coffee, freshly prepared using a cloth filter and boiling water from a charcoal fire pit. The coffee was phenomenal, strong and full-bodied, even a bit more than this French-press user is used to. After downing the smooth coffee, I purchased a bag of freshly roasted beans to add to my Chiang Mai coffee collection. And with that we finished the tour and returned to the city.
That evening, after enjoying dinner at Huen Phen (again), we walked around the quiet town and had some drinks at a fancy-looking all-glass restaurant and bar called The Glass House to finish our stay in Chiang Mai.