After the serenity and tranquil beauty of both Siem Reap and Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai was a bit of a shock. It seemed to us to be ENORMOUS – industrial, clogged up and hard to get around, and rather soulless. There is a beating, beautiful heart of an old city in there, but it’s hard to find, and in danger of being overrun by the pulse and pressures of the city – as well as the inexorable crush of tourists.
We were so lucky though, to have stumbled across the most beautiful, serene place to stay, the old house of Baan Orapin, just across the river from the old town. We would bounce along in a tuk tuk, or take our lives into our hands and inch along the side of the road, to find a walled-in haven of plants, trees, and an old, beautiful house with the most welcoming hosts. Once we oriented ourselves, we realized that not only were we a few feet from the river, we were also surrounded by the most arty, interesting places to visit. Our favorite was a gorgeous, French-inspired tea house – perfect to rest after sweltering around the sights or as a relief from my seemingly endless homeschool tasks.
Thailand is a much, much richer country than Cambodia and Laos, and it showed. We ambled around the requisite temples, skimmed the numerous markets (market fatigue had set in for all of us, so we escaped mercifully lightly), and then ploughed into the numerous tourist-oriented offerings around the city – unbelievably close encounters with tigers and crocodiles, making paper from elephant dung, cooking and ATV-riding through the forests and rice fields above CM. We were in the realm of more packaged experiences than we were used to, and although these sometimes felt uncomfortable, they were also extraordinary.