A Practical Guide to Thailand Travel
Motorbike in the Mountains – Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a city that feels like a village as the neighborhoods feel familiar almost instantaneously. However, it’s still a city. There are pigeons poking around in the square, cars whooshing by pedestrians and tuk-tuk drivers asking where they can take you for only 80 bht. So, to escape the noise, try renting a motorbike at Cat Motors and cruising up the mountain for a day trip in the jungle.
I am personally not a driver of motorbikes so I had the luxury of riding passenger with our friend who is teaching in Pak right now. He is a fan of Chiang Mai and the temples that surround the city. We made our way up the mountain hugging the turns like pro racers and taking the time to stop at viewpoints for a few irresistible photos.
The city of Chiang Mai has over 200 temples and I’m convinced Doi Suthep is the number one temple because people have to do some serious work to get up to the top. Motorbike parking is at the bottom of the temple shopping market tent area. As if walking up a 60 degree angle for 1/4 mi isn’t enough there is a set of 20 stairs to climb to the next market level. Enjoy that set of stairs because it’s the first of many before you’ll enter the temple. Once at the top, the temple grounds are expansive and very well maintained. There is a beautiful wall of bells surrounding the outside but don’t ring them.
No seriously, there is a sign that specifically says not to ring them, but for some reason, there are people in this world that see signs with instructions as a challenge to disobey. Where does this come from?
Anyway, off the South side of the temple grounds, there are mini-buildings and an expansive view. There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai and although we didn’t see all of them, I am confident that this one has the best view.
Try to get to this temple earlier in the day as it’s extremely busy. Once entering the inside of the temple (yes, it’s worth it, just take your shoes off and go in. No one is going to steal them) put on sunglasses because the gold inside is so bright I nearly went blind.
At this point, I started to feel kinda bad for the monks and I had so many questions.
Where does one stand to admire the main Buddha?
Do they always wear sunglasses or do their eyes just become accustomed to the maximum impact of gold?
On the way back to your motorbike, pick up an avocado smoothie. They are blended fresh with sweetened condensed milk. It’s possible to request it without milk but I haven’t figured out a reason why one would reject this canned heavenly flavor. I ordered what I thought was grilled corn and what turned out to taste like that native corn in cornucopias. Dry and vacant of flavor. Enjoy the tasty foods of the hillside market in the park behind the stalls, but watch out for the roosters and chickens. They are scavengers and used to being fed by tourists.
Continue up the mountain towards past another viewpoint until meeting up with San Ku. These ruins were pillaged for many years and believed to be used for rituals during 799–1292 AD. Maybe it’s because the rain finally ceased but it seemed as if the trees parted and the sun shone in on purpose to highlight the stones, moss and…collection of water bottles. Nothing like a massive amount of intentionally placed plastics to ruin a photo. I’ve decided that these are unnecessary as Buddha surely has a Swell or Camelback. He loves nature too much to ruin it with litter.
After praying to the statue of the rooster (to ward off future chicken attacks of course), head back to Chiang Mai and stop by the Wat Pha Lat temple for an afternoon Americano made special by the temples barista monk. The temple is especially beautiful as it hosts a breathtaking waterfall which can be crossed by way of a bamboo bridge. Frame photos with either a dragon statue or palm tree and enjoy the silence of this wondrous space. That is until you run into a web of a spider with a 5” abdomen and then I dare you not to scream.
Last stop, is a walk in the National Park at Wang Bua Ban. This trail starts at a camping area with sites stationed on concrete platforms covered with metal roofs. There are very big signs that emphasize no consuming or selling alcohol on the site. With the combination of sleeping on concrete and staying sober, I’m not entirely sure why anyone would choose to camp in the park, but I guess everyone has their own version of fun. My group chose to check out the waterfall and make our way across attempting to hike to another waterfall indicated on our map. The tricky thing about signs in Thailand is there isn’t typically a “you are here” dot so it’s tough to accurately predict a route.
If you’ve hiked Runyon Canyon before, the beginning of this hike is about two Runyon Canyons combined…if Runyon Canyon had wet wooden steps built into the hillsides. The trail is surrounded by bamboo tilted in & low branched trees and wet spider webs crossing back and forth surprising either one’s eyes or ankles or both at the same time. I found myself compulsively checking for leeches and ticks on my ankles. However, I’m not entirely certain I’d know either if I saw one.
After about 30 minutes of hiking, we felt a bit discouraged that we hadn’t seen any additional waterfalls. The hiking map was a bit misleading. Throughout the trail, little signs are placed to identify trees/plants/other random natural occurrences and after about five of these signs we noticed they were numbered…numbered in a countdown to get us back to the parking lot! We reached the last sign and jumped over a 2ft wide nest of branches to reach the end of the trail. What an adventure! Finally, I could leave Chiang Mai knowing I had crossed a waterfall lake, walked through over five spiderwebs (one without screaming), and admired thousands of jungle organisms. It was quite a day. After our journey back into the city, we were ready for some night market eats and Muay Thai fights.
Motorbike rentals have a refundable deposit of 3000 bht. Renting a bike with 125ccs was about 250-300 bht but the website has specials worth checking out before renting.
Pick up an international motorcycle licence in the States prior to leaving and avoid paying 500 bht when exiting the city. If this requires a motorcycle license test, just skip getting the motorcycle permit. The fee to exit the city without a motorcycle license was 500bht = $15USD. Please let me…how does this keep others on the road safe?
To Go – Outside Chiang Mai
#1 temple in Chiang Mai and up 306 step staircase flanked by serpents
Temple nestled within the hills and surrounded by jungle
Campsite and waterfall viewpoint
To Go – Back in Chiang Mai
Stay at Trigo House for the best proximity to the night market by the water (more on Trigo House in a future post!)
This night market is just off Wichayanon Rd. and offers everything from prawns, pad thai, Kao Soi and much more!
Muay Thai — Chiangmai Boxing Stadium
That’s all for now! More notes on Chiang Mai city in future posts.