Top 10 Reasons I love Chiang Mai

Top 10 Reasons I Love Chiang Mai

It's true, I love Chiang Mai

It’s true, I love Chiang Mai

Now that I have lived in Chiang Mai for over two years, it’s nice to look back and realize that I still love it here. Although the chaos, smells, heat and traffic may not appeal to everyone, here are just a few of the reasons I love it here. This list is in no particular order.

1. Beauty is everywhere – both in nature and human made

Just a bunch of gorgeous orchids hanging in a parking lot.

Just a bunch of elegant orchids hanging in a parking lot.

An organic farm - part of The Royal Project - right in the middle of the city.

An organic farm – part of The Royal Project – right in the middle of the city.

A view of Panyaden School through rice fields.

A view of Panyaden School, where I work, through rice fields.

View from Panyaden School

View from Panyaden School

The lake at Huay Tung Tao

The lake at Huay Tung Tao

Waterfalls at Doi Inthanon

Waterfalls at Doi Inthanon

Infinity pools in the mountains - here at Verandah

Infinity pools in the mountains – here at Verandah

Lovely boutique hotels in the Old City

Lovely boutique hotels in the Old City

My local wat, a one minute walk from my house.

My local wat, a one minute walk from my house.

A lotus flower in my backyard.

A lotus flower in my backyard.

Also, it has a warm tropical climate year-round.

2. Massage and other types of wellness at an affordable price. Thai massage is available just about everywhere you look. It can cost as little as $5 per hour. You can upgrade a little, or a lot.

Pre-massage foot wash. This started off what a $6.00 an hour massage.

Pre-massage foot wash. This was the beginning of a 180 baht ($6.00) an hour massage.

3. Yoga

There are so many places to do yoga in Chiang Mai and loads of fantastic teachers. The three places I tend to go to regularly are Namo, Yoga Tree, and my favorite Wild Rose.

Yoga at Wild Rose

Yoga at Wild Rose

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Acro yoga at the park

Acro yoga at the park

 4. Delicious food

In Chiang Mai I regularly get my dinner from street vendors for around 30 baht (this is about $1 USD). There is Thai food everywhere, of course, but there is also cuisine from around the globe… it will cost a bit more than 30 baht. It’s super easy to be a vegetarian here.

Grtting gway tiao (noodle soup) with Alana at Chiang Mai Gate.

Getting late night gway tiao (noodle soup) with Alana at Chiang Mai Gate…

...after our afternoon tea at the Chedi

…after our afternoon tea at the Chedi

There is always an abundance of delicious fruit

There is always an abundance of delicious fruit

The best Thai iced tea I ever had

The best Thai iced tea I ever had

And thankfully there is gorgeous sushi that is less expensive here than any other country I've been.

And thankfully there is outstanding sushi that is less expensive here than any other country I’ve been.

5. Easy to be a farang here

It’s pretty easy to be a foreigner in Chiang Mai – there are oodles of foreigners here and plenty of things to do.

Perhaps wade in an inner tube at Huay Tung Tao

Perhaps wade in an inner tube at Huay Tung Tao

climb up the 'sticky waterfalls'

climb up the ‘sticky waterfalls’

Maybe get a massage at a spa

Maybe get a massage at a spa

Or go to Doi Inthanon National Park

Or go to Doi Inthanon National Park for a hike in the mountains

6. People are friendly

The way to react is with a smile.

Kru Neung and me planting rice

Kru Neung and me planting rice

7. There is always something new and happening in this ancient city

Galley openings - Lili Tan's work shown here at Sangdee Gallery

Galley openings – Lili Tan’s work shown here at Sangdee Gallery

Music festivals and environmental consciousness

Music festivals and environmental consciousness

Ceramics classes

Ceramics classes

Cute and functional art

Cute and functional art

Go find something new for your house in Baan Tawai

Go find something new for your house in Baan Tawai

You can see elephants in many places

You can see elephants in many places…hopefully they are being treated well

Go shopping for handicrafts in Bo Sang while on the way to Sam Kampaeng Hot Springs

Go shopping for handicrafts in Bo Sang on the way to Sam Kampaeng Hot Springs

8. Big city culture and small town safety and community

It’s nice to have something to do, but it’s also nice to go out and see people you know.

Especially if those people make you laugh

Especially if those people make you laugh

9. Buddhism and meditation

Buddhism is alive, well, and omnipresent in Chiang Mai.

Monk at Chiang Mai Gate market

Monk at Chiang Mai Gate market

The monk on his alms round right outside my house - excuse the screen

A monk on his alms round right outside my house – excuse the window screen

Even children know how to meditate

Even children know how to meditate

The Silver Wat off Wualai

The Silver Wat off Wualai St.

Wat Nantaram

Detail from Wat Nantaram

Make an offering at a wat

Making an offering at a Wat Jed Yot

10. Festivals

Thailand has some amazing festivals that are both fun and beautiful.

Yee Peng at Mae Jo University

Yee Peng at Mae Jo University

Loy Krathong dancers

Loy Krathong dancers

Floating away krathongs on Loy Krathong

Floating away krathongs on Loy Krathong at Panyaden

splashing water at Songkran

splashing water at Songkran

Sure there are more cosmopolitan cities with more to do, but for me Chiang Mai is just right.

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นวด Nuad – Thai Massage

นวด  – Thai Massage

Thai massage is everywhere in Thailand and it’s so cheap that it’s accessible to most everyone. The standard rate at your average Thai massage place in Chiang Mai is 150 baht an hour – that’s currently about $4.78 USD.  I get about 1 a week.

If you’ve never had a Thai massage, it’s not an oily rubdown, but rather you get your energy lines (sen) worked with what sometimes is brute force. You’re given fisherman’s trousers and a loose fitting shirt to wear, and generally are massaged on a mat on the floor. Sometimes the room is shared with other people getting massages. Most of the time it starts from the feet with a large focus on the legs. It can almost be like having someone do yoga for you with all the stretching that is done.

When my sister Wendy came for a visit, right after I picked her up from the airport, I took her to get her first, but definitely not last, Thai massage.

Wendy in her Thai massage outfit getting a beautiful foot wash before her massage.

I took her to a place I like in the old city called Viangchaokun Thaimassage and Spa. (Yes, Thaimassage is one word. In Thai language there are no spaces between the words which makes reading kind of challenging, but that’s another story). It’s a very elegant and very Thai place. It’s 180 baht an hour ($5.72 USD), but I figure it’s worth the extra 30 baht for the foot wash alone.

Rose petals, kaffir limes, an assortment of herbs, milk and honey all make the foot wash both lovely and wonderful smelling.

Upon walking in you are given slippers to wear, served herbal tea, and given a menu of massage options to choose from. They give you massage clothes and a locker to put your things in. Next is the foot wash, and afterwards it’s upstairs for the massage.

Unlike many Thai massage places, Viangchaokun has massage tables, rather than mats on the ground.

Time for Wendy’s first Thai massage!

Since the goal is to relax, I did not take any pictures of the massage itself. Each massage therapist does their own variations, and when you find someone you whose touch suits you, it’s like pure gold. My current favorite is a woman named Gae. She is a petite younger Thai woman who is gentle, yet firm, and every touch has a purpose.

Sometimes Thai massage can be very intense and even a little painful. I’ve occasionally been worked the way someone would tenderize meat. There are others where they’re just missing the spots you need. And then there are the ones that are juuuuust right.

Wendy thoroughly enjoyed her first massage, and in her 9 days in Thailand, she got 5 Thai massages, and one foot massage. Sometimes I feel a little spoiled having this luxury, and at other times when I’m in pain, I really think massage should be affordable for everyone.

Just another of the many reasons to love Thailand.

 

La Infinita Tristeza

La Infinita Tristeza 

Even though I know just how lucky I am, it was a day where things weren’t exactly going as planned. I was exhausted from the night before, worked all day, tried to make it in town for yoga, but got stuck in traffic and was too late. I was supposed to meet a new friend for dinner after yoga who I’d met at the acroyoga workshop. When I did meet up him, he was with a huge group of folks from massage school. I wasn’t in the mood for trying to be social with a group of people who all knew each other, out of whom I knew only one.

I could tell I just needed some time on my own. I told my friend, “I think I’ll get a massage.” I didn’t know I’d be getting an intense abdominal chi cleansing organ massage. So very intense I cried, partially due to pain, but generally because it was a huge energy and emotional release. I felt extreme sadness and the phrase la infinita tristeza kept going through my mind – the infinite sadness. I felt my own sadness, my past sadnesses, things that always make me cry, like losing my mom. Then other things on a global scale like war, abuse, poverty, animal cruelty, and the sadness of the whole world came into my brain, and overwhelmed my senses through the release in my body. It felt like I was connecting with the suffering of every sentient being – rather overpowering to say the least.

After lots of tears and the treatment ending, I was a bit embarrassed to come downstairs to see people I’d just met. At that moment the best thing possible happened. At the bottom of the stairs, even from my downward tilted gaze I saw the warm smile of my friend Matthew who I hadn’t seen in months. He said, “It looks like you just had a really good treatment,” and gave me a comforting hug. It was exactly what I needed. It somehow felt that all of the events that hadn’t worked out all evening were leading up to this reunion.

Matthew and I drank ginger tea and proceeded to catch up. I decided to stay with him instead of the other group of people. In showing him my groovy Evel Knievel helmet and we were off on the back of his motorbike. We eventually met some of his friends from massage school at a cool place neither of us had been called the Teak House. It turned into a rollicking dance explosion and despite our lethargy, suddenly we had renewed stamina.

Dancing and laughing at the Teak House

We wanted to keep the dance party going, so four of us piled on Matthew’s motorbike – 2 men, and 2 women – and we drove through Chiang Mai in Thai style. We ended up at a deafening bar that was horrible really. After the spontaneous dance party and our 4-on-a-motorbike entrance, obviously everything afterwards was going to be a let down.

The next morning, Matthew and I went out to delicious breakfast at Angel’s Secrets. With him it’s like being with an amigo verdadero – a true friend. We are connected. We have a lot of similarities and both think that we were Thai in a past life. It occurs to me now that maybe we both were and we somehow knew we had to meet up here again.

We parted ways, but ended up running into each other clothes shopping later that day. I had just tried on a jacket and the first thing he said when he saw me was, “Suay maak maak!” Very beautiful. As he left I mouthed the words, “I love him,” and sighed. I realize on some level I do love him.  I’m definitely not in love with him. It feels more like a divine friendship or kinship.

Later that week, Matthew came to my house and traded the Thai massage body work he’d been learning in exchange for home cooked meal. During my massage he said I had tension in the left lung. He proceeded to tell me the left side represents the female, and lungs represent grieving. He concluded, “This is most likely you grieving for your mother.” Wow! Told you we are somehow connected. Thank you for understanding Matthew. It’s true. I miss my mom. My mother passed away several years ago from lung cancer.

While Matthew and I were eating dinner, Infinita Tristeza by Manu Chao randomly played on my iTunes. I remembered lots of parts of that song: a little boy wants to have children and aks why he can’t. One line I did not remember at all was the mother saying to the child, “Yo siempre estaré a tu lado.” – I will always be by your side. I believe my mom wanted me to know that.