A nervous traveller’s guide to the far east – Part 2 – Chiang Mai to Sukhothai

Chiang Mai to Sukhothai

11th Februry 2019, Bangkok, Thailand
06:45
I have managed to temporarily lose my wedding ring. We’re supposed to be at the airport by 08.30 to get our flight to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. In 30 minutes the alarm will go and my wife will wake up. I have that long before she realises what’s happened and I lose the challenge.

07:15
I left it in the bathroom whilst shaving the night before. Panic over.

07:25
Lost it again.

07:30
Panic over again – it was in my pocket. Wife fails to notice the beads of sweat on my forehead.

Chiang Mai

View across the moat in old Chiang Mai

View across the moat in old Chiang Mai...to be fair I could have taken a better picture but it was hot.

Bangkok was a natural starting point for our journey, but after a week we were both ready to leave and see more of Thailand. Chiang Mai was on our list of places to visit, so by the power of the interweb we manage to find ourselves a flight there for half of what it costs to have a big night out in London.

Remember what I mentioned about “Thai Time” in the last post? If you do go to Thailand it’s important to remember that normal time does not apply in this country. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in and board our flight due to depart at 11.00. At 11.30 our flight is yet to board. Naturally we feel right at home. We’re British and therefore used to long delays on trains, planes and automobiles. Turns out multiple flights are delayed due to someone being late somewhere and causing a backlog. So whilst we’re chilling like natives in the departure lounge, there is a long line of seriously pissed off Chinese tourists trying to get to Phuket. They have obviously not researched the laws of time in Thailand and think screaming at the airline staff will get them there faster.

But it’s Chiang Mai you want to know about, not our escapades in an airport. Yet our escapades at the airport act as a good framing device for our trip to Chiang Mai. As I walk out of the arrivals gate and into the smiling clutches of a taxi driver spotting pay dirt, I realise I have forgotten something. It’s not my wedding ring or my wife (Jess is not the kind of person who takes being forgotten well). It’s my Kindle.

Shit.

I have left one of my most useful and favourite tools on the sodding plane and all because I put it in the seat holder in front of me when we came into land. I could blame the rushed departure or stampede to get off at the other end, but in reality it was all my fault. Fortunately I still have my wedding ring and access to all my books using other devices. Plus my Kindle was code locked and I de-registered it as soon as I realised...but still. 

...er...but back to Chiang Mai. Unsurprisingly the small city is a lot calmer than Bangkok. There is an almost Greek attitude about the place. In Greece and a lot of the islands, people always seem to move at their own pace and deal with things in their own time, smiling and welcoming visitors as they go. Chiang Mai reminded me a lot of Crete or Samos. The old city is ringed by fragments of the original fortress wall and a moat which looks more like a European canal dotted with locals and tourists walking alongside it. And did I mention temples? Chiang Mai proudly boasts that it contains more temples than 7-11s within its boundaries. Over 100 can be reached if you’re up for a challenge to spot them all. The most famous is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, but if you’re tired and don’t fancy climbing up 700+ steps in 35 degrees whilst dodging hundreds of tourists to get to the golden chedi at the top, you can visit the equally impressive Wat Chedi Luang. Located within the city walls it was built in the 13th century and was at the heart of the then Lana Kingdom. UNESCO are busy trying to restore much of the original structure.

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang. Most impressive...until I get to Angkor Wat obviously.

The monks who live there rely on donations from the locals and money from the tourists – you can even pay to go on “Monkchat’ (not a gameshow) and spend half an hour chilling and talking to a few of the monks about Buddhism and what life is like for a monk. Anyone can be a monk and all Thai men are expected to serve at least a short period of time as one. I was tempted to ask a monk if he’d ever thought about being an astronaut (MONKS IN SPACE!!), but I chickened out. Plus some young couple photobombed my picture by pretending to meditate just so they could upload the pictures to Instagram. Seriously, the number of people doing this actually made my jaw drop. Don’t get me wrong; I like taking pictures of where I’ve been as much as the next person...but actually pretending to meditate (hair and dress adjustments included) in a Buddha pose whilst your boyfriend takes multiple shots from different angles, just so you can post them to social media? And blatantly doing this when there are several people actually trying to pray and meditate next to you? No wonder a lot of the locals cast fixed smiles and dark gazes at many a smartphone snapper.

These were not the posers

These were not the posers. I just thought it was a nice photo. Besides, the posers couldn't sit still for longer than 10 seconds.

Fortunately there is more to see in and around Chiang Mai beyond self-obsessed status seekers. We went out into the countryside and into a nearby jungle for a (relaxed) hike with a local guide called Bhat. Not only did Bhat make me laugh with his stories about surviving 2 viper snake bites when he was little (he was so terrified of getting in trouble the second time it happened, that he only told his cousin who then told his grandmother who promptly bollocked the both of them for being idiots before sucking out the poison using a very thin and sharp bamboo stick), he also knew a lot about the local plants and wildlife. Bhat took us to several incredible waterfalls, a strawberry farm that makes British strawberries look like a joke, a local coffee making place and the King and Queen’s Royal Pagoda temple monuments and gardens located near the highest point in Thailand. If I could have a garden like the one there, I would.

Strawberry Farm

Outstanding natural beauty with a strawberry farm sandwiched neatly inbetween.

The Royal Twin Pagoda

The Royal Twin Pagoda - a present from the army to the previous King and Queen of Thailand. Not a bad spot if you can get it.

We stayed 4 nights in Chiang Mai, ate some great street food (if you go, try Khao Soy – a regional dish you can’t get anywhere else) and met some nice people (apart from the drunk Spanish woman who woke everyone up yelling and threatening an English woman who asked her to be quiet. Her own friends and a threat from the local police managed to shut the Spanish lady up, but I bet she didn’t win any popularity contests that trip).

Sukhothai

It’s fun to go a bit off the beaten track and away from the tourists. Sukhothai was our next stop about 5 hours south of Chiang Mai, and boy was it worth the crappy (but cheap!) bus journey to get there. After staggering into one of the nicest guest houses I’ve ever stayed in (at the push-the-boat-out price of 18GBP a night), we ate some food and collapsed into an air conditioned coma. The next day we went to see what all the fuss was about this historical park that everyone was talking about. Turns out the park is actually the original ruins of Sukhothai covering 29,000 acres of land. Sukhothai was the capital of the north central kingdom (now province) in the 13th and 14th centuries...and I’m actually sending myself to sleep writing like this. Words don’t do it justice, but pictures capture a little bit of what I’m talking about.

Wat Mahatat

Wat Mahatat; the largest ancient temple inside the historical park. Looks pretty at night eh?

Wat something or other

No, I can't believe I managed to take this photo either.

Mini Angkor Wat

Looks like a mini version of Angkor Wat

Oh my Buddha!

I got lost somewhere on the left side. To be fair it was pretty dark.

Very old

I got lost here too

Basically, wow

Basically, wow

So as you can see they light up the ruins, but only on a Saturday night which just so happened to be when we were there. Plus you can eat incredibly cheap street food (we spent 2 GBP on a small feast) on mats overlooking several of the more impressive structures.

Street food, yum

Street food...(makes Homer Simpson drool noise)

Nervous Traveller Ratings

Chiang Mai
7.5/10
Paradise compared to Bangkok, but the old city can get a bit noisy at night. Worth going to travel into the jungles, farms and mountains an hour’s drive away. See what my wife, Jess thinks below as well.

Sukhothai
8/10
Not as varied as Chiang Mai, but who needs variety when you’ve got 29,000 acres of ancient Buddhist structures to explore at night. If you can’t already tell, I’m a bit of a history nerd as well as a Sci-Fi and Fantasy nerd. Stay at the Thai Thai Sukhothai Guest House if you can. 3 nights would be enough to explore the area well.

Wedding Ring Status:

 ...shit...oh, it’s on top of the fridge in our room.

Yuk!

Doesn't it make you just want to throw up?

About the Author

John is an award winning science fiction, horror and fantasy writer. He is also a public speaker and consultant and has worked with Time to Change - a campaign to end mental health stigma - and for Wellment - an organisation that delivers mental health at work training. He loves science fiction, fantasy and horror stories and novels. His work has appeared in Vector Magazine, Ink Pantry, Sci-Fi Bloggers, The Huffington Post and more. His short fantasy "Thanks for Applying" won an Honourable Mention Award in the Writers of the Future competition in 2017. HIs short horror "By the Boiler's Hand" was longlisted for the 2018 James White Award and won an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future competiton the same year. John has spoken at several events including the Nine Worlds Geekfest in London, Bristol Con 2018, and the Moorfields NHS Trust. He has delivered masterclasses on ending mental health stigma in the workplace for Time to Change. He lives with his wife and a pile of books in the UK.

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