Chiang Mai

Alex and I left Luang Prabang together and headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand, via a series of buses that took 24 hours.

Waiting for our bus with Leif in Luang Prabang, we got a (nervous) laugh out of the discovery that our bus had absolutely no tread on it’s ancient tires.


Safety is hardly a concern in Asia.  Alex and I have concluded that life is cheap here.

But we survived.  And the ride was surprisingly easy.  For me, at least.

When we got to the border in the morning, I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed, having slept like a baby on the bus the night before.  Alex hadn’t slept at all, but he was still in good spirits.

We grabbed breakfast after crossing the border, and then hopped on the next bus to Chiang Mai.  Seven hours later–after family guy, James Vincent McMorrow on the iPod, and story swapping– we were there.

I don’t even want to write about Chaing Mai, actually, so I will stop soon.  Because, you know what? I was disappointed by it, surprise surprise.  It’s Thailand.  Like the rest of Thailand, everyone raves about Chiang Mai.  Everyone says that Chiang Mai is the highlight of Thailand.  Even though I had previously sworn off Thailand, I decided to give the country one last chance at redemption and explore the North a bit.  I was promised by many a backpacker that I would love it.

I did not love it.  Alex did not either.

We were both shocked at how enormous, smoggy, and seedy the place was.

There was a very in-your-face red light district, which we had to walk through to find a hostel.  Being repulsed by this section of town, we tried another area, which turned out to be pretty barren and uneventful.  We wandered around on the first night in actual amazement at how the place was nothing like we expected.  I was imagining a nice mountain city, like Luang Prabang.  But it was nothing of the sort.  And the most popular things to do there are super touristy: like ride enslaved elephants or molest drugged up tigers.

We rented a motorbike and drove out of the city to find something fun to do.  We went to a waterfall, which was nothing like the amazing waterfall we had discovered in Laos.  But we walked up to the top, where there was no one else, and went for a swim anyways, while brainstorming additions to my “bucket list.”


Anyway, we ended up having a blast in Chiang Mai simply because Alex and I got along really well.  He reminds me of every close guy-friend I’ve ever had back home; we connected on a number of levels of humor, world outlook, and interests.  It was worth the trip there simply because of the friendship strengthened.  The first night in Chiang Mai, we got lost on the streets of the backpacker area and found ourselves in a guitar shop jamming out for hours.  Did I mention that he has an amazing singing voice, and is wonderful to share music with?


Well, we had a good time, and it was sad to say goodbye after a couple of days when it was time for me to go.

He dropped me off at the train station, and I boarded my train to Bangkok.


I booked a bed in the sleeper car, and was pleased to discover that it was quite comfortable.  Everything I had hoped for and more.


I was headed back to Bangkok, to meet up with some friends with whom I worked in Yellowstone this past summer, Jana (from Czech Republic), Curtis, and Adam.

Although Bangkok is not my favorite place in the world, it was really nice to see them and catch up.  We went out for a night of drinks, but since I was so tired from not really sleeping the night before on the train, I couldn’t do much but think about bed.


The next day was my last in Asia.  I did nothing spectacular.  I stared down the street for a bit to soak in the sights, and ate I think 5 meals just because I wanted to relish the Thai flavors one last time.


2 Responses to Chiang Mai

  1. Rogue

    Sounds like a very biased report of Chiang Mai. Perhaps if you would have hung out with actually Thais’s you would have had an authentic experience. I’m sorry you missed elephant nature park run by a family friend Lek. They rescue old and abused animals. Your experience sounds typical of many tourists I meet, and unfortunately it is one in the same which are spoiling this country, even if you do believe you are different.

    • author

      Interesting. I will say, it is not a “report” of Chiang Mai, it was my experience. I hung out with many “actual Thais” in every city I went to, via Couchsurfing and random encounters. My experience was still tainted by the sex tourism that’s right in your face, the countless scams, and so on. There are many places in this world where people treat each other with respect, tourist or not, and this place was not one of those, as tourists are looked at as a money bag. I completely believe that the toursits are to blame for this, and not the other way around, so I am not making a judgement on Thais or Thai culture; on the contrary, I think that tourism has essentially ruined what was once a genuinely lovely place. Your friend Lek is rescuing abused animals? Why do you think those animals are being abused? My guess is that the demand from the tourism industry to keep captive elephants has led to poor treatment and living conditions for elephants that would otherwise be free. My response to all of these observations is simply this: I will not be going back, not because “Thailand sucks,” but because I do not want to participate and therefore perpetuate this cycle.

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