Chiang Mai Thailand. Having spent most of my life living in cities, a visit to Chiang Mai is an attractive proposition. As a traveller, I am not a big fan of over-researching on things to expect prior to a trip. I guess I feel that reading travel blogs and TripAdvisor ratings may taint surprises along the way, or form unrealistic expectations about a destination.
Chiang Mai Thailand
Friends who know me intimately told me I would love Chiang Mai, and with that blessing, I journeyed to Bangkok with style for an overnighter before heading to Chiang Mai on Thai Smile Airways out of Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport.
As I landed in Chiang Mai and got onto the coach transfer, I instantly noticed the slowing of my heart rate. What immediately caught my attention were the smiles of four young ladies dressed in traditional tribute costumes along with their gentle yet slow greeting of sawasdee j-aaa-oooo (the elongated sound of jao). Unlike most international airports, I certainly didn’t feel the need to hurry off. And I didn’t feel breathless even though the programme of my Chiang Mai stay was a packed one.
Checking into Siripanna Villa Resort and Spa was a breeze. The hotel staff was patient, I mean really patient. Along with Thai signature smiles, I felt they had all the time in the world for my 1,001 questions. Though I am a keen beach bum, it didn’t bother me that we were not close to a beach as my first day in the “Rose of the North” had already taken my breath away.
My travel partners and I were chauffeured to dinner at the luxurious Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai. I cannot forget my first impression of this resort, as I have never seen anything like it. The building is influenced by the cultural and architectural influences of the historic Lanna Kingdom. As I googled Lanna Kingdom, I immediately learnt that I was going to have a heritage experience in a city that is over 700 years old.
We were greeted by the Mayor of Chiang Mai, who kindly tied blessed white thread bracelets called “Sai Sin” around our hands as a symbol of welcome, well wishes and bonding with the land of Chiang Mai.
We had a taste of the delicious Lanna cuisine for dinner, from yummy hors d’oeuvres Muang that consists of Chiang Mai sausage, sour pork sausage, crispy pork steamed vegetables accompanied by green chilli dip and pork-tomato dip to main dishes; such as, river prawns with tamarind sauce and traditional marinated jasmine rice. After dinner, we released Khom Loi (Thai lanterns) as a symbol of good luck and well wishes for our loved ones.
My desire to know Chiang Mai grew as I spent time roaming around the night markets, having pampering foot massages from the stress of doing nothing and breathing properly. And my wish came true. Our local expert informed us that the people of Chiang Mai are creative and artistic, and that Thais living in other provinces would visit Chiang Mai to purchase home decorations and furnishings.
The epiphany of that knowledge came after my visit to the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC). Not a typical tourist attraction, the TCDC displays creative works of art with a firm belief that creativity underpins a better future. Our creativity was certainly put to the test through the painting of Thai paper umbrellas over afternoon tea. There were no rules, but lots of professional guidance and lots of fun – the perfect environment to be creative.
My favourite moment was our visit to the Nong Hoi Royal Development Centre. We learnt about the Thailand Royal Project initiated by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1982, which successfully eradicated opium production and instilled a better way of living for the northern Thais. A visit to the hill-tribe village of Doi Mon Cham was evidence of this good work.
The visit to 137 Pillars House was memorable. The tranquil resort has been meticulously conserved to the integrity of the original 1889 structure with contemporary comfort and luxury.
Another touching moment for me was the alms offerings to Buddhist monks within the resort that we were staying. While I am not religious, the experience was humbling. There is a sequence to the offering, and it certainly taught me respect, compassion, forgiveness and unconditional kindness. These were attributes that my parents wished for me when I was a baby.
It was difficult to leave Chiang Mai as the surprises and learning never stopped. I was so rejuvenated and inspired by the cultural depth of this province that I have booked my return visit for a long weekend in October.
Chiang Mai Thailand Travel tips:
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand. It is about an hour’s flight from Bangkok. There are also direct flights from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China.