A busy week in Chiang Mai

It’s been extremely difficult to find the time to write these days. I’m trying so hard to just live in the moment and enjoy each second.  My time has been spent exploring and engaging in new relationships around me and traveling from city to city. I’m currently in Laos, and loving it’s simple lifestyle as opposed to Thailand.  Just a different pace of life, and although similar to Thailand in many ways, it’s much less built up, and much more laid back.img_2311

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img_2312I finished my time in Thailand in a Chiang Mai, which is in Northern Thailand, and it was a nice change of pace compared to the rest of my time in Thailand. I had planned only a few days and was going to head to Pai, but after doing some sightseeing and day trips, I was so worn out and feeling uneasy about the constant hustle of this whole trip in general, that I just wanted to stop and be still. And even though I’m sad that I missed out-I hear Pai is absolutely amazing (everyone “find themselves in Pai”), I am happy I stayed back to feel more relaxed about things.

I liked Chiang Mai a lot more than Bangkok as a city, but both have pros and cons.  Chiang Mai has a lot of cute coffee shops and restaurants, and healthy and upscale Western Food choices, if that is what you’re into.  Different from other parts of Thailand that just serve Western food as spaghetti, pizza, sandwiches, and french fries.  I enjoyed a combination of boutique coffee shops, and healthy trendy cafe’s as well as cheap street food.  I even ate a big bowl of Khao Soi -a sour curry noodle soup found in Northern Thailand and Laos-for breakfast like the locals do.  Chiang Mai is a quieter city than Bangkok with a lot more history and character.img_1339

img_1822 I met some really kind and authentic friends in Chiang Mai, especially one in particular who became my travel buddy for the next 2 weeks.  I did some relaxing, journaling, temple touring, but also took part in day trips to Doi Inthanon-the highest point in Thailand and the King and Queen’s temples, and Chiang Rai to see the white temple, Wat Rong Kuhn.img_1562

img_1475 img_1558I took a Thai cooking class, went to a Khantoke dinner, saw the Ladyboy Cabaret, walked the Sunday Night Market-one of the most well known in Thailand, and found one of the best yoga and meditation classes I’ve ever been to at Yoga Tree.  I went on my last day in Chiang Mai, and I wish I had gone each day.img_1814

img_1811If traveling to Chiang Mai-I recommend staying in the Old City. That way you’re right in the middle of everything, and it’s a nice central location. For a few days when I first got there I stayed a bit outside the Old City, but it became annoying to walk the 25 min in and out everyday as I found most of the activities and things to see were in or close to the Old City.

The day trips were fun, but I feel there are better ways to spend your money. And if you take the slow boat to Laos, then you will go through Chiang Rai, and you can stop and see the white temple then. I ended up seeing it twice because I didn’t know this beforehand.img_1596

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img_1600I highly recommend the Khantoke dinner to experience truly authentic northern Thai cuisine and to enjoy some great entertainment.  There is a show of dancing, and music while  everyone sits on the floor and enjoys all you can eat Northern Thai food.  Lots of small dishes to share.  It’s really a lot of fun and the food is delicious.  I was really not in the mood to talk to anyone when I went, and ended up meeting and sitting with this lovely woman who I ended up seeing a few more times on my trip.  I realized that no matter what, I can always learn from people-even when I’m not in the mood to be social.  We engaged in great conversation and I’ll take many positives from it home with me. img_1428

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img_1439The Sunday night market is worth walking through just for the experience. It gets extremely crowded in the evening, and I wasn’t that impressed with the food scene as much as I had expected. It was a lot more clothes and souvenirs to buy rather than food stalls. But one of the largest I’ve ever been to and absolutely worth it to see a market of this size.  They have everything from shirts, shoes and dresses, to artwork, food, jewelry, massages, and much much more.fullsizerender

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img_1711The  ladyboy cabaret is an absolute must. I had missed it in every other city I was in, but thought it was absolutely fantastic in Chiang Mai.  This was one of my favorite nights in Chiang Mai and maybe even in Thailand all together.img_1771

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img_1784Two hours of pure entertainment. I expected it to be good, but I had no idea just how good.

I also highly recommend taking a cooking class while in Chiang Mai. Many are offered, but I did one through Basil Healthy Thai Cooking Class, and not only was it educational, but my teacher, Pim,  was so funny, engaging, and a pleasure to work with.img_1870 I also got very lucky with the group I was put with. We had a great time learning about the vegetables and herbs and how they are used in each dish.img_1827

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img_1840I learned that fish sauce and raw sugar are used in almost every dish as a balance of savory and sweet. Fish and Soy sauce are used instead of salt in main dishes and salt is only used in desserts.

There are a few main ingredients and herbs in almost every Thai dish…Thai garlic (smaller than garlic we have in the US), kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce, sugar, and chilis. No wonder I love Thai food so much-these are most of my favorite ingredients!

I learned how to make papaya salad-my absolute favorite, tom yum soup, shrimp in tamarind sauce, drunken noodles, red curry (from scratch), and mango sticky rice. All the ingredients are prepped for you, but you still have a chance to do some chopping, muddling, and all of the cooking while being instructed by the teacher.  It’s fun and entertaining and a great way to learn about Thai food.img_1842

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There is a lot to do in Chiang Mai, but most of it is very touristy and can cost a lot of money.  It can be hard to stay on budget at times, especially if you love cute cafe’s and doing touristy things like I do. There were days where I stayed under budget, days I was right on, but unfortunately there were many days I went over budget.  My mood was up and down in Chiang Mai, but I think that is because I did a lot of things on my own, and was feeling a bit hot and cold about the backpacker lifestyle.  Since then there has been a huge shift in how I feel, which I will discuss in my next post.

I had a lot of time to think about what I want out of this trip, and how I felt about myself in general.  Who I am as a person, and who I want to be, as even out here, I struggle with that.  I met some really great people in Chiang Mai, and didn’t get too close with them compared to people I met in previous cities, but I did meet one in particular who I ended up traveling to Laos with and spent the following 10 days with him.  We became such close friends in such little time, and were always on the same page.  I’ve said this before in the blog, and I’ll say it again, but it’s these connections and relationships that make this trip so very worth it.img_1889Laos has been absolutely incredible, and as I mentioned I felt a shift in myself and in my trip when I got here.  So many positive things have happened that have really made this trip worth it.  It’s important to stay present in the moment, be true to yourself, but really push yourself to step outside your comfort zone, and that is exactly what I am doing.

~Lauren

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