Took the family on a trip to Chiang Mai last week. We rented a mini-van (รถตู้) and drove. It was me, my wife, son and nanny. The adults didn’t have much in the way of luggage but the kid stuff amounted to a lot. The drive up there is pretty boring. I think you would call it fly-over country like we refer to the midwest in the U.S. where you would rather just take a plane from source to destination as there is little to see in between. We had searched for intersting stops to make but couldn’t find anything that wasn’t far off the route we were taking north.
We did stop for the night in Lampang which is just a couple hours from our destination in the Chiang Mai area. My wife and I thought that Lampang was a bit of a tourist destination with at least a few interesting things to see and do. But after we got there and looked around we found little of interest. We took a ride in a horse buggy that departed from right in from of our hotel, thinking they would take us to the old town of Lampang. But all we got was a ride through the streets full of cars and the standard ugly shop houses that are the same all over Thailand. Our buggy driver stopped two places – at the old railroad station and a temple – both kind of boring. We asked him if there was an old town area we could visit and he said there was some stuff down by the river but nothing like a preserved old style part of town. So Lampang was a disappointment and I wouldn’t recommend it as a destination or even a stop-over point. Our hotel, Lampang Wienthong, was ok, a large older building in the center of town. 1,200 baht for two people included breakfast that was ok.
The next morning we departed for Chiang Mai. We visited the Chiang Mai Zoo which was just ok, not nearly as good as I expected given all the hype about it I had heard. They have some pandas but so what, they just sleep all the time in a boring looking enclosure. Feeding the giraffes was a highlight. Lunch was good at a little local place near Chiang Mai University. In the afternoon we headed to our boutique resort in Chiang Mai, a nine room resort on the side of a hill in Mae Rim called Baan Mon Muan. It’s a very nice little place, small and quite, built of old hardwoods and decorated with many Lanna style items. No TVs and slow internet connection there so it’s a place to relax and leave the rest of the world behind, although you do have a good cell phone signal but I could only get Edge rates and not 3G. The resort is at an elevation of 1,160 meters so it is dry and at night quite chilly.
We really liked the resort. Staff were very nice, most of them Hmong girls from the nearby village. Food was really good. It’s strawberry season so we had smoothies every day. They do some homemade jams and salad dressings that were really good. For dinners we had typical Thai food like แกงสัม (that orange sour and spicy stew with cha-om and shrimp), stir fried bean thread with pork and veges, fried rice, that kind of thing. Just typical dishes but all were very tasty. They had some tasty deserts, too, like blueberry cheesecake and a warm fudge brownie with whipped cream.
On our second day we went to an elephant camp in Mae Sa. It was pretty fun, especially with our son who had never seen elephants before and who now does an impression of the way they grab and eat food with their trunks. After the elephants camp we went to an area called Baan Tawai which has a big market area where vendors sell their northern style crafts and furniture. There was a lot of intersting stuff there. We ended up buying a piece of furniture that just barely fit in the van with a lot of pushing and manuevering.
One of the negatives of the trip was that we were there during the annual big burn where all the villagers and farmers all over the north and in neighboring countries burn off their fields. The air pollution is horrible, visibility so bad that some years they are forced to close the airport. For us it meant a lot of views that were limited. We could make out nearby mountains but beyond that it was a smoky grey haze. I can only imagine that it must be quite pretty in the mountains at other times of the year. After that back to Khao Yai and clean air.