As my post-Sweden/Thailand experience continues, and Bangkok just becomes bigger and bigger with endless opportunities for new sights, exploration and ways to enjoy the warmth of climate and people, I remember that any trek to Thailand must include getting away from Bangkok and its metropolitan city-life in order to be exposed to a truer Thailand, a more revealing perspective of what distinguishes Thailand and this regional culture from other countries in the world.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city and a 12-hour overnight train ride will get you to this northern, mountain enclave for a completely different experience of Thailand. Chiang Mai is almost like an overgrown village. Not too many large buildings, just a few scattered highways and very little of it screams “commercialism.” All you need to know is, despite Chiang Mai’s population of nearly 1 million people, you have to search far and wide to find a McDonalds, which I just had to look up on the internet in order to know if there even was one.
Though a popular tourist destination for backpackers and other “farang” (foreigners) for the many markets, festivals, elephant riding, cooking and massage classes, Chiang Mai has a much more personal and comfortable atmosphere than Bangkok, still maintaining pieces of culture which include Thai, Lao, Burmese and Chinese influences due to its location on a historically significant trade route.
And if you travel enough, every-once-in-awhile, your scheduling benefits from your complete lack of planning and awareness – unbeknown to me, Thailand’s famous Loi Kratong festival was taking place three of the four nights I was there, so the night sky was lit up with flame-powered air lanterns and the river was speckled with candles resting on banana leafs celebrating the 12th month’s full moon.
Yes, I’m a long way from Sweden.
And the United States.
Perhaps one of the best parts for the visiting “farang” from the north is that Chiang Mai’s mountain climate decreases the temperature dramatically, which was welcomed by this converted Swede still getting used to temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.
More from Thailand next week, including some clarity to my ever-changing personal plans for post-Sweden.
2. The elephant is the animal symbol of Thailand. Asian elephants are smaller and have smaller ears than their more famous African counterparts.
3. Night festivals for Loi Kratong include endless colors, décor and lights. Thailand is very good at color, décor and light.
4. A Loi Kratong hot-air lantern takes to the sky (picture courtesy of the internet).
5. This is Paige – the reason I am in Thailand. More about Paige on Linköpinglivin’ next week.