A long weekend in Chiang Mai was just what the doctor ordered. We’d fancied taking on Flight of the Gibbon for a while, and managed to book this in conjunction with a rather generous offer on a great room at the Bodhi Serene hotel via Agoda.
We flew up from Bangkok on the Friday, and took an airport taxi to the hotel. It’s still a 120 baht flat rate to anywhere in the city, or about US$3.75 / £2.40. Bargain.
The hotel itself was superb – an oasis of calm in the heart of Chiang Mai’s Old City. This is the area within the remains of the original (and partly reconstructed) city walls, dating back to 1296 CE (1839 BE).
It’s a quieter, more laid-back part of the world than central Bangkok, but then I suppose that’s true for many places. Still, it’s a pleasant change to see cars stop to let pedestrians cross the road (no no, after you), instead of speeding up to warn them against even thinking about crossing (green man? what green man?)… People just seem to have more time.
Friday night was a quiet one, a quick trip to 7-11 to stock up on the liquids that we weren’t allowed to bring on the flight, and a late lunch at the very good แซ่บจัง (“Yummy E-san Food”), tucked into กาดกลางเวียง (Kad Klang Wiang) – a nice little courtyard area featuring several cafés and restaurants at the corner of Ratchadamnoen and Ratpakinai roads. You’ll spot the Wawee Coffee café first, right on the corner.
Then a long walk to the night bazaar where we looked at everything and bought nothing. Dinner at Asma, a halal Indian-Pakistani-Arabic restaurant in the heart of the market, and then back to the hotel for an early night.
Saturday – Flight of the Gibbon
Up at dawn, we squeezed in a quick buffet breakfast at the hotel (they have an omelette station – I want one in my apartment please), then picked up by a minibus which did the rounds collecting another three couples before the hour-long drive up into the mountains. Our co-gibboning couples were Russian-Russian, Italian-Italian and French-Belgian. A good mix of friendly folks.
After an hour or so driving up into the mountains, we arrived at Mae Kampong, a small mountain village some 1300m above sea level. There we found the Flight of the Gibbon office, filled in some forms, paid up, and got into our harnesses and helmets. Not a good look, but a small price to pay.
Back into the van, which played a quick safety video on the ceiling-mounted DVD player, then all out and pretty much straight onto the first zipline.
Still half-asleep, we didn’t have time to get nervous before we were whizzing along steel cables through the jungle canopy. Not a bad way to start the weekend.
After a couple of gentle lines, a jungle hike between stations and a chance meeting with a family of real gibbons up in the treetops.
More ziplines, rickety rope bridges, and finally rope descenders to the forest floor finished off a great three hours in beautiful surroundings.
Back up to the village for lunch, then a trek up a waterfall for good measure, and finally a minibus ride back down into the city, and back to the hotel for a well-earned afternoon nap.
After a bath, a snooze and a decision, fast gathering pace, to buy a Real Camera in the not too distant future, we made our way to the small, easily missed but superb Thais That Bind. It’s a shame about the name, but the food is superb.
Sunday – Wat Chedi Luang and Chiang Mai Zoo
I think Wat Chedi Luang is my favourite temple in the world.
Dating back to the 14th century CE, there are several buldings in the grounds, but the central chedi is simply beautiful.
Heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1545 CE (2088 BE), the main structure has been partially restored, but the spire is long gone.
From the temple, we took a songthaew to Chiang Mai Zoo. We’d got two free tickets as part of the Flight of the Gibbon package, and headed straight to the panda enclosure to see Lin Bing – one of the few pandas ever born in captivity outside China.
Lin Bing herself can only be seen through a glass wall, but her parents Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui live in more open enclosures.
From pandas to lions, tigers, and monkeys.
Lots of monkeys.
Monkeys are cool.
The hippos seemed content to stay underwater out of the heat when we first approached.
They soon became less shy though – the presence of a (closed) hippo food stall nearby was presumably the reason why.
I thought hippos were notoriously dangerous animals. If I were designing a zoo, I would probably make it so that you couldn’t stick your arm over the wall, under the railings, and dangle it into a hippo’s waiting mouth if you wanted to…
There were plenty of other animals, of course, but those were certainly the highlights. A simple chicken & rice lunch at the zoo, then back into a songthaew and onto the hotel, via Jangira Traditional Thai Massage shop for a welcome foot massage.
Chill, shower, change, and back out to the Sunday night Walking Street Market. Far too much time spent wandering the stall was eventually, mercifully crowned with dinner at the very nice Chiang Mai Writers Club.
Monday – Doi Suthep
Another songthaew ride took us up the mountain – a long, lurching winding ride up steep mountain roads. Once at the top, the temple itself is a way up from the raod – it can be reached by cable car or an alarmingly long and steep set of stairs (309 steps, apparently). We took the cable car.
Inside the central courtyard, the large golden chedi is surrounded by various statues, bells and shrines, and the walls painted with various murals.
Outside that central courtyard are those spectacular views, as well as bells and further shrines, including this one to Ganesh.
Back down, via the 309 steps, for the long and winding road back to the old city, and the hotel.
Monday also happened to be Visakha Bucha day, so after a well-earned rest we wandered around to Wat Pan Tao to watch the monks lighting candles in the grounds.
Here’s a quick video clip (try here if you can’t see it):
Dinner at Girasole, an excellent Italian restaurant back at Kad Klang Wiang – the courtyard where we had lunch on our first day. Great simple Italian food, marred only slightly by the alcohol ban for Visakha Bucha day!
Tuesday – Back to Bangkok
A quick dash down the street for a well-earned full-on fry-up at Ginny Cafe, then packing, check-out, and a cab back to the airport where we stocked up on Chiang Mai sausages to take back to Bangkok.
All in all, a perfect weekend.