On our second day in Chiang Mai Laura and I decided it was time to get out and do some sightseeing, but not along the normal tourist track, we wanted to take things into our own hands. Laura was brave and trusted me as her driver for her first motorbike experience. We rented a bike from our hostel (mistake since it was 50 baht cheaper down the street) and departed early(ish) for Doi Suthep. The main purpose of trekking up the hill was to see the impressive temple at the top, Wat Phra, one of the most visited sights in Chiang Mai. Songthaews will make the trip to the temple but with Laura's potential motion sickness and my hatred of anything organized we opted to do it on our own, and what a wise decision it was!
I have to give Laura some credit for trusting me to drive her through the streets of Chiang Mai having never been on the back of a bike before. In the past few weeks, I've heard many warnings of how dangerous it is to drive motorbikes in Thailand but I disagree. Not only are there bike lanes all over the city but people actually give motorbikes the right of way and notice their presence, not to mention they don't generally drive on the sidewalks like in Korea. We left early in the morning in an attempt to beat the crowds and heat of the day, but then it took us forever to decide where to eat breakfast which is puzzling considering there are a million places to eat in Chiang Mai. Finally, we were on our way and within minutes out of the noise and traffic of the city and heading up the mountain.
The nice thing about going to touristy places is that there's always super obvious signs leading you there, which I guess we didn't REALLY need in this case since you could see the mountain and temple from quite a distance. The entire drive took just less than an hour and even with the winding curves was quite enjoyable, much better than it would have been in a Songthaew. The entrance to the temple area is lined with numerous stalls selling the typical souvenirs, snacks and drinks. We made our way towards the temple entrance, paid our fee of 30 baht and headed inside. The first few moments of the temple consist of a few hundred stairs which lead you up to the main area, difficult (especially in the heat), but worth it.
To see the inner part of the temple you have to remove your shoes, nothing new to me but Laura was a bit surprised. Inside the temple is gorgeous, there is an impressive golden spire in the center of the grounds which is almost impossible to get a good picture of. We made our way around the center area, checked out the fake emerald Buddha (the original is now in Bangkok), and even took a few minutes to get blessed by a monk. Once outside the main area you can walk around the circumference once again, but this time instead of being blown away by the temples, artwork, and architecture you can check out the amazing views of the city and surrounding area. There are also impressive carvings, smaller temples, and a row of bells and gongs surrounding the temple.
Satisfied with our tour we made our way back down the Naga staircase at which point Laura got swept into one of the nearby shops. She'd had her eye on a set of singing bowls for a few days and finally bargained a good deal with the woman here so decided to go for it. One more quick purchase of a fresh, cold coconut and we were on our way to the waterfalls. We considered traveling further up the mountain to see the royal gardens but changed our minds, for no particular reason really. On the way down the mountain, we decided to make a stop at one of the two waterfalls, Mon Tha Than. but were slightly disappointed when we found out the admission was 100 baht, not the 30 I had read on a travel blog. For another 30 baht to park our motorbike we were inside the park and enjoying the beautiful nature.
The waterfall is actually 3km into the natural park so we had a nice ride before entering the area where the falls are, changed into our bathing suits and walk/hiked up to them. I had a feeling it would happen but we were disappointed again to find that the waterfall pools were pretty low. Being the end of the dry season I expected this but was still sad that there wasn't a big spot for us to swim; instead we walked up the rocks a bit and found a nice spot to relax before heading back. On the way out we spotted a sign mentioning the "9 waterfalls" so we turned around and took the path that led up, there was one more level but after that the path was blocked, oh well.
We made two more stops, one at a lookout point where we enjoyed some coconut ice cream with peanuts and sticky rice, and the second at a stream area where a few families were enjoying the day. Although we still had sunlight hours that we could use to burn the gas in our tank, we decided to take advantage of the pool at our hostel instead. Laura was lucky enough to experience some congested traffic on our way back into the city, to quote her again "There were a few parts I thought I might shit my pants". I guess she doesn't like or isn't used to getting up close and personal (in Asia) even if it's on the back of a motorbike.
High on the tourist track for a reason, home of good food (mostly) happy people, rich history and culture. Thailand as many tourist soon learn is just easy. Easy to visit, easy to get around and even easier to stay.