Chiang Mai in my mind
Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Many Filipinos associate Thailand with Bangkok.  And when Bangkok comes to mind, a Filipino would always think of shopping, shopping and more shopping. But there is so much more to Thailand than Bangkok and shopping. One is Chiang Mai, the Thai counterpart of our City of Pines, Baguio City.

Chiang Mai is located north of Bangkok and was the capital of the Kingdom of Lamma in northern Thailand centuries ago. It sits on a valley that is cradled by mountains making it cool, romantic and relaxing. I had my second visit with my husband just recently and I vouched for myself why Chiang Mai is included in the Trip Advisors’ 2012 List of 25 Best Travel Destinations in the World, and the reasons are as follows:

1. The weather is perfect — not so hot and not so cold;

2. The people are warm and tourist-friendly. Although the Thais are not as good English speakers as us Filipinos, one would feel their sincere efforts in making visitors feel at home and comfortable. A very good example was our very kind airport cab driver who offered to take us around the following day (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) for only 800 baht (discounted from 1,500 baht), which included the car (a new Montero), the gas, pointers, (albeit in broken English), regarding the places that we were going to visit; with great taxi music at that;

Thousands of wooden handicrafts to choose from at the Baan Roi Phan Yang Wood Carving Museum

3.  Shopping is good. Everything is relatively inexpensive. For those who are resolute in finding bargains, there is the Night Bazaar, said to be a tourist’s haven. For those who want the conveniences of a mall, the Central Plaza Airport Mall is very accessible. It has a Lacoste store that offers great discounts [for Lacoste addicts like my husband);

4.  Food is delectable and very cheap — if you want to have a taste of real Thai food, go to the open-air restos that look like our country’s beer gardens. Just be sure to tell the waiters to make your dish choices NOT HOT, otherwise your tongue and throat will burn from all the spices mixed into the food (and you’ll be forced to down all of it with one liter of Singha Beer like my poor husband did! Haha ha!) At the Central Mall, have your buffet dinner at the Daidomon restaurant, where, for the equivalent of P400, you can fill your tummy to the brim with all kinds of delicious Japanese dishes complete with soup, salad and refillable ice cream of all flavors. Those willing to spend more, and need air-conditioning can go to this restaurant owned by a famous Thai actor and order the house specialties — khao-soi noodles, pad thai, moo sa-te, and po-pea tod) which totally converted me into a fan of Thai food;

5. There is an interesting nightlife ranging from the sedate (listening to a band in the charming Shangri-La Lobby Lounge) to the wild (dancing to eardrum-breaking music in crowded bars where you are elbow to elbow with other habitués);

6. There are several good tourist destinations to choose from the following of which are highly recommended: a) the Wat Phrat Doi Suthep Temple — the most famous temple located on top of a hill that gives you a breathtaking and panoramic view of the city; b) the Tiger Kingdom — where you cuddle with tigers of different ages and sizes. My husband and I made it more thrilling by choosing to pet the biggest of them all (of course, we had to sign a waiver that the establishment would not be responsible for any harm the tigers may inflict on us); c) the Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Tribes Village — where you can meet and greet members of different Thai and Burmese tribes, see how they actually live, and then buy their colorful products to help sustain their village. My favorite of all was the Long-necks (Karen) Tribe, from Burma, who wore heavy brass necklaces that made their necks really long. I tried wearing a sample necklace and I experienced for myself how heavy and torturous those necklaces were, worn even by young girls; d) the Sai Nam Phueng Orchid Nursery — where you will be surrounded by the most beautiful flowers you will ever see in your entire life, some of which are cross-bred, and can buy some fashion jewelry set of preserved real flowers; e) the Silk Factory — where you are given an interesting lecture on how Thai silk is produced. You should never go home without buying something made of Thai silk, such as scarves and ties; f) Baan Roi Phan Yang Wood Carving Museum — which contains thousands of incredibly beautiful wood pieces; g) Baan Tawai Village of Handicrafts — where you can buy very low-priced house decors. I bought a gold miniature Thai temple now displayed in my travel nook which looks worth tens of thousands of pesos, but which I got for the bargain price of only P500; h) Umbrella (and Fan) Making Factory — where you can do your panic buying of incredibly cheap souvenirs for all those co-workers, relatives, neighbors and even relatives of your neighbors; and finally, the never-to-be-missed; g) Mae Saa Camp where you can actually ride on an elephant, feed an elephant (with bananas and sugarcane), watch them play football, do acrobatic tricks, foot massage real human beings with their huge feet and best of all, watch them actually paint, really beautiful works of art.

For my closing tips, go between November and January when weather is coolest yet not rainy; never miss riding a tuktuk (but negotiate the price first before contracting); for the more adventurous, do biking tours, trekking, whitewater rafting and zipline; go to the Chiang Mai National Museum to immerse yourself in the beautiful Chiang Mai arts and culture. Lastly, have a massage from the best Thai masseuses (who are not elephants!).

(E-mail author at dotgancayco@ymail.com or call 0927-5000833.)

ALTHOUGH THE THAIS AT THE CENTRAL MALL BAAN ROI PHAN YANG WOOD CARVING MUSEUM BAAN TAWAI VILLAGE OF HANDICRAFTS BAAN TONG LUANG ECO-AGRICULTURAL TRIBES VILLAGE BAGUIO CITY BEST TRAVEL DESTINATIONS CHIANG MAI THAI
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