As Nikk and I reached Chiang Mai, the second largest city of Thailand, we hopped onto a red taxi. Red taxis are famously known as the ‘Songthaew’ and we were dropped at the HUG Hostel within 20 minutes. A small town in the Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is one of the most popular tourist and backpacking destinations in Thailand. Chiang Mai is heaven to western backpackers and expats from all over the world for multiple reasons. The city has a lot to offer; the culture, the breath-taking landscapes, friendly people, variety of the local markets and not to forget the tons of temples and exotic food dishes of Thailand. Ever since the city became one of the most popular tourist attractions, it has started to develop a great blend of old infrastructure and the modern cafes bar showcasing a funky lifestyle.
The hostel stood true to its name with a friendly staff and a meticulously clean environment-two major checkpoint in any backpacker’s list. It was Nikk’s first time staying in a hostel and we moved into a 6-bed, mixed dorm room which had a couple of occupants already. We got a warm reception from them. To our great surprise, one of the receptionists had an Indian background and greeted us in Hindi. He seemed really excited about getting to converse in Hindi and confessed that it felt great to speak the mother tongue he hadn’t spoken in a while. He told us that Indian backpackers in Chiang Mai are rare events so he was extremely happy to see us. This gave us something to think about and Nikk and I spent a lot of time talking about the reasons why Indians don’t backpack in Thailand (especially in the north), despite of it not being an expensive destination which usually counts as a major restrictions for Indian travellers. We did end up finding our answer and I’ll talk about it soon.
The city of Chiang Mai has over 300 temples. Some of the major temples are: Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chet Yot, Wiang Kum Kam, Wat U-Mong, and Wat Suan Dok. Out of all the temples in the town, the most famous one is the Wat Doi Suthep. TheWatDoiSuthepis located outside the city, on a mountain with the name. The temple is famous for having 304 steps from the bottom of the mountain to the top. We will talk more about this temple in my next post when we discuss about the things to do in Chiang Mai. Even if the thought of having 300 temples in a small town scares you, you don’t have to worry. There are in numerous numbers of things to do in the town of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is often known as the ‘town of tours’. There are literally hundreds of tours organized by different companies available in all the price ranges. Chiang Mai also happens to be the starting point of a lot of Jungle treks. There are in numerous plenty of organized treks one can choose from and you can find tour agencies offering the same tours with the same companies but at different rates within the interval of almost every 50 meters in every direction. So it might be better that you negotiate or do the required amount of market research before settling on a certain tour agency.
On our first night in town, we found out that there was a Couchsurfing event taking place at a bar named ‘BUS BAR’. We had nothing planned for the evening and hence decided to drop by. This was one of the best things we did on our trip. There were about 30 other travellers and locals we met and the night couldn’t have been any better. The ambiance of the bar was just perfect. It was an old bus converted into a bar, located by the river side overlooking the ‘Iron Bridge’. There was a funky band playing some really good music, all of which made the evening perfect in every sense. Nikk was all over it and he couldn’t have been any more overwhelmed, seeing the burning passion of those travellers. I met some prospective travel mates for my future planned trips along with some really cool locals who helped us out the next day by showing us around the city. While speaking to an Indian couple who have been living in Chiang Mai for more than the past 10 years, we found our answer to the question as to why Indians don’t backpack in Chiang Mai. The fact is that in the Himalayas (in northern India), there are hundreds of small villages and towns which offer the same weather, landscapes, markets and even the same ambiance which Chiang Mai has to offer. To be honest, if one can get a similar trip for quarter of the expense in India itself, why would someone want to come down all the way to Thailand? Even then we didn’t regret our decision because every place has its own different values to offer and Chiang Mai was certainly different in every way. It’s just that being Indian; we could easily relate to their mind-set and this made it pretty clear why we don’t see many Indians backpacking not only in Chiang Mai but even in South-East Asia as a whole.
Next up in the series, I will write about the things one can do and the things which we did in the beautifully little town named Chiang Mai. Till then… hold your spirits high and keep wandering.