Chiang Mai has always appeared on travel magazines’ lists of best places to tour, so I had kept it in mind. I spent five days in the surprisingly large city (population 150,000), but the oppressive heat depressed my adventuresome desires.
Chiang Mai sits only an hour’s flight north of Bangkok. One can easily fly between the two cities for US$30. I had grand visions of doing yoga, receiving Thai massages, kayaking, rock climbing, and Muay Thai.
I stayed in a brilliant location with regard to the touristy night markets and Ping River. Several of the noteworthy temples were beyond a casual walk’s reach, although I did set my alarm to see two of them before the heat became too much. The heat index at every day’s peak broke 40 °C. Looking back, I should have just sucked it up and gone into the heat. Venturing out into the weather is much more pedestrian friendly in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur due to the ubiquity of futuristic shopping centers that blast air conditioning, where even the locals stop for a break.
In a country that is inexpensive, Chiang Mai is even more friendly to budgets. It makes Bangkok look expensive. Including my incoming flight and accommodations, I spent less than US$300 total. My first day, I got a 90-minute massage, a burger dinner, and a few grocery items. I was constantly dispensing paper money, so it felt as if I were spending, but when I tabulated the amount, it was less than US$15!
In addition to the crazy heat, which I should frankly be used to given that it has not let up on me since I started my Africa trip in late January, I had my worst sleeping experience. I woke up after my first night to be covered in bites. The mosquitoes in Southeast Asia are nowhere near as bad as in Africa, so I was not sure they were the culprit. Only later in the day, did I flip my pillow and discovered an ant army there! I am still not sure what they were doing there since there was no food.
Like in most parts of Southeast Asia, one would be greatly served with the capability to ride a motorbike since renting one is nearly as cheap as a single ride. I did walk more than 13 kilometers one day, but for the most part, I concentrated my activity when the sun was down, like a vampire. Thai massage places are everywhere here. The standard price works out to US$6 per hour. Other activities were similarly inexpensive, but the thought of getting to the studio or gym dissuaded me. I basically relaxed the entire time. Aside from eating out constantly, I went out to a nightclub one night, which was interesting. I had only a beer, but it was quite packed on a Tuesday night. The band played Thai and Western covers. During my week, I got five massages and a manicure. Grand total: $35.