Chiang Mia and Sukothai are part of what is known as Northern Thailand as apposed to the Issan region in Northeast Thailand.
We began this trip spending a day at leisure in Bangkok getting our legs back under us after the 24-hours+ that it took us to get there from the U.S. East Coast. We took a short walking tour around the area of our hotel, grabbed a cold coffee drink, took a massage and then a nap. Perfect first day in IMHO.
The next morning, we took the 1-hour & fifteen minute flight to Chiang Mia on a Bangkok Airways A-319.
In Chiang Mia, we stayed at Secret Gardens which describes itself as “Bungalows & Cooking Guesthouse Wellness Resort in Bo Sang.” It is a comfortable quiet resort located in Bo Sang village, near Chiang Mai City.
It is not the place for you if you are looking for a 5-star resort property but we really enjoyed our stay. The great service begins with the owners. The accommodations are very clean stand alone bungalows set in a lovely garden with nice details like DVD player in each room and a good CD & DVD borrowing library. While not a huge spread, the breakfast buffet had exactly what we wanted to eat for breakfast (including a selection of hams prepared on-site) and was beautifully presented. The dinner buffet was also very good.
It was our preference to be outside of the city center so being located in Bor San was not a major problem but that also meant that it took 20-30 minutes to get to the center of Chiang Mai City. However, the hotel makes great effort to overcome that with free pickup and delivery to the airport and train station and free transport to a nearby shared taxi stop for an inexpensive way into the city.
Without question, the thing that Bo Sang village is best known for is the making of traditional Thai umbrellas. In fact, the Thai words “Bo Sang” translate as “Umbrella”. For much of its history, everyone in the village was involved in the umbrella trade. Knowing the history, we felt a sense of obligation to pay a visit to a umbrella facility near our hotel where workers were hand painting mulberry paper, cotton and silk umbrellas, primarily for the tourist trade.
On our first full day there we visited the Maetang Elephant Park. If we were visiting an “elephant camp” we might expect to see elephants in something similar to a typical working existence.
However the experience at Maetang Elephant Park is more of a song & dance show. Elephants playing soccer; elephants painting pictures; elephants asking for banana and sugar cane handouts. After the show, there is some riding of the elephants in a saddle bench worked into the program, which was our favorite part of the day but to be perfectly honest, we tend to shy away from this type of excursion. We love the time we’ve spent with elephants but really prefer a less contrived environment.
However, with that said, this was a fun day. The elephants appeared to be well treated and healthy. It wouldn’t be our first choice for an elephant experience but if you’re in Chaing Mai and have the time, it’s worthwhile.
That evening, we went to a Muay Thai boxing event in downtown Chaing Mai. It wasn’t a top flight boxing card and included both male and female fighters. In general, the action was not too violent and the “lady boys” (i.e. transvestites) who provided the bar service were entertaining and some could only be described as beautiful. Several looked a lot like Cher with long straight hair, long nails and gowns. They seemed to enjoy being the center of attention and everyone smiled and joked and acted like no one seemed to notice they were men!
The next day we took the obligatory city tour of local temples and ruins. Just outside the city is a historical park with ancient ruins. Probably the most impressive site we saw was Wat Chedi Luang, built in 1411. At its completion, it stood over 278 feet tall until it was partially destroyed by earthquake in 1545.
However, we did make a trip to both the Saturday night “walking street market” and the Sunday night market, where the minority villagers come to sell their beautiful textiles. We’re happy to report that we did our part to support the local weaving industry.
At the Sunday Night Market we had a meal there walking from one food stall to the next. Virtually everything was 20-25 baht or roughly $0.75 per dish and we didn’t eat anything there that wasn’t excellent. Not being as good a shopper as my wife, I opted for a half hour foot massage will she managed to find a few more things we needed to buy.
After breakfast, the next morning, the hotel dropped us off at the train station for our trip to Sukothai.