There are a multitude of hotels in Chiang Mai but we suggest you go reasonably ‘up-market’ as the standards at so called four star hotels can sometimes be questionable in the north of Thailand. Try to stay somewhere near the old city. Taxis are very difficult to get at night if you stay outside the main areas of town. We stayed at BED (www.bed.co.th) which is close by the new Maya Shopping Mall and there are many local restaurants, shops and markets just around the corner. We loved the location, close to trendy Nimmanhaemin Road and it is now our preferred accommodation in Chiang Mai
“We regret that walking around in the nude, sunbathing and swimming in the nude is not permitted.” says the sign by the management of the House of Male in Chiang Mai. Perhaps this has something to do with the neighbours who overlook the high fences surrounding the property. However if you are looking for a quiet relaxing day by a pool in a small tropical garden with ‘men only’, this place is a good find. Entry fee for the day is 130THB ($5.00 AUD) with a locker and two towels provided. The House of Male sun lounges, chairs and tables hug the perimeter of the pool. The sounds of running water and tinkling Chinese wind chimes help guests relax while they read their books or iPads (using the free wi-fi).
On the ground level there is the pool, a bar, a steam room and a small well equipped gym. The LemonTree restaurant is at the front and has an extensive Thai menu which is great for lunch or dinner (open until 9:30pm). On the second level is a large area overlooking the pool. There are also three cabins for those wanting a little more privacy and a screened off private cruising lounge and movie area.
Tuesday and Thursday evenings after 6pm are ‘buddy nights’ and entry is two for one. These nights attract more local Thai guys. The House of Male has stood the test of time. However, one change we noticed is that massage is not available anymore but we can still recommend this place for some chill-out time in an all male environment. www.travelgayasia.com
The two main gay centres are outside the old city moat. The gay scene here is constantly changing and we suggest grabbing a copy of OUT Magazine from places like the House of Male or going to www.out.com or www.travelgayasia.com to find the latest information about the gay bars, clubs, saunas, spas, and gay accommodation in Chiang Mai. Our recommendations for bars are Ram Coffee and Bar and we found Soho Bar, near House of Male, very hospitable with a mixed clientele. G Star Vintage Chiang Mai and Monkey Cplub are the most popular nightclubs.
We booked a full day excursion through www.viator.com called Chiang Dao Elephant Jungle Trek and Ping River Rafting Tour. Our first stop north of Chiang Mia was the orchid farm. The orchids were amazing with their succulent, vibrant, blossoms. The gardens here were peaceful and the butterfly enclosure housed some unusual specimens that live somewhere between a week to a year.
Our adventure continued when we arrived on the banks of the Ping River where the Chiang Dao Elephant Camp is located. We really felt we were in the jungle in this relatively unspoiled setting as we walked precariously across the long, high rope suspension bridge to finally arrive at the elephants. We watched them bathe in the river and enjoy a scrub from their mahouts (their lifelong human carers). The elephant show that followed was a little cliché and included the usual log rolling and dragging and acrobatics. However, we were quite amused by the elephant which took a paint brush in its trunk and composed a very realistic painting of a tree.
Our eagerly anticipated ride on the elephants took us through remote jungle tracks to an isolated mountain village and then back along the shallow banks of the beautiful Ping River. The one and a half hour ride was exhilarating and the highlight of the day. The second part of the tour was river rafting on a bamboo raft for an hour on the tranquil river trail punctuated by some small rapids to add a touch of excitement. Along the river there were locals fishing and picnicking and semi-submerged water buffalo cooling off from the heat. We finished with a late lunch at a local hotel and arrived back in Chiang Mai at around 4pm.
The Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School is by far the best in the city. The school is set in tropical gardens and has an excellent cooking demonstration room and well equipped cooking stations. Our day started by visiting the local fresh vegetable market to purchase our supplies. The rest of the day we cooked and ate our way through our own ‘expertly prepared’ yellow curry with chicken, steamed fish in banana leaves, chicken with cashew nuts and fried big noodles with sweet soy sauce. Each dish is first presented by the chef in the lecture room using mirrors strategically placed above the cooking station to demonstrate the steps and techniques required. Back at our individual cooking stations we continued our menu with spicy prawn salad north-eastern style and bananas in coconut milk. Armed with our Chef Sompon cookbook and cooking apron (souvenirs of our special day) we retuned to our hotel not feeling like any dinner whatsoever but completely satisfied with the whole experience. A one day cooking course costs 1,450THB ($55.00AUD). See the website for other cooking courses. (http://www.thaicookeryschool.com/content/beginner-cooking-classes-79.html)
When we were just about over Thai food, Escargots (snails), French onion soup and Coq au Vin (chicken in red wine) are what we ate at La Terrasse, one of the top five restaurants located in the central tourist area of Chiang Mai not far from the famous Night Markets. The extensive menu is all about good traditional French cooking. We met Jean, our friendly host and chef, who learnt his culinary skills from his mother in Normandy and has been running the restaurant for seven years. Jean ensures his guests feel welcome by taking time to chat with each group. A sure sign of the quality and authenticity of this restaurant experience was the number of tables filled with French expats and tourists. Don’t forget to make a reservation as the restaurant is small and very popular, especially early in the evening. Highly recommended.
Take a 30 minute drive up the winding mountain to the temple (Wat) “Doi Suthep”. Named after the mountain on which the temple is located, this is a very sacred site for many Thai people. When you arrive at the Wat you are faced with 309 steps to reach the pagodas or you can take the tram to the top. Don’t miss seeing the great views over Chaing Mai from the edge of the surrounding walls. As with most wats you need to be respectful by removing your shoes when you enter the temple. The ornate pagodas, statues, bells and shrines are some of the most impressive in Thailand. Be sure to see the Emerald Buddha and a statue of the Hindu God Ganesh.
All your senses will be stimulated by the mix of vibrant yellow saffron robes worn by the monks, the sweet smell of burning incense and the pervasive drone of the bronze bells and the chanting of mantra. We preferred to block out the din of the many hundreds of tourists who often forget that this is a religious place and not a shopping mall. Visiting Doi Suthep in the early morning before the tour buses arrive is highly recommended.
The world famous Chiang Mai Night Markets are enormous, stretching along blocks of the central city area. They operate every day of the year from about sunset until 11:00pm. The Night Bazaar is on the east side of the old walled city and many hotels run a shuttle service to drop off and pick up. There are thousands of stalls so the markets are full of colour with neon lights flooding over the amazing array of merchandise on sale. You can have a lot of fun bargaining (taking 20% to 30% off the original asking price is a good ‘rule of thumb’). Sometimes you might pick up real treasures at very low prices.
Even if you are not buying, just strolling through the Night Bazaar is a full sensory experience. When we’ve had enough, we usually eat and drink in an outdoor cafe called The Pub right on the corner beside Starbucks. The local Thai food here is delicious and we always find this place a perfect vantage point for people watching, right in the centre of the action.
Another area that is much more western and up-market is the newly constructed Maya Shopping Centre on Nimmanhaemin Road. The centre is full of designer shops, a floor devoted to eating and on level five there are eight cinemas with a number of films being screened in English. Even more interesting, just across the road from the Maya complex is Think Park. This park has been built to look exactly like a small scale version of Chiang Mai’s old city. This cutting edge Thai artisan market where ‘old meets new’ is perfect for dining, drinking and mixing with the locals and we suggest you save your visit until the evening.
To get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok we use Bangkok Airways with a flight time of 90 minutes.
This story was also featured in the Sydney Star Observer (June 2015)