There’s Beauty and Adventure in Chiang Mai For Free
We’ve been on what you might call a shoestring budget. Sure we want to see all that we can, and often times you have to pay in order to do it, but with trying to maintain a strict budget, we sometimes have to forgo some of the more expensive options. With this frame of mind it made it easier to notice, starting in China with the Black Bamboo Forest, that sometimes the most amazing experiences, the most relaxing, adventurous and beautiful times, cost little to nothing.
This was the case here in Thailand, when we decided to drive up the mountain from Hang Dong District to Mae Rim and Doi Suthep. It only cost us about $6 for the day for the rental bike and $3 in gas for a full tank. We were told there were many attractions to see along the way, the Chiang Mai Zoo and Aquarium, the Tiger Kingdom, Elephant Parks, The Palace and some temples and we thought we would make the drive and see what we wanted to stop at along the way.
The skies were blue with white clouds and we figured it would be a good day for a ride. Loong Kum, or “Uncle” as we call him, told us not to worry because there would be no rain. So, we traded our ponchos for extra water in our backpack, strapped on our helmets and started off on our rented motorbike to explore the mountain.
Once on the road to Doi Suthep the way quickly became an uphill winding drive. It felt very much like driving in a rain forest or jungle and it was surprising how lush and green the vegetation was. There are a couple lookout spots on the way to the first tourist area by the base of the temple.
The view was gorgeous and even though it was a partially cloudy day we were still able to see down to the city below. There was an artist set up, doing charcoal caricatures of those who wanted to pay and had mentioned that he thought it was going to rain. Still seeing blue skies and with “Uncle’s” forecast in our minds, we didn’t think anything of it and headed up the mountain once again.
We stopped a little further when we came across a little waterfall and couldn’t resist taking a moment to snap a few photos and enjoy the sound and view of the water.
Driving further up the mountain, we finally reached the base of the temple. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Buddhist Temple located near the top of Doi Suthep Mountain. The legend of the temple is that King Nu Naone of the Lanna Kingdom placed what was thought to be a holy relic (a bone from Buddha himself) on the back of a white elephant. This elephant climbed Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, and then died. It is there that the King built the temple, seeing the elephant’s death as a sign. If you want to climb to the temple from the base, prepare yourself for 309 stairs.
If not, you can take a shuttle bus or a cable car. Important to note is that proper attire is required so be prepared to have knees, shoulders, and chest covered for both men and women, and no tight clothing for either. We opted to visit the temple another day and instead walk around the shops and food stands that lined the street and the interconnected streets behind.
Walking around the little village was a lot of fun. It was quite touristy though with lots of souvenirs for sale and although we didn’t plan on buying anything, Macrae tested his skills at bargaining with a few of the shop owners. The shop owners were unwilling to budge from their initial prices and it’s obvious that since this was a main tourist location, they knew they could get the price they want from another tourist eventually.
So we kept going and ventured off the main road and explored the side roads where little shops popped up here and there between houses and other village buildings. We took our time, enjoying the walk, each other and the area around the temple’s base before hiking back up to our bike to continue on our way.
Thailand During Rainy Season – It’s All About Murphy’s Law
The drive from the base of the temple became a little steeper, with a lot more bends in the road, but the bike we were on handled it well and we had Macrae at the wheel so it was not an issue. Perhaps the neatest part of the trip was when we realized we were driving in a cloud. We stopped to enjoy the moment and the thought of being high enough on a mountain to be surrounded by cloud cover.
A little ways further and we reached another tourist stop, Bhubing Palace, or Phu Ping Palace. This winter palace for the Thai Royal family boasts beautiful gardens. We again decided to leave this tour for another day when it was less overcast and when we were up for some tourist activity. Instead, we walked through the adjacent Phu Ping Village which sold clothes, crafts, souvenirs and food. Again, we rambled along the side streets exploring and enjoying the different shops and things for sale.
It was as we were heading back to our bike that it started to rain. We had noticed signs of some rainfall as we drove up the mountain, but it had looked as though the rain had passed and we would be okay. For two weeks we had diligently lugged our two ponchos with us everywhere we went. We were prepared. But the one day we decided to leave them at home was the one day we actually needed them.
The rain only got worse driving down the mountain. We stopped several times with other bikers to seek some shelter in the large overhanging trees but it didn’t really seem to help and it didn’t look like the rain was letting up any time soon. So we opted to keep driving, hoping to outrun, or drive past, the rain. About 5 minutes into it, our plan worked, the rain had stopped. But only until we reached the base of the mountain.
Our hour long drive (or at least it seemed like it) from the mountain base to where we were staying in Hang Dong was a wet, cold and windy ride, but all we could do the entire way home was laugh, make jokes and shake our fists at “Uncle” for being a typical weatherman and getting it wrong.
By the end we looked like drenched rats pulling up to our guesthouse. Uncle shouted out to us and our host translated. Apparently Uncle joked that he thought we’d come back and kill him for telling us it wasn’t going to rain. They all had a good laugh at our waterlogged state. But then again, so did we.
Comment below and let us know when you’ve encountered Murphy’s Law while travelling.