Continued from Part 1…
Working & Living in Chiang Mai
Two of my favourite things from Chiang Mai were the gym and the coffee shop culture.
For years I had on my bucket list to train in an open air gym, somewhere in the sun, and it came to be when I found Crossfit Chiang Mai.
I cannot say enough good things about this place. Finding a gym so well equipped in Asia is no mean feat, with actual facilities to do Olympic lifting, and monkey around doing gymnastics too. It was a great training environment, with some really cool people working out there. I hadn’t really lifted for a few months beforehand due to injuries and it was so good to have a month of proper, consistent training.
It is a very friendly gym and definitely a pillar of the community. On my first weekend there, they hosted a weightlifting competition, with people coming from all over Thailand to compete. Followed by BBQ and beers. There were at least 2 other occasions they ran socials in the month that I was there and it was AMAZING to have an American style BBQ, lots of meat, especially red meat, which is very rare in Thailand – as great as the food is, I am a carnivore at heart.
As Asia goes, the gym is not cheap, but it is most definitely worth it if you are serious about training, or about working out in an awesome community.
On the working front, due to the large expat community and the fact that they grow some of the worlds best coffee in the surrounding mountains, Chiang Mai has a thriving coffee shop culture where you can sit and have an office for the day; fully equipped with fast wifi, comfy seating and great tasting caffeine. I would also add that there are many smaller, coffee shops that have exceptional coffee, but don’t have space to sit in and work. Especially in the back streets of the old town.
My favourite coffee shop was Akha Ama. It’s a little bit out of town, but most definitely worth the trip on a bike. They had, in my opinion, the best coffee in town and such a lovely, chilled atmosphere. You can sit out in the garden and get on with your work or read a book. There is also one that has opened in town, on the Sunday market street, but the environment is not as nice to chill in.
Special mention also to Not who runs a small independent coffee shop on Ratvithi Lane 2 Alley, opposite Number Nice House, where I was staying. He hand brews his coffee, something that I have never seen done before. Slowly filtering it through a little paper sieve and really makes it an art. He was an interesting guy who has done a lot of stuff and travelled around a lot. A true artist, he had his shop decorated with some excellent photography he had taken. Very friendly guy and an interesting person to chat to.
Food & Drink in Chiang Mai
So far, northern Thailand has my favourite food anywhere in Asia. I love the local dishes like Khao Soi and Pad Kra Pao. The street food and especially the food markets are something else. It is excellent food and usually costs somewhere in the region of £1 for street food or £2 in restaurants. My favourite place to eat was the food market at the South Gate, where they have a huge selection of stalls and endless different things, from Pad Thai to various curries and even fried chicken if you want to eat crappy western food for some reason.
This market also contained my favourite non-coffee drinks spot. The little hut near the road sells the best coffee, avocado and banana shake. It was different level (ok maybe it was slightly to do with coffee).
Fresh coconuts are also excellent in Chiang Mai, from pretty much any restaurant and various street stalls you can get a huge, tasty coconut to drink and then eat the flesh of. The fresh local food is definitely one of the best things about northern Thailand.
Partying in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has a pretty cool party scene due to the blend of backpackers, expats and locals who like to have a good time, there is loads of choice. I was staying just around the corner from Zoe corner, which is the hub of backpacker bars, so I had a lot of good nights out there.
The local bars and clubs were also fun, Nice took me a few places. Warm Up club on a random Tuesday night was insane. So many people there, it was a proper rave. We just don’t party like that during the week in Europe. It’s a high-society place, so I think its mostly Thai students and young people who don’t work. Was definitely a fun experience and as one of only a couple of westerners there, now I know what it feels like to be tall in a nightclub!
Even the bars in the red light district were fun. The working girls are proper pool sharks and generally friendly and fun people when they know you’re not there for business. Speaking of which, it was strange and honestly, rather pitiful watching some of the guys who were there for business. My general impression can be summed up with ‘dregs of society’. Especially some of the younger guys (30s and 40s) who were there, whom, if they pulled their finger out and did something with their life, could easily meet a girl for real. Taking the easy way out rather than working on their own value and making themselves in to someone that a women would be interested in dating.
The surrounding areas & nature
Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains and there are some awesome national parks and lakes around. One of the first places I went was the lake just outside of town, my friend Melissa took me to sit in a little straw hut thing, have some tasty fresh food and look out over the lake. It is very picturesque and definitely worth a visit for an afternoon as it is only 10 minutes out of town. I loved watching the local kids playing in the water, in a society that is not health and safety bananas and doesn’t have you addicted to an ipad from age 3, you will see kids behaving like kids; having a wild time splashing around in just a puddle of water for hours on end.
A couple of weeks later Nice drove us out to the national park where we visited a huge lake. You go out on a boat about 10-15 minutes and they drop you off at some floating houses where you can again get some tasty food, enjoy the nature, take a dip in the lake and watch the sun set over the mountains. You can even stay overnight – it would be a great place to go with a group and have a party.
Toward the end of my time in Chiang Mai I headed off to Pai for a week. A small town in the mountains about 3 hours away, which I will write about next post.
I’m going back to Chiang Mai after I leave Cambodia, where I write this, for the Thai New Year festival of Songkran.
I am sure that I will be back again another time and I am currently playing with the idea of moving to Chiang Mai next winter for 4 months. Whether I do or not, I loved Chiang Mai and will definitely return.