I have already been to Chiang Mai a couple of times - in fact, I was there the very first time I left New Zealand. I got myself in an awkward position in Bangkok, so fled north in a bus which seemed to take forever. On that visit, I did a pretty good job of exploring the local tourist attractions, without spending much time in town. I went back a few years ago, but was seduced into flying to Luang Prabang. So, the plan this time is to simply stay in Chiang Mai for a week, to get a proper feel for the place.
I arrived mid-afternoon: after a coffee just outside the airport, remembering that I'd walked out to the airport last time I was here, I decided to walk to my hotel - about 4 km. Big mistake! I'm a bit older now and it took forever in the heat. At one point a fellow tried to organise a songthaew (a ute with bench seats in the back) for me, but I couldn't communicate where I was going so I was committed to the walk. Unusually, my route didn't take me past any 7-11's or bars, so it was dry work - luckily it got dark and cooled down considerably. Eventually, I got to my hotel - the grandly named Sinthana Resort which was nothing of the sort (unless putting a few trees in the car park counts). The next challenge was to get dinner - I wanted a normal Thai dinner with a beer, but the only Thai food I could find nearby was from street stalls.
There were a couple of Korean restaurants, a rather nice ice cream parlour and a great cafe - the Sode, which became a regular stop whenever I walked past. The customers of the ice cream parlour were a little unusual - groups comprised of a single older foreign man and a bunch of Thai women, which I worked out to be English language students. They were having a great time.
I could not dine on ice cream and coffee, however, so kept walking - nearly walking past a place called RAW, because I took the sign quite literally, and thought it would just be trendily presented salads. Looking again, I found it to be quite the opposite - a very new Korean Fried Chicken joint. Although it lacked the beer (very unusual for such places), I gave it a go and was very happy - they gave me so much, I had leftovers for breakfast, and I could buy beer at the several 7-11's surrounding my hotel.
My first exploration was of Chiang Mai University - it is huge, and largely deserted when I was there, although I did find a coffee shop with about the best coffee I found on my entire visit to the city. The fellow running it was keen to talk, so we discussed the nature of Christmas, as you do. This picture speaks volumes of the level of activity I saw as I walked around.
I liked the campus - there are lots of trees, including a couple of smallish forest parks, a pond and some interesting buildings. I was amazed at the size of the Political Science Faculty, and found the Law Faculty right on the edge of campus, in the bush almost. There seemed to be some sort of singing competition happening there while the law professors were off enjoying their break.
The campus is so big, they have a shuttle system to take people around it, and have shuttles of a different colour to run what looked like orientation tours for intending students. There is an area where these shuttles herd together when not in use.
I had heard that the emerging action was on Nimmanhemin Road, which is a short distance from the University, so this was my other destination for the day. On the way, I encountered the University stadium and popped into the first cafe I saw, Taste Cafe, for a coffee. The other customers didn't seem too focused on whether the coffee was any good, but more about how it looked: everyone was busy taking photos of the coffee. One of the guys looked like he was doing a photo shoot - having his female companion pose with a coffee and a glossy magazine. I liked the look of the space, and the coffee was well made but a bit underpowered, flavourwise.
Ironically, given that I was visiting Nimmanhemin Road because it is where all the new bars, cafes and hostels are starting up, I lunched at the least trendy place on the road - the Hong Tauw Inn is probably the oldest establishment around, with dozens of old clocks lining the walls, and run by some rather ancient looking women. I thought if anyone was going to make a proper Khao Soi, this was the place - I was certainly happy with it. I took the photo with my phone, so it isn't that great.
One of my fixations when visiting Thailand is to get a donut and the overly sweet orange drink that most donut places seem to have, and you get this combination in malls. It is the only reason I visited MAYA, the new mall at the end of Nimmanhemin Road. Although I didn't actually find a donut shop, I was very impressed with the food court I found on the top floor - lots of little stalls, just like you'd find on the street.
Here's how the world looks from the top floor of MAYA, and a failry random photo as I can't actually remember what it is.
There's also a 24 hour co-working space - CAMP - which I wandered through but had no actual work to do so left, and went to the movies - Rogue Wars. By this time I was thinking of dinner, but that didn't work out too well for me. There were lots of nearly empty Indian, Italian and other foreign food restaurants but I wanted either an authentic Thai dinner or to go to a bar. In fact, I had a particular bar in mind - Beer Republic, which is a craft beer bar, but I never found it. The bars I did find were either packed or selling terrible versions of Thai food, and the nice Thai cafe I'd spotted closed as I walked in. So it was back to the hotel with what I could scrounge from the 7-11.