Monday, 18 April 2011

History, Culture and Hi-De-Hi! My Positive Chiang Mai Story

Today's Independent carries this worrying story of a spate of sudden deaths in Thailand's northern city Chiang Mai which have not been properly explained.

A British couple, a 23 year-old New Zealander and a Thai tour guide have all died within 16 days of each other in adjoining rooms in the same hotel - the 3-star Downtown Inn. They all died in remarkably similar circumstances and whilst the local authorities are blaming it on food poisoning - and specifically to 'toxic seaweed', others believe that it can not be so straightforward.

My Chiang Mai Experience
Whatever it is that has happened here, it is clearly a tragedy for those involved. To go away on holiday and to never return, for whatever reason, must be a great shock to those back at home who never could have expected such a scenario.

But it would be in this case, a tragedy also if the good name of Chiang Mai as a tourist destination was irrevocably damaged because of these happenings. I can say that as one who has visited this wonderful city, back in 2008.

It was during my 2-week holiday of Thailand back at the start of that year that I visited, on my second stop having landed in Bangkok, the city of Chiang Mai. I've mentioned the holiday in passing before on this blog in a previous post here.

Having been rather underwhelmed by the overbearing experience of Bangkok, my friend Kendal and I who were travelling at the time decided to cut our 3 night stay in Thailand's capital city short and after two nights, caught a flight up north to our next destination on our world-wind tour of Thailand.

More Hi-De-Hi than the Ritz!

 The flight up I must say, was one of the dodgiest I have ever encountered. I can't recall the name of the company with whom we flew, but it was a domestic service which resembled and felt more like travelling inside a rattling box of eggs. It wasn't a long flight thankfully because I didn't feel particularly safe but we landed and we found our way to the accommodation which we had booked earlier that morning - the Eagle 2. It was like something from 1950s Maplins in the BBC spoof comedy Hi-De-Hi. The decour was old-fashioned and the security on the doors were not necessarily the best and all-in-all it really was incredibly cheap and basic. But having said that, we were paying the equivalent of £2 each a night for the stay so we were delighted!

A Buddhist Temple in Chiang Mai
The city is located some 435 miles north of Bangkok in the northern Thai hills and is therefore a good deal cooler than most other areas of the country. This in itself made this pale skinned lad like the place! It is not that big and is medieval in origin which instantly attracted this historian's attention. It was founded in 1296 and the old city was surrounded by a moat and defensive wall because nearby Burma was always a potential threat. We were located at the heart of the city, within the city walls.

Wales 2-0 Scotland!
There were Buddhist temples aplenty and I found the religious bedrock on which this country is based fascinating. In Chiang Mai alone there are over 300 temples (or 'wats' as they are known locally). The city is important culturally as well because of its links with the River Ping on the banks of which it is located. I travelled up and down this river on a bamboo boat and it was magic!

The night-life was a lot more relaxed than it was in Bangkok. An enjoyable recollection that I had was of bumping into a Scottish lad and an Australian woman who were in the town one night and the 4 of us met up later that evening for some drinks. He challenged me to a Celtic duel on a pool table in one particular pub (played on a half-sized snooker table!) and I'm glad to say that Wales beat Scotland 2-0!

Elephant Trekking
We also went elephant trekking whilst on our stay up in the north which was one of the most surreal experiences of my life and I also had the experience of having a snake being put around my neck! After all, you may only ever get these opportunities once!

So this particular leg of my journey was undoubtedly one one of the best that I experienced on what was in the round, a wonderful holiday.

With my new mate, Sid the Snake!
Chiang Mai will always go down in my affections as a 'real' Thai city. Not a modern cosmopolitan giant like Bangkok, but a real city with history and character.

So for all of the awful news that has come from that city in recent weeks, please don't let it put you off what was for me, a wonderful experience.

Would I go back to Chiang Mai? In a shot.

No comments:

Post a Comment