In Chiang Mai we stayed in the old city, which is to say, within the ancient walls; these are only intact in a few places, but a large moat still demarks where they should run. Within this boundary the roads run one-way traffic up and down at a leisurely pace, and pretty much every business is there to cater to the tourist. Cafés and restaurants serve up vibrant dishes of almost every type of food, and Nicole and I devoured tacos and burritos when we discovered a Mexican restaurant – something we had missed for the last six months.
Chiang Mai has plenty of activities on offer and every guest house will present a portfolio of potential options. You can bungee jump, attend cooking classes, fire weapons, hurtle down zip lines or go on a leisurely float along the river in a tractor’s inner tube – a tradition called tubing.
Nicole and I took the chance to visit tigers at a nearby zoo and then in the evening attend a Muay Thai fight. Muay Thai is the national martial art, and adds both feet and knees to the traditional British boxing we are more familiar with. The show started with a couple of teens going at each other, and progressed through some women’s fights before working up the men’s weight ranges. The final fight was a showdown between a Frenchman and a Thai man, both fairly well-built men. The Thai man ended up winning the match on points after the full five rounds, but in our view the Frenchman gave more in the fight and probably deserved to win. The cynic in me says that the tourists usually bet on the foreigner to win!
Our time in Chiang Mai was short as we needed to leave for Laos, so we booked ourselves onto a bus which took us to Chiang Kong on the border. This bus stopped at a very unusual temple called the White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun. This stunning, modern temple was built by a celebrated national artist who had a desire to see the battle of good and evil played out with modern cultural characters. This meant that arriving at the temple we were greeted by the torso of Predator bursting out from the grass lawn, the heads of Hell-boy, Freddy Kruger, Batman and Hellraiser hanging from a tree, and a mural of Spiderman and the Minions from Despicable Me painted on the inner wall of the actual temple. ‘Weird’ barely describes it.