Escape to Chiang Mai

Traffic here is intense. It is one of the most polluted cities in Thailand, its only real downside. Many people wear masks if they are on a bike, as when you stop at a red light it can easily be 5 minutes until it changes, you can taste the pollution. The cars stop and build up in the queue the bikes weave their way to the front and wait in ever increasing numbers waiting for the green light. Then they are off, everyone trying to get ahead of the cars which eventually catch up and overtake until the next red light where it all happens again. It is strangely exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Thailand has the worst death rate on the roads in the world and the holiday periods especially New Year is when most fatalities occur. They only count deaths not the many thousands injured, it’s horrific. If you are here in the holidays you see lots of young Thais enjoying themselves and drinking beer with shots and then jumping on their motorbikes to go home. Car drivers are the same, lethal. We don’t venture out on the bike at this time it’s not so bad in the middle of the day but never at night it’s too dangerous.

It’s a different way of driving here, you never just stop because things will run into the back of you, you weave your way around and everything seems to flow. There are many police roadblocks where they will fine you 500 baht for not wearing a helmet and if you are a foreigner and don’t have an international driving licence then another fine. Some cynics say the police do this towards the end of the month (before they get their wages) but who knows, they stop a lot of people and police wages are poor. On a couple of a occasions we have been stopped 3 times in one day.

There are lots of different ways to get around. You can hire a motorbike, not for the faint hearted, which costs about £3 a day and a tank of fuel is about £2. You can rent a pushbike for £1 a day, I fancy that even less!!! To rent a car is about £30 a day and marginally safer. The easiest way to get around the city is in a songthaew the open backed red buses which are 30 baht round town. The trick is to tell the driver where you are going and just get in, don’t ask the price as it will always be more expensive, act like a local. There are also yellow buses which go on fixed routes to the outlying villages and are very cheap. Then there are tuk tuks which race around the city and you can bargain with them to get the price down. There is one price for locals, one for a Thai person with a foreigner and then a price for foreigners. If you go on a tour with a company, of which there are hundreds, they use mini buses which go at one speed only, warp factor 9, it’s a proper white knuckle ride. The main roads are very good and straight it’s only when you get into the mountainous areas that they twist and turn. For example the road to Pai which is 76 miles has 762 turns and extreme switchbacks. There is stunning scenery, if you dare take your eyes off the road, or open them in my case. If you are a biker there are some fantastic roads. One of the most famous is the Mae Hong Son loop which takes 4 days and passes through rice fields, forests and mountains and has some spectacular scenery and friendly people. It is an experience you will never forget. The one thing that is so different here than the U.K. there is no road rage. People are very calm, no gesturing or shouting it’s so much better everyone just sits and waits with no problems, I wish I could take that home with me it’s so refreshing.

There are many tours you can do in CM. If you like the wild outdoors you can zip line through the jungle, go white water rafting, wash and walk with elephants, go trekking to tribal villages, visit waterfalls, kayaking, bicycle tours the list is endless. There are 3 National Parks very close to CM to explore. Most guest houses/hotels have racks of leaflets to tempt you. Some tours are a few days and some a few hours. For the not so adventurous there are cooking courses, mindfulness retreats, massages, temple tours, museums. You are never short of something to do. Some of the tours have changed I am pleased to say. The elephant tours no longer let you ride in metal chairs on them and a lot of the tiger tours have been shut down, it’s getting better. There are still monkey and snake shows but animal welfare is improving slowly. This is because the tourists do have a voice and it counts. There is a lot of money generated by animals in tourism and there is still a long way to go.


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