Anyone who is interested in long term travel in Southeast Asia has likely heard of the Chiangs: Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, two cities in Northern Thailand. The cities hold a niche fame for easy, inexpensive living with a great expat community and oodles of culture. To everyone else, they remain as anonymous as the many other non-capital Asian cities. Naturally, we planned to go to both.
Another draw of the cities for us was the presence of lovely Le Meridien hotels at extremely reasonable prices. When we made our Southeast Asia itinerary, though, we soon found that the pace was faster than we prefer. So, we cut the more popular and larger city of Chiang Mai in favor of more time in smaller, quieter, cheaper Chiang Rai. Tessa and Kyle would go on to Chiang Mai (and report that they had a blast and far preferred it to Chiang Rai).
Zack and I arrived at the hotel as night fell on a rainy evening. We checked into our room and gushed at the massive size and sophisticated design. Before our luggage was even brought up, we left again. Luckily, Tessa and Kyle had arrived a couple of days prior and booked the shuttle for the four of us to head to the town’s night market for dinner.
We picked our way through the puddles to the nearly empty night market. Vendors were just opening up, hawking souvenirs, textiles, and of course, food. A couple dozen food stands offered fruit smoothies, Thai curries, hot pots, and various fried seafood and vegetables. After ordering our curries and fried spring rolls we found a table under the dripping awning. Tessa and Kyle shared a hot pot and Zack and I enjoyed watching them figure out how to enjoy this dish for the first time.
When we returned to our room we unpacked and took it all in. I poured a bath, put on my favorite bath music, and luxuriated until my fingers were pruny. Coming out in a white fluffy robe, I considered the sleeping arrangements. Two double beds, each with four big pillows and soft comforters. Each tight for two but big for one. Well, may as well take one each! I slept right in the middle, among all the pillows, and woke up feeling like a queen. Zack also sprawled and enjoyed the lavishness.
Our plan for Chiang Rai was simple. Enjoy the massive resort, try some of the Northern Thailand cuisine, and take in the rolling hills of rice paddies and meandering rivers. We had read that the countryside was more easily accessible from the city than Chiang Mai, and that had in part driven our decision to choose this city. However, even as we peered out the airplane window on approach, it was clear that Chiang Rai was rather larger than we thought and growing fast.
It rained, a lot. The rain that had woken us in Krabi with its ferocity continued up north. An afternoon outing to the market area changed en-route to a visit to the mall as the skies opened. We chowed down at a Japanese restaurant and wandered the shops. At checkout after finding some local craft beers in the supermarket, we realized it was too early to buy alcohol. Not to say that we personally felt it was too early.
Our travels have taught us that liquor laws vary far and wide. Some countries are very practical and logical, others seem to have no rhyme or reason. Thailand is the latter. Alcohol can only be purchased at certain hours of the day, lunch time and after 1700. Well, our ride wouldn’t wait so we would have to try Thailand’s brews another time.
Undeterred, we picked up some treats instead and headed back. We settled into the hotel bar with cards on the table and soccer on the television. Soon, someone at the next table asked if she could join our card game. We happily obliged and soon found out she was traveling for work and was from a town not far from where I grew up! We swapped stories about the region as we played. Eventually, both our game and the TV game had ended, and the bar had emptied. Another happy night passed in Thailand.
Tessa and Kyle moved on to Chiang Mai while Zack and I stayed behind. The large resort proved to be perfect for our workouts, reading, and writing. Obviously, we love exploring, but not exploring in a new place is also pretty awesome.
The rain cleared, so one blazing hot day we planned to see Chiang Rai’s main attraction, a famous all white temple. Tessa and Kyle had gone and reported that it was just ok. We arrived in town to set off to it. As we took our first steps to find a taxi, I stopped, “To be honest, I really don’t feel like going to see the temple. I know it’s the main sight and all but I just don’t care.” Zack replied, “Cool with me, I never cared in the first place.” So, we ditched our plans.
Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a date night at the resort’s waterfront Italian restaurant. For our early dinner we were alone in the restaurant. We both enjoyed a leisurely meal sampling the restaurant’s special Autumn menu. As we have found in many hotels in the region, the service was immensely attentive and personal. We felt like VIPs!
Right on the river, the stylish and comfortable restaurant sat under the shade of trees, and later, under the glow of old fashioned Edison bulbs. The swollen, swift river was beautiful with the sun’s fading rays lighting it against the surrounding trees and green grass.
The restaurant was so lovely we returned once more to enjoy the sunset with delicious food and wine. In the distance, the hills proved to be a beautiful green rising up to the golden sky. In fact, the entire hotel grounds were lush and beautiful, and we enjoyed strolling amongst them in the clean mountain air.
On our last evening we also returned to the night market. Now in dry weather, bands played on the stage, people filled the eating area, and every stall had a vendor selling. We tried the hot pot for ourselves and once we figured out the best way to eat it, pronounced it delicious.
We loved our week at Le Meridien Chiang Rai. Not only did we experience a Southeast Asian rainy season, but when the wetness left we were treated to spectacular sunsets and lovely evenings. In our spacious room we felt at home and happy.
It may sound like this is a post about nothing, for all we did in Chiang Rai. One of the things we have learned about our life on the road is that traveling is all about the value we receive from it. It’s not about seeing every attraction or trying every single dish, but about gaining something from the experience. For us, it was a brief return to the pace we enjoyed in the islands, a step back from constant wide-eyed exploration.
Perhaps we will return to Northern Thailand. Maybe we will even see the white temple, or maybe just enjoy the river, local curries, and rainbow sunsets. Either way, it’s lovely there.
Check out our video for more scenes from the trip!
© Cheers Life Partners 2017