Sunday, 17 August 2014

Chilling (With Children) In Chiang Mai

Three good reasons to take your little ones to Chiang Mai:

1. There's something interesting, beautiful or both on almost every corner.
2. Travelling around in a tuk-tuk or song taew is waaaay more exciting than the boring old family car.
3. Your children will make new friends all over the city and chances are pretty high that you will too.

One good reason not to take your little ones to Chiang Mai:

1. Dragging your children (and your freshly Thai-massaged body) away is no fun at all.


Thailand sits right up there as one of my favourite countries in the world.  There's the food.  The beautiful temples.  Not to mention the markets.  Oh, and the famous Thai hospitality.  There's the bit about the pedicures that cost less than a bottle of cheap polish.  And not least the incredible history and culture waiting to be uncovered at every turn.

We've just returned from our third trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.  The relatively small city is famous as a stepping stone for treks to visit nearby hill tribes (which we did and loved in our pre-parenting days) but also as a fantastic destination in its own right, crammed full of centuries-old temples, quirky boutiques and tucked away little restaurants boasting some of the best food I've ever tasted.

I have neither the knowledge nor the time (hello again, wakeful baby) to cover all the attractions this beautiful city offers but here are the highlights (and one unfortunate lowlight) of our recent four day trip.

Wats
Wat Pan Tao

'What's a wat, Mummy?' Mister Four's question was answered pretty quickly, as, like any visitors to Chiang Mai we encountered numerous Buddhist temples in our wanderings.  We picked out a few specific wats to visit and then enjoyed stumbling across one or two more.  Each wat houses a large Buddha statue and also a monastery.  But beyond this, there is a great deal of variation, with each temple holding a unique history and place in the community.  We thought Wat Ratchamontian was particularly interesting - it's not too large for little feet to navigate and young travellers' imaginations will be fired up by its other moniker, the 'Dragon Temple'.  These feisty creatures adorn the walls around the temple.



We also stopped at Wat Pan Tao (Monastery Of A Thousand Kilns) with its lovely old teak hall, and Wat Chedi Luang where you will find a 60m high stupa.  And no visit to Chiang Mai is complete without a visit to the famous Wat Prathat Doi Suthep.  This glorious temple built in the fourteenth century sits proudly atop Doi Suthep, a mountain west of the city.  The views from the top are fantastic and the journey up there is great fun too.

One word of caution: even the most devoted sightseer can succumb to 'temple fatigue'.  Don't try to pack in too many temples; instead go slowly and experience the tranquility of just a few.  And do take the time to talk to some of the resident monks.  Mister Four learnt more about Thailand during daily chats than at any other point in the day.  (He was also rather partial to the little cakes and fruit that his new friends showered him with.)

Maesa Elephant Camp

Have you ever seen an elephant paint a beautiful watercolour landscape with its trunk?  I hadn't either until our trip to Maesa Elephant Camp.  Over the years we've been to our fair share of elephant shows.  This one was by far and away the best.  Elephant soccer is quite a feat to behold, as is watching an elephant puncture a balloon with a dart.  What we liked best though was, although I'm no elephant whisper, as far as we could tell the elephants here appeared to be healthy and well cared for.  Mr Four and the other half paid a little extra to ride atop one of the beautiful giants living here.  Little Miss and I waited downstairs and considered starting a ticketing system for all the fellow tourists who clamoured to take selfies with our Western(ish) looking baby.


Mae Sa Snake Farm

We nearly always put in some Trip Advisor hours before visiting animal attractions anywhere in the world.  On principle we refuse to patronise places where the animals seem to be ill-treated or unhappy.  But the two men in my life are snake lovers (yes, really) and we made the impromptu decision to drop into the snake farm as we passed it on our way back from the elephant camp.  I won't go into lengthy detail, but will simply say that if a posse of testosterone-infused teenage boys, a handful of King Cobras and a Lady Gaga-loving macabre DJ were to meet in the street they would put together something very similar to the Mae Sa Snake Farm.  You've been warned...

Suan Buak Hat

As often happens in our travels en famille we needed a morning to let our children just, well, be children.  We found Chiang Mai's one little park and had a very pleasant few hours here.  Although not large, this little green space houses two ponds, an enormous population of pigeons and fish, a good, air-conditioned cafe, and on the day we visited (a Saturday), a somewhat rough-around-the-edges but cute fun fair.  A single ticket for a little train ride bought Mister Four an entire ten minutes looping around a little track.  An investment of 40p (about 70 cents in Australia) meant that he could sit in the shade happily painting a plaster turtle.  And Little Miss thought the equivalent sum we spent on her huge bag of pigeon and
fish food was money very well spent.  We left the park feeling refreshed and happy, exactly the way we'd hoped.

Shopping

If the notion took you, you could fill a wardrobe and furnish a small house at the markets in Chiang Mai.  It's all just a matter of deciding what you're after and then choosing the market to suit your needs.  You can hit up the 1km long night bazaar for your fill of fake purses, bags, t-shirts and even Havaianas.  If Prado handbags aren't really your thing, you're likely to prefer the Saturday markets or the Sunday (also called Walking Street) markets, where you'll find beautiful handicrafts and more original items.  All three markets open in the late afternoon and close around midnight.  If those aren't enough options you can find out about more markets that will help you spend your baht here.

If quirky homewares are your cup of tea, it's also worth taking the time to visit The House, a cluster of Asian lifestyle stores.  This gorgeous cluster of four stores sells bright and colourful cushions, crockery, clothing, accessories and other trinkets.  We bought a set of melamine bowls, cups and spoons that are so pretty I'm tempted to keep them on permanent display on the kitchen bench.  And if all this shopping's got you dropping, you can pop into their cute cafe in the complex.

Eating

What would a trip to Thailand be without savouring the country's famous salty, sour, spicy and sweet blend of flavours.  We devoured curries, noodles, rice and fresh juices in much the same way small children tuck into birthday cake at a party.  Mister Four and Little Miss were well catered for too.  We found restaurants very obliging, making mild dishes for the little man and simple meals of plain rice, steamed veggies etc for our new littlest eater.  Dishes like pad thai, massaman curry and fried rice can easily be adopted to suit youngsters with an aversion to chillies.  Do be forewarned though that it can be hard to find restaurants with high chairs.  It wasn't the issue it could have been however - in most eateries we were met by many pairs of obliging arms offering to hold Little Miss while we slurped our way through culinary heaven.  We found decent food everywhere, but if you have specific dietary requirements you may want to do some research first.  Vegetarians will find lots of options listed on Trip Advisor or Happy Cow.

Getting Around

Before Mister Four was born we took great delight in choosing a beautiful, all bells and whistles 'travel system' for our outings with a bub.  Within two weeks of moving to Asia I had ordered a cheap, lightweight, no frills stroller.  The latter came with us on this trip and served us well.  You will find you end up lifting your stroller up and down steps, careering along rutted pavements and dodging random holes in the footpath.  But we also found fellow pedestrians to be patient and helpful as we made our slow manoeuvres.  The stroller doubled up as a high chair in some restaurants for the few minutes we could keep Little Miss at the table and as a bed on wheels when Mister Four became weary at the night markets.  But for short trips or outings where you can forgo the stroller, a baby carrier is the simplest way to travel with a little one in Chiang Mai.

Around town we took taxis, tuktuks and songtaews (open ended pick up trucks) for short, easy journeys.  Tuktuks and songtaews have a huge appeal for young children, but I made sure we used them only for little trips on roads where we would not be travelling quickly.  For anything longer or on larger roads we stuck to taxis with our own carseats installed.  Our hotel was able to help us find all modes of transport easily and advised us on reasonable fares around town.


On this trip we stayed at Le Meridien.  This was a good option for convenience, space and modern amenities.  If, however, you're looking for something with more of a local flavour, we have also stayed at and thoroughly enjoyed Seven Senses Guest House.








No comments:

Post a Comment

Google+ Badge