Last year, I got two opportunities related to Chiang Mai, which I missed, beyond my control. Needless to say, this upper Northern province of Thailand has made for one of my dream destinations for many years. Should I attribute it to the song of “Chiang Mai Flower” by our Cambodian late mega-singer, SIN Sisamouth?! Well, similar to Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri, I was looking forward to to its cool weather and indigenous cultures. As Karma has it, after the misses came my “hits” with our family trip, last April, and our professional mission, last May, for DRAPAC23, to Chiang Mai. This post will contain lots of mixed feelings between personal and political. Curious? Just read those five memories out below!
1- Pick Your Convenient Transport
As I made my trip twice to Chiang Mai, I really recommend you to pick your transport based on your budget and convenience. As part of our large family holidays, we traveled all the way from Phnom Penh, through Siem Reap, to Chiang Mai and spent over 24 hours by buses getting there! As a team, we took the planes from Phnom Penh to Chiang Mai, transiting in Bangkok and spent about seven hours (including transit time) reaching that city. Now you see the timing difference?! Yet, the spending should be aligned by five times different between our bus and air fares. Plus, if you wish to enjoy more on-ground/mountainous sceneries, the bus is a relaxing way to go! Yet, if you intend to get there for work/meetings, airplane can save much of your time!
2- Travel Beyond Town
When we visited that city in our packaged tour, we were assigned to some local treats. What I recall most was the Khan Tuk dinner, featuring Lanna cuisine and shows. The music already reminds us of some Thai TV series related to that part of this Kingdom. However, last month, I made my mind to visit the nearby sites. Although a very kind Thai friend originally from that province recommended a day tour to Mae Rim to me, I ended up with only two sites: Elephant Care Home in Mae Saa and Baa-Butterfly and Orchid Farm. It was quite an exotic experience to feed some elephants myself! Oh boy, should I describe my promenade in that butterfly garden as a paradise transcendence?!
3- Interact With Your Drivers
Although not all Thai drivers speak good English, you can always try and converse with them. Most of them are friendly and make efforts to give you practical tips about places to go within the city. For instance, one of our Grab drivers, female, shared with us the best places to shop for cosmetics (not for myself!). My driver to Mae Saa showed me around on the way back and forth. And I realize why Thailand does so well in promoting their tourism: a row of relevant (natural) sites to visit to make for a compelling itinerary!
4- Walk Around For Your Knowledge
The Assembly we took part in was hosted by Chiang Mai University, a complex of different colleges spread across the city, some jointly and others, separately. So we had all the reasons to walk about from site to site just for our breakout sessions. However, our very host is Chiang Mai School of Public Policy, as related to digital and human rights, thematized by our organizer, EngageMedia. It is quite interesting, though, to see how both the University’s Convention Center and Arts Center are open to the public, not only for visits, but also for physical exercises!
5- Find Your Warm Shelter
Here comes probably the most political part of my visits to Chiang Mai: home to Burmese activists, as it borders Shan State of Myanmar. For this reason, the Assembly dedicated some activities to Burmese participants such as Solidarity Screening and Night! How I enjoyed the Burmese flavors in this latter one! Somehow, most of them expressed gratitude to Chiang Mai/Thai authorities for sheltering them. With such “freedom”, they could continue to advocate for better rights for their home country. Finally, what impressed me was the latest post-screening discussion, where the filmmakers from both Myanmar and Thailand expressed interest to collaborate in their future projects. Despite their historical conflicts, I’m curious to see the outcome of this collaboration soon!
To sum up, Chiang Mai, as its name is translated, serves as the New City of warmth and freedom for us to explore what lies beyond our home countries, but not too far! On my final note, I’ll challenge you to visit Chiang Mai and share with me back your different experiences 😀