The city’s tourist attractions make it a great long weekend option for Phuketians, especially with AirAsia offering direct flights from the island.
After several years of visiting markets in Asia without a guide, which usually means not knowing what the majority of the food I was looking at was, it is with great excitement that I join the Kiri Tours “Chiang Mai’s Markets, Mouthwatering Snacks and Monks” half-day tour, which includes a valuable asset: tour guide Penkhae “Bammie” Camsa.
After only a short time at the Pratu Chiang Mai Market, it is obvious that I am in for a much more valuable experience having Bammie available to answer all my questions. Bammie has lived in Chiang Mai for 40 years, and has worked as a tour guide for 16. She’s funny, bright, and very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
It’s drizzly and dark at the market when we arrive just before dawn, in time to catch the monks arrive for almsgiving, which takes place daily at the market. It’s a magical experience: this market is not so popular with tourists so it is the perfect opportunity to catch a glimpse of authentic local life.
Pratu Chiang Mai Market – which translates as Chiang Mai Gate Market – is a busy and popular local market, renowned for its cooked breakfast dishes at low prices.
One iconic dish is the Lanna favourite, kaeng kradang, a jelly pork curry, Bammie explains. This is a special dish that people in Chiang Mai eat in the winter, she says.
“We cook it and keep it overnight, and it turns harder like jelly because of the cold. We eat it the next morning as a cold dish.”
One way of describing the dish is that it’s like a solid soup. Gelatine is often used to make the jelly set, and inside is pork – usually pork leg.
Also well known is cooked bamboo shoots, which Bammie says is commonly served with chilli paste. It’s steamed and tender – and delicious. Bamboo is also used as an ingredient in curries, or stir-fried with egg and glass noodles.
After sampling multiple snacks we head for Chiang Mai’s popular Warorot Market. This is the main market of the city and you’re sure to find other tourists here.
At Warorot you can buy almost anything: dried fruits, snacks, clothing, handicrafts, jewellery, ceramics, beauty products and homewares, plus lots of souvenirs.
Don’t forget to sample Chiang Mai’s famous naemsausage, full of herbs and slightly sour-tasting.
The stall vendors are excited to see such enthusiasm from a foreigner and it’s catching – before long I have a large crowd gathered around to see my reaction to the taste of this famous snack. I don’t disappoint them; it’s delicious.
From the market we go to Thapae Gate, one of the four original city gates, and this is where the fun really begins: jumping into a samlor, or bicycle-rickshaw.
I didn’t know these were still around in Chiang Mai. Sitting on the back of one of these is like going back in time as my “driver”, an elderly Thai man with the biggest calves you’ll see, pedals along with apparent ease.
But it’s tough work (I’m guilty subjecting the samlor guy to those extra sausages I sampled) and the reason why there are few rickshaws around these days: it’s incredibly tiring.
I’m sure it won’t be long before rickshaws are no longer around, as the number of samlor men is dwindling. They already have competition from a company offering Segway tours – electric scooters for people to whiz around the streets on.
But for me, the rickshaw is far preferable. I feel like a celebrity as we ride through the streets, with people smiling and waving as we ride along, the bell ringing out loud. You can almost hear them thinking, “I want to have a go in that.”
One of the major drawcards of much-loved Chiang Mai is its large number of temples, many of which are located right in the centre of the city.
On the rickshaw trip we first stop at Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, in the northeast corner of the original walled and moated “four gates” city that dates back to the 13th century.
Next up was Wat Chedi Luang, my personal favourite, purely because of it’s “wow” factor – the sheer height of the buildings. Situated on expansive grounds, it reminds me of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
The temple was built in 1391 by King Saen Muang Ma to hold the ashes of his father. The stupa that contains the ashes is missing the top part, destroyed in an earthquake in 1546. It’s really relaxing wandering around the area and there are a lot of shady spots to relax in.
We also visit Wat Phra Singh, which was built in 1345. King Phayu – the fifth king in the dynasty started by King Mangrai, founder of the city – built a chedi there to house the ashes of his father, King Kham Fu.
After this temple visit it is unfortunately time to return to the hotel, which I suspect delights my rickshaw driver who is looking increasingly worn out.
I’m satisfied: I’m full, and I’ve experienced local life, local food, some interesting temples and I’ve learned about the history thanks to Bammie. And the highlight of the trip – the rickshaw ride – is something to remember.
Khiri Travel runs the half-day tour, which starts at the local market at 6.30am. The tour costs B790 per person and includes all transfers, transport, snacks and an English-speaking guide. For more details visit khiri.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Khiri also has a Phuket office at 59/7 Phuket Thani Village, Thepkrasattri Road, Srisoontorn, Talang. Tel: 076 617 753 or email email@example.com.