You can't get lost if you don't care where you are... unless you are the Halls. We get lost regardless of our frame of mind.
We've been doing a lot of wandering here in Chiang Mai. No real "organized" tours, just endless walks down winding city streets, visiting the local park, and the occasional Grab (Thailand's Uber) to do more trekking. We've decided to skip the "elephant encounter" business, we did a bunch of research on ethical sanctuaries, and we chose to not participate in any of it. It just didn't feel right for our tree-hugging, animal-loving family to do.
Our two favorite adventures have been our visit to the Royal Park Rajapruek, and the Monk's Trail. The Royal Park Rajapruek is an epic botanical garden that spans more than 500 acres. We walked the trails for over 5 hours, and didn't see all of it. The plant species, and tropical garden installations there were really breathtaking. It amazed us how everything grows here.
Here is a slideshow of the Royal Park Rajapruek
The Wat Pha Lat monastery (a stop along the Monk's Trail) was incredible. Josie and I had to talk April out of hiking to the top of the mountain where the iconic Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is. We ended up walking and hiking over 16 miles that day! There was so much to see that stopping didn't really seem like an option. The Monk's Trail is a steep hike up the side of a mountain through thick jungle, bamboo tunnels, and waterfalls - all to the mesmerizing soundtrack of the loudest cicadas we've ever heard! They sounded like the buzz of a hundred circular saws.
Once we got to the top of the trail (the first temple), we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular eye candy of our adventures so far. There was a large open rockface with a mountain stream cascading down, surrounded by jungle and beautiful vine covered temples dating back to the 1300's. We were exhausted from the hike, and we just stood there - speechless - and took it all in. Giant stone dragons peeking their necks out from the vines, Buddhas carved into the rocks and encased in ornate concrete temples, and a quiet peace that filled the air.
Slideshow of the Monk's Trail and the Wat Pha Lat
We've also explored some of the 600+ temples in the city of Chiang Mai. In our humble opinion, these temples are what makes Chiang Mai worth visiting. They are truly spectacular. For what this city lacks in public infrastructure, it makes up for in these magnificent temples. It's not just the physical structures either, it's walking the streets and hearing the monks chant, it's the the way the people here embrace and respect their history, culture and spirituality, it's something that isn't tangible but that has left an undeniably positive impression on us.
Slideshow of the temples we discovered in the city
This is our last week here in Chiang Mai, and then we're off to Kuala Lumpur. Chiang Mai has been really fantastic in so many ways. Mainly, some much needed time to unwind, and enjoy each other's company. Our experience here has also given us the opportunity to adjust to our new reality, and get accustomed to living differently than we had before. It's been an easy adjustment for us. Once you let go of some of your expectations on how things "should be", and go with the flow of everything happening around you, you realize just how easily you can adapt to a new way of living.
That being said, there are things that have been a bit challenging for us to deal with here in Chiang Mai. These things haven't affected us negatively really, just more observations of the contrast to the way we were used to living in sleepy Dunedin, FL. The way people drive here would seem absolutely insane to anyone that lives in a place where traffic laws exist. The best way to describe it is "water flowing", it's the path of least resistance - and it's really amazing how it all seems to work. Lanes, traffic lights, and the shoulders of the road seem like largely ignored suggestions. Trying to get Josie to unlearn all the traffic safety rules she's been taught over the years has been mildly traumatizing to her. But she's adjusted to "RUN NOW!", and then congratulatory high-fives for making it to the other side of the road alive. Playing real life Frogger, avoiding perils like open sewers, sharp rusty objects, and rat filled trash piles has been great for sharpening our situational awareness skills!
This place has been awesome. The people, the food, the sights, all absolutely amazing. One of Josie's favorite things about Chiang Mai has been the everyday petting zoo of stray cats, dogs and chickens wandering the streets. Mine has been the food, and April's has been torturing us with grueling miles long walks and hikes. We'll miss this place, but we're all super curious and excited for what big city living in Kuala Lumpur is going to hold for us. Stay tuned!