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November 7, 2009

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Chiang Mai motto: Take it easy

I reached Chiang Mai on a foggy morning, after a dreadful night in seething Bangkok -- I had a sensation of being haunted.

The flight took me one hour and 10 minutes.

I didn't expect the northern Thai city to soothe my exhausted heart and body, I just hoped I wouldn't have to battle ghosts again.

The Chiang Mai Airport is surrounded by mountain peaks. It's quite convenient and I didn't have to wait long in the terminal building to collect my luggage.

My first impression of the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom was one of calm. There were no traffic jams, no crowds.

Throughout I saw pictures of the country's revered King and Queen.

My tour guide, an ethnic Chinese named Yang Yongter, calls himself "Tiger" or "Obama."

When he said we had reached the downtown -- a half-hour drive from the airport -- I felt we were still in the countryside.

"In Chiang Mai, people say zai-yen-yen, which means 'take your time'," Yang said. "They don't like to rush."

Chiang Mai is very easygoing, very laid-back.

We went to a homestay hotel called Ruen Come In, built of teakwood and offering only three rooms.

The food was truly very different from the Thai food served in Shanghai. We attended an event called Amazing Tastes of Chiang Mai and the food was much spicier, more aromatic and, of course, very different from the fare I was used to.

A dish called ksaosoy included northern herbs, vegetables and chicken chili soup. Fried dough twist were served.

Julius Garofali, an Australian tourist, called the dish "a party in your mouth." I agreed. It was spicy, soar, salty and especially fragrant at once. But it was too spicy for me.

Chili, fish syrup, lime and citronella are essential in Chiang Mai-flavor dishes. Curry is not so common and dishes are less sweet than those in Bangkok.

My first meal in Chiang Mai gave me a big bang, but the scenic spots were not that astonishing.

Bhubing Palace is the royal family's winter residence.

Just a glimpse

I hoped I could at least take a peek at the royal family's lifestyle by visiting rooms, but to my surprise, "No Entry" signs were posted outside each and every house in the palace compound.

Buildings are of traditional Thai style, some look like cottages in the UK countryside.

Because we visited in October, it was too early to witness the November blossoming of the splendid rose garden, the Suan Suwaree, planted according to instructions from the Queen in 1999.

In November roses in all colors bloom in the garden, and the Bhubing Palace will become a sea of flowers.

Everyone visits temples in Thailand, and so did I.

The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, or Temple of Two Dragons, felt sacred and serene. I was stunned by the golden roofs, gates, windows and Buddha figures. I'd never seen such a glittering Buddha temple in China.

Everyone removes their shoes before entering the main hall. We knelt before a monk who chanted scriptures and sprinkled holy water on everyone of us.

"Temples in Chiang Mai bless people with peace and safety, rather than fortune or career," the guide told us. He was right. The two and a half days I spent in the city were tranquil and soothing, without any unhappy event.

The ancient city made me forget the horrible night of bad dreams in Bangkok. I enjoyed an elephant talent show, appreciated wood carvings, textiles and art, and relaxed in a traditional Thai song and dance performance.

On the night before leaving the city, I suddenly remembered it was my 25th birthday. Walking along the Ping River, listening to the music and friends' congratulations, I felt it was the best birthday I ever had.

Under the same crescent moon, monks were chanting in their magnificent temples, Thai locals were praying for their King (then hospitalized) and Queen, tourists were drinking in bars and enjoying jazz and rock 'n' roll.

The ancient and the modern, the traditional and the unconventional mixed easily here, creating a harmonious atmosphere.

I considered myself fortunate enough to mark my important day in a historic city where I wanted to linger and enjoy the peace. What to see Bhubing Palace

November is the best time to visit the winter residence of the Thai royal family, when flowers are in bloom. The palace is also the guesthouse for prominent state visitors from abroad.

Address: Doi Buak Ha, Tambon Suthep, Muang District, Chiang Mai

Tel: +66 (0)53 223-065



Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Magnificent temple in Thai style -- golden, gorgeous and glittering. Remember to remove your shoes. The grounds offer spectacular views of Chiang Mai.

Address: 14 Srivichai Rd, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, 50200

Tel: +66 (0)53 295-012

Fax: +66 (0)53 295-000 Where to eat Khum Khantoke

Offering "The King's Dinner" at night, including six dishes. Guests can ask for more. The highlight is the grand show of Thai culture.

Address: 139 Moo 4, Nong Pakrung, A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50000

Tel: +66 (0)53 304-121-3

Fax: +66 (0)53 260-504

E-mail: admin@khumkhantoke,net


Chiang Mai Thai Cooking School

Visitors can learn to prepare northern-style Thai food. Cooking teachers will also prepare meals.

Address: 47/2 Moon Muang Rd. Chiang Mai 50200

Tel: +66 (0)53 206-388, +66 (0)53 206-315

Fax: +66 (0)53 206-387


Website: Where to stay Ruen Come In

Homestay teakwood hotel with three rooms only. Reservations necessary in the hot season. Teakwood is a Chiang Mai specialty. The hotel offers authentic lanna cuisine, the food of northern Thailand.

Address: 79/3 Sirithon Rd, Changphuak, Muang, Chiang Mai 50300

Tel: +66 (0)53 212-516, (0)53 212-683

Fax: +66 (0)53 225-305



Ratilanna Riverside Spa Resort

A luxury boutique resort nestled on the serene Mae Ping River. Rooms are decorated in Thai style. Bathroom doors have big, heavy wooden bolt, and all furnishings are made of wood.

Address: 33 Chang Klan Rd, Amphur Muang, Chiang Mai 50100

Tel: +66 (0)53 999-333

Fax: +66 (0)53 999-332




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