Thai Airways sometimes has really great deals on offer and really, who doesn’t love a great deal! I got my return tickets (from Kuala Lumpur) to Chiang Mai around two weeks before the flight for RM1075 (a couple hundred ringgit cheaper than AirAsia) during the Christmas season. I’m sure you know how fully booked and expensive traveling tends to be during festive seasons, so you can imagine my amazement when I found these tickets on sale!
My Pop lives in Chiang Mai, so I visit every year. Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand, situated amidst the highest mountains of the country. Though it has a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons, it is also noticeable that it has characteristics of all four seasons. This time I arrived during winter, where the days were cool (24-28 degrees) and nights were cooler (15-18 degrees), but this only lasts for about 2 and a half months.
In the week that I was there, our activities ranged from watching the horse races, off-roading through river and jungle and zipping our way around Chiang Mai on a scooter.
Chiang Mai Horse Racing
Though gambling is illegal throughout Thailand, horse racing is the only legal betting sport in the country. Held every Saturday, the horse races in Chiang Mai are an exciting and interesting way of spending your day amongst the locals, and if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track – this is one place you’ll be hard pressed to see foreign faces at. Parking for the scooter was 30 baht, whereas entry to the track was a mere 20 baht. Run by the Thai army, rumor has it the races are rigged, but starting bets are as low as 100 baht and it’s still fun to try your luck – though everything is in Thai, including the “racing forms”.
The building is charmingly dilapidated, within which you’ll find the betting stations, food stalls and miscellaneous stalls selling all sorts of items (so if you ever need a usb phone cable in the middle of a horse race…?). The races span throughout the afternoon with a lot of waiting time in-between, typically 20-45 minutes, so it gave us time to stroll around the compound to explore what happens when horses aren’t racing. They walk the horses in circles to warm them up and this gives betters a chance to check out their options, the jockeys get weighed in at a weighing station, you can also catch a glimpse of the jockeys in their rec-room (right next to the weighing station), and people can of course be seen rushing to the betting stations before the next race.
We started off around 11am to round up all of my father’s off-roading friends and drove up to Mae Khanin (mae means “river”) together in a long convoy of 4WD cars. It must have been a sight to behold on that mountain road, but it was soon left behind as we turned onto a dirt track that wound through agricultural land. Faces of curiosity flashed by as we rumbled along. The roads gradually narrowed and branches grabbed at us as we declined to the river. A rest stop to wait for our entourage.
The energy was buzzing with excitement as the men revved their engines and lurched forward into the river, ploughing through weeds as if they didn’t exist. We rocked from side to side over rocks, climbing over mudbanks and cutting through jungle on a barely used path created by previous off-roaders. This continued well into the night, with BBQ pitstops in-between.
Chiang Mai via Scooter
Exploring via scooter is probably the easiest way to squeeze in quick stops as parking is a breeze. We stopped at local markets, temples and shops. One temple that we went to, Wat Ket Karam, is a quiet haven of pretty paths surrounded by lush greenery and dotted with statues of dogs donated by patrons. It has quite an eclectic little museum (free entry) that features a variety of antiques.
There are many markets to choose from that sell an array of items, so if you’re looking for something in particular, or you’d just like to see where and how the locals shop, here’s a list of markets and what they sell.