Saturday, February 9, 2013

Exploring Chiang Mai with kids.

The main reason we went to Chiang Mai is the Akha Ama Coffee Journey. Last year, I was googling about travelling and volunteering and homeschooling and I stumbled on Shannon's After a few emails being exchanged, I was completely sold and I started planning the Chiang Mai trip around the coffee journey. 

Throughout our trip, we stayed in several places. The first one was Yesterday Hotel in Nimmanhaemind Road. Mainly because I wanted to stay somewhere accessible to lots of restaurants. Especially on our first few days in a new place.
It's always a challenge for me to find a hotel with a good and reasonably priced family suite that can comfortably accomodate a family of 6. This hotel is one of them.
Nimmanhaemind Road is said to be the yuppiest & most happening road in Chiang Mai. There are plenty of nice restaurant in Chiang Mai. You can read here. We went to some places and had a great time.

Khun Churn vegetarian restaurant. The lunch buffet was pretty good and reasonably priced. From the crowd, I gathered this place is quite popular among the Westerners.
Kids went crazy with iberry. Ice cream, cake and coffee. Very funky and quirky atmosphere. We went there twice. Day and night.

Another nice place we stayed and we highly recommend is Joy's House. It might not be a five star hotel. But they treat you like family. 
The villa is big enough for 6 of us. And the staffs were very prompt with their service. On our first night there, all kiddos were vomiting. On the bed, on the blanket, in the toilet, everywhere. Our room was a mess. I told them and they cleaned it up in a jiffy the next morning. With a smile. And they are very generous with their extras too.
There's another bonus. Another reason why you should stay here. Joy's House is part of the Children Shelter Foundation. You can also opt to stay in Children Shelter Foundation. We stayed there for 3 nights and it was awesomeness. The guest house is in an organic farm about 30 minutes from Chiang Mai.
So it's your chance to have a holiday and make a difference. Every single dollars that you pay to the guest house will benefit the kids from the Children Shelter Foundation. We really love the atmosphere. Would definitely stay here again the next time we are in Chiang Mai.

There are lots of things you can do in Chiang Mai. I think if you do your research well, you can save lots of money and explore Chiang Mai on your own. At your own pace. Instead of the structured guided tour. It's pretty easy to research about Chiang Mai as it's a favorite spot for lengthy stay for many travelling bloggers. There are heaps of info online. You can customise your trip to your own preference.

I wanted the trip to be a cultural immersion for the kids. Not just a holiday. I usually prefer to travel the off beaten track. Not the typical touristy and highly commercialised places. One of the things that is important to me is to travel responsibly. As much as I can. There's a very good information on things NOT to do in Chiang Mai here. Of course, it's the blogger's personal opinion. But I did my research and it's pretty valid. So, we stayed away from Tiger Kingdom, elephant parks and Karen Padaung village.

And I have always refrain from trying to do too much. Spacing the activities is important when you are travelling with kids. It keeps you sober too. If the kids feel tired, we'll just slow down. You don't have to cover everything just for the sake of "been there done that".

Here are some of the things we do.

We visited the temples. I am not a huge fan of temples. But it's important my kids learn about other religion. Respecting other religion is part of Islam. And I am not proud to say despite Malaysia being a multiracial country, I have not step into any other religious house except our mosque. I had no idea why. Anyway, temples are everywhere in Chiang Mai. We visited some interesting ones.

Temple on the mountain. Doi Suthep. On a good day, you can get a very good view of the Chiang Mai city from the top. It was raining and foggy when we were there.
Be there early and you will be able to catch the monk early morning rituals. There are lots of chanting and prayers. Kids learn what they can and can't do. Things you can do out of respect. Things you can't do because it conflicts your faith. etc etc.
At the foot of Doi Suthep is a small artificial lake, Huay Tung Tao Lake. It is an army land and the entrance fees is very cheap. I think it's just 20 baht to get in. Apparently this place is famous with the locals and not known to the tourists. Nice place to have lunch and chill.
Temple in a tunnel. Wat U Mong.
Wat Ket Karem. Animal temple. With Burmese and Chinese influence. 
There is a museum next to Wat Ket Karem. Entrance is free. It is a good place to get insight on history of the old Chiang Mai.
If you go to Wat Ket Karem, drop by at Baan Sanook which means "The house of Joy" It's a charity organization run by The Healing Family Foundation. It's very near. About 5 minutes walk from Wat Ket Karem. It's a house at the end of the road. Next to the ISUZU dealer shop.
According to Mr Haruo, the initiative was started by the Japanese government. The Japanese design handloom is disable friendly and allow the artist to weave easily. Over the years, it is self funded and continues to provide platform for the artisans to support themselves by selling beautiful craft work.
After visiting Baan Sanook you can walk along the road and have tea at the Pink Tea House. Not cheap but not expensive either. Nice ambience, nice tea and nice scones ;-)
You cannot go to Thailand and not had massage right?? After few hours of walking, the girls had their feet massage.
You can also visit the market. The famous Warorot Market. 
As a Malaysian who come from East Coast, I think their market look very much like our market. But there are cheap yummy delicious delicacies that you can try. Like this thing. Which I had no idea what's the name. It has nuts filling inside and you eat them with coconut milk.
Unlike other places like Ho Chi Minh city, there is no sellers harassing you here. You don't need to do any haggling too. Either you buy or you don't ;-)

Kalare night market. Quite a number of halal food outlets here.
 See the signboard?? I tell you, Chiang Mai is freaking clean. And I am very very impressed.
Chiang Mai has nice museums too. Some are free. Some are not. We went to the Chiang Mai University Art Museum.

On our last day in Chiang Mai, coincidentally it was the 37th Annual Flower Festival. So we dropped by the city for a while before going off to the airport.
Over 12 days, we had our hits and misses. But overall, it was a blast. The kids had a great time. I love the place and the people. It's very cultural and unpretentious. Not to mention it's freaking clean. The toilet is the cleanest I have ever seen. And Chiang Mai is safe. I don't have to worry about cheating taxi drivers or pick pocket. I don't see any street beggars either. It's a place where everybody smiles. There is no problem big enough that can stop you from smiling. Even the bug is smiling here ;-)
It actually surprised me how civilized Chiang Mai is. Despite them not being so developed. No wonder lots of travelers wrote very highly about this place. It is truly a very nice place indeed.


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