Chiang Mai, Rose of the North

Chiang Mai has been my home for the past 6 months. Every time I go somewhere new, I come back. That seems to be common here. People talk about getting stuck in this city, but not in a bad way.

Founded in 1296, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom for a few hundred years. Before becoming a unified country, the land that is now Thailand was divided into kingdoms. Lanna was the kingdom in the north. Chiang Mai means “new city.” In this part of the world 1296 is new.

The original city was, like many ancient cities, surrounded by a wall and a moat. Today, after centuries of earthquakes and wars, all that is left of the ancient city wall are its corners. The moat remains, to remind everyone of the city’s past. However, during the rainy season the moat and road surrounding it often flooded. In the old city, the area within the moat, all that remains of the past are remnants of the wall and a few ancient temples. Everything else was, and continues to be, replaced by new. Restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, hotels, hostels, and businesses of all kinds. There is a lot going on in a small space.


Chiang Mai is a pretty walkable city. This works for me since I never got around to learning how to drive a motorbike (oh, also I’m chicken). I also just like to wander. While wandering you find a temple around almost every corner, and some great street art. You also cannot walk more than 2 blocks without finding a fruit smoothie.

I’ve already mentioned my 7 visits to Doi Suthep. Some of the other important temples I’ve visited here are:

Wat Phra Singh

Apparently Chiang Mai’s most prestigious temple. As the first Buddhist temple I visited in Chiang Mai, it definitely left an impression.

Wat Chedi Luang

Chedi luang apparently translates to big pagoda. Makes sense since the focal point of the temple is the huge ruined pagoda.

and Wat Suan Dok

The white chedi (pagodas) honor members of the Thai royal family. The sea of white in the bright afternoon sun is blinding and beautiful.

Chiang Mai also has a great food scene. Not just the traditional Thai food and street food. There’s lots of healthy food options and some good Western food too. Blue Diamond, My Secret Cafe, and Freebird Cafe are some of my favorites.

Freebird Cafe is an incredible social enterprise. 100% of the restaurant’s proceeds supports the Thai Freedom House. The organization is doing a lot of good for the Burmese refugees in Chiang Mai, some of the city’s most vulnerable inhabitants.
check out their website:

After being here for 6 months, I’ve developed some routines. Breakfast is a fresh fruit smoothie every morning. The smoothie lady by the north gate of the old city knows me now. It helps that I always order the same thing: mango, passion fruit, no milk, no sugar. I learned how to say it in Thai! In the beginning she worried that my smoothie would be too sour without the sugar that seems to be in ALL Thai dishes. Now she smiles when she remembers no sugar.

Tuesday evenings are for creative writing group and trivia. I’ve discovered that I kinda like writing. I just need to practice. So every Tuesday I hang out with a bunch of writers way more experienced than me. Every week we discuss a different topic and experiment with writing prompts.

Archer’s, a bar in the old city, hosts trivia every Tuesday night. Not to brag or anything but our team always places in the top 3! Ok, I’ll brag, we rock! Walking into a place where everyone knows you is kinda nice, especially when you’re away from home. Also, I now know how to order red wine in Thai. It’s not great wine, but it’ll do. If only they didn’t refrigerate it…

I can count, say hello, thank you, and how much in Thai. I can also order a fruit smoothie, red wine, and coffee. Clearly I’ve mastered the most important parts of the language.

I’ve been staying in hostels my entire time in Chiang Mai. Finding a more permanent place just never seemed to make sense. Not having my own space no longer bothers me. Spending 6 months in hostels also means I’ve spent 6 months living with backpackers. I have so many feelings about backpackers. Some of them good, some of them bad. Some of them terrible. Maybe I’ll write down some of my most entertaining observations and interactions, and create a whole series. It was suggested that I title it something along the lines of “I spent 6 months living with backpackers and haven’t killed anyone yet.”

I could also probably write a whole post just for my interactions with tuk tuks and songthaews, or shared taxis. You’ll see songthaews (red trucks) all over Chiang Mai. New York spoiled me. I was so used to taxi drivers in NYC knowing the whole city. All I had to do was give an address or a landmark and off we’d go. Sometimes, even when I’m showing the driver the map, with things written in Thai, he still doesn’t know where I want to go and won’t take me. There’s also often haggling involved. I’ve learned the standard rate and now I just make sure they are willing to go where I want and get it. I’m clearly not Thai, so it is often assumed that I am a tourist. No. I know how much it should cost to get where I’m going. Just because it’s dark out, doesn’t mean the price should quadruple. That’s silly. Just because I’m a foreigner doesn’t mean I don’t know how things work here (well to an extent). Don’t assume I want to go to Doi Suthep just because I am a foreigner walking past your songthaew. You don’t need to keep honking at me as you pass me by. If I haven’t flagged you down, clearly I do not need a ride. They only honk at me when I don’t need them. When I do need a songthaew I always have trouble finding one.

After 6 months there is probably a lot more I could say. In the meantime check out my friend’s blog for restaurant suggestions and other tips about Chiang Mai, the Rose of the North.






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