Exploring a new place epitomizes all the excitement of traveling: discovering tiny corners and allies which reveal hidden treasures of cafes/stalls/wall art, places you would never have discovered until you got away from tours and strike out alone. However, it can also be tres boring if your trapped in the midday sun, traipsing around with a map that you discovered you’ve spent the past hour reading backwards and needing to back-track, sweat slicking your fringe attractively to your forehead. More likely than not, those stressful explorations end with a stumble back to the hostel, hotel or nearest cafe for a refreshing iced beverage, and lets face it, something alcoholic is the perfect antidote.
That is an accurate description of my first time roaming the streets of Bangkok back in November. i was a meek first-time traveller and was scared of venturing too far incase i never found my way back to the hostel keeping my backpack hostage, and the humid epic hustle and bustle of the Khao San Road area was enough of a headspin! Rolling into Chiang Mai (biggest northern city) was a breath of fresh air with room to breath and bountiful amounts of culture, which i unfortunately got sped through on a whistle-stop tour. However, i was fortunate to be able to revisit the city before needing to meet my sister back down in the southern islands for Christmas and dammit, i was going to explore properly with the aid of old vintage bicycles that can be rented for a grand total of $4 for 24 hours- bargain!!
Chaing Mai’s old city is easily navigable due to its flat and square layout with a surrounding moat, however it is full of fun little soi’s (lanes) that integrate and web all over the city making it a lazy cyclists dream! Teamed with Austrian-born German, Toby, (who i’d met within the hour of checking in at my hostel) and his iPhone that had the latest innovative application: a compass! Such a contrast roaming the lanes of an incredibly old Thai city on old rusty bikes with attached rickety baskets, passing locals hanging laundry, cooking up big vats of amazing smelling soup, waving pineapples at us… all whilst swinging around an iPhone for directions… but I saw so much more than i could have on foot without breaking much of a sweat.
However, if you want to do something daring and exciting which will brandish an experience into your backpacking memories then grab a bicycle (check the brakes are relatively road worthy) and grab a sawngthaew taxi to the massive 16th Century Doi Suthep temple complex that overlooks all of Chaing Mai on a massive hill. When i say ‘massive hill’, i mean its perched up an insanely long steep road that winds upwards in kinky twsits and turns that took our taxi a solid 25 minutes to chug up… can you tell what i’d planned yet?!
After sampling the amazing views and sights of the monks going about their business within the temple which glows golden in the sunlight, we mounted our trusty bicycles and let gravity whip us down the hill: bloody hell. It was at least 30 degree angle the whole way down and my brakes screeched for dear life as i blitzed down with my face in a frozen scream to the amusement of local Thais running/cycling/mooching around the hill (good luck to the next person who rents that bike, hopefully they wont be as ambitious with their cycling and not need their brakes too much…). It was an amazing oppertunity as the look-out points sporadically sprinkled down the hill made the exhilarating terror worth it. The views of Chiang Mai and beyond took my breath away more than the cycle back to the hostel for that much needed recovery beer.