I arrived to the bus terminal in Chiang Mai
one afternoon and the first thing I did was that I called few guesthouses in order to check if they have a free single room. Of course, they were all full, so I decided to go to the old town and see what's available there. My sawngtaew dropped me off somewhere in the west of the old city so I had to walk for a while, however, after 30minutes or so I reached the north-east corner of the old city where plenty of guesthouses were located. Luckily, I spotted Skyline Tourist Agency on Ratpakinai Rd. that had a dorm bed available for 100baht per night. Because they have only one big dorm room with 6 beds and because the owner/manager's family also occupied the house I felt like almost being part of their family and therefore stayed there for my entire stay in Chiang Mai (4 nights).
Now back to the question, why everybody likes Chiang Mai? I guess it's because it's a quite laid-back town with lower polution and less traffic jams seen in Bangkok
(so it's easier and safer to cycle around), with plenty of tourist entertainment like cooking or Thai massage classes, organized trekking tours to hill-tribe villages, Elephant riding, quality Thai boxing events; many guesthouses, pubs, markets (ie. night bazaar, saturday and sunday markets) and good presence of international cuisine (for local people, I guess. Otherwise, why would you go to Thailand to taste Japanese or Pakistani dishes, ha?). I liked the town too.... but to be honest there were too many white faces to consider this place a real Thailand and this is what I'm mainly looking for.
..Anyway, what did I do there? Cycling, cycling, cycling. The very first day on a crap city bike for 30 baht a day to check the three most important Wats in the old city (oh, not those Wats again :-)) and then I was heading to Royal Flora Garden but I couldn't reach it because I had to return to the city before the sunset....For the next two days I rented a mountain bike for 200baht a day at one tourist agency (after a well-done research) because those "special shops for cyclist" were renting for 350baht a day. AAAARRRGGGH, especially when you consider you can rent a MOTOR-bike for 200baht a day! Well, I wanted to do some exercise and also missed my MTB activities back at home so I went to Doi Suthep and later to Bhubing palace (a royal winter palace) on a bike. From Chiang Mai it's about 30km of only uphill cycling and it seemed to me I was the only cyclist on road.
That's maybe why I received so many cheering gestures, Hellos and "go go go's" from young Thai people sitting at the back of sawngtaews that were overtaking me...From Bubhing palace I enjoyed a fantastic downhill ride, but this time it was me who was overtaking motorbikes, sawngtaews and cars....At some point I was stopped by a police officer - not because of my speed but because the royal couple was heading to their winter palace and the entire road had to be closed until they pass through. So, that's how I saw a royal.....car :-) That day I was dead and couldn't think of anything better than to get a proper massage - this time from hands of a blind masseur (99 Ratchamanka Rd.) which was excellent BTW. The next day I cycled to Wat Chedi Liam located in the southeast of the city and then to Huay Tung Thao lake in the northwest and I think the lake was my favourite spot in Chiang Mai...