After a week of wilding out in Bangkok, it would be time to hop on a plane to Chiang Mai. Here is where I would buy some very useful books: Lonely Planet Vietnam, Malay language guide (used in Indonesia as well!), and rough guides for all of SE Asia. The flight with Thai Airways was simple and Chiang Mai's airport is extremely close to the old city.
Arriving in Chiang Mai, I would discover that my debit card account had been cancelled after I requested for them to cancel the other one in order to send me a new card. Therefore I was stuck with no way to get money from the ATM. While the folks at D-Well hostel were very kind (I'd put them near the top out of my hostel experiences abroad) and understanding, I had to go the Western Union route. After losing the phone and debit cards, so began my journey of new values. I would find ways to hustle, paying with a credit card on a group bill to get all the all the Thai baht or starting to use those US$ the right way. Ultimately, I had to do more with less in a new country - my disposition would rightfully change my life trajectory after this.
Anyways, on to the culture of Chiang Mai, there are some wonderful small temples to see here. One of my favorite Theravada Buddhist temples is here due to its hall symmetry. Doi Sothep on the high hill is also a marvel to look at if you can manage the stairs (there's a lift too). The old city is charming with great places to grab Thai Tea or Thai Iced Coffee. By the way, I really got into coffee on this trip since so many of the countries had specialty coffee. The muay thai fights were also a lot of fun to watch and even bet on. Furthermore, I received Thai massages from female ex-convicts who were trained in the art. Hilariously, I had a very short lady. Note here that these mainland Chinese tourists played on their phones while getting a massage - distracting. I also would go see a fishbowl.....ask me personally about that.
One day, I went to an elephant reserve. This would be an invigorating journey with the experience of getting to know such brilliant and gentle creatures. From feeding elephants, to watching families, to petting them and bathing them, the elephants were a joy to be around. While the whole element felt similar to Jurassic Park, I appreciated how safe the natural reserve was for the elephants. Therefore, if you are riding, watching elephants in a circus or watching elephants do tricks then you are supporting elephant harassment and violence. They aren't meant for those activities. Be smart when you visit SE Asia, there are many options, but not all of them are humane.
A small discussion on the food. I had several items moo larp (pork salad), sabak (lychee), dragonfruit juice, and more from the night markets. During the day, I had some wonderful khao soi, which are crispy egg noodles with chicken broth. I also had some of the best Tom Yum soup around - lemongrass! Along with this, there is a place to grab some glorious yoghurt drinks which would become refreshing throughout the trip.
Overall, Chiang Mai is a great change of pace from Bangkok and an even greater juxtaposition from places in the US. It is a calm, friendly and easy to navigate city even while dodging Issan ladies asking about "Massage!" I highly recommend you go here before you do as I did and hop a propeller plane to Myanmar.
*Note - the hostel even mailed my card to Vietnam when I missed it by one day!