When we were staying in hotels in the Old City, it was pretty easy to get around. We walked when our destination was close enough, rented bicycles a few times, and we took songthaews when we needed to go a bit farther. But now that we’re in our condo that is pretty far outside the Old City, those methods don’t work as well. There are a few interesting things to see within walking distance, but we certainly can’t get a full experience without a vehicle of some sort. The Old City is about twenty minutes away by bike, but that’s on busy streets – and besides, we’d like to be able to go a bit farther away when we want to. Even songthaews aren’t always an option – we wanted to take one to the mall one time, but the few that we saw on the highway near our condo passed us by without picking us up. The solution?
For only 180 Baht per day (~$5), we rented a moped for a week – as sort of a trial run. At that price (which even includes helmets for both of us), how could we say no? The first thing we did when we got it was drive to “Big C Extra”, which is basically Thailand’s version of Wal-Mart. There, we got things like laundry detergent, pants hangers, dish soap, towels – things we needed to live in our condo for the next three months that they don’t sell in the street markets. But after a few days of riding around town (and getting used to driving the moped in traffic), we wanted to do something a little more exciting.
The real estate agent at Chiang Mai Properties gave us a few ideas of things to do that were nearby, and one thing she said was to be sure to visit the cherry blossoms, as they had already started blooming and would be gone soon. We looked up the location on the map, and it was about an hour drive up “Doi Suthep”, the mountain that we can see from our condo! A perfect adventure! With our bicycle tour of the city on Friday, we planned a moped tour of the mountain on Saturday!
We read that the traffic can be pretty bad leading up that road, and we were going on a Saturday, so we decided to head out early. Before we started heading up the mountain, we had to stop and get gas. It was only when we got to the gas station that I realized, I didn’t know where the tank was! Julia has some experience with dirt bikes, so she knew that the gas tank was probably under the seat, but we couldn’t figure out how to open it. We felt like such tourists! After a minute or so of struggling, some locals came and helped us out. They were able to open the seat for us (turns out we had to turn the key left and hold it), tell us how much we probably needed to fill the tank (40 baht, only a little more than a dollar!), and even filled the tank for us! Another example of amazing hospitality in Chiang Mai!
Our gas tank full, we hit the road. Our route to see the cherry blossoms would take us right by Wat Phra That and Bhubing Palace, but we were on a mission to go see the cherry blossoms first! We planned to stop at those locations on the way down. The road started off as a four-lane highway, and we could immediately see that we made the right call by getting a moped. The road is *very* windy, and would probably make us carsick if we had rented a car or hailed a taxi. A songthaew would have been even worse, because we’d be cramped in with a bunch of other tourists, and barely able to see anything!
(Turn your sound down for these videos. You won’t be able to hear anything because of the wind, and the wind is very loud)
We passed by the two big tourist attractions, and even though it’s not even 9am yet, they are very busy. But the further we go on the road, the fewer cars we see! We read one blogger driving to the cherry blossoms that got fed up and simply turned around once she got close because of how much traffic there was. But we aren’t worried about that yet! We started to get a little more remote, and the road shrunk to two lanes.
Before long, the road shrunk down to a single lane – or so we thought. Behind a few cars, riding in single file, we heard honking. As we approached a corner, we saw other cars driving towards us! The cars coming towards us got off the road a bit on the right, as we tried to squeeze by on the left. With Julia driving, I checked the map to see how long we still had. We still had quite a long ways to go! But the road widened at some points which let us pass the much slower cars, so the drive to the top wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be.
The road continued to twist and turn, past remote villages and viewpoints. The road got very bumpy, and then became unpaved entirely…but finally we made it to our destination! Not only were there cherry blossoms everywhere, but there were so many other big, beautiful, colorful flowers! The cherry blossoms were definitely the most awe inspiring, though.
In addition to the cherry blossoms, there were poinsettias, six foot tall gladiolas, dahlias, and many others that we don’t know the names of. Julia was basically going crazy with how many flowers there were, and they were all so big (and blooming in January)! The locals were dressed in some interesting garb as well!
We didn’t spend too much time at the top, so on the way down we stopped at the Bhubing Palace. The palace was built in the 1960’s as a home for the royal family, including a guest house and various buildings for official ceremonies. But the main attraction of the palace grounds were all of the beautiful flowers! In addition to the flowers we had seen up where the cherry blossoms were, we saw huge roses and lots of big orchids! The rose gardens went on and on, and smelled fantastic. The ferns behind Broc (below) are 150 years old!
We left the royal palace and headed down the mountain to Wat Phra Tat. According to legend, (estimated to be in the 1300s), a white elephant carrying a Buddhist relic was released into the wild, and it walked up the mountain before it stopped, trumpeted three times, and dropped dead. This temple was built at the spot where the elephant died, and a shrine dedicated to the elephant – and containing the elephants remains – still stands today! The temple also had a great view of the city of Chiang Mai.
We had a great time exploring the mountain of Doi Suthep. Having the moped was not only the easiest way to go up the mountain, but it was the most fun and adventurous! We can’t wait to explore the rest of the surrounding area!