Finding Common Ground with Chiang Mai

Finding Common Ground with Chiang Mai

I struggled to find common ground with Chiang Mai. People have always talked it up. It’s Valhalla in the jungle, they said. Full of far-out peaceniks with a currency of love. The waterfalls are rainbows, and the rainbows are, umm…double rainbows. Yeah, they’ve got double rainbows! It sounded fanciful. Now here’s the truth…

First off, the place is real touristy. There’s no hippy vibe with Starbucks in town – you’re considered an ascetic if you don’t upsize your frappe. There’s tour operators on every corner, and the night markets stock a huge mass of landfill-in-waiting. It’s the world capital of elephant pants. I cringe. Enough said.

A crime against humanity.

I was there for the lantern festival – an annual event that’s gushed over on TripAdvisor. Awe inspiring, surreal, and a life-changing experience they type. Well, in reality, it’s about as life changing as your third tattoo. The sort of people who were ‘blown away’ must lose their shit when McDonalds bring out a new dipping sauce. 

According to Buddhists, the lanterns purge your bad luck. And, granted, that’s a tempting concept. I didn’t buy one though – deciding instead that there are no degrees of symbolism. I reckon you can cast-off imaginary bad luck with your imagination alone. And screw paying fifty bucks to sit in a field. Stay in the city and enjoy the atmosphere. I walked out on Narawat Bridge. It was packed and free.

But, if you miss the festival, there’s still things to do. Visit an elephant sanctuary, trek through the jungle, or go white-water rafting. Try some zip-line bullshit, or trip out in Pai. Maybe sleep in a village with a long neck tribe. I had a go, just to be social.

And, yet, I still don’t get it. Where’s all the peace-and-love carry on? This place is seriously oversold. That said, here’s my tip: keep your expectations low, or risk disappointment. Which, incidentally, is what I say to girls. So, Chiang Mai, it turns out we’ve got some common ground after all…