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Chiang Mai in two days: the Sunday market, sleeping on tigers and hanging with cobras

Posted by on August 6, 2012
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We spent only two weeks in Thailand. Perhaps that’s shortshrifting the country, but we wanted more time in less-visited places like Laos and Myanmar. Plus, a flight to Bangkok is much easier than, say, a flight to Yangon, Myanmar.

The bulk of our Thai time went to the islands — best idea ever — so we wound up with 2.5 days in Chiang Mai. It’s a charming city with a huge expat population, but we didn’t spend enough time there for me to say much else about it other than: the Sunday market is fantastic and visiting Tiger Kingdom is a must.

We’ve been to a lot of markets in Asia, but Chiang Mai’s Sunday shopping extravanganza is worth a visit for sheer variety. No stall was the same and each was interesting. Even better, the street food — particular to the market — was unbelievable. (It just got a mention on Newsweek‘s list of 101 best places to eat around the world!) I ate a delicious dinner with dessert and a drink for $2.50.

Afterward, we got 30-minute foot massages for $2. (I imagine it was cheaper than massage parlors because we didn’t have to pay their rent; it was just a row of reclining leather chairs within the market.) Hello, Thailand!

Mochi ice cream that was, dare I say, better than Bubbie’s in Honolulu.

Love me some neon tanks.

Beautiful wats within the market walk.

Found a really cool hipster store that sold leather pouches and wallets, retro tees, and wayfarers. Eaman got a cool T-shirt for $3 and a spiffy new watch for $10.

Food stall area.

Kudos to the Thai for such a superb recycling process.

This woman made the best latte.

Much like riding elephants, playing with tigers has been at the top of my travel goal list. We chose Chiang Mai’s Tiger Kingdom because it’s apparently a more reputable organization than Tiger Palace in Kanchanaburi near Bangkok. Hundreds of tourists visit Chiang Mai’s well-oiled tiger machine everyday, but we arrived just as it opened, so we didn’t feel like herded cattle. (Biggest travel takeaway: Go early, anywhere and always.) It’s a lovely place — once you get past the animals-in-cages part — that’s set up like a small, spacious zoo. The tigers seemed to have ample room, relatively speaking, and the handlers never used brute force when we were there.

You can choose from smallest, small, medium and big tigers. We went for the two extremes. The cubs were great because they were playful and the big guys were great because, well, when else can you lay down on a giant carnivorous animal? We got about 10 minutes with each — maybe even a tad more because there wasn’t a line of people behind us. It was definitely one of the coolest things we’ve ever done. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

(Sorry if you think the pictures are excessive/repetitive, but after this visit, I realized just how beautiful these animals are, so I kept snapping.)

Newborn tiger cubs (so cute) who aren’t yet ready for visitors. They’re not meant to be on display; we just walked by at the right time when the doors were left open.

Sole lion in a sea of stripes.

After Tiger Kingdom, our driver recommended we stop and see a snake show on our way back. Well, why the hell not? So at the Mae Sa Snake Farm, we saw cobras and pythons and all sorts of slithery things — the handlers are rather fearless when it comes to taunting cobras for our viewing pleasure — and then watched a show where two men played around with the creatures. They kissed them, jumped in a dark pool with them and let the snakes slither into the audience (a little). And they were absolutely still venomous. They had the snake bite into a plastic-covered glass so we could see the venom drip inside.

The whole operation was a little ghetto — the place looked like a rundown shack and the show narrator loved his sexual inneundos — but that was part of the charm I guess.

And to make sure we got our money’s worth, once other tourists left, we asked if we could hold the snakes. That was awesome. Less awesome was when the handler took advantage of my obvious fear and drew the open-mouthed, fanged snake closer to my face.

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8 Responses to Chiang Mai in two days: the Sunday market, sleeping on tigers and hanging with cobras

  1. Bethany ~ twoOregonians

    Eaman in a striped shirt next to the striped tiger = awesome.

    Also, those snakes!? Holy heavens. The picture of the whole gnarly bunch of them wrapped around the wooden stumps gives me the shivers.

    • Archana

      We knew the tigers would be fun, but the snakes were a totally different surprise! Not sure how much I loved the guys there scaring me and making me think I had a snake on me :/

  2. Meg from LandingStanding

    We are currently in Thailand and have visited Bangkok on Koh Mak with plans to also travel to Ko Samui… Although, now I want to visit Chianf Mai too! Your two days looked amazing!

    • Archana

      But the islands are the best! Have an amazing time there! Save Chiang Mai for another visit :)

  3. Melissa

    Where is this hipster store? I am going to Chiang Mai in a few weeks and would love to do some shopping:)

    • Archana

      Hi Melissa! I just pored over Google Maps, in an effort to find the store — but no luck! I really wish I had taken better notes that day. We were just so mesmerized by the market :) But this particular shop is within the confines of the bazaar, so if you go through most of the streets, you might be able to find it. And if you do, I’d love to know the name!

  4. Melissa

    Thanks Archana! I will try to find it and let you know:) Although my boyfriend and I are only traveling to Thailand and Cambodia over 18 days – your blog gets me excited for this trip and the potential of travel in the future.

    Thanks for sharing your stories:)

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