Chiang Mai is a city that is not hard to fall in love with. The lack of ladyboys, touts and noise streets is a plus but the friendly Thai and the chill out atmosphere is what makes this city of the north of Thailand and great place to visit.
Our exploratory visit started by getting some wheels. As the city's main attractions are quite spread out we decided that a scooter would be ideal as there is some big slopes that will take a lot of effort.
The first stop was the famous temple on top of the hill called Doi Suthep. I think this is a must-see temple. It is very nice inside with lots of people praying at the different Buddhas. We actually stopped at one of this rooms where a monk was doing some blessings. I did like the locals and got on my knees in front of him with my arm extended. He sprayed some "holy" water on me followed by some prayers and continued to tie a white bracelet on my wrist. I didn't understand what he said but he probably converted me into a rare combination of Buddhist-Jew.
With the scooter we also visit the ancient city of Wang Kun Kan, believed to be the foundation of Chiang Mai. We also went to the town of Bo Sang, a handicraft area where they do wood carving and umbrella making.
A Thailand visit would not be complete if we didn't take a cooking class. We selected the Siam Rice Cooking School. We got to visit a local market and cooked seven different dishes of our choice. Yep, I got to prove myself that I am not a lost case in the kitchen!
We felt adventurous so we signed up for a two day trek. The trek consisted of hiking through the jungle to get to some isolated hill tribes, elephant riding, bamboo rafting and water rafting. The only part of the tour that I was not thrilled about is when we went to visit the Karen "long neck" tribe. These people were waiting for us in a market style huts. They all wanted us to buy stuff from them. It sort of felt like a human zoo. We thought it would be more like them showing us their lifestyle but it was nothing like that.
Our tour concluded on Halloween so what better way to finish our night than getting dressed up and making fools of ourselves. All the guys from our tour group dressed up as ladyboys and we made cat calls to all those cute guys passing by.
It seems to happen a lot that we arrive in a town not knowing of the upcoming festivities. In this case we got to Chiang Mai for the Loi Krathong Festival. Here people lunch their lanterns in a hot balloon fashion. The sky is filled with these lanterns for 3 nights! It is quite the party.
Budapest was our next planned stop. I would put this city up there with Prague for most beautiful cities.
Budapest has a lot of charm with all the palaces, churches, statues and the great views of the Danube river.
Our stay in Budapest consisted in visiting the Dohany synagogue. This place is the biggest synagogue in Europe and the second in the world. It actually looks like a church. The guide told us that the architects were not Jewish so thet based the design on a church. They even play an organ on Shabbat but a non-Jew plays it (the Shabbath goy).
We also visited the Cathedral of St. Stephen. We were lucky to step into the cathedral on the day they were practicing the organ for an upcoming concert. The organ player was incredible and the accoustics in the place was great. The sounds of the organ was hair-raising!
We were lucky to be offered a new GPS audio guide system for free. Well, it was not entirely free. They were testing it and wanted some feedback. They gave it to us for 24hrs and if we came back with a smile on our faces then they would charge us 10 euros. Everything was good except that the told us that the device's batteries will last for about 8 hrs but it only lasted for about 3hrs. So at the end we got it for free. At least it gave us some important information about the castle and some other general information.
We followed Rebecca's advice and went to the Budavari Laborintus. This is a labyrinth under the castle. This was quite cheesy and not worth the money we paid. Oh well. There is one part of the labyrinth called the Chamber of Courage. The room was pitch black and you had to follow a rope attached to the wall. We wanted to go in but were too scared. In the end, we cheated and used our iPod touch as a flashlight...
We were given the advice to visit the town of Pecs in the south of Hungary. We were lucky to find Jim Bean, our couchsurfer friend, to host us. He lives with 3 other German medical students. They were all very friendly and welcoming.
Pecs is a small but quite nice town. We did a bit of walking but we mainly hung out at the house. The house had a very big cheery tree so Rebecca made 2 cherry pies for the big and hungry boys. They were all in their exam period so they were a bit stressed out. Hopefully the sugar helped!
We did a day trip to the village of Villany. There we found lots of different wineries. So after doing a little bit of tasting we went back to Pecs and crashed.
We are now on the train to Zagreb, Croatia.
Tomorrow, will be 5 months on the road. Seven to more to go!