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Chiang Mai – Day One

I’d always wanted to win a holiday.
I mean, I know most people do, but I’ve actually tried (unsuccessfully, on many an occasion) to win them before. There was that trip to Byron Bay I didn’t win, despite having come up with the most awesome 25-words-or-less poem. And then there was that trip to Malaysia that I swore I was going to win, but didn’t.
So when I checked my inbox in late December and saw an email congratulating me on my win, I kind of paused, hovered my finger over the “delete” button (surely this was spam, right?) and felt very suspicious.
But, to my (very welcome) surprise, it was not a hoax – it was fo’ real! I quickly called Phuc (my fiancé) and told him the news. He had been sleeping at the time, but sobered up pretty quickly when I announced that we’d won an all-expenses paid trip to the other side of the world.
Fast forward just two (!) weeks, and we were suddenly on our way to Chiang Mai, in North-West Thailand. Having never travelled to Thailand before, Phuc and I didn’t really know what to expect. Everything we’d ever seen or heard about Thailand had been relayed from party-going friends, but Chiang Mai didn’t seem to have much of a party-going reputation. Instead, a quick Google search revealed that the ancient city was better known for its many Buddhist temples, royal history and rich culture.
We landed in Chiang Mai at 11.30pm local time (otherwise known as 3.30am AEST), and were EXHAUSTED. We’d been in transit since 1.30pm AEST, which meant we’d either been on a plane or in an airport (Melbourne, Brunei, Bangkok and then Chiang Mai) for over 14 hours’ straight. Bleary eyed and tired, we emerged from Chiang Mai airport with suitcases trailing behind us, looking forward to bed, when suddenly – lo and behold – we were greeted by a small team of energetic, enthusiastic and very excited people. This small entourage – two people from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, one director, one film assistant and two cameramen – would become our chaperones and family for the next seven days.
We briefly introduced ourselves to one of the cameras (I prayed that my eyeliner was still intact and visible), then made our way to the large van that awaited us outside. Having recently travelled to both Bali and Vietnam, we knew what a luxury it was to have our own air-conditioned van and driver in a foreign country, and felt incredibly grateful. There’d be no need for us to avoid dodgy taxi drivers here! Woo!
The van took us to Burisari Hotel, where we’d be staying the night. Our room was spacious, clean and located on the top floor, overlooking the glittering lights of Chiang Mai. Ever the sentimental one, I wanted to cuddle up to Phuc and enjoy our first night in Thailand together (just cuddling, guys – get your mind out of the gutter), but the man had fallen asleep on top of the bed sheets, fully clothed and
limbs outstretched like a starfish. I gently rolled him out of the way and fell asleep shortly thereafter.
We had a pretty early start the next day, so we essentially power-napped, showered, packed our things, ate breakfast and then met with our entourage. The first stop on our itinerary was the Ta Pae Gate. A very long time ago, when Chiang Mai was the Lan Na kingdom’s capital, its perimeter was lined by a moat and a tall brick wall that served to protect the city within. Over the centuries since, most of this wall has collapsed. Only one section remains upright and in a fairly good condition, and this is the Ta Pae Gate.
Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, but being around ancient anything makes me feel a great sense of humility and awe. The fact that we were standing on once-royal grounds - touching a wall that used to protect against invasion – was rather magical. The fact that we were there because we’d won a complimentary trip – well, that rendered us even more humble.
After we’d taken enough selfies in front of the Gate, we were taken to Oasis Spa. The staff members there greeted us with a seriously tasty lemongrass tea (I secretly hoped they’d pour me a second glass), and then led us to our very own treatment villa. We enjoyed a quick outdoor shower together (which was surprisingly lovely in the Thai humidity and heat) before surrendering ourselves to a deliciously intense King Oasis massage. It was amaaazing, and very much needed.
I’d suffered a particularly painful workout session with my personal trainer (and cousin) Adrian the day before our flight to Thailand, and my body was riddled with DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). As Phuc can testify, I wouldn’t shut up about how much pain I was in. Those 14 hours in transit I mentioned earlier? I was whinging the whole time. But this massage – it was like 2 hours of rehabilitation. Yes, it hurt, but afterwards, I emerged free of pain and finally able to walk / lift my arms again. Amazing!
After lunch at a highly-acclaimed local restaurant, we visited an absolutely magical Buddhist temple by the name of Wat Pra Singh. Phuc and I were both raised as Buddhists, so this was especially meaningful to us. It’s believed that walking three times around the pagoda in a clockwise direction will bestow good luck and fortune upon you, so naturally, that’s what we did. We also said a few prayers in each of the different pagodas, and took lots of photos.
When our energy levels finally started to wane, our driver (who we’d affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Bear’) drove us to the Four Seasons Resort in the mountains of Chiang Mai. It was beautiful. It was one of those places that you see in travel magazines and on visual bucket lists, but never think you’ll actually get to see with your own eyes, ever.
The team there welcomed us with wrist garlands made of fresh flowers, a large bunch of gorgeous Thai orchids, and a “just got married” buggy that took us straight to our rice paddy-side pavilion villa. The room was – and still remains – the best room we’d ever had the pleasure of staying at.
In addition to being very large, clean and spacious, it was also luxurious. Fresh rose petals were scattered in and around our huge bathtub, organic plant-based skin products sat on our vanity, a tropical fruit basket (I’m talking about mangoes and dragon fruit) waited patiently beside our very own coffee machine, and the bed.. Oh, that bed. That bed was so incredibly comfortable, it wasn’t possible to stay awake for longer than 3 minutes in that bed before drifting into an uninterrupted and deep sleep.
Before we could hit the hay, though, we needed to eat dinner. We dined at one of resort’s three restaurants – the staff members there had reserved us the ENTIRE indoor restaurant space, which made us feel like complete superstars – and we were introduced to some of region’s signature dishes. If you ever travel to Chiang Mai (and I definitely recommend that you do), you have to try the Khao Soy. It’s a soupy noodle dish that features two types of egg noodles – chewy and crispy. The chewy noodles sit in a mild curry, and the crispy noodles sit on top. You add pickles, diced red onion and a generous squeeze of fresh lime before digging in. It’s simultaneously creamy, chewy and crunchy. It’s a little spicy, a little tangy and a LOT delicious – we could see why it was such a popular dish.
With bellies FULL of food, we retreated to our villa and fell into bed. No more than 2 minutes later, we were both sound asleep. What. A. Day! And it was only day one.
To read about Day Two, please click here.