Having had such a wonderful time in Ninh Binh we were reluctant to leave the beauty of the countryside to return to the madness of Hanoi hustle. We’ve enjoyed staying at the boutique hotel run by a lovely family and their little two year old was adorable fun.
We got the afternoon train back to the city and were in a third class carriage which was cramped and hectic but comfortable enough. We were in a compartment with a cute baby, her mother, grandmother and great grandmother. They would all do their stint of entertaining the little one before passing her to the next lap. Everyone was so smiley and friendly.
We decided to treat ourselves to a fancy meal to mark our final evening in Vietnam. The food here has been incredible. We had beef marinated in chilli, lemongrass, coconut and ginger with rice and veggies.
We savoured our last breakfast of Pho Bo before heading to the airport and flying direct to Chiang Mai. We did have plans to visit Laos but our timings were just a little tight and as we are nearing the end of our trip we didn’t want to rush about with long travel days and overnight bus journeys so have decided to wind down in Thailand.
Chiang Mai is in northern Thailand and first impressions are that it is very laid back with way less hassle from locals selling tuk tuks, tours and elephant print trousers that are absolutely everywhere! The old city is stuffed with temples and ancient buildings rub shoulders with modern coffee shops and cool street art. The city is wonderfully colourful and vibrant with street markets and night bizarres everywhere.
On our first full day we wandered the streets and visited a couple of temples including Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai’s most revered. The buildings and monasteries were lavishly decorated and the gardens were meticulously kept and beautifully peaceful.
We then treated ourselves to yet another foot massage at a nearby place called Lila. I’d read about this local chain of massage shops that were established to provide ex female convicts with working opportunities. Offering inmate employment and skill development, these spas help and support women striving for a better future. All the masseurs are trained and certified and it was a great massage.
We rounded off our evening at the Saturday night market which stretched along for over a mile. The whole market bustled with people, musicians, touts and sellers. The stalls had everything you could possibly want, from souvenirs to cheap t-shirts, through to more exotic delicacies…
It was noisy and messy and vibrant and awesome. We sat on tiny plastic chairs on the roadside and tucked into freshly cooked pad Thai and delicious homemade spicy sausage, washed down with plenty of Singha beer before walking back to our hotel. It’s inspirational to see everyone just grafting away and making and selling their own goods. Everyone seems so entrepreneurial in creating their own little niche and unique brand. These nights are the best nights. Cheap and cheerful and full of local life.