Discovery. Part of our new everyday routine. When we first arrived, we had no idea just how much discovery was in store for us.
Starting with our first time out to the road where we now live, April 2014, we were visiting Prem for the first time. With time to kill, we drove to the end of the road where I remember seeing the walls of The Spa Resort (recently renamed The Pavana), just before the road turned to dirt and disappeared into the jungle. Fast forward one year when Frank and I returned to sign a lease on a 4 bedroom house. One of my only moments of doubt . . . With a quiet exterior, mainly because we were well past the point of no return on this move from California to Thailand, inside my head I was screaming “WHAT are we doing? We are out in the middle of NOWHERE!! Nothing but rice fields and bamboo shacks! The girls are going to hate it”. With a pounding pulse, a small degree of panic was setting in.
The house fit all our criteria; close enough to ride bikes to school, enough bedrooms for the girls to have their own. The two pools within the grounds and the huge deck with the beautiful view were welcome bonuses. Also, the rent was well within our budget (gotta love that Thai cost of living), and with the luxury of most details handled without speaking any Thai. It was a no brainer; this would be an easy landing into a country where we didn’t yet speak the language or know anything about the way of life. I kept thinking, nothing is perfect and we couldn’t be lucky enough to find 3 houses in a row that are perfect (our houses in Sai Kung, Hong Kong, and in Fairfax WERE perfect). Our agent, and 10+ year Mae Rim veteran, cryptically hinted at the hidden treasures of Mae Rim, our new district. We signed the lease.
Fast forward 8 months. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface discovering all that Mae Rim has to offer. That secluded community of Mae Ann, where the road turned to dirt, is now our sanctuary. That dirt road is now the start of some great mountain biking and hiking. The Spa Resort has everything a high-end spa has, well, because it is one of the highest rated spas in the Chiang Mai area, plus it can accommodate any number of visitors that may spill over from our house. In my next few posts, I’ll be taking advantage of my upgraded wix.com subscription to share with you, particularly aimed at those whispers of upcoming visits and travel plans, the discoveries we’ve made in the last 7 months. First, a teaser . . .
Chiang Mai is the Kyoto of Thailand. As an ancient capital, it has an intact wall and more temples per square block than anywhere in Thailand. There are no beaches, but its northern location brings on a lower average temperature than Bangkok. It is a one hour flight away from the capital with many flights leaving on various airlines everyday. Chiang Mai airport is a 40 minute drive to our house.
Mae Rim is a roughly 30 minute drive north of Chiang Mai. It is on the 107, the highway that leads to the Mae Sa Valley (waterfalls, botanical gardens, mountain top dining) and the Mae Taeng Valley (elephants, waterfalls, and more elephants), as well as to Pai, Tham Lod and Mae Hong Son, all major tourist destinations with their own unique attractions. The scenery in Mae Rim rivals anything we saw on our road trip to Pai and Mae Hong Son. Mae Rim was also one of the largest Shan settlements in the Chiang Mai Province, along with several Karen and Hmong communities, among others, making the area extremely diverse. There are several beautiful Shan structures in Mae Rim, and a few Shan food vendors, with all Burmese products, at the local weekly markets. The Karen girls hide their neck rings with scarves when shopping at the Tuesday night market. I once saw two Ahka grandmothers in full Ahka dress at this same market, from head to toe, in beautiful silver headdresses and blue embroidered batik. They were not on display for the tourists to take pictures, they were shopping.
Accommodations in Mae Rim range from hill tribe home stays to the stunningly beautiful Four Seasons Chiang Mai. For an even more luxurious experience, Howie’s Homestay is a lavish private residence featured in the April 2007 issue of Architectural Digest. Renting one room or the entire house (which sleeps 10 - 12 people) for rates that are more in the luxury category, offers the added bonus of being the house’s only guests. Perfect for those travelers who don’t play well with others, or for a completely private and individually-tailored experience (all food and activities can be arranged to suit any need).
There are several small resorts within 2 to 3 miles of our house, with rates that fall easily in the “budget” category that are on mountain biking trails. Like our house in Fairfax, there are literally hundreds of miles of both mountain biking trails and roads perfect for cycling, right outside your door. Plus, Spa Resort/Pavana has everything from single hotel rooms to 4 bedroom houses on AirBnB.
Having the bikes here has greatly enhanced our exploratory adventures. Alex and I have mapped out a couple of 20+ milers with some great food stops along the way. The valleys make for some long, flat, beautiful rides with a turn towards Wat Phraputabat Si Roi (Temple of Four Buddha Footprints)
for a hill climb not unlike Mt. Tam, with one of the area’s most well known temples at the top. For more miles and more hills, century riders can continue on Highway 1095 to Pai, or the 1096 to Samoeng. Mae Rim was the host to a mountain bike race a few weeks ago, with a 13 mile short course and a 25 mile long course.
Mae Rim boasts at least 5 waterfalls, 2 botanical gardens, a snake farm (I will not be reviewing this) and a few “fun” centers where you can wage battle on a paint ball range, zip line, or rent ATVs. Markets pop up at almost every village, with two weekly markets that bring in vendors from all around the area. The Mae Rim Plaza Tuesday night market has great people watching and the Friday night market is even bigger. Every Friday night, the empty lot at the corner of Highway 107 and the 1260 transforms into a carnival-like mass of food vendors and stalls selling clothing and housewares.
Oh, and back to the food…anything from bacon-covered mashed potato balls, to organic farms, where someone runs out to the garden with a pair of scissors when you order a salad, to the Grandma’s Noodles (#thankyouandyricker) for custom local dishes. Also, our favorite cafe across the street from Prem now has a small resort with rooms and Thai massage falling in the budget category, with our favorite “Lunch Lady” and fall back dinner spot running the resort's restaurant. Plus, and the biggest bonus, is our very own Spa Resort/Pavana, with a full spa, morning meditation and yoga classes to the sounds of the jungle (real sounds, not an “exotic” Jungle Sounds Soundtrack), raw food classes and menu (all supplied by the organic farm on the property), a one to nine day detox, and a week long fitness boot camp. All of this within an easy 30 minute ride to Chiang Mai.