Cycling Through the Countryside
People stopped their daily chores to smile and wave as we cycled past on almost car-less roads. It was quiet except for the sounds of birds chirping, roosters crowing and the occasional dog’s bark or child’s laughter. As we continued on past rice fields and ancient temples I breathed in the sweet air and grinned at Nathan, grateful to be getting a taste of local life in Thailand with a Buffalo Tour of Chiang Mai.
We were on the Lanna Cycle and Boat excursion with Buffalo Tours of Thailand and it was living up to everything Karen had promised. After meeting Karen Hewell at a recent TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) event in Bangkok we were enticed by her enthusiastic tales of the Asia-based tour company and decided we had to try them for ourselves. When our originally planned tour of Street Eats in Bangkok didn’t work out, Karen suggested we try one of their local life tours of Chiang Mai on our upcoming visit. Boy are we glad we did!
Note: Our friends over at Dish Our Town do have a great write up of their Bangkok Street Eats Tour if you want to hear some first-hand opinions.
Our Tour of Chiang Mai Guide
Our guide for our tour of Chiang Mai was Amy, who greeted us with a huge, warm smile and a lovely cooling cloth as we stepped into the songthaew which would take us to pick out our bikes. Once our bikes were chosen and strapped to the roof we set off for our start point away from the busy Chiang Mai city streets.
We chatted easily with Amy and learned that she had been born and raised in Chiang Mai and was now raising her own family in the area she loved. It was pretty clear right from the start that we were in for not only an enjoyable day but also a really informative one. Amy knew her stuff!
The driver brought us to the ancient town of Wiang Kum Kam and it was here that the cycling part of the tour began. Although now a stop on the tour bus route the town had managed to maintain a charm and quiet quaintness. We dismounted and explored the temple and sights of the main square while Amy explained the history of the town and it’s people along with other points of interesting trivia.
“You see those monks over there? Do you know what the different colors they wear mean?” We did not. “The lighter orange robes mean that the monk is less strict and can do things like eat meat. The darker orange robes mean that he follows a much stricter discipline. He is vegetarian and will eat only once per day.” she said with empathy.
We walked on and Amy spotted another opportunity for a trivia quiz.
“Do you know why this tree has all these wooden poles leaning against it?” We looked at the poles wrapped in colorful cloth as we tried to come up with an answer. “Well it looks like they are propping the tree up.” I said. “Yes!” Amy replied and clapped her hands. She continued, “This is a Bodi tree which is sacred in Buddhism. The branches get very heavy and we don’t want the sacred tree to fall or branches to break so we use these sticks called mai kham sari to support it. But in many cases it is more symbolic than it is necessary.”
We were right about it being a very informative day
Leaving the village’s quiet streets we continued our tour of Chiang Mai and cycled on to even quieter country roads. Amy pointed out things of interest along the way and we stopped often to get a closer look at the temples en route, both modern day and ancient. We were told stories about each one along with the somewhat vague recorded history of the 13th century ruins like Wat Pu Pia and Wat E-Gang which were part of King Mengrai’s capitol. The story goes that the land was flooded during the Burmese occupation which all but destroyed the many temples.
While viewing the ruins of Wat Tad Kow a young couple arrived in a pretty horse and carriage and stopped to pray at the foot of a large Buddha at the end of the temple remains. “They are probably newlyweds” Amy said. “This temple is the place to come and pray for a successful life and no divorce.” She then proceeded to tell us the story of King Ran Nia (although I may have his name wrong) and how his first wife was so distraught at the king taking more wives that she became a nun. I guess people come to pray that the same doesn’t happen to them?
This was essentially how we spent the 2 hour cycling portion of our tour of Chiang Mai. Riding through the peaceful countryside, waving at villagers, stopping at temples, taking tons of photos and of course getting an incredible cultural lesson from Amy the super tour guide.
Gliding Down the River
After our final temple stop at Wat Chedi Liam (my personal favorite), we traded our bikes for a boat and enjoyed a leisurely glide along the grand Ping River. The scenery was varied and captivating with old teak houses and simple dwellings sharing the riverbanks with high-end hotels and restaurants all sitting harmoniously between lush jungle and farmland. It was wonderful to see Chiang Mai from a different viewpoint.
The forty minute boat ride ended at some stone stairs leading from the river into scented foliage, the path winding it’s way through organic gardens before opening up into an exotic open-air restaurant. Here we sat at the carved wooden benches and tables watching the river flow by and the birds gorging on the fruit-laden trees as we dined on a delicious local soup called Khao Soi and chatted with Amy about life and food and of course the beautiful country of Thailand.
Note: If you haven’t tried Khao Soi you are missing an awesome taste explosion. To find out more about this delicious meal and other tasty Thai food check out this great Chiang Mai food guide. It will have your mouth watering and your stomach grumbling.
When the tour was over we went back to our apartment feeling refreshed, relaxed and full of good food and good memories. For us, the Lanna Bike and Boat excursion tour of Chiang Mai with Buffalo Tours was exactly how we like to spend a balanced day when traveling: enjoying a mix of sightseeing, exercise and nature and tasting the local culture and food.
A Little About Buffalo Tours:
Buffalo Tours operates in 11 destinations throughout Asia offering a large range of products and services which allow the traveler to experience this diverse continent beyond the standard tourist sites. They do have lots of great day trips like the one we enjoyed but what they are most known for is their multi-day customized itineraries that can be designed to suit from the ground up or taken from the sample itineraries shown on their site.
We haven’t taken one of their multi-day tours…yet…but if the day excursion we did is anything to go by they would be an experience of a lifetime.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Buffalo Tours for hosting us, we loved our day with Amy and have no hesitation in recommending this tour. All of the opinions in this article are entirely our own.