Breaking a chunk of sticky rice from the centre of a peeled back cylinder of bamboo, I acknowledged the value of guided tours.
Whilst moving at your own pace haphazardly discovering what is around the next corner is my usual preference, it is nice to hand over the responsibility of choosing where to stop and where to go next once in a while. And more than that, the benefit of a local guide can mean going to places you may not have quite braved alone and trying things you may not have done.
I’d wondered at all these delicacies on Asian market stalls but tried few of them. I hope the experience of hopping from one stall to the next led by our guide from Grasshopper Adventures bike tours sampling little tasters of mango, jackfruit, a sticky sweet potatoe treat covered in shaved coconut and local coffee made with tamarind and Carnation Milk will encourage me to do the same again alone.
Weaving in and out of endless warrens of back alleys with no fear of going where was not allowed or getting lost was equally pleasurable, spotting local women preparing meals in their back yards, attractive back street cafes and cooking schools and bright hibiscus and other exotic flowers growing sporadically beside white walls.
The local food market stop on the half-day Bike Historic Old City Chiang Mai was one of my favourite parts in a trip that proved an excellent way to get to know the city.
Chiang Mai may be ancient but, as the second city of Thailand, it is no sleepy old town. The central ring road is busy with two lanes of pretty relentless weaving traffic and the usual unpredictable and numerous mopeds and tuk tuks synonymous with Thailand.
Only around ten per cent of the tour was on busy roads, we were told before signing up, and I was pleased to discover that even the sections that did touch on those routes were mainly short and proceeded a quick turn back onto side roads and those fascinating back alleys where traffic was minimal.
Our guide, Gun, kept our eight-year-old son close to him throughout and was constantly mindful of his road positioning and safety, which put me greatly at ease. His confident instruction also ensured the rest of our pleasingly small group of four adults, including myself and my husband, made all turns and crossings safely. Less steady young riders can go on tag along bikes and I’d definitely go for that option for any younger a child.
The trip took us to many of the city sights: Tha Phae Gate and numerous intricately decorated temples including Wat Chiang Mun and Wat Inthakin.
Gun was incredibly conscientious in telling us of the history of the area – once separate from Thailand and part of the Lanna Kingdom – The Land of A Million Rice Fields – and explaining details about the temples we would certainly not have understood if we had gone alone – including the murals telling Buddha’s story on the internal walls of one and the bone fragments of dead monks in jars that adorned another.
Wat Chedi Luang threw up the thinking point of still barring women from the sacred building where the city pillar is located Inthakhin Pillar Vihara due to the fact they menstruate “because it is believed to humiliate and ruin the sanctity of the city pillar,” the sign outside informed us.
The details Gun mentioned about his own youth, collecting water from wells and eating solely with fingers until he was ten were as interesting as everything else he shared. The only spoon he’d ever seen to that point was one used to stir the cooking pot, he said.
The three-and-a-half hour tour was so packed with culture and information as to be a little too much for young children. It was a lot to take in even as an adult. The tour was more a cultural education on two wheels than a potter around the old city on a bike. It was easy and slow riding with numerous stops, however, and not beyond the physical reaches of anyone of reasonable health. Seeing Chiang Mai by bike was certainly a great way to cover a lot of ground.
Grasshopper Adventures runs a whole string of tours in the city and elsewhere, including multi-day adventures from Bangkok to the south, which are advertised as having support vehicles that can provide respite for children or others who need it. I wouldn’t hesitate to book on any of them.
One of our previous memorable bike rides took us to the rim of the Grand Canyon – The Grand Canyon Gave Us Goosebumps in More Than One Way
**Bike Historic Old City Chiang Mai was 1250 THB per person (around £28). We took part as guests of Grasshopper Adventures in exchange for this honest review of our experience**