After visiting the bustling and noisy city of Bangkok in Thailand, Natalie headed to the north of the country to Chiang Mai.
With a population of around 170,000 it's small enough to explore by bicycle, so she joined a half-day ride with Indochina Travel. Their tours are suitable for all riders and are accompanied by a local, English-speaking guide.
Related pics: Nat Gruzlewski in Chiang Mai:
Nat was collected by minivan at Manathai Village and taken to the starting point on the banks of the Ping River. The ride covers around 30 kilometres on flat, sealed roads. You don't need to be super fit to do it.
The visited the local markets where locals buy their fruit and vegetables, flowers for temple offerings, baked goods with a distinct French influence and even gold jewellery.
Some of the food on sale may not be quite to your liking stick insects, crickets, silkworms, maggots and fried giant cockroaches. Tasting them is entirely optional!
A leisurely rise along the river and through the quiet back streets led to the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam.
The ancient, walled city was uncovered in 1984 by archaeologists. It was one of many fortified cities built in the 13th century by King Mengrai to consolidate his hold on the north. It was flooded and abandoned over 700 years ago.
Almost 20 temple sites have been uncovered in the area, again buried because of flooding, and that is no doubt the reason Mengrai moved his capital to Chiang Mai.
The Ping River once flowed along the northern side of the town, but during Burmese occupation between the 16th and 18th centuries, changed course and now flows along the western side of the site. That change of course must have been the last straw causing the city to be abandoned for 300 years.
The working temple of Wat Chedi Liam is a good place to start your look around, and as the site is much too vast to cover on foot, you will be glad to be on a bicycle!
Speaking of temples, there are over three hundred in Chiang Mai and one of the most beautiful is Wat Chedi Luang. The grounds of the Buddhist temple originally had three temples. Luang's construction began in the 14th century. After 10 years of building time it was left unfinished, to be continued later by the king's widow. It wasn't completed until the mid-15th century and was 82 metres high with a base diameter of 54 metres.
The elephant is the holy animal of Thailand and the beautiful beasts wander around the grounds. Until the 1920s they were the transport used to reach Chiang Mai.
The ride takes you past many ancient temples and you will cycle through a former leprosorium, now a home for the elderly and disabled. The colonial-style white building and church are in beautiful manicured grounds.
The route takes you through quiet country lanes, past traditional teak houses and a stop to say hello to men fishing the Ping River.
Chiang Mai, an hour's flight from Bangkok.
Travel Indochina has private half-day cycle tours from Chiang Mai from $68 per person. They include bicycle and helmet, insurance and local English-speaking guide. Rates valid from November 1, 2011 until December 31, 2012. Conditions apply.
Emirates has daily flights to Bangkok from Sydney. Connections to Chiang Mai are available. For an exclusive Getaway viewers' discount, log on to Emirates.com/getaway.
Prices correct at October 29, 2011.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Level 10, 403 George Street
Ph: 1300 138 755
Fax: 02 9244 2233
Visa: Australians may stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa.
Electricity: 220V with European plug of 2 circular metal pins or Japanese plug with two parallel flat blades.
Time zone: GMT +7 hours.
Currency: The baht.
Telephone code: +66.
It is recommended travellers see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au and www.welltogo.com.au.