Part 1 – Visit Chiang Mai
Ever thought about being an elephant owner for a day, see the Karen Long Neck Villages or go to the Golden Triangle and visit 3 countries in a matter of minutes? You can do so from Chiang Mai, Thailand! In fact, the two former have been on my bucket list since its inception!
Me and my girlfriend got ridiculously cheap round tickets from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai, Thailand, which also included hotel stay. The price? Around $300 in total for the both of us! That’s a bargain. We flew with Air Asia who had a promotion at the time. In general, we subscribe to various airlines, so from time to time we land on some very cheap tickets. And for many other trips, we heavily rely on travel miles points that we accumulate through our credit cards (and obviously by travelling). I’ll tell you more about that in a later post.
Trip to Chiang Mai:
First day: Chiang Mai
Second day: Elephant Owners for Day
Let’s start with a brief introduction about Chiang Mai, shall we.
Chiang Mai is located 700 km north of Bangkok, situated amongst the highest mountains in the country. The city is the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand.
Chiang Mai was one of two tourist destinations in Thailand on TripAdvisor’s 2014 list of “25 Best Destinations in the World” – which essentially shows its merit. And, according to Thailand’s Department of Tourism, in 2013 Chiang Mai had a whopping 14.1 million visitors!
Nearby national parks include Doi Inthanon National Park, and within it, Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. Also, an important and famous tourist attraction, Wat Doi Suthep Buddhist temple, located near the summit of Doi Suthep, can be seen from much of the city and its surrounding areas.
Attractions and Activities in Chiang Mai | TripAdvisor
So, I’ve been to Thailand on numerous occasions (such as in Pattaya, Bangkok, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi ++). But I’ve never been to the northern parts of the country and I’ve had that as an essential travel goal for quite some time – especially due to my strong interest in the Karen Long Neck villages & elephant excursions – which I, of course, had to do once I was there! This was gonna be an amazing trip!
We left Hong Kong in the early morning and landed in Thailand around 1 pm (2–hour flight + 1 hour time difference).
As we reached our destination, I kind of noticed that the city seemed quite similar to many other places I’ve come across. “Seen one, seen them all”, I thought to myself. However, what I was about to find out was that Chiang Mai and its magnificence is not primarily in its city centre, but rather its marvellous nature and areas outside of the busy city life.
The first day we took it quite relaxing. I had some work to attend to and so did she. So we wrapped that up and did some minuscule planning on the rest of our itinerary before heading out.
We like to vary between having organised trips and more spontaneous ones. This trip was the latter.
First, we headed to a nearby Thai restaurant to munch on various local delicacies – especially our favourite – Pad Thai – but also other great dishes such as Khao Soi, Miang Kham and more.
“Solly, that one no have today!”
It’s a standing joke in Chiang Mai but local restaurants have a habit of running out of dishes. A menu is more a list of what they can make rather than what’s available, so expect your first choice to sometimes be ‘that one no have today’. If you’re really unlucky they’ll come back and tell you 15 minutes later (meaning they tried to bunk out to the local market for ingredients, unsuccessfully). We’ve experienced this at every level of eateries.
Equally, the menus are frequently not sorted, and their content may even vary in the very same restaurant. Hehe, when we asked our waiter for a specific item he had to scroll through the menu twice, then look for another copy to be able to find what we were talking about. Hehe that did also happen on another occasion.
But WOW, 40 degrees and so spicy food almost got the best of me. For the first few hours, it felt like I was walking around in a sauna. Although I’m quite accustomed to the Hong Kong weather — which also is hot and humid, but this was way worse. What really helped though, was a few fresh coconuts — that coconut milk did the trick!
We then went to the night market/night bazaar. The night bazaar extends across several city blocks along footpaths, inside buildings and temple grounds, and in open squares. The streets and venues at the night market were buzzing with people, clearly a lot of foreigners and tourists. A lovely place with everything from clothes, handcrafts and local art, and all kinds of souvenirs. We knew what we were looking for so we only stayed around for an hour or so. But one could easily stay there much, much more – browsing through its entirety.
Should you ever want to hit up the markets yourself, then do be aware that some of these may change their location depending on what day it is.
A handicraft and food market opens every Sunday afternoon until late at night on Rachadamnoen Road, the main street in the historical centre, which is then closed to motorised traffic. Every Saturday evening a handicraft market is held along Wua Lai Road, Chiang Mai’s silver street on the south side of the city beyond Chiang Mai Gate.
I always eat the local cuisine in the countries and places I go to. So when in Chiang Mai, I simply had to try Khao Soi, and it was delicious!
Rich and savoury yellow curry noodle soup, served with spring onions, pickled cabbage and slices of lime. The egg noodles are of the flat variety, with a small handful of deep-fried portion added on top and also crushed into the broth for a toothsome texture. Choose from chicken, pork, or beef Khao Soi. Usually, the portion is quite small, so you might end up ordering another bowl to fill up your stomach. You may read more about at Khao Soi at this great food website. Moreover, should you want to learn more about the amazing Chiang Mai cuisine then check out this superb article by The Guardian elaborating on favourite street stalls, markets and must-try barbeque, curry and noodle dishes.
If We Only Had More Time…
As the two other days mainly would consist of full-day tours, there were a lot of great places that we simply did not have time for. Here are some good shots and ideas for such places. The first ones that come to mind for me personally, are:
There are in fact tonnes of beautiful “wats” and temples in Chiang Mai, but during such a short trip I generally feel that I don’t have time for all. If we had more time, then of course we would have loved to visit tonnes more, and especially the Wat Chedi Luang
Museum of World Insects.
I always look for unique and sometimes abnormal things and activities, so on that note, I really wanted to visit the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders in Chiang Mai, which I had heard so much cool about.
Cooking classes are also very popular in the area, and a new friend we got ourselves on the trip, Josh from Portland, Oregon, did one the day before we met him. While I haven’t tried it myself, he said it was a great experience – and especially appreciating how everything was made from scratch. TripAdvisor might give you an idea of what to expect and which one’s the most popular – don’t blindly choose the top-rated just because it’s top-rated though, read some reviews – there might be some hidden gems around.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that I’ve ziplined so many times already, then I would be extremely eager to do the Flight of the Gibbon or the Jungle Flight outside of Chiang Mai. These are the two main zipline operators . Seemingly, this blog compares them and recommends Jungle Flight over Flight of the Gibbon.
Most of the restaurants in Chiang Mai serve a cornucopia of delicious Thai dishes and this alone could be the highlight of your visit. Be a little adventurous and try the piquant Tom Yum Goong (a seafood soup delicately balanced with sweet, sour, spicy and salty ingredients) or the famous Khaeng Khieo Wan (green curry). Then there’s the steaming lPa Jian (whole fish poached in ginger, onions and soy sauce), or the mild Gai Phat Met Ma Muang (chicken fried with vegetables and cashew nuts), or the perennial Thai lunch favourite Somtam (a spicy papaya salad with a myriad of herbaceous ingredients).
Northern dishes also include Sai Ua (spicy sausage), Kaeng anHg Lae (pork curry casserole with ginger and peanuts), and Kaen Yuak (banana palm curry). Many of these dishes are served as vegetarian dishes and those with a sweet tooth should certainly sample the coconut-sweetened Khao Niew Med Mmamuang (sticky rice and mango with nuts).
Food is definitely a highlight of any trip to Thailand, and Chiang Mai offers an excellent selection of good value restaurants. Some of the top restaurants in Chiang Mai rival those in Bangkok, but at half the price, and you can find affordable eateries of both Thai and international cuisines all across the city.
Wats. Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (“wat” in Thai), obviously varying in shape, size and quality. However, the most popular ones (i.e. on Tripadvisor) may not necessarily be the most beautiful ones (and they may be overcrowded). Do some initial research and check if there are certain wats that seem better than others to you.
Bargain. You can bargain a lot in markets and for taxis. They will often state an unreasonably high price at first. Don’t be fooled, as you go about bargaining your 10% off, you are likely to be fooled that you essentially won the negotiation. But no, these guys are good at it. You can often bargain as low as 3 times lower – perhaps even more at times. State a final low price and if they say no, then start to walk away and/or begin browsing in the neighbouring stall – you may often experience that they’ll yell out “Okay” once you do.
Click here to read about our second day, where we were elephant owners for a day!