Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was easy peasy and pretty inexpensive! Thai Air is awesome for many reasons, but mainly because of the big seats in economy, delicious meal served on the one hour flight and a camera under the airplane to watch the view underneath – not much good though when the skies are polluted!
Chiang Mai, which is located in northern Thailand, stole our hearts immediately. It’s a cute little town (population of about 160,000) with beautiful temple roofs peaking out of every street corner. When we arrived, Songkran Festival was still in full force, so minutes into walking out onto the street, we were soaked (which was actually pretty awesome considering the heat outside).
Songkran in Bangkok was super fun, but in Chiang Mai, it is THAT much better because of how small the town is and just watching the spirit of all age groups out and about at all hours of the day throwing water at each other and celebrating the New Year. Why the water throwing? It is a “cleansing” ritual for the New Year. See more about Songkran in Kieran’s post about Bangkok.Below is a map that depicts the lay out of Chiang Mai, with the old town within the square and suburbs on the outskirts of the square where you will find markets where locals enjoy a nice hot noodle soup and a cold Chang beer.
Because we were in Chiang Mai for a few weeks, we decided to move around and stay at different hotels/B&B’s in various parts of the city just to get a better feel for it (and because I couldn’t decide on where to stay, so I chose all 3)!
Upon arrival, while waiting for our room to be ready at Thannatee Boutique Hotel, we walked over to a local temple across the street called Wat Daowadung and I immediately fell in love not only with the beautiful architecture and art but also the friendliness of Thai people and the Monks at this temple.
They were so excited to see us, that they quickly pulled us into their conversation and asked if they could bless us. Ummm, yes please! So, the main monk tied strings together while praying over them and then attached them to our wrists while wishing us a happy and healthy New Year.Of course, the tourists that we are, we immediately posed for pictures. The monks were equally excited and pulled iphones out of their robes and started taking pictures with us as well. Out of all the temples that we have visited to date, this was by far my favorite one not because it was incredibly beautiful (which it was), but because of the amazing and authentic experience that we had while there.
The next day, it was time to really explore the city and all the temples that it has to offer. I won’t lie, once you have seen ten temples, you have pretty much seen them all, but there is still so much beauty and peacefulness there, that we could have hung around these temples and gardens for hours.
Here is one of the many entrance doors to Wat Chedi Luang…the main temple in the center of the old town…
…and the beautiful ruins with a nice garden to just sit and reflect for a bit…
and then maybe to do a little bit of CrossFit…
Loving this Monk fella and yes, I am wearing jeans in 104 degree heat as it was laundry day…
After much exploring, we stumbled upon a vegetarian Thai restaurant called Bamboo Bee (obviously must try a place with Bee in the name), which turned out to be our regular go to spot for excellent Thai veggie cuisine. The food is delicious and the owner is super sweet. It is a hole in the wall and it is pretty incredible the kind of food Bee and her apprentice chef can make with a kitchen consisting of a clay pot and a few hot coals. That evening we ventured out to the night market which is huge and nightly! There is so much to buy and so much food to try that it is a total sensory overload.
First thing, I buy myself the obligatory “every tourist wears them” elephant pants for $5…The young lady below was a bargaining machine…After a little bit of shopping, Kieran bought himself a nightly McDonald’s ice cream cone treat,while I decided to go for something a bit more refreshing for my dessert choice…
Followed by a “fish spa” for our tired feet.
Queue “naive and ignorant” tourist music (haven’t figured out what song to use just yet). Here we are, thinking that we are supporting the economy and also feeding the fish with our dead skin, right? WRONG! Turns out, as we later learned, that the fish are actually pretty poorly treated (no, duh Alina!) and never fed. Instead, an energy drink is thrown into the fish tank to get the fish hyped up at which point they attack your feet. Humans, are we serious? Oh, and add to that the fact that the water is never changed. Oh man, did we feel awful after learning this whole thing. Lessons learned in Thailand: Anything that involves making profit using animals is probably a no go!
The next day, I booked us into an 8 hour cooking class with the Thai Farm Cooking School. It was truly one of the coolest experiences (besides the 10,000 other ones to date). You are first taken to a local market to learn about the produce and then, a 45 minute drive later with eight other people, you are driven to a farm with an awesome set up where each person cooks 5 different courses. It was delicious!
Here is the set-up for the 10 of us…
Our super funny instructor… who kept singing “one night only” and yelling out “threesome” at any given moment!Kieran, very dedicated to his red curry paste…
My Tom Yum soup was in fact YUMMY!
Red curry…nom nom nom
Spring rolls making!
Someone is super excited to make his dessert! Bananas in coconut milk…
And one of my favorite desserts in Thailand to date – sticky rice with mango! Who knew I could be this artistic?
Ten courses of food between the two of us later and we were in a coma for the night.
Fast forward one week…
After our week of volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park, we came back to Chiang Mai for another week of just hanging at nice B&B’s, sipping on iced cappuccinos and planning our next steps. So, here are a few tips if you are ever in Chiang Mai:
Thannatee Boutique Hotel: Good location, great breakfast, nice people and even a little pool to hang at. Because of the coy pond and lots of plants, there are a TON of mosquitoes, so consider yourself warned. And here, we had our first encounter of shower over the toilet – a very awkward set-up!
Nidhra Lanna B&B: Very cute B&B with great breakfast and nice decor. The location is fabulous as it is right next door to the night market. After one week of “roughing it” at the Elephant Park, we decided to splurge a bit on a comfy bed and even a bath tub (sadly, no baths were taken).
Zzziesta B&B: My ALL TIME FAVORITE place to stay in Thailand. The owner is super sweet, the breakfast is great, the wifi is amazing. We loved it so much that we kept extending the trip and ended up staying here for an entire week. And any hotel that does a daily refill of candy and has a delicious coffee shop attached to it, is a winner in my book! FOOD:
- Bamboo Bee: mentioned above. Great food, clean, never caused any gastrointestinal problems!
- The Hideout: if you need a break from Thai food, this is an awesome spot for delicious western food (sandwiches and salads). Their mango smoothies are great too!
- TongLim Shabu: Yummy hot pot soup where you get to choose your own veggies, meats, fish, etc.
Being educated by the owner on how to properly make hot pot soup!And the final product with tofu…
- Any hole in the wall place: honestly, I do not know the names of most of the places that we ate at. So, just go to any random spot and for a $1-2 dinner, you won’t be disappointed. Here we are, having dinner at a local joint with Kina and Anders from Sweden whom we volunteered with at the Elephant Park. Yes, I wear my gorgeous elephant pants pretty much every day.GENERAL TIPS:
- There is a nightly market, a Saturday night market and a Sunday night market (all in different locations within the city); all of these markets have tons of souvenir vendors and delicious food for 50 cents to $1.50!
- Cheeva Spa: I decided to treat myself to a “nice” spa outing for the first time in 5 months and I will say that it was “just” ok. Maybe I just chose the wrong treatment options and should have just gone for the traditional Thai massage. However, you end up with a very pretty hair style – yes, this happened during my massage while I was asleep!
- Walk around the city and just get lost (you really can’t get lost). It’s beautiful, safe and people are very friendly!
- Laundry: almost anyone here would be happy to do your laundry for a few dollars, but be prepared to get your clothing back with red strings pulled through every single item as that is the way they tell which items belong to you.
- When it is really hot, jump in a tuk tuk for a $1 ride!
- Mango’s are very popular here. Stop anywhere for a delicious fresh fruit smoothie!
- And if someone offers you a funky looking dessert, just go for it! It will likely be delicious!Next stop, a quick one hour flight over to Luang Prabang, Laos as our 30 day Thai tourist visa was about to expire. Otherwise, we would have probably stayed in Thailand for another month!