The most incredible thing about travelling is that by the end of the trip you go home knowing a bit more about yourself than when you left. This was especially true on my trip to Chiang Mai. We swam, we walked (a lot), we shopped, we explored, and we learnt a lot about Thai culture and about ourselves (haha so cheesey).
We were in Thailand for a total of 18 days, 6 of which were spent in Chiang Mai.
We arrived in Chiang Mai on a direct flight from Phuket at around 10pm. We took a taxi from the airport which cost us 300THB($12CAD) and got us there in just under a half hour. Even with the taxi rushing to get us there, we were late for check in.
When we rolled into the lobby of the Yin Yang Guesthouse we found a beautiful hand written note from the staff apologizing for not being there to greet us. They told us what room we were in and that we could come to the front desk anytime the next day to check in.
We were lucky enough to get a room on the first floor of the 3-storey building. Our room was a simple but large. We had a small shelving unit, a bench, a queen sized bed, a television stand (sans television?), and a fan. We had a private bathroom and a door that led to a porch (not very useful, basically just a small space where people could smoke without leaving their rooms).
The hotel had a large number of pamphlets laid out on a table in the lobby to make booking excursions and tours easier for their guests. While Andrew got settled in the room I decided to take a peek. We had and idea of what we wanted to do but hadn’t booked anything.
Upon returning to the room, I found Andrew chasing a spider (not poisonous….that we knew) around the bathroom. In the events that followed, a smattering of shoes and bags were flung at the wall in an effort to get ride of it. Andrew finally managed to get rid of our pest but was a little too worked up to sleep. We decided to take out anxiety to the bar for a night cap.
The best part about the Yin Yang Guesthouse was its proximity to everything! On our drive to the guesthouse we passed a bunch of hole-in-the-wall bars with a mix of locals and tourists so we thought it was smart to explore them.
After a short jaunt down the lane we decided to stop in at Toey’s, a “sports” bar with a few televisions and some cheap beer. The staff gave us the wi-fi password, asked us where we were from, and when the clock struck 12 and all of the bars started to close their sliding garage doors we said goodbye and that we would be back again. We thought it was weird that the bar closed so early so we decided to find another place to hang out until we were a bit more tired.
We soon realized that it’s actually against the law in Thailand for a bar to be open after 12pm.
We returned to our room and prepared for the next day.
The next morning we woke up and took a walk around the area we had explore the night before. We found a cute breakfast place and on our walk back to the guesthouse found a coconut juice vendor (it was on Andrew’s to-do list). We explored the outside of a temple where there was a little market and I found out that I am horrible at negotiating a deal with people. I bought a few knickknacks for family members before we headed back to our room.
When we got back to the hostel we made it our mission to figure out a schedule for the week. We made a few calls with the help of the Yin Yang Guesthouse recommendation book and quickly filled up our schedule for the rest of the week.
By the time we finished planning our week it was getting close to mid afternoon. We decided to pack a bag, grab some lunch, and go swimming. We did a quick google search and found out that there was a hotel outside of the old city that allowed non-guests swim in the pool for 150THB each ($6CAD).
The Eco-Resort Chiang Mai was a great size, and nowhere near crowded. The pool itself looked like it was made for lane swimming but the majority of the patrons simply hung out near the edges, keeping cool and not doing too much work. We grabbed some drinks at the bar (two for one on a local cocktail) and hung out in the shallow end. When our fingers were nice and wrinkly we changed in the hotel bathroom and called an Uber to take us to the mall.
NOTE: While Uber is still technically illegal in Thailand it is still in operation in major cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok. The rates were cheap and we didn’t pay more tha $5CAD for a 30 minutes ride. If you do choose to use it, sit in the front seat and DO NOT call for one at a location where TukTuks or local Taxis congregate.
The mall we went to was one of the newer malls in Chiang Mai. The Central Festival Mall was a 6-storey mall with stores like Levis and Victoria Secret, a skating rink and play area, a movie theatre, and favourite american food establishments like Starbucks and KFC.
We decided to hit up KFC for supper actually. I know it probably seems weird to eat somewhere so easily accessible back home, but I’ve learned through my time abroad that even chain restaurants cater to the country they are in and in fact have a lot of different items on their menus. Andrew helped himself to a Blacklist Burger while I stuck to a snack box consisting of several spicy chicken snacks. Andrew said the bun was a bit dense for his liking but I loved the spicy chicken wings in my snack box (although maybe not so much the next day).
When we got our fill of window shopping we decided to see a movie. The great thing about a city like Chiang Mai is that there a lot of English-speaking locals. We were able to check out a current release film in English (with Thai subtitles) for around 140THB each ($5.50CAD and that was for the good seats). Some nice local even offered us a coupon for 100THB off our purchase, unfortunately it didn’t work for the film we wanted to see and ended up giving it away after purchasing our tickets. Be warned, if you have mobility issues this may not be the best outing idea. There were a lot of stairs to get into the theatre and stairs all the way down to the front of the auditorium.
I was a bit tired and maaaay have fallen asleep a bit in the theatre (the seats were so comfy!!) so after the movie ended we took a taxi back to our guesthouse and passed out.
When we woke up the next day we decided to check out a restaurant just down the road from our guesthouse that we had heard a lot of great things about: Chiang Mai Breakfast World. The Thai owned, German inspired restaurant has a variety of food to suit a mid-range budget ($6-15). The food was delicious and the selection was incredible! One of our favourite parts about the restaurant was that most menu items came with your choice of tea or coffee AND a glass of their house-made lemonade, and their passionfruit jam was probably the best thing I tasted in Thailand. The restaurant itself felt like you were eating in a quaint french courtyard and although the service was slow by American standards the servers were friendly and accommodating. There was even a piano player who serenaded the restaurant’s patrons with some Thai and more western music.
After our rather filling breakfasts we started our tour of the city’s temples. Andrew had planned a rout that took us around the interior of the old city, ending back at our guesthouse. For those who plan to visit temples its good to keep in mind that there is a dress code. A few simple rules to follow (not just for women) are: No shoulders, No knees, and No cleavage. The Thai are a modest people and YOU are in THEIR country, so if you plan on visiting the places they pray in please be respectful. Some temples will provide coverage for visitors who do not meet the dress code but others will not.
I knew about the dress codes before visiting Thailand but hadn’t anticipated just how hot it would be to wear my sweater around all day, so we decided to stray from Andrew’s path to find a light shawl I could wear for the duration of our time in Thailand.
Every temple is a bit different and we soon found out that we didn’t need to visit every single one. We decided to keep our tour focused on the old city but there are a plethora of other great temples you should visit if you have the time. If we were to go back and re-do our temple tour day (focusing only on the old city) we would make it a priority to visit Wat Phra Singh, Wat Dab Pai, Wat Chiang Man, and Wat Chedi Luang, and visit other Wats along the way ONLY if we had the time and the energy. Another great Wat we stumbled upon was just outside the city, Wat Lok Molee. We visited during a period of initiation for new monks and actually got to see a bunch of nervous pre-teens mulling about in monk’s robes with name tags.
Something to note about temple names is that they may have different names on different maps. English names are simply phonetic interpretations of the Thai names. Sounds like “ch” can also be “j” and “th” can be “d”.
After a long day of walking we decided to do some more walking as we checked out the Saturday market. If you only want to visit one market during your time in Chiang Mai, skip the nightly bazaar and head for either the Saturday or Sunday walking markets. The roads are closed down and vendors line the roads with their homemade goods. Never settle for the first thing you see and explore before agreeing to a price. Chances are someone else has the same thing you’re looking to buy at a cheaper price. The walking markets are also going to have higher quality products than the night bazaars at better prices as well.
On our fourth day in Chiang Mai it was a bit overcast and we hadn’t planned anything. There was a problem with our laundry (the laundry place lost ALL of my underwear) so we decided to take a walk to a mall to try to buy some new stuff. We walked to Pantip Plaza in hopes of finding some new undergarments but what we found was a mall filled with electronics instead. Since the mall was a bust we decided to grab an early lunch at a 60’s inspired diner just down the road, Butter is Better.
At the Butter is Better Diner and Bakery we enjoyed some 60’s music in brightly coloured vinyl booths where the tables were decorated with old comics and american advertisements. It was neat to see the Thai take on a diner. The food was good and the menu had some fabulous jokes and puns. The staff was friendly and they had free wi-fi.
We decided to take advantage of the free wi-fi at breakfast and decided, after reading a couple of blogs, that we would take an uber to the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek, a festival in 2006 to celebrate King Bhumibol. The festival saw over 3 million visitors and the park was kept open to serve as Chiang Mai’s newest tourist attraction. The great thing about the park was that it was not overrun with tourists, like some other places in the city. A tram circles the park and allows visitors the chance to see the park without doing a ton of walking. After all, the park is nearly 80 hectares large.
If you do decided to visit, spring for a tram ticket (it was free when we went because the main temple was under construction). Take the tram around the entire park and note which areas you want to explore further. Some areas are better maintained by others and deserve a closer look. Our personal favourites were the orchid garden and the international gardens.
After another long day filled with a lot of walking, we decided to do more walking at the Sunday night market. The market was similar to the Saturday market but closer to our guesthouse. Thanks to a tip from a friendly local we met the day before, we heard about a monk initiation going on at a nearby temple. We stopped in for a peek and saw hundreds of freshly shaved little boy heads all singing and chanting in unison. It was definitely a really cool experience.
Unlike in Bangkok, I would trust locals to give advice on what to see or do around the city.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our adventures in Chiang Mai, including our time at the Basil Cookery School, The Monk’s Trail, and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.