Oh my Chiang Mai! What a breathe of fresh air – literally. After three or so much living and travelling around southern Thailand, I was in desperate need of a change. It may sound super snobby and bratty, but I was getting seriously sick (both mentally and physically) of southern Thailand. There’s stunning beaches, great food, scuba diving and much more, but there’s only so much I could take. I needed a change and that’s what I was going to find.
Insert: Chiang Mai
We had three weeks left in Thailand before our flight back to Sydney, and we were going to go to Phi Phi Island for some diving. Something was telling me we needed to get up North for a different change of pace. I’m definitely a beach girl through and through, but the mountains and greenery were calling my name. We booked for two weeks in Chiang Mai, and it was one of the best decisions we made.
Chiang Mai is a mountainous, green region, with loads of culture, temples and laidback nightlife. It’s also a huge digital nomad hub, which was great for me because I was working like a mad woman and needed to connect with people who understood my frustrations. Chiang Mai has heaps of activities to do in and around the city as well, keeping us very busy throughout the week. All in all, it’s a laidback, slow moving and safe area to be in Thailand. It’s also hands down the cheapest area we’ve visited in the last four months, and with it being towards the end of our trip, this was very appreciated.
Some of my favourite memories, meals and drinks came from these two weeks in Chiang Mai, and I absolutely want to share them with you to help better your experience when you visit.
Markets – The Saturday and Sunday night markets are quite the experience. We had a great time roaming up and down the stalls, buying way too many souveniers and grabbing dinner. Get there early because around 8:00 pm it pretty much gets so crowded it’s shoulder to shoulder.
Temples – Chiang Mai has a temple ever 200 feet it seems, so you’re never in any shortage. Some of the best ones we saw were Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Prah Sing and Wat Kuan Kam. Sam and I also drove up to the famous temple, Doi Suthep Temple at the top of the Doi Suthep Mountain. It was 30 baht ($1 USD) entry, and was really beautiful at the top. We liked the drive up more than the temple itself, but we’re more of the adventure type!
Quick Tip: You can walk around the Old City and see most of the temples you’ll want to within an hour or so. Great (and free!) way to spend a day if you’re up for walking.
Grazie Thai Food (Green stall on East Road on the City Square) – You probably pass by hundreds of these stalls during your travels through SE Asia, but this one is worth hunting down. We really loved their red and yellow curries, along with their mango and pineapple shakes. All meals were under 50 baht ($1.50 USD), and the owners are so kind and friendly.
Mae Pa Sri (Opposite the BP Chiang Mai Hotel on Ratchamankka Road) – I’m not even kidding when I say we ate here for 8 days in a row – sometimes for lunch AND dinner. We tried a lot of meals here, but our favourites were the Penang Curry, Khao Soy, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Fried Morning Glory and Mango shakes. All meals were between 40-60 baht ($1.20-2 USD)
Central Airport Plaza Food Court – This may go against everything in my traveller’s mindset, but the food courts in Chiang Mai are top notch. Particularly the Central Airport Plaza. It’s like an air-conditioned street market of really tasty (and cheap!) food. There’s loads to choose from, but we ate at the Krit Ocha and Plek stands many times. The Khao Soy at Plek was one of the best I had in all of Chiang Mai. At Krit Ocha, I always ordered the stir fried basil red curry with chicken for 50 baht ($1.50 USD)
Quick Tip: Order the Khao Soy from a street vendor at some point in your stay. Khao Soy is a local dish in Chiang Mai, and it’s a Northern Thailand style curry with noodles. A serving shouldn’t cost more than 40 baht ($1.20 USD)
Wine Terminal (Soi 7, Nimmanhammen Road) – If you’ve been deprived of wine like I had for the last four months or if you just like yourself a nice glass of wine, then you NEED to go to the Wine Terminal. It’s an awesome little wine bar, decorated like an airport terminal, with Gate Number signs, a Destinations board, international flags, and word clocks. For travelers like us, this was our home away from home. The owner became a good friend of ours during our stay, and we even sat and enjoyed wine and cheese with him one night. He allows you to taste test wine, and house wine is only 99 baht, which is super reasonable in Thailand!
D-Fine (Soi 5, Nimmanhammen Road) – We went to D-Fine attending a digital nomad meet up that a guy we had met at Immigration was putting on. We didn’t stay long, but they had good priced bottles of rum, and had a great DJ on set. The vibe seemed very Western without the Western prices.
Coffee Lovers (Opposite BP Chiang Mai Hotel, Ratchamankka Road) – This place was in the perfect location for us! As our Wifi didn’t work in the hotel, I usually spent each morning-afternoon working at Coffee Lovers. While it’s a bit more overpriced for Chiang Mai, they had great teas and desserts. The staff was lovely and always remembered my order, and even better the WiFi was STRONG.
Bobby’s Elephant Rescue Center – This was my favourite memory in Chiang Mai, and possibly in all of Thailand. We did the half day tour, which included learning about elephants, learning the commands in Thai, feeding, washing and playing with the elephants. Finally, we learned how to properly ride bareback and where to sit on their neck so we wouldn’t hurt their necks. It was the perfect day spent with the beautiful creatures, and most of all it was ethical. You could tell how much Bobby and his team cared for these animals. Every elephant at the center was a rescue, and they’ve taken care of them so well. Also, there was an adorable baby elephant who was just learning to walk. One of the cutest things I’ve ever seen! Price – 1600 baht for half day ($45 USD)
We also did the tours to the Highest Point in Thailand, the Golden Triangle and the Night Safari. The Highest Point and Golden Triangle were pretty cool, but were REALLY long days mostly spent in a minibus. The Night Safari was absolutely horrible and I would never recommend it to anyone unless you like to see animals in way too small of enclosures with no shelter, while you’re stuffed on a tram with 300 screaming Chinese tourists. Not my thang.
Quick Tip: Choose any tours involving animals based on whether it’s a rescue center or sanctuary. Also, don’t choose any elephant tours where you sit on a bit metal chair. It’s much more rewarding to learn about the elephants, wash, feed and play with them, as opposed to sitting in a big chair rocking back and forth for 2 hours.
How To Get Around
Pop Riders Motorbike Rental – This was the cheapest motorbike rental we could find (150 baht per day = $4.20 USD). There bikes were in great condition, and the staff were super friendly and helpful. You never want to get ripped off with a motorbike company, and these guys were the real deal. Totally recommended.
Tuk Tuks – In the city, you shouldn’t pay more than 20-30 baht pp to get anywhere in the city. If you’re going to and from the city and Nimman Area (where the bars are) you shouldn’t pay more than 30-50 baht pp. From the city to the airport, we paid 200 baht because we had 5 bags with us, but even still, we shouldn’t have paid that much. Be firm with your prices, and always know there will be another tuk tuk to come along that will take you for your fair price.
Where To Stay
Four Seasons Chiang Mai – We spent two glorious nights at the Four Seasons Resort in Chiang Mai. I wrote my full review last week, and you can read all about it here. Basically, if you’re in need of luxury, this is the place to go. Everyone is so friendly, the food is to die for and the bed is so comfortable that I’m still dreaming about it! Make sure to check out my review!
After the Four Seasons, we stayed at the BP Chiang Mai Hotel in the city, and while it had an excellent location surrounded by massage shops, restaurants and cafes, I wouldn’t exactly recommend it. The management was super poor, never took responsibility for their mishaps and pretty much told us there was nothing they can do. The Wifi was on and off the entire time, and the rooms are super dated. For $18 a night with breakfast included, it’s alright, but you can definitely get the same price for better value elsewhere.
I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Chiang Mai, and I can see why so many people settle there as digital nomads or retirees. It’s inexpensive, authentic and full of nature. It’s definitely one of my favourite places in the world now.
Have you been to Chiang Mai? What were your favourite parts?