Chiang Mai, the oh so beautiful city and Province of Thailand, home to over 300 Buddhist temples, many cultural activities, nature, and great food and fun! Chiang Mai is normally a first stop for many visitors to Thailand, but the way everything worked out for us, it ended up being one of our last stops! When I had asked friends about where to go in Thailand, everyone mentioned that it was one of their favorite places so I took their word for it, and made sure we came here. We also read in Lonely Planet that you should give yourself at least 3-4 nights in Chiang Mai, because there is simply so much to do here! It is a great first stop to get acclimatized to Thai culture, without too much western influence. We had a lot of fun in the Old City, learned about scams the hard way, and went on a couple impactful excursions!
Chiang Mai was about a 90 minute flight from Krabi. Even though I thought I was feeling much better, the pressure change on the plane really irritated my throat and lungs, which caused me to cough the entire flight. Tiago was so embarrassed for me and I felt so bad for the girl sitting next to me! We arrived in Chiang Mai ahead of schedule, and I’m sure everyone around me was thankful for that. Ugh. I hated being THAT person! We landed in Chiang Mai, and got a very cheap taxi to our hotel, Ten Boutique, which we found on Booking.com. We got checked in and got some recommendations where to get authentic Thai food and entertainment. We were right in the Old City, by North Gate, so we decided to walk down the street, and check out some street food.
Little did I know, that we were about to have dinner at a pretty famous street vendor, Khao Kha Muu, also known as the Cowboy hat lady who serves stewed pork leg. Several weeks after our trip, I ended up watching an Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations episode where he ate here in Chiang Mai! We wandered through the street vendor area where we couldn’t find aything in English, and we had no clue what the vendors were serving. A young man from one of the vendors came over to us with menus and said “dinner for 2?” and we looked at each other and said “sure!” We sat in a busy area where there were both Thai and westerners enjoying their stewed pork leg, rice, and eggs. We had no idea what to expect, but were interested in the experience! The flavors were out of this world, and we left feeling very satisfied, all for maybe $4?
Later on, we walked around the ancient gate, admired the temples that were lit up at night, and followed the sounds of jazz music and people cheering. We found the North Gate Jazz Co-op which was SO packed, people were literally spilling into the streets. There was a band simply jamming out and having a grand time, and we couldn’t tell if it was an established band, a group of random people playing together, or a band with some random people playing with them. Either way, they sounded GREAT! As the band performed, a man was rapping on the mic, a drunk guy was dancing with a tambourine, and everyone else enjoyed their beer and the performance.
We made it back to our hotel, where we had a good night sleep, packed up our stuff, and had the front desk hold our luggage. The plan was to get breakfast, see a few temples, including Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Phabong and Wat Srisuphan, and then get an Uber to our resort a bit more in the country. Since there were a few temples right near the hotel, we stopped in a few of those to admire the beautiful place and pay our respects. When we were entering one of the temples, a Thai man came out and said how beautiful the temple was, asked where we were from, and asked what our plans were. We pulled out our map and he circled a bunch of temples and places to shop, and numbered them for us. He pointed to an area on the map where we could get a personal tuk tuk for 200 baht for FOUR hours, bringing us anywhere we want. WOW! We could not believe that happened and were so grateful for bumping into him. After we left there, we made our way to the Mountain View Café for some breakfast and coffee. The café, by the way, totally had an instrumental Christmas album playing….in April. We got a kick out of this!
Fun fact about Chiang Mai that we learned was that this is a mecca for EXCELLENT coffee! Back in the 70s, government forced opium farmers to start growing coffee beans, and stop the selling of opiates. From then on, they started to grow coffee and cultivate a new culture for the Province! We had several espressos and cappachinos that were really great!
Before we got to the café, a tuk tuk pulled up, asked if we wanted to go see the silver temple and said he would drive us around for 4 hours for 200 baht. COOL! JUST like the guy said! We told him we were getting breakfast but maybe later. After breakfast, we started walking again, and what do you know? The driver found us! A coinsidence…so we thought!
We hopped in the tuk tuk, showed him the places we wanted to go and we were on our way. We got to the Silver Temple, which was just so amazing. The whole place was made of silver, inside and out. We tried taking a few photos, and a nice Thai lady asked to take our photo. After that, Tiago went inside the temple to take some photos, because ladies were not allowed in this one for some reason. While I waited, I chatted with the nice lady, who was from Krabi. Again, her English was just as good as the other guy we met. She asked what we have done in Chiang Mai, circled some things on our map, and gave some more great recommendations. WOW people are SO nice in Chiang Mai! Before we left, we got to see the area where the pour the molten silver onto a platform as well as another station where monks would hammer the silver thin, to be hand crafted later on.
After a few more temple stops, we had our driver bring us to Supreme Collection tailors. Tiago was not ready to get a custom suit made like the guy recommended, but he wanted to check things out. We ended up getting him measured for a couple custom shirts. For $150, he got 2 custom shirts made, which came out great 2 days later! We made our way to the tourism office where we booked our elephant trip, and then made it back to our hotel to get our luggage. In our Uber on the way to our resort, I was looking online. We technically were “scammed” all day. I wouldn’t so much call it a scam, but more of a clever marketing plan. The Uber ride was so cheap, because he got paid every time we spent money. And those nice people we met? They were in on all of it too. They recommended the places, the driver brought us there, we spent money, and everyone gets a piece of the pie. Luckily, we went to a reputable tailor, who had excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. Other people got scammed into cheaply made suits, gems that were not real, as well as overly priced silk products. Here I am thinking that people of Chiang Mai were so helpful and friendly, which they were, but we just didn’t know it was all a grand plan for them to take our money! Oh well, we had a great day, got nice made, and saw lots of temples!
We arrived at our resort, the Corner Spa and Resort, down a long, dirt road, right next to fields where people were working to pick whatever they were growing. We got checked in, and were shown to our room. This place was AMAZING! First of all, out of the 12 or so guest houses, I think there was only one other couple staying here, so ultimately we had the place to ourselves! The pool was so blue and clear, the music was really relaxing, the staff made sure we had everything we needed, the sounds of birds and frogs were so peaceful, and we felt like we had an entire resort to ourselves. Is this what it is like to be a celebrity? Ha-ha! But seriously, for a beautiful 4 star resort, we paid $272 TOTAL for 3 nights on Booking.com!
A tour of our place in Chiang Mai, Corner Spa and Resort! My voice was just starting to come back here, but still sound like a frog!
Our pool at night. They have a video screen, where you can float in the pool and watch!
Naturally, we needed to make our way to the pool ASAP! I gave the hotel our laundry to wash, made my way into the pool! Yay! After a much needed nap, we got a driver from our hotel to bring us downtown to the night market. This place was amazing! It was huge, tons of different vendors selling all kinds of goods, as well as lots of places to get food! We decided on….take a guess….THAI FOOD! Ha-ha! Chiang Mai was so so so cheap for food, so we got several dishes to share and sample. In the center, they had a band playing at one of the bars, so Tiago grabbed a drink while I got a henna tattoo, which came out amazing.
We LOVED the bands here! Very talented, except we got a kick out of the lyrics on some songs, which were a bit lost in translation haha.
We walked around a bit more, then got a tuk tuk to the Riverside Bar and Restaurant. This was an awesome local spot with a live band! We arrived and realized we were the only 2 white people there, and boy do those Thais know how to party! They were having a great time singing along with the band and dancing! Here, they had lots of craft beer from around the world, and quite the selection from US, including Portland! Mojitos were only about $4 which was awesome too! I had been on antibiotics long enough at this point, so I decided it was time for me to enjoy! From here, we were able to connect to Wi-Fi and order an Uber back to our resort. Even though it was about 25 minutes away, it was only SIX DOLLARS!
In the morning, we had a complimentary American breakfast, with eggs, cereal, fruit, coffee, juice, toast, and bacon. 5 minutes before we had to leave for our elephant trip! Needless to say we scarfed down as much as we could before we left. We got into the backseat of a pickup truck, with about 8 other people in the cab area. We drove about 15 minutes, and stopped at a market to get some food. Our driver gave us about 20 minutes here to use the bathroom, get some food, and make it back to the truck. We then continued driving for another hour or so, and then arrived at the Chang Elephant Sanctuary!
When we arrived, we were given traditional Karen tribal clothing to wear during our adventure. Next, we were given all the ingredients to make a vitamin mixture for the elephants. We used a wooden mortar and pestle to mash up some rice, sugar, bananas, and other ingredients, that would be carefully wrapped in a banana leaf to give to the elephants.
Next, we learned about how they care for the elephants, that elephants eat 200-600lbs of food per day, and that they drink about 50 gallons of water a day! We learned how to say “open the mouth” which would get the elephants to open up their mouth for us to feed them. Sometimes, the elephants would take the food with their trunk and place it in their mouth. As long as the elephant’s ears were flapping away, we knew they were happy.
Next, we walked the elephants down to the mud pit for a bath, where they laid down, and we got to rub mud all over them. The last stop would be bringing them to the fresh water to rinse off. Tiago had a good laugh as they started pooping in the water!
When we were all done, we got to change back into our own clothing, and enjoy a meal of rice, curried vegetables, and fruit. Several people took a nice little nap on the hut before it was time to go. I just took my nap in the car on the way back, getting whip lash every time my head would fall!
We made it back to the resort in time to get some refreshing pool time with pool side craft beers. The resort only had craft beers, no cheap beers, wine, or liquor. For dinner, we stayed at the hotel and enjoyed a delicious meal made just for us. Again, we were one of 2 parties here, with about 10 staff just for us! This was one of the first meals I was able to have spicy, and actually enjoy. Eating before now just hurt too bad to enjoy. I think the coconut shakes were keeping me alive!
On day 3, we had breakfast, and then our driver arrived for the Thai cooking class at Siam Rice Thai Cookery. This was highly recommended to us by several people, and with our love of food and cooking, we knew we had to do it. Amazingly, it was only about $27 each to do a full day of cooking 7 courses! Our first stop was the market, where we learned all about different types of basil, galangal root, peppers, lemongrass and other ingredients used in Thai cuisine. We were given a little time to walk around the market, where we sampled some fried foods, meal worms, and purchased some dried strawberries and a block of green tea.
We left the market and made our way to the cooking school. We spent the day alternating from prepping and cooking our food, mixed in with some funny Thai jokes, to sitting down at a kitchen table with our new friends to enjoy and share the foods we just made. For each course, we had a choice of what we would cook, and Tiago and I made sure we always did something different so we could learn more dishes! This is going to sound strange, but I think this was some of the best Thai food we had while in Thailand, and WE made it! We met some great people from CT, Philly, Germany and Italy, heard about their travel adventures which were much crazier than ours, and left with full bellies and hearts.
After some more pool time, we took a nap, and planned a night out for our last night in Chiang Mai! Our Uber dropped us off on Ratvithi Rd where there are tons of bars to visit, but we chose the Roots Rock Reggae bar. Here, they had a live band performing Bob Marley music which was pretty epic. We met a girl from Dubai, named Nikita who we chatted with for several hours, had a beer shot-gunning competition with (including cans Tiago bought at the store and brought to the bar haha) and later danced in the streets. This was a memorable night for us, as we got to meet another world traveler, with dreams to up and move to Thailand someday. She was a beautiful free spirit, who helped encourage us on our journey to soak in the culture and beauty the world has to offer.
Bars close at midnight here, so we arrived at this location, danced for 15 minutes or so, and then the night was over!
In the morning, we got our Uber to the airport for our last 2 nights in Bangkok before headed home. A bitter sweet ending to an amazing trip. This place made me want to come back to Thailand very soon, but at the same time, I was ready to go home.