After spending a couple days in Bangkok and a side trip to Ayutthaya, Ashley and I continued our journey to our last stop: Chiang Mai. Located in the northern part of Thailand, Chiang Mai's mellow vibe was a pleasant break after hectic Hanoi and Bangkok.
To get there, we took the sleeper train departing from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong train station to Chiang Mai. Our second-class ticket was $33 for the both of us, and the journey took around 14 hours, but we were asleep for the majority of it, so it wasn't a bad ride. I didn't expect much, but I thought the accommodations were acceptable considering how cheap it was. The only downside was that the toilet was literally a hole in the floor of the train... Do you know how hard it is to pee in a squat toilet on a moving train?!
But I'm actually glad we took it, and I'd recommend this over air travel. You really get that "backpacker in Thailand" feel, and the journey there is half the fun!
Immediately after arriving, there was a noticeable difference between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. There was less traffic and crowds to deal with, but still a fair amount of tourists.
I mentioned in my last post how Bangkok seemed to have lost its authenticity with the surge of tourism, and that's how I perceived Chiang Mai based on first impressions. You'll see plenty of foreigners with dreads, all donning their boho elephant pants, living the hippie, nomadic lifestyle. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but I can't help but roll my eyes a little.
So after our tuk tuk ride into the Old City center (remember to haggle!), we made our way to our hostel, Houzzel360, which we booked through Airbnb. It's in a convenient location, just a short walk from Tha Phae Gate, and the owner was really sweet. She made us breakfast every morning!
After a quick nap and shower, we ventured out to explore.
Where to eat:
1. Cooking Love (18/7 Rachadamnoen Road, Soi 1, Chiang Mai 50200)
2. Best Mango Sticky Rice (Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200)
While you're in Chiang Mai, you have to try coconut milk sticky rice with mango, a classic Thai dessert dish. After a quick google search, there was a place called Best Mango Sticky Rice, so obviously I had to see if it lived up to it's name. Located on the patio outside of At Chiang Mai Hotel, I believe this place has the cheapest mango sticky rice for only 50 baht! And after devouring my first serving, I concluded that this place really is the best. For the price and quality, I wouldn't consider going anywhere else!
Where to go:
1. Wat Chedi Luang (40 baht admission fee)
Like Bangkok, Chiang Mai is not short on temples. There are plenty to choose from and some really impressive ones a drive away from the Old City, but since we were short on time, I decided to only see Wat Chedi Luang. This is one of the larger temples in the Old City. Be sure to walk past the main buildings towards the ruins in the back, I almost missed it!
2. Tha Phae Gate (Thapae Rd., Chiang Mai 50200)
One of the main landmarks in the Old City, you can buy bird feed from a vendor and feed the pigeons.
3. Night Bazaar (104-1 Chang Klan Road)
Later in the evening, we checked out the Night Bazaar for a quick bite to eat and to stock up on souvenirs. You can find just about anything here: clothing, artwork, spices, etc. There's also an outdoor food court area where you can grab a bite to eat and a Chang beer, perfect for a balmy night like ours!
For our second day, we booked a half day at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. I'm a HUGE lover of elephants, so this definitely made it on my top 5 list of "best day ever".
Before I go on and on of how magical this experience was, let me just get this spiel over:
RIDING ELEPHANTS IS HARMFUL TO THEM AND IS NOT OKAY. Before an elephant becomes submissive enough to allow tourists to ride them, they go through a process called phajaan, which translates to "breaking the spirit". Baby elephants are ripped away from their mothers and beaten until their spirits are crushed. If you really love and respect these animals, please do not support the elephant riding industry. It's a really ugly side of Thailand I hope to see go away.
Instead of riding these beautiful creatures, spend one-on-one time with instead at a sanctuary like Elephant Jungle. Another reputable company is Elephant Nature Park, although I can't speak personally about them. For the half day trip, you get to feed them upclose, bathe with them in a mud bath, get all the elephant photos for Instagram you'll ever need, and have a delicious lunch. I can't say enough good things about our experience with Elephant Jungle and the newfound appreciation we gained for elephants.
That night, we decided to check the Sunday night market (Rajdamnoen Road) with some friends we made at the elephant sanctuary. It was extremely crowded and the merchandise was similar to the night bazaar, but it was just steps away from our hostel, so we checked it out anyways. It's also a good place to try different street food for a fair price.
Afterwards, we were in the mood for some drinks and dancing, and Zoe in Yellow Garden (Rajvithi Road, Chiang Mai 50200) is the perfect place for that. It was packed full of tourists looking for a good time, loud music, and plenty of drinks to go around.
If you're not ready to go home after everything shuts down at midnight, there's another nightclub called Spicy. I'm not entirely sure where it is or how we even got there since we just followed a crowd of drunken tourists. It wasn't necessarily my scene and the music was mediocre, but if you want to dance until 1 am this is the only place in Chiang Mai that's open super late.
After a late night out, we took it easy the next morning. I only had half a day on my last day in Chiang Mai since my flight was later in the evening, so we stuck close to the Old City, wandering around random alleyways and streets.
Where to eat: Lert-Ros (Soi 1, Ratchadamnoen Road)
I'm kind of sad I found this place on my last day cause it was easily the best meal I had in Thailand, and it was quite cheap as well. Definitely go for the fresh grilled fish!
Where to go: walk along the outer border of Old City
After our meal, we strolled along the river surrounding the Old City. The daytime tranquility was almost strange after the crazy nightlife we experienced, but I welcomed the peace. It was a great way to spend my last few hours in Thailand. It was actually then that I began to really appreciate the charm and calmness Chiang Mai has the offer, and I can see why many foreigners choose to settle down here for a while.
While I flew back to Hong Kong, Ashley spent a couple more days in Chiang Mai. For another hostel option, check out Counting Sheeps.
She also had a great time learning how to cook authentic Thai dishes at Thai Farm Cooking School. For more information, check out their website.