Once you’re done with visiting Bangkok and you want to explore further parts of Thailand you have to make a basic decision: Going north or south? Mountains or islands? Temples or Beaches? Elephants or party animals? I decided to go up north to the scenic and culturally rich city of Chiang Mai… was that a good or bad decision?!
The welcoming in Chiang Mai was literally not a warm one. After 10 hours in an icebox – the over-airconditioned nightbus from Bangkok – we arrived in the early morning at 11 degrees celsius and in pouring rain at the bus station, which is a bit outside the city. While you’re still half asleep people start immediately yelling at you – telling you to squeeze into one of the red songthaews (the typical shared taxi in Chiang Mai) with 11 other tired backpackers, take your backpack on your lab and give the driver 60 baht while the rain is still dropping on you…. Chiang Mai – this is definitely not a love at first sight. But I’m willing to give you a second chance.
The city Chiang Mai is mostly known for its many temples and the surrounding green countryside, the streetfood and nightmarkets, the flower and lantern festivals, cooking classes and elephant sanctuaries. But it’s also a big hotspot for expats and digital nomads, as well as Thai hipsters – and hence has numerous hip bars and cafés. And in one of those nice little coffeeshops did I go after arriving in the city center – to warm up, wake up and figure out where to stay in CM. Thereby I was accompanied by my two Swedes from Melbourne and two guys we met in the bus. After a coffee we decided to just walk around and see if we can spot a hostel for us all together and it actually worked. We found a really nice hostel with the super comfortable, big bunkbeds – BeBeez – for just 140Baht (3,50€) per night in the dorm.
The weather stayed untypically chilly and drizzly so we spend the first day basically in bed. We took our pillows and blankets and snuggled all five in one bed watching a movie. If you meet nice people it’s really not a problem if the weather isn’t as expected – we had such a good time just chilling, talking, playing cards, going out for eating (Khao Soi!!) and drinking, playing pool etc., so the days just passed by very quickly anyhow.
When occasionally the rain stopped we put on all our clothes we had with us and went out to see some temples, statues, parks and streetart or even rented a scooter to explore the city and its surrounding area. I admit I wasn’t head over heels for Chiang Mai when I first arrived but with time I definitely saw its qualities, enjoyed the cheap lifestyle, found some new friends and had heaps of fun. Well played Chiang Mai – I’m glad I chose the north of Thailand and Pai was just yet to come…
My personal favorites for Chiang Mai:
- Exploring the old town (within the square of the old city walls) and the night market
- Eating Khao Soi (northern Thai speciality) and drinking fresh fruit shake for 60Baht in total (1,50€)
- Temple-hopping and watching the monks walking around in their cute color-matching, orange beanies and scarfs (I ask myself anyway how they can not be super-freezing in their airy robes at 10 degrees celsius?!)
- Enjoying the view from the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep on a hill next within a national park in the west of the city.
- Going out dancing to the club area around Zoe in Yellow and drinking local Chang beer
- Finding streetart and hip little cafes and bookshops
Things I haven’t done because of weather or timing, but would do next time, are:
- swimming in the Hang Dong Canyon – also called Chiang Mai Grand Canyon (you can even do 15m cliff-jumping there)
- attending a cooking class to get to know the local cuisine and take some recipies home
- going to the big lantern festival (Yi Peng Festival) which always takes place around end of October/beginning of November
- bathing and playing with elephants in an elephant nature park or sanctuary
- visiting the Art in Paradise Museum
- spending time in the area around Nimmanheamin Road, which is apparently the hip neighborhood in town
For any additions or recommendations I’m happy if you leave a little comment.