Travel Report: Checking Out Chiang Mai

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– Moving –

Checking out Chiang Mai started with an AirAsia flight from Cambodia, via Bangkok. If you’re on a similar itinerary, once in Suvarnabhumi Airport, follow the “Immigration and Baggage” signs. These will lead you to “Domestic Transfer” signs, which is a good thing (don’t go through immigration here).

Once in Chiang Mai, a taxi from the airport to the Old Town will run you around 210 Baht. Within the city, we used tuk tuks and the red shared taxis (trucks) to get around. The shared taxis are cheaper than the tuk tuks and just as comfortable. Simply walk up to one, tell them where you’re going and, if they’re headed in a similar direction, hop in!

– Doing –

Chiang Mai is jam packed. Whether you’re a foodie, temple enthusiast, adventurer or general wanderer, there will be plenty to do! We tried a bit of everything and would recommend you do the same.

Ziplining: Just north of the city — about a thirty minute drive from Old Town — Eagle Track Zipline offers some pretty decent rides. We went with the Bronze package, which cost 1,600 Baht and included transportation from the hostel, lunch and the ziplining. Honestly, while fun, it probably wasn’t worth the money (at least for us). You’re forced to wait for the entire group at every turn and there weren’t too many adrenaline inducing rides. That being said, the instructors were very friendly and actually quite funny.

Cooking: Thailand’s got some great food, so we figured we’d take a Thai cooking class. We went through Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School, which cost 800 baht and was worth every penny. They pick you up from the hostel and provide everything needed (including potable water) for an epic cooking experience. The instructor brings you to the local market to drop some knowledge about ingredients (you can also pick up booze for your meal here). Then, with the rest of the group, you’ll select the dishes that you want to cook. From there, as you might expect, you cook! The teacher provides step-by-step instructions and is always present in case you make a mistake. At the end you receive a Thai cookbook with all the recipes, and more, that you cooked that evening.

Elephant chilling: We wanted to get in some elephant bonding time, but in a responsible manner. We’re not big fans of riding elephants, as that isn’t so good for the animal. In order to prep an elephant for riding, they need to be broken in, a process called phajaan or “ the crush” (doesn’t sound so fun).

We opted for Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, an elephant reserve that protects the animals but still allows close contact. The price was 1,700 Baht for a half day, which was plenty of time for us. Like many other excursions, the price includes transportation and lunch. A note of warning: the ride to the sanctuary is pretty bumpy, so if you have a soft stomach it might be worth taking some anti-nausea meds. Bring a bathing suit, sunblock, water bottle and a camera (we’d recommend a waterproof one). Once there, you’ll encounter separate elephant families on land. You can pet, feed and take pictures with the elephants, as well as roll around on the ground with the younger ones. Afterwards, you take the families down to the river to bathe them, which basically entails splashing them with water. All in all, a pretty cool experience.

Temple exploring: This area is covered in temples. Remember to dress appropriately (cover your knees and shoulders). Our favorite spots included: Wat Phra Singh (20 Baht, do-it-yourself praying station in the back), Wat Chedi Luang (heart of Old Town on Prappakloa Road, comes with robes) and Wat Suan Dok (just outside the West Gate and the most unique). Wat Suan Dok had an epic sunset — if you’re a photographer (which is basically everyone these days!), be sure to visit this temple.

Apart from the formal excursions, checking out Chiang Mai on foot was the way to go. We enjoyed strolling the streets, even stopping at Darlin’s Massage & Fish Spa to have our feet “massaged” by fish, which lasted fifteen minutes and cost 60 Baht. In short, it was the most absurd sensation… one of us might have screamed.

– Eating and Drinking –

Checking out Chiang Mai would not be complete without feasting on some street food. The best vendors are located at Chiang Mai (Southern) and Chang Phuak (northern) gates of the Old Town. We chowed down at the Chiang Mai Gate night market, enjoying soups, pad thais, dumplings and everything else in sight for around 30 Baht per dish. However, our absolute favorite dish was at Chang Phuak Gate, where we ate stewed pork leg over rice (Khao Kha moo) from the “Cowboy Hat Lady” (Thanks, Anthony Bourdain!). Note: be sure to add the spicy red sauce that’s normally provided on the tables!

Other, more fixed, spots to get your eat and drink on:

7-Eleven: They’re everywhere, beer is cheap and the AC is flowing. Enough said.

Tops Supermarket: A quick ten-minute walk from Old Town, this is a good spot for cheap groceries… or even a Dunkin’ Donuts!

Always Cafe: A solid cocktail bar near the Southern Gate in Old Town. Although not the cheapest place, they have tasty food (70–140 Baht dishes), cold drinks (60 Baht beers) and a cool atmosphere.

Cafe De Thaan Aoan: Perched on the corner of Ratchamanka and Prappakloa Roads, this is more of a western style cafe with AC and a nice patio. Beers range from 60–70 Baht and while the food looked delicious, we didn’t indulge.

See You Soon Cafe: Another western spot and very expensive. We grabbed a chicken burger (160 Baht) and beers (70 Baht). They only serve beer from 2–5pm… weird.

– Sleeping –

When checking out Chiang Mai, we crashed at Dozy House in the northwest part of Old Town. A private room with AC, a TV and an ensuite bathroom cost 780 Baht per night. Although a bit pricier than other spots, we’d absolutely go back. Downstairs, they had a very clean, shared kitchen, free coffee, tea and water along with a refrigerator full of juices, bottled water and beer on the honor (payment) system. The owner and her staff were all very helpful in answering questions, providing recommendations or pointing us in the right direction for excursions.

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