Chiang Mai in 4.5 days

Back on the road after almost a 7 month hiatus! I’ve been to Thailand, but it was almost 4 years ago. This is my first time in Northern Thailand though and I had a blast during my itinerary. I wish I had more time here though, it seems like there’s many other cool excursions that I want to do in around the Chiang Mai area.

Day 1 – Sunday, Dec 13, 2015

Chiang Mai International Airport

I flew from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai on Air Asia. Flight was nice and uneventful. Landed at Chiang Mai Airport (CNX) and customs took forever. It took me about 45 minutes. US citizens don’t need a visa, so it’s an easy process for us.

Once exiting the airport, I went to a taxi counter. Taxis are 150 Baht flat rate anywhere within the city center (where most hostels and hotels are).

Green Tiger Vegetarian Hostel

I arrived and my first impression was that the place is really nice! It has a swimming pool and is an interesting mix of families, older people, and backpackers. I think it’s because it’s partially like a low budget hotel and partially a hostel.

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Overall it was great. Although a bit on the pricier end for hostels, but it was well worth it. Here are the positives:

  • The showers were hot and had great water pressure.
  • They had free toiletries for us to use.
  • Wi-Fi was amazingly stable and strong.
  • Lockers were big enough to fit all of your luggage and they provided a lock
  • Each bunk bed had a light and a plug next to it
  • There was a nice swimming pool for use
  • Relatively calm atmosphere so it was easy to sleep. Not a party hostel!

Not so great things:

  • There wasn’t any free breakfast. We had free instant coffee, water, tea, and toast with butter or mango jam. The mango jam was delicious though!
  • Since it was a hotel, restaurant, and a hostel, it was really hard to meet people because the common area was the restaurant. Sometimes you couldn’t tell who was a hotel guest or a backpacker.
  • They didn’t have any hostel excursions. There was a booklet that you can go through and book tours. They also had a lot of pamphlets for tours, but it was a lot of choice and independent research.

After arriving at my hostel, it was almost 2 pm. The rest of my day was spent doing the following below:

Wat Chiang Man

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The temple was about 10 minutes away from my hostel. Like any temples, when you visit, you must dress conservatively when you enter and take off your shoes. Women must cover their shoulders and not wear anything shorter than above the knee. It was a nice walk around and I spent a good 30 minutes here enjoying the view.

Cost: Free

Hours: 6 am – 6pm

Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan

From Wat Chiang Man, I walked over to this temple. What sets this one apart from the others in the city is that this temple is partly collapsed, blending in the ruins with the rest of the temple. Another easy 20-30 minute wander around.

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Cost: Free

Hours: 6 am – 6pm

Sunday Night Market 

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This night market was HUGE. One of the largest and most condensed I’ve ever been in Asia. I walked around for almost 4 hours and still didn’t see everything. Shopping is relatively cheap here and I got a bunch of small things for 15 baht or 5 baht. The epicenter is right by Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan and spans from Thonon Rachadamnoen Alley to Prapokkloa Road. In another post on Chiang Mai, I’ll share more about my street food experiences.

Hours: Sundays 5pm – 12am

Day 2 – Saturday, Dec 14, 2015

Asia Scenic Thai Cookery School

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I booked for an all day cooking school at Asia Scenic Thai Cookery School. They have a couple of different options but the one that I booked was the all day excursion on the farm. That was more, but it was definitely more exciting and interesting to participate, as we learned how Thai vegetables and fruits grow. There are several options, which are listed below. I did #1. We cooked 6 dishes and got a welcome snack. It was quite a feast!

  • Full Day Cooking Course 9 am – 3pm at the Farm for 1,200 Baht
  • Full Day Cooking Course 9 am – 3pm in the city for 1,000 Baht
  • Half Day Cooking Course 9 am – 1pm in the city for 800 Baht
  • Half Day Cooking Course 5 pm – 9pm in the city for 800 Baht

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Boon was our guide and she was incredibly funny and sweet. She made lots of jokes about eating overly spicy food and was very informative. Definitely recommend her!

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Cost: 1200 Baht ~ $33.36

Time: 8 am – 4 pm

Night Baazar 

Afterwards, for dinnertime, I went to the Night Baazar. It wasn’t that impressive and mostly just people selling souvenirs and wares. There was really limited food options except for two areas where it was crowded with foreigners. Prices were almost double of standard street food in Thailand (which is typically anywhere from 10-50 Baht depending on the item). I shared a Muslim crepe, which was roti and chocolate and bananas. It was cheap and tasty.

The bazaar is located outside of the Old City gates, right by the Le Meridian.

Hours: Every Day 5pm – 12am

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Day 3 – Sunday, Dec 15, 2015

Elephant Nature Park

I did a day trip and went to Elephant Nature Park. This was the highlight of my trip in Chiang Mai. I did the Single Day trip, which is 2,500 Baht. When you book online, you have to put a 1,000 Baht deposit down and then pay 1,500 Baht for the remainder. It was amazing because all of their 60 something elephants are rescue elephants.

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The majority of them were saved from the logging industry, circuses, breeders, and street begging. It was really quite sad to hear each of their stories. Most of the elephants were deliberately or accidentally maimed and still forced to work. The money that goes towards the conservatory helps pay for the release for abused elephants, medical treatment, food, and shelter. I learned that elephants that are used for riding or doing tricks have to go through rigorous training that sometimes requires abusive techniques. At Elephant Nature Park, they use positive reinforcement techniques to rehabilitate the elephants. No riding is allowed.

My favorite story is of Jokia, she was in the logging industry as a work elephant. She worked when she was pregnant and gave birth while on the hills. Her baby rolled to its death while still in the sac and she could do nothing to save it because she was in chains and forced to work. She became so depressed after losing her baby and refused to work. The men blinded her in one eye as punishment. She lashed out and then they shot out her other eye. Blinded, she was still forced her to work until the Elephant Nature Reserve rescued her.

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I was incredible touched by this experience and it changed my mind and perspective on the meaning of ecotourism. As tourists, everything we do changes the ecology of the place and affects how locals treat animals and the environment for the sake of money. If you are going to a country to see animals, make sure you do your research to find out if you are supporting companies that treat the animals humanely and do not abuse them.

Cost: 2500 Baht ~ $69.50

Time: 8 am – 5 pm

Cowboy Pork Lady

For the evening, I ventured to more street food. I went to the Cowboy Pork lady that was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s show. She was really great and super busy. The food was worth it at 30-50 Baht per dish. I ended up getting 2 portions later that evening. After dinner, I went to a local Jazz bar where it was improv night. Basically any tourists who wanted to play a musical instrument could go up there and perform in an impromptu band. The drinks were relatively reasonable at around 60 Baht for a beer and then 100 Baht for a cocktail.

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Cost: 30-50 Baht

Hours: 5pm – 12 am

Location: On the Northern gate of the Old City, right across the Chang Phueak Gate on the north side of Manee Nopparat Road. She’s in the middle of the street vendors, not too far from a 7-Eleven. 

Day 4 – Monday, Dec 16, 2015

Chiang Rai

Today I did a day trip to Chiang Rai today using Travel Hub. It included a pit stop at a hot spring, the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), a visit to the northern ethnic tribes such as the Kayan long neck tribe, Akha and Yao, a tour through the Golden Triangle (which is where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet), a boat trip on the Mekong River (cost 330 Baht more), and the northern most point of Thailand (right by the Myanmar border crossing).

Honestly, the tour was just alright. The best parts were the Golden Triangle and the tribes. Even then, the tribes were really a tourist trap and not authentic at all. This was the itinerary that we went through.

Hot Springs

We stopped at a pit stop about 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai to see the hot springs. The hot springs were the saddest hot springs I have ever seen. The springs were really a small fountain spewing out hot water. Some local women were selling quail eggs that you could boil in the hot water. It was a real tourist trap. Not only that, you had to pay 5 baht to use the restroom. Granted, that’s like $0.06, but that just shows how crappy a place like that is. All of the food there was also overpriced, luckily there was a 7-Eleven. We stayed for 20 minutes and then went off to the next stop.

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White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

When we arrived it was gorgeous from the outside. The whole complex of the White Temple was just amazingly beautiful. The only downside was that this was super touristy. It was really hard to get any good pictures without tons of people in them. Also, the main hall was not open for people to go in at the time so unfortunately we couldn’t see or walk inside. The complex was huge and we only got 45 minutes to explore the whole thing. Definitely felt very rushed, but it was enough to walk through the main parts of the temple and to snap some good photos.

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The history of the place is really interesting. The artist is a local Thai who was born in the town that the temple is built in. He built the temple about 19 years ago and has a 31-year plan to complete the complex. He’s 62 however, and there are concerns about who will finish the work if he passes away. It’s basically a grand structure like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona that was not finished by Gaudi but will require 100 years to complete. The artist also has an infatuation with pop culture icons. Throughout the complex, famous movie characters’ heads are dangling from trees. I have no idea what that means, but it was interesting to see.

Hill Tribes

After the temple, we drove another 45 minute north to see the ethnic hill tribes. We saw Akha, Yao, and Kayan people. For some on the tour, it costs extra to visit the Kayan (long-neck people). It was 300 Baht more, but in the particular tour that I booked it was included.

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The village was organized in a way that you could tell which ethnic group was which based on their dress. It almost felt like a small competition between the several groups, yet they all lived and worked in the same area. The Akha and the Yao definitely got less attention and we quickly learned about some of their cultures but then moved on quickly to visit the Kayan, long-neck people.

The Kayan people came over to Thailand from Myanmar as conflict refugees and are illegally in the country. They have no papers and cannot work, attend school or receive any benefits. Their only option is to work in these tourism villages set up by Thai businessmen or the government. In these villages, the women work on weaving and sewing goods, while the men work mostly agricultural jobs.

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I was really torn if I should go visit them or not. It’s a huge ethical debate on the internet and I ultimately decided to visit them regardless so I could see for myself and form an opinion. Some people said it felt like a human zoo, but I thought it wasn’t uncomfortable if you made an effort to talk to them. They are people too and as long as you treat them as such, it doesn’t feel so bad. Some tips when visiting:

  • Ask for permission before taking a photo
  • Some people offer a small tip of 20 or 50 baht after taking a picture (I didn’t though because it felt awkward)
  • Don’t touch them when taking a picture
  • When speaking with children, I lowered myself to their height to make it feel more comfortable

During my visit there, I met Miri-Na, a 12-year-old girl from the ethnic Kayan Long Neck tribe. She was smiling and singing when I approached her. We talked for 15 minutes and I learned that pink is her favorite color. She is the oldest in a family of 5. She has a younger sister and brother. Despite having no education, she spoke English and Mandarin by listening to tourists and picking up phrases. She’s incredibly smart for a young girl her age. I was touched and saddened at the same time. All refugees are just trying to leave to find a better place, but sometimes the new place isn’t as welcoming and they have limited opportunities.

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Golden Triangle

After the hill tribes, we went to a restaurant and had a buffet lunch. It was so-so, but we scarfed down our food because by the time we arrived, it was already 1:30 pm. Shortly thereafter, we went to the Golden Triangle. We paid extra to ride a boat and go to an island on Laos. It was an additional 330 Baht.

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There we got free shots of Lao whiskey that has been soaked in snake, scorpion, tiger penis, ginseng, turtle, or lizard. The island we went to was super touristy and basically was just an outdoor market. Some people in my tour found a chained up elephant that looked abused and sad on the other side of the market. After learning about all the abuses that elephants endure, it was really sad to hear something like that was happening. We were on the island for no more than 30 minutes. The boat ride was about 10 minutes each way.

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Northern Point of Thailand

From there we went to the northern most city in Thailand. We literally were at the border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar. I could see it across the short river and the barbed wire fencing. It was actually a border crossing in which many people were doing by foot, motorcycle or car. There we just took a couple of pictures and walked through another market. We had about 20 minutes here as well.

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By this point, it was getting really late and our guide was getting really grumpy. We were 4 hours away from Chiang Mai and had a long ride ahead. On the way back, we stopped at one more pit stop at a gas station, but otherwise that was it!

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Cost: 1250 Baht + 330 Baht extra for boat ride to Laos ~ $43.89

Time: 7:30 am – 9:30 pm

Stops: 5 (hot spring, the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), northern ethnic tribes, Golden Triangle, and the northern most point of Thailand)

Day 5 – Tuesday, Dec 17, 2015

This day I only had only until 1pm before I had to head to the airport to fly to Luang Prabang in Laos. I decided to visit one more temple and then walk around eating street food. I wanted to visit the Art in Paradise Museum (3D Art Museum), but decided that it wouldn’t be enough time and wanted to eat as much food as possible instead.

Wat Phra Singh

This was the only temple where I had to pay a small fee to enter. It’s supposed to be the most revered temple in Chiang Mai. Honestly, at this point, they all started to look the same to me. This also only took me about 20-30 minutes to walk around the complex.

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Cost: 20 Baht

Hours: 6 am – 6pm 

Kiat Ocha – Hainanese Chicken

This place was a little hard to find at first and I passed it a couple of times because there was no English signage except that they serve Hainanese chicken.

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Food was delicious. I actually got 2 small portions of chicken, one boiled and one fried. It comes with rice and chicken broth. The total was 110 Baht!

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Hours: 6 am – 3pm 

Address: 43, Inthawa Rorot Road, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200

Khao Soi Khun Yai – Khao Soi

Another delicious little hidden gem. This place was in a small alleyway in between two temples by the North Gate of the Old City. I actually missed it twice as well. When you walk up, it’s a little unassuming tent, but when you see only local people eating, you know it’s good.

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I got an order of the Chicken Khao Soi. It was 30 Baht for a small bowl. I also got a Longyan Drink, which was 15 Baht. I was so full but still finished the whole thing cause it was that good. Khao Soi is the most well known dish of Chiang Mai, so it was appropriate for me to get it on my last day.

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Hours: 10 am – 2pm 

Address: Sri Poom 8 Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200

Bye Bye Chiang Mai

After my multiple meals, I left for the airport and hailed a songthaew  (red tuk tuk taxi). To the airport it was 100 Baht, and cheaper than on the way into the city. My next destination is Luang Prabang, Laos!

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