Thailand, a beautiful multi faceted country that boasts both turquoise waters with thriving aquatic life and lush green mountains home to monkeys, temples and world heritage sites.
I took a trip around modern day Siam and filled 16 days with as much of the country, culture and cuisine as I possibly could. I fell in love with this little nook in South East Asia and wanted to journal it for myself but also for you, dear reader, to possibly help inspire you to consider Thailand for your next adventure. Or if you’ve already been but are considering going specifically as a backpacker, perhaps this will give you the push you need!
Welcome to my Thailand Diaries!
A Backpacker’s Guide to Chiang-Mai
Chiang Mai is a wonderful city in the mountainous northern territories of Thailand, close to the border with Myanmar and Laos. Although within the same country, the life in Chiang Mai is quite different from the coastal areas that we had just come from like Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi.
This city would mark the end of our 16 days backpacking through Thailand, and I knew from the moment I stepped foot there, that I would have to explore absolutely everything it had to offer.
Getting to Chiang-Mai
Our previous stop on our Thailand tour was Ayutthaya and so we made our way to Chiang Mai in an overnight bus. At around 8pm, we took a tuk tuk from the centre of Ayutthaya, to a 7/11 about 20 minutes out of the center. I’ll be honest with you, it felt a bit dodgy right up until we pulled up outside the 7/11 and saw a group of equally confused backpackers also waiting for the overnight bus.
The bus itself was a double deckered monstrosity and the driver drove at terrifying speeds which meant that frankly, I didn’t get much sleep. He drove through the night, and thankfully had us safely in Chiang Mai early the next morning. It was actually not as uncomfortable as you would expect since they have blankets, snacks and they put off the lights right until sunrise.
After being dropped us off at a stop in the heart of Chiang Mai, and after grabbing our bags, we made our way to what would be the 9th and final hostel in our 16 days backpacking around Thailand!
Chiang Mai also has an international airport, so you could also fly into Chiang Mai from anywhere both within and outside of Thailand.
Where to Stay in Chiang-Mai
There are some awesome hostels in Chiang Mai, but we stayed at the Thailand Wow Hostel, which is run by the most fabulous host named Kai. He runs his hostel with the best homely atmosphere, a comfortable living space and all the guests were just so easygoing. I couldn’t recommend this hostel enough.
Once a week, Kai cooks a delicious Thai dinner for all of the guests and invites everyone to attend a ‘family dinner’ in the hostel common area. You can contribute a small donation after dinner.
The dorms were very comfortable, with A/C in the evenings and we made friends with people from all over the world, one of whom would end up joining us on our 5 week journey up the East Coast of Australia later in our journey. In the evenings, everyone would go out to the night markets, followed by a boogie at the local clubs, Zoe and Infinity Club.
Exploring Chiang Mai
If you’re looking to explore more of Chiang Mai, including day trips out of the city, look no further. Here’s everything you could look to experience in Chiang Mai
- A day trip to Doi Suthep Mountains and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple
- Take a bus to visit Pai for a few days
- Get a massage in the women’s correctional institute
- Visit an ethical elephant sanctuary
- Visit Doi Inthanon National Park
- Take Thai cooking class
- Stroll down the Handicraft Highway at San kamphaeng Road
- Try the local dish: Khao Soi
- Boat trip along the Mae Ping River
- Shop and eat at the Nigh Bazaar
- Visit the Long Neck Karen tribe
- Take a trip to Chiang Rai for a few days and visit the White Temple
- Visit The San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
A walking tour of the city
I personally think that the best way to explore any new city is on foot, so the the first thing we did is head out for a walkabouts Chiang Mai. There are some beautiful temples and ruins within the old city, many of which are dotted along the streets and are easy to admire as you walk along.
The Bo Sang Handicraft village which is interesting to visit for it’s handcrafting of umbrellas and parasols that have become international symbols of Chiang Mai.
We discovered plenty of restaurants, from which I had to sample Chiang Mai’s iconic dish, the chicken Khao Soi, which, let me tell you, was de-li-cous!
We walked past local shops, street vendors, massage parlours and fell in love with the city. We knew that our 3 days here would not be enough to explore the wonders that Chiang Mai had to offer, so we would just have to come back!
Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary
The issue of eco tourism and animal exploitation is one that is very close to my heart and so, although interactions with elephants is very popular in Chiang Mai, we wanted to make sure we would only support local company’s that were involved in protection and fair treatment of the elephants in their care.
So we visited the Doi Inthanon Elephant Sanctuary, which came recommended by our hostel host Kai. The elephants in the sanctuary have free roam of the forests, there is no riding involved and they are never caged in or tied up. I thought it was too good to be true, because I’m always wary of unethical animal sanctuaries but these animals seemed to be well treated.
The money from the tours goes towards care for the elephants. The site is very traditional and rustic, a van picks you up from your hostel and takes you to the park, where there’s a little wooden hut to put your belongings in.
Then you get to play with elephants in the fields, take a mud bath with them and feed them. It’s a family run business, started by a local and the guides cook you a wonderful lunch after you’ve had fun with these beautiful gentle giants.
On longer tours that the company offers, they also take you around some of the sights of the Doi Inthanon National Park, like to the waterfalls and for drives into the mountains.
Taking a cooking class
I could not finish my trip in Thailand without trying my hand at cooking the meals that have become some of my all time favourites. Which is why we absolutely needed to book a cooking class. Siam Rice Cooking Class is a husband and wife run business, hosting classes at their home in a warm and welcoming environment.
There were only four of us that day and we had a fabulous time learning to cook with a traditional wok, how to crush spices in the pestle and mortar (making the right sounds to attract a good husband as the Thai would say) and then finally getting to eat the four course meal that we prepared. So much fun and the perfect way to end an incredible backpacking tour of trip to Thailand.
A FEW THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT VISITING THAILAND:
- DO NOT flush toilet paper down the toilet, their pipes can’t handle it. If you do number 1, just place the tissue in the bins provided, if you do number 2, read up about the bum gun
- Don’t drink the tap water. In order for us to be sustainable, we had to fill in our water bottles every day at the hostel when we could (they usually have refill stations for 10 baht)
- Don’t worry too much about laundry. There are soooo many places that offer laundry services and prices depend on where in Thailand you are (40 baht/kg in Koh Tao and 100 baht/kg in Bangkok)
- Don’t be afraid to barter with the taxi drivers or vendors on prices
- Most places will ask you to take off your shoes before you enter
- It’s normal for hostels to ask to keep your passport while you’re staying with them
- Don’t expect everyone to speak English and don’t be that person that gets annoyed and complains when locals don’t speak your language, it’s their country so be kind and patient
And so Chiang Mai brings me to the end of My Thailand Diaries… for now! This country hasn’t seen the last of Vanilla Vadz. I fell in love with the food, the culture and the stunning ocean. The reason I was only here for 16 days is because it was meant to just be a short two week layover before Australia, but I had no idea how much I would fall in love with it! I’ll be back to explore Thailand in depth, to dive into the culture and landscapes again.
In 16 days, my best friend and I managed to visit Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Railay Beach, Koh Tao, Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai. And what an amazing 16 days it was!
Sit back, grab some Oreos and I can’t wait to see what life has to offer us next.