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Wish you were here: Chiang Mai

9 Comments 25 October 2012

Wish you were here: Chiang Mai

Dear Readers,

When I last wrote you Ric was off to boys night and I was off to be made over before heading to my own night out with the ladies. I’m happy to report that we both made it back alive…barely.

I’ll share my half of the day/night. Since I started traveling three years ago, I’ve spent my money on little else other than traveling. Once a shopaholic, I’ve bought very few clothes over the last few years, nor have I visited salons or make-up counters. My focus has been on travel and I’ve happily devoted most of my spending towards that, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t yearned to be made over or hit the mall.

So I decided to take advantage of the exchange rate and spend a day splurging on myself while in Bangkok. Most of Friday was spent at Terminal 21where I felt extremely lost, which is weird considering I used to be a mall rat from Jersey. What should have been an exciting and feel-good experience was actually no fun at all.

Busy intersection by Terminal 21. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I have a confession to make. I don’t like shopping in the malls of Bangkok. Part of it is that all the clothes are so small, definitely not made for the majority of Western woman. Beyond that I found the sales people to not really care at all about who steps into their shop. Most owners ignored me and one offended me. Maybe that was because they knew I wouldn’t fit in their clothes.

After hours of wandering and going up and down escalators, I finally found a knockout red dress. Next step, hair. I found a salon to give me a Demi Lovato up-do for THB500, about $US15.

Dressed and ready for the night, Flick and I headed to My Bar at Dusit Thani Hotel for what may be the best ladies’ night in the world. Get this: free drinks for ladies from 7-9 p.m. every Friday. We met up with a group of teachers from her International School in Bangkok, so any questions I had about teaching in Thailand were answered. After ladies’ night we headed to Soi 4, Silom which is filled with male strippers and gay bars.

It was a long and silly evening, but we made it home and didn’t leave home once the following day.

On Sunday it was time to say goodbye to Bangkok and head to Chiang Mai. We came to the city to visit Ric’s friend, so for that, I’m happy we spent as much time here as we did, but from a travel perspective, I found Bangkok actually got a bit boring. I don’t mind that it’s busy or that it’s a bit seedy in certain areas. I just felt like after a few days there wasn’t much more to do other than drink and party. At one point on Friday I thought, ‘I’m in Thailand, what on earth am I doing in a mall right now?’.

But everyone constantly goes on about how cultured and amazing Chiang Mai is, so I thought the next stop would have a bit more of what I expect out of Thailand.

I have to admit, I was a little let down by Chiang Mai at first. Before you call me crazy and stop reading, I’ll tell you I came around and loved it in the end.

Basically, everyone constantly goes on about how cultured the city is. So I was a bit confused to see Starbucks and McDonald’s in a Times Square sort of intersection on the drive in. I’m starting to come to the realization that there are few places in the world where one can escape this.

Busy Times Square-like intersection in Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

What I found in the end was that Chiang Mai is a fun and laid back city to stay in and a great base for some really cultural experiences in the surrounding areas. The old city and streets around it are filled with beautiful wats, cool backpacker hang outs and an array of Western and Thai shops and restaurants. The city really grew on me and by the end I understood why so many people end up staying there for so long.

We arrived in the city on Monday at about noon. (Tip: always add an extra two hours to train journeys in Thailand. Our journeys to and from Chiang Mai were both two hours longer than scheduled and most people I’ve talked to say the same about their own.) From the train station we took a Red Song Tao to our hotel, which is the cheapest form of transportation in the city.

A single journey on one of these red utes with enclosed seating in the back usually costs THB20-30, but the drivers pick up other people along the way so if you’re in a rush it might be a good idea to splurge on a tuk tuk, which I never found costs anymore than THB80 from one point to another in the city.

We went on a bit of a hotel tour in Chiang Mai, staying at three different places during our time there. The first was B2 Tippanet. This location of the Thai chain received mixed reviews online, but I thought it was more than perfect for the price we paid, which was about THB500. For that price we had our own private room and bathroom in a really modern hotel. The staff was kind and the hotel is less than a ten-minute walk to the old city.

That first day was a bit of a daze. Ric and I didn’t have the best sleep on our train journey in, so our only real objective for the day was to eat and stay awake until 8 p.m. Eat, we did. Thanks to Nancy Chandler’s map of Chiang Mai, we found out about a THB150 buffet at White Elephant restaurant in the Chiang Mai Grandview Hotel on Chiang Mai-Lampang Road.

Honestly, I did not expect to eat so many buffets in Thailand. I think we’re up to about six at this point.

After our feast, we walked through Somphet Market. Around here is where most of the backpacker guesthouses and bars are located. We stumbled upon Moonlight Thai Massage which sells Thai massages for THB150. If the food didn’t knock us out, the massage did. After, we did a bit more wandering then headed straight to bed. We wanted to be well-rested for the next day’s treat.

Asia Rooms welcomed me to review one of their hotels on our trip to Thailand, so on Tuesday they set us up at Yantarasri Resort for two nights. I’ve already gone on and on about just how in love I am with this hotel, so I won’t bore you all with it again. But I’ll just say, a bit of old-world Thailand, an amazing pool and terry cloth robes are what made the stay for me.

The pool at Yantarasri Resort, Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

When I stay in nice hotels I like to stay in them as long as possible, so we made the most out of our little sanctuary on Tuesday, only leaving at night to visit the Night Bazaar. It’s a great place to buy just about anything, but Ric and I were really just looking to shop around the food stalls. The massive market has carts and restaurants throughout it. We decided to visit it’s food court for Khao Soi, a chicken curry noodle dish common in Northern Thailand. I paid THB30 for the dish then bought some naan bread from an Indian stall also in the food court to dip in my leftover curry.

After that meal, we decided to be serious fat kids and buy two Nutella Waffles and a scoop of Ferrero Rocher gelato to dip them in. Yes, that happened.

The food court at the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The following day we spent more time sunbathing and swimming at our resort. That night I met up with bloggers Diana Eldman of D Travels Round and Lindsay Mc of Travel Dudes at Pizza e Vino for, you guessed it, pizza and wine. Diana has been living in Chiang Mai for a few months working with Elephant Nature Park and Lindsay just arrived in the city but I don’t think she’ll be leaving anytime soon.

Diana knows how to pick a good pizza place. I love Thai food, but I do get sick of it after awhile, so a massive pizza and wine was just what I needed after three weeks in the country. By the way, good or even average wine is hard to find in the country, if you love it as much as me go to Pizza e Vino for a fix. Everything there, including my two glasses of red was delicious.

Wine and pizza turned into just wine at Ciccia’s House on Nantaram, another great hang out recommended by Diana. I loved talking with the girls about blogging and meeting all the locals and expats that came in and out of the restaurant. Diana really has found a wonderful expat community in the city. I had such a great night with those two gals. Give me good company and good wine, and I’m happy.

On Thursday, Ric and I reluctantly checked out of Yantarasri, but we did it in style. The resort rents motorbikes for THB250 for the day, so we left our bags with the front desk, hopped on a light blue vespa and hit the road.

Ric’s favorite thing and one of mine, to do in Thailand is to rent a motorbike and just go exploring. We didn’t really have much of an itinerary, but headed in the direction of Doi Suthep, a wat on top of a hill that offers great views of the city, since so many people recommended it.

Along the way we stopped at Mon Tha Than Falls (THB100 per person and THB20 per bike to enter). We passed Doi Sethup and headed to Bhubing Palace, the Summer home of the royal family which sits further up the mountain than Doi Suthep.

Mon Tha Than Falls. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

On the way up clouds surrounded us and within ten minutes it was pouring. We ate lunch near the palace and waited for about an hour and a half for the rain to clear. Wet season in Thailand is no joke. It costs THB50 to enter the palace grounds and THB15 to rent a piece of clothing. Shoulders and legs must be covered. The palace was being renovated and the gardens we covered for the rainy season, so I don’t think we saw the palace in all its glory.

Finally, we carefully drove back down the mountain to Doi Suthep and walked up 300 steps to the wat. It costs THB30 to enter and is well worth the money and trip. The grounds are beautiful and seeing monks walk around the center with flowers, you get a glimpse into Buddhism. We spent about an hour there then headed back to Chiang Mai to plan another motorbike adventure.

Monks praying at Doi Suthep. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Without fail, every time Ric and I rent a motorbike in SE Asia, we see a monkey. It’s almost always a short sighting in which I don’t have nearly enough time to capture the moment.

This time was different.

On our way down Ric spotted a grey gibbon at a lay-by from about 100 meters away. I screamed, “Pull over!” And he did. I should have known something was wrong by the ten people with their back against the wall refusing to move. As we pulled in, Ric looked for a parking spot and I got out my camera and took a photo. The gibbon started chasing us, so I screamed, “No, Ric! Go! Go! Go!”

As he swung around the gibbon continued to go for us, still on the bike, with a ferocious look in his face and stance. At one point, Ric slowed down and the gibbon started to gain on us. It was then Ric saw a Thai guard step out with a massive knife and sped off. The monkey chased us until we were out of sight.

Just a reminder that wild animals are wild and not to be played with or tested.

We rode away laughing hysterically, but that experience could have gone very wrong.

After making it back to Chiang Mai we attempted to reach Mae Sa Falls, unfortunately it closed just before we arrived at 4:30 p.m. Nature closes? So we headed back to the resort, picked up our bags and hopped on a Red Song Tao to our third and final accommodation in Chiang Mai, Eco Resort.

This was Ric’s pick and he might be in charge of all our accommodation from now on. The resort is located on Bumrungrat Road, on the other side of Mae Ping River from the old city. We booked it ourselves through Asia Rooms to test out the company’s booking process and got a serious bargain. For THB400 we stayed in a private room with shared bathrooms in another old-world Thai sanctuary. That price included entrance to the resorts massive swimming pool, breakfast buffet and unlimited wifi. That night we did a bit of bar-hopping outside the old city, but headed home early as the next day I was visiting Elephant Nature Park.

Front house at Eco Resort, Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

That Friday spent at the park was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I’m an animal lover and it’s quite hard to see animals being mistreated in a lot of tourist activities in the country. Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for elephants that were once used and abused in the country’s now void logging industry. It was beautiful to see the largest land mammal on earth in a somewhat wild setting. The park’s 32 elephants aren’t forced to ride around tourists all day, nor do tricks for people in city streets. They live free in a middle ground between domestication and the wild.

I’ll write much more on the experience in the future. For now, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to interact with elephants in a way that benefits them and the animals.

Jokia went blind, because of abuse in the logging industry she once worked. Her story is heartbreaking, but she remains extremely gentle and sweet. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

After my day with the elephants I came home buzzing. Ric and I wanted to explore a new section of the city on our last night so we headed to the river where a few guidebook-recommended restaurants are located. As we both guessed, most of the restaurants along the river were a bit out of our price range.

We looked at about four different menus, visited a few high-end antique shops on Charoenrat, the road along the river, then started to look for a ride into town. Before we could hail one down we stumbled upon a hidden gem of a restaurant and guesthouse along the river, Regina.

Located in an old, teak house, the place looked like a natural Cracker Barrel upon entering, filled with 1950s vintage signs, old photos and dolls. It had a few small circular tables and chairs set up. Plus, I noticed a proper coffee machine behind the counter. Curiosity led us to our own private dining area on the river.

I think it’s the most romantic meal Ric and I have ever had; a wooden terrace with tables lit by candle light beneath, a few picnic tables along the river, lanterns and small ponds filled the space. The place is filled with friendly cats and the prices are perfect for people on a budget, think THB60 meals.

It was the most charming end to what I came around to see is Thailand’s most charming city, Chiang Mai.

Bobbi xxx

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- who has written 310 posts on Heels and Wheels.

Creator of Heels and Wheels. Writer, traveler and more.

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  • Diana Edelman

    <3 <3 <3

  • Emily McManus

    Loved the post! Chiang Mai is currently my home and I really enjoyed reading about some of your finds! Can’t wait to check out Regina :)

  • Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Thanks lovely! How long have you been living there. I would love to read your finds as an expat there!

  • Margyle

    Unreal! I wish these places were closer to me.. but I guess that’s what makes them so special!

  • Emily McManus

    Been here since June and I’ve got at least a month left (at least for this stint). I should definitely write up a post about my favorite spots in the city!

  • Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Definitely. What are you doing there that you are staying so long.

  • Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Very true. But I bet there are some incredible places near you that people on the other side of the world are saying the same thing about.

  • Emily McManus

    I’ve dabbled in a couple of things, but right now I’m working at a hostel in the city and absolutely loving it!

  • Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    That’s awesome! I think you do do just about every job when working while traveling haha. I worked at a hostel in the past as well.

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