MAI KINDA PLACE
Chaing Mai is often forgotten by your typical cashed up bogans, lacking the boozed up beach bars and super clubs that the south has to offer. While this is a huge shame, consider it a little blessing that the quickly growing city hasn’t been ruined by the masses, yet. Set up north in more mountainous terrain, Chiang Mai offers a relaxed pace of life which is cherished by the many expats living in its midst.
Forget everything you know about Bangkok and Phuket and replace it with a thriving city center made up of both the old and the new, lane-ways littered with massage shops and boutique shops and a cafe culture that focuses on quality produce and nutrition. Chiang Mai is built upon travelers wanting to search for a different Thai experience, with a bustling tourist trade that has dramatically grown in recent years. If you’re a die-hard tourist don’t fear, you can still get your cheap Thai massage, over priced restaurant meal and a drink with Westerners.
We made base at Diva Guesthouse 2, one of three establishments catering for the backpacking traveler. Rooms are cheap and cheerful, painted brightly and offering basic amenities. Expect a tiny en-suite shower and toilet, a decent double bed, a dresser or wardrobe, table and chair, wash sink and a fan for the reasonable price of $10. Complete with a roof top to relax, a tour shop and a trusting tab system, it really is everything you could need for a few days. Rooms are made up when you request and they provide towels.
Being in the north the climate is a little cooler which makes it a great time to get active and do some things you couldn’t bear to do in the rest of Thailand. There is a popular zoo and night safari, temples to venture too and the popular Tiger Kingdom which draws hordes of tourists wanting to pet these exotic animals. One of the biggest attractions in Chiang Mai are the famous elephant trekking and hill top tribe experiences, be mindful that not all of these tours are as ethical as others so pick carefully. Massage courses are also very popular as people try and learn the skillful art of the Thai massage for a small price (1000-1500 BHT for a half day course). Once again do your research; you don’t want to cause more damage than healing. The most common Thai activity that travelers get amongst is cooking school with so many different business’s offering half or full day courses. Expect to fork out about 800-1500 depending on what option and school you pick.
With so much teaching going on it’s no surprise that the masters of Thai food are here in the north, the quality of food we experienced was out of this world. For some nice Thai dishes head to Peppermint cafe for a perfectly proportioned serve of Cau Lau, the service is a bit all over the place but it’s worth the wait and putting up with the crazy waitresses. For cheap but tasty Thai wander down Rachadamnoen Rd where you can get nearly anything you desire.
We’re not ashamed to mention that we dished out on a few Western restaurants whilst in Chiang Mai, including Mexican and Japanese cuisine. As clinical as it looks, Sushi Box put together some mean sushi at a crazy good price. Opt for the all you can eat buffet for 350 BHT or just pick and choose from nigri rolls, yakatori sticks, generous sashimi and tasty sushi rolls. El Diablos dishes up some mean Mexican fare and is much tasty then it’s over the road competitor. We checked it out twice and left far too full both times, could be the free nachos and salsa they dish out before you order.
Our favourite find was Khun Kae’s juice bar where we hid away from the harsh sun and downed seriously cheap and tasty juices all afternoon. They have a stack of combos for 40BHT that will entice you but if you’re after something special they’ll let you use what you like.
The markets offers some decent juices and take away food options if you’re on a budget as does the main street and the walking street markets on both a Saturday and Sunday. Prices are very reasonable in Chiang Mai and you should be able to enjoy a good meal at a very small cost.
If you’re keen to mellow out then check out local restaurants and juice bars for where the latest yoga and meditation classes. With such a quick growing expat community there are plenty of options for doing the things you’d usually do and at a fraction of the cost.
Overall, Chiang Mai’s relaxed atmosphere provides a perfect base for travelers to get in touch with Thai lifestyle and for expats to experience a more relaxed pace of life without missing their home comforts too much. Get away from the wild party zones for a little bit and experience a different side of Thailand.
Moving on from Chiang Mai
A popular place to visit after Chiang Mai is Pai, once a quiet market village; it’s now a well known spot for backpackers to venue. With a ton of cheap guesthouses and bungalows it’s a great base to visit Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu hill tribes as well as the beautiful hot springs. In recent years things have gotten busier with a large number of backpackers taking the 2 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai, so get in quick before its overrun.