I didn’t feel ready to leave behind Koh Tao. Trading paradise beaches and the enchanting underwater world in for mountains and a big city. My partner in crime at the time: Emily agreed. We easily could have stayed longer but had limited Thailand time and had to see the famous north for ourselves.
The smart, organized little backpackers we were, we decided to skip the notorious full moon party on neighboring island Koh Pha-Ngan, as we had booked an early flight to Chiang Mai the next morning. That plan to stay fresh and be prepared for a long day of travel failed miserably. There we were waiting for our ferry at six am running on no sleep, definitely still drunk, our backpacks probably a few kilograms lighter, having packed in the dark minutes beforehand. Who knew a couple of beers and games of Pool would lead to a “fuck the full moon party” and an all-nighter… It happens, sometimes you slip and fall on a few too many beers. Your last night somewhere you love is always a good excuse, right?
Getting to Chiang Mai.
If you aren’t particularly close to the north but still want to go check it out, don’t stress! There are a few different options to get to Chiang Mai and all of them are cheap as chips. Thank you budget-friendly South East Asia!
This is the option we chose and if you can find a cheap flight I would recommend it as it’s the fastest and painless. Have a look on skyscanner.com or similar we got ours from the closest airport to Koh-Tao Surat Thani for about $50 AUD (1,300Baht).
The cheapest option if you are in Bangkok. The price of an overnight bus to Chiang Mai starts from around 500 baht and it also saves you a night on accommodation. I got the bus back from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and was pleasantly surprised. It’s pretty comfy, you get given free wifi, a sandwich, and Oreos. Remember to bring warm clothes or a blanket if you have it because it was freezing cold!
I’ve never taken the train but want to next time! Trains are fun. Also the same story as the bus, it’s an overnight train so saves you a nights accommodation. Prices start from around 700baht.
**Keep in mind all these prices are in Thailand’s low season (June to September)**
Chiang Mai’s old city.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Chiang Mai. My only experience with Thai cities was the craziness of Bangkok. Chaing Mai is worlds away from Bangkok. I stayed in the ‘old city’ and recommend every traveler does. You can find a dorm room easily starting from 100 baht a night. I stayed at 168 Chaing Mai guesthouse and would highly recommend it. The old city is surrounded by a river, lush green mountains, stunning temples, and quaint alleyways overgrown with moss so it doesn’t really feel like a city at all. Aptly suited to its name, it’s almost like like you’ve traveled back in time. Still standing is an impressive five hundred-year-old wall the Thai people built to keep out neighboring Myanmar (then Burma).
I spent the majority of my time in Chiang Mai taking advantage of the cute coffee shops and wifi on every corner to get some work done. If you’re not as lame as me and want to fill your days with adventures it can easily be done! Heres a couple of fun things I did do:
This one’s a touchy subject. Elephants are beautiful, majestic creatures and who doesn’t want to have the opportunity to interact with them? This makes Elephant tourism a lucrative business so unfortunately sometimes they are looked at as money making machines more than animals and not always treated the best. Make sure you do your research and go to an ethical, no ride sanctuary. We were recommended by friends to go with the company ‘Elephant Jungle Sanctuary’ and I can vouch that these elephants were happy as… an elephant in mud!
The elephant’s carers really seemed to love them, they knew all their names and had favorites. Firstly they explain to you a little bit about the park, how it’s a sustainable eco-tour and all their elephants are rescued either from circuses or riding camps. They also give you a sick poncho to rock for the day.
We did the half day tour with them that cost 1000 baht each, which includes hanging out with the elephants, feeding them their daily bananas and learning how to make elephant medicine, bathing them and a mud fight.
It was so cool to see these incredible animals up close and just running around in the jungle and mud having the best time! We were incredibly lucky as our camp had not one, but two gorgeous babies! The youngest being only one month old.
Food, food and more food!
Umm yes, I include eating as a fun activity!
The food in Chiang Mai is next level and insanely cheap. Along with Pai, it’s also probably the best place to be vegetarian or vegan in Thailand.
If you’re on a budget like me just stick to the street food. There are amazing food markets on every corner serving delicious concoctions from as little as 30 baht a pop. You can try something different every night and not be disappointed. Don’t forget to try Khao Soi, a mouth-watering spicy coconut noodle soup the north is famous for.
Thailand has a grand canyon? Whaaat? Ok, don’t go here and expect something the same scale as Americas but it’s still pretty cool.
The ‘grand canyon’ is a beautiful natural gorge that has been converted into waterparks. It’s divided into two different companies. Of course, I went to the cheap side which is 50 baht entry. It includes cliff jumping, tubing or just swimming around. For an extra fee, you can zip-line over the canyon.
That Chiang Mai charm.
All in all Chiang Mai really impressed me with its old world charm, a melting pot of culture and amazing food. One day I decided to go for a wander down the labyrinth of alleyways and found myself in awe at all the beautiful temples and nature. I couldn’t believe I was in the middle of a huge city! The same walk I came across two amazing vintage warehouses and ate the best green curry I’ve ever tried. Don’t overlook Chiang Mai as just a stop off to get to Pai, definitely stay at least a couple of days to see what it has to offer.