Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Dupi and I spent our New Year’s Eve + the first few days of 2019 in Thailand’s northern city, Chiang Mai. Those few days were nothing short of magical - playing with elephants, releasing lanterns into the sky, lots of Chang beers & yummy coffee.

But, even though it was the perfect entry back into city-life from the relaxing vibes of Bali (our previous stop!), I have to say - I was a teeny bit disappointed. I’m not sure if it’s because we were there around the holidays, or that’s just the way this city is nowadays - but Chiang Mai felt like American tourist central. It seemed like every part of the city was catered to tourists (and not just any, but Americans!). Nearly everywhere we went, we met people…just like us - which is the exact opposite point of traveling, right?

Regardless, Chiang Mai is a quiet city with plenty of cheap massages, delicious food, craft coffee + room for adventure. Here are some of my favorite parts:

dream

We stayed in two different areas of the city during our stay - they were both so different that it totally depends on what you’re looking for. I actually really enjoyed staying in two different parts of the city - we got a flavor of each!

If you’re looking for action - The Night Market, street food, seeing the Tha Pae Gate - check out The Astra Condos. There are tons of listings on Airbnb (and basically everyone staying here is traveling!), even though management seems to not be a fan of this. The place is great because it’s quite centrally located, modern, has an infinity pool/gym, and clean rooms. The downsides: check in is strictly 2pm (though security will store your bags), there are two sides of the building with varying amenities (make sure to get A!), and it’s in a less “cool” area of the city. Overall though - great value for money!

If you’re looking for trendy + cool - look no further than the Nimman neighborhood (on the opposite side of the city). We stayed in a really cute (and CHEAP!) apartment about ten minutes walk from the main area. I definitely liked this part of the city more - it had cool cafes, restaurants and a younger/less touristy vibe.

move

Chiang Mai isn’t a large city - and with that, there isn’t much in the way of public transportation. We ended up doing tons of walking - it’s a cool way to “run into” lots of things (temples, markets, shops to name a few!).

If you want to go larger distances, definitely download Grab before leaving home (it requires a text message confirmation; it’s an app like Uber - for food delivery + driving). There are also these open air trucks called Rot Daangs that pick up + drop off groups of passengers for 30 baht.

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eat

Wow - where can I even begin?! I know this blog post is intended to have a major focus on wellness - but it’s a right-of-passage in my mind to say yes to everything. And in Thailand, that’s street food. My first recommendation is to experience it all - say yes to things you normally wouldn’t at home (you know, like random street vendors selling meat on a stick). If you’re scared to try - a good rule of thumb is to follow the crowd.

Here are some of the places (that actually had names!):

  • The Wall: Pretty good western brunch. I wouldn’t say it’s the best but if you’re craving some toasts, go for it

  • Ma Chill: new coffee shop with amazing cold brew. Try it out.

  • Ristr8to (+ Lab): If everyone recommends it, it’s probably good. One of the first craft coffee spots in CM (started by an Australian, of course). Go to their new spot around the corner, The Lab, for some great outdoor seating.

  • Saruda Finest Pastry: Across from Ristr8to Lab - perfect compliment to a delicious cup of coffee. Plus, their desserts are beautiful!

  • Night Market (and others around it): Really anything with a crowd. So cheap and so good!

  • Kia Yang Cherng Doi: Popular chicken spot - get there early because they DO sell out.

  • Good Souls: Awesome vegan cafe with yummy coffee + great outdoor seating

  • Fern Forest Cafe: Good for brunch / coffee. Awesome garden to hang out in. Wifi is spotty so don’t try to work here.

  • Khao Soi Kuhn Yai: GO HERE! Best Khao Soi in town. Not fancy at all but a must try. It closes at 2pm so get there early.

  • Foods you should try: Mango Sticky Rice (yum! dessert); Khao Soi (northern Thailand soup with noodles, coconut milk + curry), Butterfly Pea Tea (rice-tasting tea you can find at markets; yummy + healthy!);

do

Ah - so many things! We were there during New Years so here’s my pick:

  • Hang with elephants: duh. We did an overnight stay with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. I would recommend a day with them or the Elephant Nature Park (both reputable companies). Be sure to book in advance - they do sell out!

  • Try your hand at Thai cooking: I’m not much of a cooker but taking a class was SO fun. We did a half-day with Smile Organic Farm and loved it!

  • Get cheap Thai massages: these will change your life. My favorite was The Artist in Nimman.

  • Visit lots of markets: Night Market, One Nimman Square, North Gate, Ploenn Rudee.

  • Take a Muay Thai class: This was one of my trip highlights. A 2-hour class (that’s basically private training!) is only $12 at Chiang Mai Muay Thai!

  • Pay respects at the temples + Tha Phae Gate: so. many. to choose from. Just stroll around Old City and you’ll stumble into dozens!

  • Get out of the city (!): Northern Thailand is beautiful. I loved being able to stroll through the jungle + villages during our overnight at the jungle sanctuary. Any way you can do this (visiting a Karen village, going to a meditation retreat) is well worth it!

  • Of course, ringing in the new year by letting all your old sh*t go: This was by far one of the most magical ways I rung in the new year. Seeing thousands of lanterns lighting the sky is priceless.

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Katina Mountanos