Welcome to the jungle – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I like to write a paragraph about how I imagine a trip, it’s fun to compare afterwards with how it actually happened. I am now in the transit area at Bangkok Suvarnhabumi Airport  ! It is sunny at the moment, I really hope it will be bright enough for quality pictures when I arrive in Chiang Mai. It’s the beginning of the rain season, but it’s totally random whether there will be showers or not.
I hope for another thing: a local / non touristy experience. After being the only tourist at the night markets of Kenting , Taiwan, I kinda got used to that privilege . Anyway, I’m with a good friend, we have a kick ass trip from north to south planned, I am sure it will be unforgettable !

Disclaimer: now that the trip is over, scroll down for the actual review.

Penthut in the Old Town

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After noon, I checked in at my Airbnb in the heart of Chiang Mai where my buddy Jacqueline already was. It’s on top of a pool bar, chill vibes & rooftop atmosphere. We were close to small restaurants, live music bars. It fell like a village, where times goes slower as in reality.
The host, Pim, was wonderful. With her staff, she assisted us in everything we needed during these four days in Chiang Mai. She took us to the morning market on her scooter for breakfast, offered us drinks and valuable information and even cooked for us. Pim, you must be the best Airbnb host I have ever encountered. If you wanna book an authentic stay in Chiang Mai, don’t look further.

Culinary, shopping and nightlife experiences

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First things first, we went in the streets of the Old town looking for food. First stop: the famous Khao Soi Curry Noodles, the specialty of Chiang Mai. This thing is an explosion of flavours: two different kinds of noodles, coconut milk, curry, slightly spicy and your choice of meat. Under 35°, we needed a fresh coconut with it. And what about a Mango with sticky rice and a coconut ice cream for dessert ? You got it, Thailand is fruity, colourful and comes with a whole range of flavours.

When you think of nightlife & food, the first two words that come in mind are the following: Night Market. I knew about night markets from Taiwan, but here it gets way crazier. Fresh fruits, spicy fish cakes and one of the first Pad Thai. We met other travelers from Arizona, as excited about the food as we were.


The market also sells clothes, but we kept that non-food shopping for the Sunday market. A tourist market has never looked so authentic: local clothes, bags, lanterns, aroma therapy, wooden items . But soon enough you realize you can find most of it all over Thailand.

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Chiang Mai has a very different nightlife than Bangkok (which we’ll cover later). It has outdoor bars, live music and all of it on a much smaller scale. For clubbing, we’ve been recommended Zoey in Yellow and its live music bars in the surroundings. We yet have to find a “locals only” spot, but I think that expats & travelers add a bit of magic & unforeseen encounters in this city.

A day with the Friendly Giants

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What I really enjoyed about these first few days in Thailand, it that it was far from the typical city exploration I’m used to. We did unforgettable experiences. The one I was the most fascinated by was probably the Elephants rescue center.

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It’s an eco tourism park for rescued elephants, who have finally escaped a life of forced labour. For the first time, there was no bars behind me and these giants. Touching their skin, bathing them, feeding them watermelon slices is a one in a lifetime experience.We went there for a day, but some travelers spend more time in the park, which also rescues stray cats & dogs 🙂 We learned a lot about them, their past and future.

Locals, Forest & Temples

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The day before, we were guided by Karin, a driver/tour guide we booked for the entire day thanks to Pim, our host. He took us to Doi Pui, a Hmong village on top of the jungle. You could see we were during the low season, as many stores were closed, which was ideal for us. The local kids had really intriguing outfits, which I tried to capture without them to see.

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The sun came back on Doi Pui heights, to reveal unknown flowers & a Garden of Eden scenery within that Hmong village. We went for shopping, where I found a handmade table cover made from genuine Thai silk.

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On the way back, we stopped at the famous Doi Suthep temple (pictured above). The golden Buddha’s are all over the place, and you’d better don’t look down on them.
Tip: make sure you bring long sleeve pants or skirt & your shoulders covered.

Beyond your limits

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I have to admit I’ve never been 100% confident about things such as free fall, except in the settings of a rollercoaster. Cliff diving wasn’t really in that setting.
The Grand Canyon Park in Chiang Mai offered me a chance and I took it. As another guy said, if you go home without doing it, you’ll regret it your whole life. The micro second when you know it’s too late is extremely frightening, but results in a rush of adrenaline.

In short

I totally get why Westerners make plans to retire in Chiang Mai. It is probably the most laid-back city I’ve seen. You have live bands playing in bars, cheap refreshing Chang beer and some of the best food I’ve ever had. It’s certainly not as vibrant as Tokyo or Saigon, but I could picture me spending some time there.

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For the last night, we picked the terrace of a hotel, to have one last Khao Soi curry, the local dish. We also shared spicy appetizers with a beautiful sunset on the heights of Chiang Mai.

We couldn’t miss out on a traditional Thai massage. For less than 200 baht (about 5$) I felt relaxed, stretched & peaceful after an hour. I totally recommend doing it in Chiang Mai after an exhausting day, as the streets at the borders of the old town already prepare you for it. Hop on a tuk tuk, make sure you pick a quiet spot and let yourself go. It is as if the time had stopped.

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You have been to Chiang Mai and have more tips ? Let me know in the comments !

 

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