First things first, getting to Chiang Mai from Bangkok is a little bit longwinded to say the least. Once again the trains and buses take the same amount of time (supposedly 12 hours) but maybe in this case, the bus is definitely a better option! Our train journey took 15 hours, mainly because the train stopped at every stop then had to do loads of unexpected stops thanks to our worse-for-wear carriage and the radiator getting overheated.
Let’s just say that carriage should have been scrapped a long time ago!
We expected those sort of conditions on the Indian trains (in fact we had fully prepared ourselves for it), but they ended up being great – so really it’s the Thai ones you’ve got to watch out for.
We found out on our arrival that the trains to Chiang Mai are notoriously late. Everyone we spoke to had the same issue – so that’s good for you guys to know. I think if you’re going to be fashionably late, do it style and sleep through it (get the sleeper train), at least you will be comfortable and can sleep through at least 8 hours of that journey. We did the seated day-train which wasn’t really the best idea to be honest. Learn from our mistakes, I emplore you!
What is great about the trains though, is that you get fed and watered all included within the cost of your ticket. This is something that definitely should be adopted in England, especially with the extortionate prices that we pay! And the food was really good.
Wrapped up in a little tray, resembling plane food, you get a nice hot meal that really tastes good. Two thumbs up!
Getting your train ticket is really easy from Bangkok’s main train station Hualumphong – so dont fret about that. The staff behind the counters speak English, the tourist information staff that approach you, genuinely seem to want to help, rather than rip you off. So it’s nice and easy (makes a change eh? Hehe).
Weirdly when we arrived (late at night by this time), there were no tuk-tuks around the station, just songthaew’s (trucks with two benches in the back). But with a big backpack, it was kinda hard to get in the damn thing. If that wasn’t annoying enough, they then proceded to fill the truck with even more people and even more backpacks! I was so tired and fed up, I just wanted to get to our guesthouse, not go to everyone else’s too. So we just got out and determinedly sought out a tuk-tuk. Luckily we found the only one in the area.
When you’re away from home, you can be more suseptable to just go along with what everyone else is doing. Well, don’t. If you really don’t feel like going along with something, then don’t. There will always be alternatives to seek out. And ironically getting a tuk-tuk for two was the same price as getting in an overcrowded bench-car – so go with your instincts – they usually know best.
We noticed a lot of the guesthouses on Hostelworld were quite funny about what time you rocked up. I guess they want to get to bed at a reasonable time too, which is fair enough, but also a bit of a pain when the time of your arrival is in the hands of a train driver who likes to go at a snail’s pace. So expect the worst, or maybe go for the bus (maybe that will actually take 12 hours! Hehe who knows?!).
Chiang Mai is very tourist-friendly. Full of bars, tourist-information shops and souvenirs. It’s pretty much designed for tourists to be honest. There are a lot of things to do here – elephant trekking, tiger experience days, kayaking, hill tribe tours, jungle treks, bamboo rafting, seeing gibbons while riding around on a Segway – pretty much anything and everything.
We opted to go see Doi Inthanon National Park, the Three Pagodas and beautiful gardens, Waterfall, Hmong rural market, do a nature trail and to see the Karen hill tribe people. Which all sounds great but boy was it a rip-off!
You can see all of these things as part of one trip you see. We organised doing it through our guesthouse and it really was a huge let down. Everything we saw was beautiful and pretty amazing but oh-so-rushed! It was 900B each and meant to go on from 8.30am til 5pm but it didn’t (not anywhere near). First of all the bus was late, then we learnt that the majority of our time was to be spent in a van driving around (so if you like seeing sights whizzing past behind panes of glass – then great, but that’s pretty much it!
Then to top off the long journey, you finally reach your final destination to have the guide rush us around everything, just to make sure he got home early – so as you can imagine we were pretty pissed off.
Many companies do this ‘Doi Inthanon’ tour, some of them may be better than others but I really wouldn’t recommend it to be honest. Like I mentioned earlier, the tour advertises that you get to go see the remote Karen tribe village all as part of this amazing deal – well, you don’t! The wooden village you get to see for all of 15 minutes, is not very big, there are modern cars parked up and just some women traditionally weaving (that is the only traditional element to it). Then conveniently you are taken into a shop area where you can buy the garments they are making – for extortionate tourist prices! Not good at all! We were also supposed to go on the Angkha Nature Trail but that was also conveniently forgotten about. So yeah, it was really quite bad to be honest.
We argued with our guesthouse and got 300B back but still it was not very good at all.
But that does not mean the sights we saw were not impressive, they were!
Just look at Wachirathan Waterfall – it is beautiful!
There are loads of nooks and crannies to explore there you just need time to explore them (we got a measly half an hour!).
Stand at the tallest point in Thailand and enjoy the view (and strike a pose! Haha!).
Look at the beauty of the two Royal Pagodas. I remember looking up at these two beautiful gold tipped buildings and thinking they looked like images from an oriental fairytale.
Both have different interiors, but are both very intricate and beautifully decorated.
Surrounding the pagodas is officially the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen.
From the deep green of the perfectly manicured lawns, to the rainbow-coloured intensity of all the flowers, to the surrounding view of the mountains drenched in a lilac-coloured fog – it’s almost too much for the senses to take (especially when you are rushing around to see it all as we were!).
So just go to these places yourself, or as part of a better (slower) tour. My biggest tip – get a breakdown of the timeframe you have in each place before you buy a tour – then you will have no disappointments, like we did.
I mentioned above there is the opportunity to see tigers up close and personal. From what we read about ‘Tiger Kingdom’ there is a lot of controversy around this Tiger ‘theme park’. You can hold and cuddle tiger cubs, rest your head on an adult like it’s just a big teddy bear and pose for pics. People who have done it, say it’s an amazing experience, which I’m sure it is, but it does seem a bit morally wrong to interact with these tame ‘Tiggers’ when the rest of their species as a whole, are so severely endangered. Read up on it for yourself and see what you think: http://tigerkingdom.com
There is also a lot of controversy around the elephant tours in Chiang Mai. So, as you should anyway, really research the tour company and see if they mention how they care for these incredible creatures. If they encourage conservation and care – they are most-likely the kind of company you want to go for.
Now to something a little bit different, SHOPPING! You havent heard me talk about it for a while eh? Well, I thought Chiang Mai had the best markets for getting some bargains! I have never bought so much, so quickly – i just loved it all! The weekend Market was huge and had loads of really lovely things.
You can get yummy food – I thought this sushi looked so good, it almost didn’t look real.
And yummy coconuts to drink from – mmmmm.
One tip though, if the juice does taste a little off, don’t be afraid to ask for another one. These coconuts, as you can see, look a little different to the ones we’re used to. They are young coconuts and can often be a little bit too ‘young’, so the flavour is a little bit strange. The flesh of the coconut is also under-ripe so it’s a little bit slimy too. Kinda unexpected but still a fun experience.
You can get unusual gifts too, like these leaves that have been woven into roses.
And how adorable are these traditional baby booties??!!
(I wish I could have bought all the bambinos in my life these, but size (and backpack space) is always an issue, sadly. :/
In the end, I bought 4 paintings, a oriental lamp, an awesome vintage pin-up t-shirt and 2 hand-painted wooden pots. Considering I’ve held back from shopping for at least over a year – I thought I did quite well haha!
There are some really beautiful temples in Chiang Mai. But decided we preferred the less extravagant ones, like this beautiful wooden one, Wat Pan Tao:
But once you’ve done all your sightseeing, you want to let your hair down, right? Well, boy did we do that. On our 2nd night we met up with Faye and Pete, our British pals we’d met whilst staying in Bangkok. We went to a great rock n roll bar called Winrock Style on the main Kotchasan Road.
We sat, chatted, played pool, connect four, told travel tales and drank lots and lots! It was the first time, on this trip, we’d really just gone wild and let our hair down. It was so much fun! We even ended up in a random club at 3am, to then leave at dawn, just as the sun was rising. I haven’t done that in such a long time, it was hilarious! We did a bit of pole dancing, I was dancing on a podium for a while in a deserted bar…it was just so random and so, naturally, a really great night out! The hangover the next day, was not so great however :/.
Very much looking forward to meeting up with Faye and Pete again when we’re back in the UK.
Some other random stuff to do while you’re here is to go to the area’s only local park Suan Buak Hat and cool off by having a waterfight! On a particularly hot day, we did just that and it was really fun. We may have just missed Songkran (a national holiday that is basically one huge waterfight), so we just had our own.
Go to Baby Doll’s coffee shop on Ratpakinai Road (near Green Oasis guesthouse) and eat a novelty Full-English Breakfast! It was really, really good. And it’s a very cute place that does great food (including great post-hangover burgers) and sells really nice art and hand made jewellery.
Watch some weird Thai TV. We watched the weirdest movie about a Thai family who had all got decapitated but were still alive somehow. So they tried to live their normal lives whilst trying to keep their heads on – pretty much the weirdest thing ever – I loved it!
Eat amazing street food at a vendor opposite Winrock Style Bar (on the other side of the main Road). It’s the best I’ve tasted so far – the yellow curry was amazing! To be even more specific (so you can definitely go there) it is next to somwang guesthouse (on 2 Ratchamanka), a fair trade shop, & Nina beauty and barbour shop.
Give me your comments kids! You been to Chiang Mai? What did you think?
Love and milkshakes Em xoxo