Southeast Asia Trip Report: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Now that we wrapped up our dreamy three-week Southeast Asia about three months ago, I guess we should probably start blogging about it. (Although, to be fair, we did publish a podcast recap and a video right away.) Better late than never, right?
This trip was a dream for us. Ever since we started hearing about friends backpacking through the area a few years ago, we have wanted to see it for ourselves.
It didn’t take much research to decide that Chiang Mai would be added to our three-week itinerary. It seems like everyone who visits there mentions its charm, beautiful temples, friendly faces, and calmer superiority to Bangkok. We would have to agree (although we didn’t actually visit Bangkok to compare.)
Our three days in Chiang Mai was the first stop in our Southeast Asia trip. Three days felt right based on the quick pace of our trip. Of course, if we had more time, we would have loved to extend our time and slow down. But that really isn’t our style on quick trips.
Even though Chiang Mai is considerably less hectic than its southern rival, Bangkok, we felt like it was still a well-traveled bustling city with plenty of activity and tourists.
As our introduction to Southeast Asia, Chiang Mai was representative of what we’d experience during the rest of our trip. Busy streets, local food, a lively night market, cheap activities, and a travel agency on every corner.
From the moment we touched down (after about 30 hours of traveling with stomach bugs from home, but that’s another story) we were in tourist mode.
Still, there quiet moments where we could appreciate where we were. Sipping coffee on the balcony of our AirBNB, bathing elephants in a muddy river, and meandering through vendor after vendor at the night market.
And, of course, thousands of times of looking at each other and saying I can’t believe we’re here!
You can read the details of our experience below. It would be possible to “do” Chiang Mai for much cheaper, but since we only had three days, we went all out. We saved money in our accommodations options and by eating primarily street food. Here are the deets:
How we got there:
Since we we booked our flight using miles, and we knew we were going to skip over Bangkok, we just set Chiang Mai as our final destination, so our flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was included in our whole ticket, for the same amount of miles as if we were just flying to Bangkok. But there are plenty of flights each day from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for a pretty darn cheap price.
From Chiang Mai, we traveled in a minibus (large van) on to Laos through northern Thailand, near Chiang Khong.
Where we stayed:
We adored our AirBNB in Chiang Mai. For $22 a night (including all fees), we got our own modern studio apartment on the sixth floor of a condo complex in a perfect location one block off the night market.
Unfortunately, our planning was a little off and we needed to stay one extra day in Chiang Mai, and extending our stay wasn’t available, so we spent one night at a guesthouse called Nonni’s that was small and basic but perfectly adequate for one night and a good value at $15.
What we did:
We went all-out in Chiang Mai, taking advantage of the cheap day excursions. Our first day, we arrived off the plane in the morning and spent the rest of the day walking around to the in-town temples, settling into our apartment, and scoping out the gigantic night market before crashing early to work out our jet lag and be ready to go for our first full day trip. Day two was spent up and away from the scorching hot city in the nearby Doi Ithanon National Park, visiting the highest point in Thailand, strolling through gardens, and chasing waterfalls. We ended the day at the night market once again. Our third and final day in Chiang Mai was a doozy: we started with a half-day visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, a responsible elephant tourism park, then took a Thai cooking class and stuffed our faces with pad Thai, green curry, and crispy spring rolls. Finally, we capped off our “classic-Thailand” day at a Muay Tai boxing fight, which was not something I thought I’d ever enjoy, but was definitely entertaining. The only thing we didn’t enjoy while in Chiang Mai? The heat. But it was the hot season, so I forgive Chiang Mai.
What we spent:
$59 for three nights of private-room accommodations, $15-$30 each for tours & excursions, $1-$3 for meals from street vendors, and $2-$3 for tuk-tuk transportation. For three full days of food, lodging, drinks, transportation, random supplies, and so many activities (and massages), we spent $267.