The next part of our journey brings us to Chiang Mai - the largest city in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai was once ranked 24 of 25 Best Destinations in the World (According to Trip Advisor).
You may have also heard of it as a location for the famous Lantern Festival, Loi Krathong, that occurs yearly around November. (We hope to make it for this one day..)
The sky lanterns released are believed to help rid troubles and have attracted the attention of people worldwide for its overall beauty.
Even if you're not here for the Lantern Festival, there's still plenty to do. About a 1 hour airplane ride from Bangkok, and you've arrived.
The main area is a square (literally) where you can find restaurants, local businesses, souvenir shops, hostels / hotels, massage centers, and more. Fairly easy to navigate, you have a wide selection of things you can do and see.
What To Do:
A trip to Chiang Mai wouldn't be complete without visiting at least one of the temples.
We're here during the rainy season and as a result it rained quite often while we were in Chiang Mai which made it difficult to visit multiple temples as planned. However we did visit one of the main ones, Wat Chedi Luang, and enjoyed its architecture, beauty, and energy.
Around the corner we were able to have a conversation with a young monk. Monk chats are available here to the curious daily from 9am to 6pm. We asked him questions such as, "What do you do for fun?", "What inspired you to walk the path of a monk?", and will be posting a video with his answers soon.
He was a very nice gentleman who was happy to spend time answering our questions.
We asked how he makes money and he mentioned that many monks live off donations from tourists and local businesses such as restaurants. We attempted to give him a donation ourselves but he declined stating he can only accept donations in the mornings from a temple.
Fun Fact we learned: There are City Monks and Forest Monks and they actually have their own forms of social media!
We found it quite interesting to see how they are a part of every day society but also dedicated to the many "rules" that are followed as a monk.
This was not an original part of our plans but one day as we were riding the Songthaew (bus taxi service of Chiang Mai), Giancarlo and I met two other young travelers. One of them - a wedding photographer based out of Mexico - told Giancarlo about a place called Grand Canyon.
We looked it up and Giancarlo was psyched. I however was nearly mortified (lol). Basically it is a man-made pool between mountainous canyons where people go to jump and swim.
Having a fear of heights, I wasn't exactly thrilled, but Giancarlo lives for that type of stuff and I know that every time we push ourselves past our comfort zones – it leads to a good experience.
We checked the weather and were happy to see that a sunny day finally awaited us! We woke up early, hopped in an Uber and traveled over (Yep, they have Uber here - but more on that later). It was about a 30 minute ride and my heart was racing as we approached the area.
My mind kept replaying scenes of people jumping off cliffs and I questioned if I was ready.
With Giancarlo's encouragement, we went inside and my mind was eased to see that the Grand Canyon had been renovated to be much safer with railing along the canyons and lifeguards by the jumping site.
The highest point had been closed off due to accidents (I suppose) and while this other point is still high, it at least seemed manageable to me, haha.
Giancarlo jumped first and screamed on the way down. Then it was my turn.
I knew if I was going to make the jump - I'd have to just go for it. No looking down or around. So I walked away from the ledge and got ready to run. Without actually seeing how high I'd be jumping from, I ran towards the water and once I met the edge of the canyon, my eyes opened so wide you could probably see them from down below. I belt out an, "Oh shittt" as I fell towards the water and thought, what did I just get myself into?!
Of course that feeling subsides once you hit the water and realize you survived. The biggest hurdle - getting over the fears in your mind.
One girl waited at the top going back and forth about jumping for nearly 20 minutes and I didn't blame her.
For the adrenaline junkies, don't miss this place! And even for the fearful, come overcome the limits of your mind. More than likely, you'll be glad you took the leap.
Overall we ended up spending nearly half the day here having a blast, talking with others from all around the world, and enjoying a day in the midst of nature under the warm sun.
The Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai is truly quite the gem!
How To Get Around
While in Bangkok, you could depend on the low prices of a meter taxi, but things are a little different here in Chiang Mai.
The local taxis are called Songthaews and they are actually flat bed trucks with a covered sitting area that turns it into a mini bus / taxi. They travel along the main roads and can be flagged down, dropping people off usually in the order that they hopped on.
As a tourist, you can show them your destination on Google maps or have them look it up on theirs. Prices for this bus taxi service vary with the lowest being about 30 baht per person. You can try to negotiate a price, but if it's a certain distance and you're not willing to pay the price - they won't be shy to kindly tell you no and drive away.
Our hotel was a bit out of the way from the main area so after having to hop on a motorbike with an employee two times to then get to the main road where we could catch a taxi, we looked into Uber. Viola! Uber is actually the best way we found to get around Chiang Mai as it picks you up right at your hotel and brings you to your destination without making other stops along the way. Also it provides the luxury of A/C which Songthaews do not and can simply be charged to your credit card for a ridiculously low price!
They do have surge times during rush hours (Uber's doing) so make sure to check the estimated cost first.
There is A LOT of traffic in Chiang Mai, especially along the main roads. For this reason and others, we wouldn't recommend renting a motorbike here. Although it can seem like the cheap and convenient option, Chiang Mai is one of the more dangerous places to ride a motorbike. We saw several people with "Thailand Tattoos" aka scars from accidents and also heard stories of people in the hospital so beware.
Uber is definitely our recommended form of transportation here. Another bonus is that many of the drivers actually speak English (somewhat rare in regards to locals here - few and far between) so you can interact with them along the way which makes for an even more enjoyable ride.
Doi Inthanon National Park
This park is not exactly in Chiang Mai, however it is worthy of the trip while you’re in the area. To go here we rented a car for the day through Sixt for just $16 (although we ended up paying $30 for gas so be aware, it adds up).
What you get to see in return are lush green landscapes such as this and more.
Another intriguing aspect of Doi Inthanon is that it is base to the highest point in all of Thailand.
We walked through clouds at different points throughout the park which was an amazing feeling.
It’s at least a day full of adventure as you can hike, see waterfalls, and their King and Queen pagodas. We were bummed to have missed seeing the pagodas first hand since they closed at 5PM. We did our hike first and then planned on seeing the Pagodas on our way out of the park so be sure to go early. Also keep in mind that the last time for the hike is 3/4PM.
During the busy season, they also have a Karen Village Market open, but again, being here during the rainy season – we ended up being one of the very few people in the entire park and as a result the market wasn’t open.
Nonetheless we loved all the natural beauty and opportunity to escape the busy city life of Chiang Mai. I felt like this was the first place I breathed truly clean air which was glorious.
Where To Eat
Chiang Mai is FULL of great places to eat!
My favorite restaurant there was Imm Aim which means happiness – and that is exactly what it brought us.
Imm Aim is committed to eco-friendliness and had the freshest tasting food I’ve tried in all of Thailand. No straws are given (yay), he sources from local organic farmers, and has a free purified water refill station to help promote the use of reusable bottles.
I would like to note though that this may not be a good restaurant for people who are used to eating processed foods. Because it is a healthier type of restaurant, they do not use oil to cook and therefore the food can taste a little "bland" to some.
Personally, I don't enjoy many fried foods or dishes cooked in oil so to me it was perfect. If you go, enjoy a smoothie with coco milk and try any dish with their homemade hummus!
Where To Stay
We stayed at Get Zleep while they had a great promotion running on Hotels.com for just $11/night. However, this may not be the place for everyone. If you want to be in the center of the city and action, I’d recommend looking into other options. But if you’re interested in a cozy space for a great price – this is your place! It was right next to a University which was neat as we were in the mix with students and received an authentic glimpse into their life and culture.
Places we Didn't Get to See That you May be Interested in:
Temples: Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep
Wat Rong Khun - The White Temple
Wat Maha That - (Where you can find the famous Buddha Head in Tree)
Chiang Mai was a great way to see northern Thailand. If you go, I'd also recommend looking into the city of Pai which is nearby. Although we didn't go ourselves, fellow travelers had a lot of positive feedback to share, making it a location we hope to visit someday.
Until next time friends! Thanks for reading <3