“Chiang Mai is a city in mountainous northern Thailand. Founded in 1296, it was capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom until 1558. Its Old City area still retains vestiges of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center.” – Wikipedia
I read that same line above and felt I had to check out this mountainous place myself to prove that charm so many testified about (good job, author!). Like yourselves, I did my blog crawling to decide what to do in 5 days within my S$500 budget. I told myself not to be too ambitious with my checklist but wanted to discover enough culture, if you’re on the same page do read on! Don’t worry about making friends if you are traveling solo, the city is so full of travelers I am so sure you will never run out of people to talk to, especially if you join the local tours or stay in a hostel.
Day 1: Night Bazaar
If you take tuk-tuk your driver will most probably drop you at an intersection near Burger King..and to the left, if you walk 5 mins you see the Kalare Night Bazaar. You must walk along the road and explore the different bazaars, even if you don’t plan to shop! If you stay within the old city compound, it takes about 2 km to walk here. It takes 5 mins by tuk-tuk for 70-150 Baht (you gotta bargain!) or the public red van for 30-60 Baht. It’s interesting you can just stop those vehicles wherever you see them and say your destination. Never say never to shopping because you get good prices here. Remember to have dinner here too and if you stay over the weekends, you’ll have the chance I did not have to check out the Saturday/Sunday Night Markets.
Day 2: Elephant Sanctuary
Yes, we are looking at a baby elephant pee, haha! There are so many blog posts on choosing the right elephant tour operator, so I picked one with an ethical business model that does not allow riding. The idea of spending a day with elephants fascinated me so I decided to go for the full day tour. Once you sign up, the tour operator should be able to pick you up and later return you to your hotel. A full day tour should cost you about 2400 Baht, not cheap but worth the experience. A bonus for you will be the interesting people you get to share the transport with, I was amazed that we were 8 people from 5 different countries. Talk about globalization! Uh, the journey was 3 hours one-way for my case, bring your meds if you easily get car-sick.
Day 3: Eco-trekking
Almost every tour operator will encourage you to visit the hill tribe community, but again if you’d like this to be a less commercialized experience you need to pick the right tour. I went for a 2D1N trip which turned out to be quite hardcore. You can sign up to be lost in the mountains and pretend to be in an action movie whilst passing rivers/caves/unpolished trails but make sure you are fit enough for the hike. I brought too much food in my backpack and ended up regretting the weight as we had to carry our own water.
Day 4: Still eco-trekking (with sprained ankle) before ending up at the Night Bazaar again
Don’t expect to have comfort when you join a tour that advertises real jungle experience, really, be thankful for a roof over your head (and mosquito nets to cover you at night). Looking back, I can’t understand how I survived without a toilet. I strongly advise you to bring headlights and wear proper shoes if you are going this path. By dinner time I was back in the city and could not resist the charm of the night market so there I went again. I made sure to binge on mango sticky rice, usually sold around 50 Baht by street vendors..
Day 5: Free and easy
By day 5 I was exhausted so I slept in – mattresses are great invention!! I checked out by noon and took the public red van to Airport Plaza (150 Baht for this, so marked up but whatever..) which is the nearest shopping mall to the airport. As a solo traveler at this point you will wish you bring along some friends around so you can try more food, so like me you might decide to just EAT THEM ALL! Don’t my body deserve some nutrients after all the walking??
If you have a full day, I recommend a walking/biking tour around the old city. The travelers I met also recommended me to:
- Attend a cooking class or Muay Thai class
- Bike ride to Pai (uphill with ~700 curves, not for the faint-hearted!)
- Day trip to Chiang Rai
Here are some tips for you:
- Lunch in airport: 120-160 Baht vs the same lunch in city: 90-150 Baht
- Cab to city is fixed about 160 Baht for 10 mins ride, walking is possible but not recommended if the sun is high
- Accommodation goes as low as 200 Baht a night for shared room to as high as you can imagine for a luxury hotel room
- 1L of water at 7/11 costs 13-25 Baht, always carry one
- If you don’t have data on your mobile (and cannot use Google Maps), use an offline map to move around like Maps.Me which you can download on your phone.
- Bring/buy the strongest mosquito repellant! No blog mentioned this and I think it’s worth to warn you that you might have mosquitos fly into your food too. Ugh! Insect repellant can cost from 260- 360 Baht, up to 90% deet available
- If you are in USA/Europe, you can get really good flight deals from Travel Pirates
Do you think you are ready for your trip? Feel free to share your feedback:)