Part two of our Thailand adventures takes place in Chiang Mai. I was very excited to see the northern part of the country as well as eat one of my favorite foods, khao soi, and the city did not disappoint! We loved walking around in the walled city, exploring the alleyways and eating more delicious foods. We also got to witness the lunar new year celebrations — Matt even wore a red shirt for the occasion! Continue reading for more of our adventures in Chiang Mai!
Part 2: Chiang Mai
Our trip to Chiang Mai started off with a small hiccup due to Vietjet moving our flight to the next day, so I needed to find a new flight with a different carrier to get us to Chiang Mai on the original date. The flight I found was a bit earlier than we normally take, but it allowed us to get off the plane and go directly to get some khao soi for lunch! I basically just picked the best reviewed location near our B&B and it was a small local spot with only a handful of seats. The Khao soi was everything I had hoped and I loved the pickled cabbage that they served with it.
After lunch we headed to our Airbnb and waited out the heat while looking up things to do in the area. We were pretty tired from our early flight but I was pretty determined to get our hands on one of our favorite desserts: kanom krok! Its a super delicious coconut pudding with a crispy outside that is a popular evening snack/dessert. We found a street vendor not too far from our place and she did not disappoint! What we didn’t realize about the dessert was that it is usually filled with more savory items, so we tried all three of her flavors — green onion, corn, and plain — and all of them were great!
Post pre-dinner snacks, we wandered around a bit since it had cooled off and ended up at a more touristy location for dinner. It was still delicious, just a little more money than the local joints. We went back to the BnB after dinner and planned out a little more of our stay in Chiang Mai.
One of the main things people visit in the area around Chiang Mai is a large mountainside temple with views of the city and the surrounding area. There are two options for getting there: driving and hiking the monks trail up the mountain. After reading a lot of reviews and guides, we opted to not go to the main temple, but instead we would hike to the lower, smaller temple in hopes of it being less crowded. We took a grab to the start of a road to take us to the trailhead but it was a bit further than we thought (i.e. I complained the whole way). Once we got to the trailhead, it was only about a 25 minute hike to the temple.
The temple itself was super picturesque and felt like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. There were not many people there and we enjoyed walking around the whole area. After our hike down, we took another grab ride to get more khao soi! We opted for a new, very highly rated place that had THE BEST khao soi we had ever tasted. It was spicy and flavorful and pickled cabbage was so so good.
It was super hot out after lunch, so we went looking for a cold beverage and found a vegan restaurant with lassis! They were so good and exactly what needed to fuel the walk across town back to the B&B. We spent the afternoon just cooling off in our room and then went out to get some dinner. We opted for a local, sort of hole in the wall place to get some stir fry and noodles. It was an early night because we had to wake up early for a special activity the next day…visiting the Asian elephant sanctuary!
Our trip to the elephant sanctuary called for an early-ish pick up at our B&B. We piled into an open back truck for the nearly three hour journey to the sanctuary in the hills southwest of Chiang Mai. It was a kind of cold, uncomfortable ride but we made some new friends (hi Esther and Michael!). Once we arrived, we hiked over to the pavilion and got an orientation for the day’s activities before heading off to meet the elephants.
We first got to feed them their favorite snacks of bananas and sugar cane. They were very friendly and the caretakers told us all about their personalities and their families. After feeding the first group and spending some time with them, we hiked to a different part of the sanctuary to meet another family group and seeing some babies(!). Matt and I spent time with a sweet girl elephant who recently lost her mom to old age before heading over to see the babies. Those guys were very busy destroying some banana trees and didn’t want to hang out so we went back to the pavilion to eat some lunch.
We made some elephant medicine balls by hand after lunch and fed them to the elephants before taking some pictures. Then we got to wash the matriarch elephant with water and brushes before heading to the mud pit. The mud provides them with protection from the sun and bugs and we got to spread it all over those who would tolerate it. Finally, we went to play in the mountain stream. All in all, it was a great experience and we loved getting to interact with the elephants up close. I know that these types of places are a bit controversial but they are able to remove the elephants from a life of hard labor in logging camps and provide them a safer and more restful home.
The next day was Lunar New Year and we walked to Chinatown to check out the festivities. There were tons of food vendors, decorations, and music playing all throughout the streets. We grabbed some street waffles, bought a cute coin purse for $1USD, and enjoyed the parade.
For lunch we opted for another trip to our favorite khao soi place and then settled into our B&B room for an afternoon of trip planning and napping. We went back to the vegan restaurant for dinner and enjoyed massaman curry (and another lassi!) before going in search of a rooftop bar to watch the sunset. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to the bar because of road construction, but we wandered around and found another location to grab cocktails. After some pretty delicious cocktails, we headed toward the Sunday night market. The walk there was through an interesting neighborhood full of bars with ex-pat old men and young Thai women yelling at people to come in. The market itself wasn’t great either because it ended up just being full of foreigner-friendly food stalls and kitschy souvenirs — we headed back to the B&B after one lap around.
Our last full day in Chiang Mai was spent exploring a different part of the city, outside the walls. I wanted to check out some coffee shops and a vegetarian restaurant in the digital nomad part of town. I call it that because a lot of the authors of travel blogs I was reading at the time had spent months working/living in that part of Chiang Mai because Thailand had a pretty generous visa extension policy and its a relatively cheap place to live.
We walked around the area and found a pretty delicious vegetarian restaurant to have lunch. We got to sit on the balcony and people watch while enjoying some veggie noodle pad Thai and papaya salad. Afterwards, we headed to a nice coffee shop to hang out and stare at our phones for an hour or so. Then we headed back to the B&B before getting ready for our cooking class (that I almost napped through!).
The cooking class was so fun! We were the only two who signed up for that evening’s class and it was great to have the closely guided instruction. We learned SO MUCH about the different sauces and bases of Thai cooking. One of the dishes we made was our favorite, khao soi! I cant wait to buy a nice mortar and pestle to recreate some of the dishes we made with Ahn. I cannot recommend her class enough (we found it on Airbnb) and it was the best way to finish off our trip to Thailand.
Thailand was a fantastic and beautiful country. We had a great time fighting the crowds in Bangkok and enjoying the more laid back vibes of Chiang Mai. The country was full of rich history and culture and was a joy to explore. Top highlights for me were experiencing the floating market, our monk blessing (I am still wearing the bracelet 3 months later), and spending an entire day petting Asian elephants. Thankfully, it wasn’t our last adventure in Thailand during our Southeast Asia tour (hint: we spent a lot of hours on ferries in February). Our next blog post will be the first part of our trip to Vietnam! We flew to Hanoi from Chiang Mai and were surprised by the big change in climate and culture…more to come soon!