On my first trip to Thailand last November I stuck to the south, traveling around Bangkok and the islands. But then I met people on that trip who couldn’t stop raving about Chiang Mai and Pai that I felt I had to make a return to Thailand one day and see what the north was all about.
Then it just so happened that Tom, an old friend of mine from Australia, had recently moved to Chiang Mai to work on his art. So I called him up, booked a ticket to CM from Bali, and ended up spending over two weeks there. After a crammed trip around Bali where I stayed no more than two nights at each place, it was nice to relax and travel at a leisurely pace. Some days were packed with exploring and some days I did nothing but eat and nap. Traveling slow is truly glorious.
Two Weeks in Chiang Mai
I rented a scooter for most of my time there — it’s really the best way to explore on your own and get to know a place. I’m an avid cyclist and prefer the open-air mode of transportation because something about it makes you feel connected to the space around you.
Haus, one of the hostels I stayed at in CM, had a great atmosphere so it was really easy to meet other travellers. We did so many fun excursions together but here are a few highlights:
Chiang Mai Women’s Prison Massage Centre – Yup, a massage by an inmate. Sounds off-putting but it was actually quite a pleasant experience. The massage was fantastic and the woman who massaged me was a sweet middle-aged woman who reminded me of my mom. I don’t know why she was in prison but I’m assuming it had to do with burning her neighbour’s house down after leaving cookies in the oven for too long. Go early because this place gets packed!
Bua Thong Waterfalls – This place is better known as “Sticky Falls” because the mineral deposits create a grippy texture on the rocks, allowing you to climb straight up the waterfall. It was the perfect way to cool off on a hot afternoon.
Grand Canyon – I loved this place! It’s an old quarry that collects rainwater, where you can swim and cliff jump. There’s also a legit waterpark there that we didn’t get a chance to visit but it looked like a lot of fun.
Thai Cooking Course – Vannee, our amazing cooking instructor, took us to a local market to purchase ingredients and we went back to her house where she taught us to make six different dishes of our choosing. Everything was so easy to make and it tasted delicious.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – This is the temple to see in CM, sitting high up on Doi Suthep mountain. There was a ceremony happening when we were there and performances with traditional dancing.
Baan Kang Wat – Cute little village resided by local artists and craftspeople. There’s a sweet little place called The Old Chiang Mai Cafe that’s beautifully decorated and overlooks the village vegetable garden. Tom and I hit up a ton of cafes while I was over there but this one was by far my favourite; really tranquil and serene place.
Reggae Festival – I’m at Roots Rock Reggae bar with some hostel friends and the bartender convinces us to check out a reggae festival happening that night. We were feeling low-key but figured we might as well check it out and see what it was about. An unmarked red truck came to pick us up and takes us out to the countryside. As we’re driving along the dark dirt road with zero idea as to where we were going, the tension bounced between “Haha! Being spontaneous is fun!” and “THIS WAS A BIG MISTAKE.” We finally arrive to a rice paddy clearing where to our relief was an actual reggae bush party. Fast forward a couple of hours, and well…
Road trip to Pai
Tom and I rented a car for the weekend and made the long, twisty drive up to Pai. There are buses that will take you there but we wanted to make a fun road trip out of it. It’s 762 turns from CM to Pai, which got tiring FAST. You’re literally bracing yourself for a sharp turn, one after the after, and we were just so over it by the end. We made it there right before sunset and went up to Wat Phra That Mae Yen, or the Temple on the Hill.
Pai is chill. Like, super chill. The walking street is lined with vendors selling all types of food and bars that make it a good place to go for some nightlife. We went out to the Mae Yen Waterfalls one afternoon and met a couple there who we had lunch with at the Chinese Village.
We stayed at a hostel called Jikko Harem which I can’t recommend enough. The building looks like a Moroccan sanctuary and Jikko, the owner, treats the hostel like his home and guests like family. He threw a BBQ one night and we met his friends who were a riot.
My massage course
I’m a certified Thai massage therapist! I had my first Thai massage back in 2012 in Toronto and loved it. I signed up for 3-days at Jera Thai Massage School after reaching out to a few other schools and seeing which one I connected with the most. Although the days were long and sweaty, I learned so much from my time there and the instructors were lovely with a great sense of humour. I’ve been practicing my massage with friends back home and really enjoy the body work. So if you’re up for a massage, you let me know 🙂
And of course, this happened:
Three hours before I was leaving for the airport home, I caught my foot under my scooter’s foot pedal and had to go to the hospital for stitches. As soon as I left, I did a mad rush back to the hostel to say bye to everyone, get my bags, and grab an Uber to the airport. Once I landed in Bangkok, my foot had swelled up to three times its size and I had to request wheelchair assistance at the airport because I could not walk. It was dreadful. Luckily I had a chance encounter with a fellow Torontonian at the Bangkok airport who was taking the same flight from BKK > Shanghai > Toronto and bless his heart, helped me out with my mobility struggles and was great company during our two long layovers.
Andrew took me to the ER the evening I flew in because we were worried the swelling was due to a blood clot. Everything checked out fine and I’m happy to report that I’ve healed up nicely and am walking again!
Alright Chiang Mai, you were pretty awesome. Get ready for me because I’ll be back!