3 Months Around the World
CHIANG MAI - THAILAND
To begin this series of posts, I want to quickly explain my desire to go travelling.
Travelling has always been something that has been a part of me since I was born. My parents are both South African and moved to Wellington, New Zealand in 1989, where my sisters and I were born and 'briefly' raised . We then moved to Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands for two years where we lived on the beach, and forgot how to wear shoes. (We weren't allowed to wear shoes at school, and therefore give them up altogether). Once my dad realised how important getting an education was we ended up moving to Jersey, in the Channel Islands. I have constantly had to adapt and make new friends wherever we have moved. I have also been extremely fortunate to go on holidays throughout my life as well and am extremely lucky that my parents have prioritised travelling over other things.
I have never travelled solo, or with one other person for a long period of time. So after working for a whole year in Finance, and organising all of my travel plans, saving up some money and deciding on a date, I went travelling with my boyfriend Lewis.
We started on the 17th of September 2018 at London Heathrow Airport. At this point in time I was a nervous flier so made sure that I had a few glasses of wine in me before getting on the monstrous A380 Emirates plane. It was only a six and a half hour flight to Dubai where we were to stop over before getting on our plane to Bangkok. I may have drunk a bit too much as the second flight felt a lot longer as I had a headache and the shivers. Great way to start travelling.
After finally arriving in Bangkok we had to stay the night at Suvarnabhumi Ville Airport Hotel in Bangkok before catching an early morning flight to Chiang Mai the following morning. The hotel was only a short ride away from the airport and they pick you up in a complimentary car only costing £45 for the night. We also got a free upgrade and had the most blissful sleep in a huge bed after being on a cramped plane for 13 + hours.
DAY 1: Wednesday 19th September
Airline getting there = Thai Smile £20 per ticket one way. They provide you with water and a sandwich... a very good deal.
Descending into Chiang Mai on the plane, there is a large contrast between the over populated busy city of Bangkok, and the pleasant green fields that we were now approaching.
Upon landing, we went to an official Taxi stall and caught a quick taxi to our hotel. It cost 150Baht which is equivalent to £3.70.
We stayed at ‘POR Santitham’. It has a very minimalist and modern interior and felt very young and hip. It was lovely as there is a pool and there is a constant stock of fresh bottles of free water in the communal fridge, as you obviously cannot drink the tap water. The hotel does not have a restaurant, which was fine for us as the hotel is only a 10 minute walk from main downtown of Chiang Mai. We payed 6000Baht = £145. While this could be considered expensive as accommodation can be relatively cheap in Thailand, we wanted somewhere with great reviews but also we were halving the price of everything, so this meant we could go slightly more expensive than if we were travelling solo.
Upon arriving and examining the weather, we realised that we had booked to come during the end of the rainy season. Although this isn't ideal, it is still better than if we were to come in the Monsoon period as we could still get sunny days. The versatile weather was quick to show us how it liked to fluctuate, as we landed to wonderful blue skies, which quickly change when we reached the hotel. This meant we were unable to walk around and sight see while we were waiting for our room to be prepared. We set up camp in their open lounging are and spent a good amount of time familiarising myself with the area, and looking restaurants and things to do.
Our first stop was going to be ‘Tikky Cafe’, as it is rated the number 1 best value for money restaurant in Chiang Mai. Trying to find our way to the restaurant, Lewis and I became completely soaked in sweat due to the sun and humidity. We were seriously under-prepared for how hot it was going to be. Finally after getting lost in the heat we found the Tikky Cafe down a back ally way. From the outside it looked like a tin shed, but once we entered it appeared as if it was a Mary Poppins bag, it was 100 times bigger than expected. The unique trait with this cafe/restaurant was that you look through the menu and write down on a note pad exactly what you want from the menu. This is because the diversity of nationalities that pass through the restaurant, it is easier this way and means you are going to get exactly what you ordered, without the worry of miscommunication. I ordered the Mango Fruit Shake. Holy Guac it was heavenly, it is pure fresh mango and ice, exactly what you need in the heat. To eat we both ordered Green Curries and asked for medium heat. It was slightly spicy but not as hot as we were expecting local Thai food to be. Eating that meal made me realise how much I love Thai cuisine and how much I was going to look forward to our trip. We knew as soon as we payed and it came to a grand total of £5.60 that we would be coming back everyday!
We then thought it would be a good idea to keep wondering around the city, only to quickly realise that it was still incredibly hot. We walked around to get a feel of the area, before returning to the hotel for a much needed nap and dose of air-con.
That evening before we headed out we spoke to the staff at the main desk and they helpfully told us about an app called ‘Grab’. It is exactly the same concept as Uber, but only for South East Asia. Lewis picked the restaurant this evening called ‘Dash’, located in downtown Chiang Mai. It is slightly hidden but it is covered in fairy lights and lanterns that makes it very inviting.
To start we ordered, Vegan potato Samosa and Chicken Satay, and thus was the start of our Beer tasting trip. Lewis loves beer, and I liked drinking Corona, so this was something I was looking forward to, upping my knowledge of how beer could taste different. We therefore had to order the local beers, Chang. For main a yellow curry and a chicken Pad Thai - all absolutely amazing. The total bill for the meal was = 1200 Thai Baht (Including our taxi there and back) that is equivalent to £28! I know your mouth is on the floor, this is also a more upmarket restaurant, therefore just shows how incredible the exchange rate is.
DAY 2: Thursday 18th September
We woke up early to make the breakfast, it was a buffet style with a combination of western and Thai foods, as there were only a few Western guests at the hotel. We went in full throttle and dived head first into the Red Curry and Pad Thai that were up for offer, and of course with a side of eggs.
We headed straight out into the wonderful blue sky before the hot sun. We found a new area of the town and came across the ‘Wat That Singh Temple’. Hidden behind large walls and trees stood a huge golden beautiful Buddhist monument a long with numerous Temples and a peaceful area to walk around.
Before dinner we thought about heading down to the Ping River were the reviews were extremely good. We caught a grab to ‘Good View’, and surprise surprise the view was very ‘good’, well I thought it was much better than just good. However, the restaurant itself was much bigger and felt a lot more commercial and for tourists that wanted more of a drinking experience, which was more than what we were looking for. We have realised that the smaller restaurants you go to the better the food tends to be. We had a beer and some spring rolls while enjoying the view, so it wasn't too bad.
We decided to go back to Dash for dinner as we liked the authentic atmosphere and the food was very good. We changed up our orders though and this evening decided on Red Curry and Kao Sou - this is a traditional dish and is specifically unique to Chiang Mai. It is like a Laksa as it is a spicy noodle and soup dish.After another delicious meal we headed back to the hotel, bought a few beers from the corner store and created a joint insta account for our travels. ‘funemployedtravels’.
DAY 3: Friday 21 September
We had another early wake up as we had decided to venture out of the city today. We ordered a grab and headed up to the Temple on the mountain called ‘Wat Phra That Doi Suthep’. It was a 30 minute drive to the top of the mountain and to the drop off point.
It cost us 390Baht (£9.50) but I only had 500Baht (£12.20), and he said he had no change but that he would wait around for us, roughly 2 hours while we looked around the temple. So off we went to venture up the 300 steps to the start of the temple.
The steps itself are extraordinary with intricate dragon tile designs leading you up through the lush green forest. We were already starting to crumble in the heat, and it was only 10:30am. Once we reached the top it cost us 30Baht (£0.73) to enter per person. While it was busy, it wasn't nearly as busy as I was expecting it to be. We were prepared with our pre-bought long ‘I’ve-just-gone-travelling’ trousers, so we were fully kitted in our tourist attire. You have to take your shoes off, out of respect and then we went into the main area.
The first thing you reach once you go through the main gates for the temple is a large Golden Tower/ Monument. We have definitely been seeing a theme of gold running throughout the temples here. After taking hundreds of photos of the same thing, we wondered to see the insane view in the distance.
The view is amazing and you are able to see over the whole of Chiang Mai. Thr balcony is littered with tourists all trying to get their own photo with the wonderful view. Of course Lewis and I didn’t bother to get that photo… At 1050 metres above sea level we were stood with the clouds, and as it was a clear day the view was spectacular.
We did another round of the sacred ground to see if we had missed anything. We walked back down the 300 and something stairs and tried to find our driver. It was heaving with about a hundred stalls, and a constant flow of cars that were keeping a steady flow of tourists coming to and from the mountain. The problem was, this was all happening in a very small area on the side of the mountain next to the main entrance. It felt like it was going to be impossible to find him. But we did wait for our driver and try to contact him, and for 40 mins we came to the conclusion that he probably just drove back down to the city with some extra cash in his pocket. As we were sat around we were approached by 2 German girls asking if we would like to share a taxi. This suited us as we were now having to pay more for a new taxi driver.
Once we got back to the hotel we had to have a lie down in the air-conditioning as it was 35 degrees outside. By 2:40pm we realised that we hadn’t eaten any lunch and ventured back to our trusty old Tikky Cafe, which yes, we have been to everyday now. After recommending the cafe to the German girls, we stumbled into them as they were leaving and as we were arriving. They said it was the best place that they had eaten at in Chiang Mai so far. We had our usual Mango Fruit Shake and I ordered a Pad Thai with glass noodles. This was a game changer, and Lewis tried out the Panang Curry.We then decided that we had climatized a bit more and went for a walk around the downtown area.
After 45 mins we were tired and sweaty so made our way back to POR. We decided to have a nap after our long day of being on our feet, and ended up having a 2 hour sleep!
There was an area that we had not visited yet that was outside of ‘down-town’ Chiang Mai, which had currently been our most visited area.
We ventured out to ‘Nimman Social’ as it was rated number 2 for best value restaurants in Chiang Mai. We could not find it to begin with, but it is attached to a hostel and like our hotel had a minimal and modern atmosphere about it. The menu was unbelievable and we couldn't pick what would be the best option from it. We decided on sharing 3 mains: Kao Soi, Pad Thai and Chicken and Rice. Each meal was insane and is definitely up there with one of best Thai foods I have ever eaten. We also happened to arrive on a live music evening, with a singer and her acoustic partner serenading everyone with their lovely chilled tunes. We had such a good time we stayed for almost 3 hours, talking, drinking and listening until the end of their set.
We then went for a walk around this area as it was completely new for us. We decided to call it a night but to make sure we come back during the day so that we can investigate this more upmarket area a bit more. We realised that the are is called ‘Nimman’ and it is busier and more touristy than down-town but the area was a lot newer. More unique and boutique style shops and bars around some that are quirky and some mainstream. - Would recommend.
Lewis also tried his first Thai street food, stopping at a vendor that was selling sausages on sticks. It was tasty but I was definitely more sceptical about it than him.
DAY 4: Saturday 22 September
We decided to to have a lie in today after our busy and fun filled day and evening yesterday. I also needed to get my sleeping pattern in check, as the jet lag and lots of naps were not helping anything. We had missed breakfast and thought venturing out to Nimman would be close enough and a good idea, so we decided to walk to the restaurant we went to the night before, ‘Nimman Social’.
This was actually not a great idea. It turned out, that we were walking in the sun in the mid day heat. After 30 minutes of walking, I actually felt sweat drip down my back, and I would like to add this is new levels of sweat for me. We actually had to stop in a stationary shop just to try and find the air-cone unit to blast ourselves with sweet cold air so that we make sure we didn't pass out. After almost 50 minutes of walking we arrived in Nimman... it felt a heck of a lot faster in the taxi. Being able to walk around in the day time it was easy to see why it was so busy and popular. It is busier than down-town, and had a hip and upbeat vibrancy as well. We walked past a market called ‘One’, a contemporary art and boutique orientated market that was in a luxurious and spacious building. It was extremely upmarket and very different to what you would find in down-town Chiang Mai. Realising that we still hadn't eaten we rushed to Nimman Social. Today we ordered - Chicken Magic, Panang Curry and Pork Don. Probably wouldn't rush back to to order the pork again.
While wondering around after, we found ourselves inside a huge glass mall, Maya Lifestyle Shopping Centre. Well it was more the air-con was calling us. It was probably the most modern thing in Chiang Mai, situated next to Nimman and was about 6 or 7 stories tall. Although it was quite funny finding British stores such as Boots and Tesco ‘Lotus’ among the various other stores. The shopping centre had some really lovely things, and although Lewis and I did not buy anything, it was nice to be able to comfortably walk around in Thailand without feeling like you could melt. However, the only downside to this mall is that you feel like you are in any Western country. It isn't the best way to see local culture. We were also very conscious of the fact that we were travelling for 3 months and didn't have much room to start adding more weight to our bags.
After vowing we wouldn't walk back, guess what we decided to do, walk back. But, we did this slowly as it was later in the day. Only a short stop in 7Eleven this time to cool down. We had an hour rest back at the hotel before our cooking class.
‘Thai Akha Kitchen’ - I had done some research only the previous night and this was the top rated cooking class in Chiang Mai, at only 1040Baht (£23) pp.
It started at 5:00pm and we tactically planned it so that we would be able to make our dinner, to save us having to buy another meal. Once we arrived we realised how quirky and authentic it looked. It was located down a quiet back ally in the down-town area, and looked like a tin shack on the outside. But once you arrived it is actually quite large and everyone gets their own cooking station. We were lucky that there were only 6 of us in this class, in comparison to a full class which would be 12 people.
The whole experience was so much better than I had expected. Our fellow groupies for the evening were, a shy Japanese lady, a Vietnamese lady that did not like any sort of ingredient and a young and bubbly Dutch couple. We had two teachers that helped us made 11 dishes. For my main I made Massaman. It was INSANE and I am pretty sure it was better than any Massaman curry that I have had anywhere else. It is my new favourite dish I have had in Thailand. (As you can tell, I am on a massive food high, and every meal I have seems to be better than the last). I also made a Pad Thai - this was however, not the best pad thai I have had. We also made 3 traditional Akha dishes and a desert. This was amazing as it was sticky rice and mango.
The whole experience was amazing and it flew by way too quickly. Lewis’s main concern was that the kitchen would be too hot as it was in a shack, but we had fans right behind us. One of the soups that we made was called ‘Fuk Que’… Well I think thats how you spell it. Everyone in the class couldn't stop laughing. I think the instructors understood and laughed for a bit, but we just couldn't stop, probably laughed a little too much. What was great was that we got on very well with the Dutch couple and after the class we headed down to the Saturday Night/ Walking Market. This is definitely something everyone should do while in Chiang Mai, bare in mind though that it is very hectic and busy. It is so hard to describe as there was too much going on. Lots of stalls that were going down a long street that never seemed to end. Lewis bought a small elephant figurine, and I definitely wish that I had too. Something that I was struggling to get used to the fact that it is customary to heckle when you are buying products in a market. It is very obvious that we are tourists so the stall owner will change the price of a product to almost triple of what they would actually sell it for. Lewis was much better at heckling than me and managed to get a good price for his little ellie.
DAY 5: Sunday 23rd September
We missed breakfast again, so instead went straight to Tikky Cafe as we didn't go yesterday. After another hot walk to get there, we were met with a sign on their door saying that they aren't open on a Sunday. We walked around in a sad and sweaty state to find somehwere else, and stumbled into another similar shack like restaurant. This restaurant did not have a name that was clear and was even more local than Tikky Cafe. There appeared to be quite a bad language barrier. We ordered Pad Thai, and a yellow curry by writing on the note-pad like at Tikky. While the flavours were great, it was quite local, in the sense that nothing was wasted, and the cuts of meat that you don't expect were in it.
I had read about another well known Temple in down-town that we had not visited yet called, 'Wat Chedi Luang'. This beautiful old Temple was built between 1385 and 1402, but due to an earthquake in 1545 looks like a ruin. There are a collection of buildings and other Temples on the same grounds as Wat Chedi Luang, that are just as interesting and vary in design and sizes. We even stumbled into a rectangular walkway/house/temple where a live buddhist was meditating in a glass box. It felt very surreal and peaceful to see everyone paying the respects. My only complaint was that since we have been visiting these Temples, there is a clear gender barrier as women are not allowed to go into all Temples. Yes. There are Temples that are only for me, but none for only women. I read one of the signs and it has something to do with that fact that women have periods. In my opinion, what a bad reason.
We then caught a taxi to Nimman and went back to the Mall as we were dying for some powerful air-con. While we were in Nimman we hadn't realised there were so many massage parlours. As we were going to leave Thailand tomorrow, I persuaded Lewis that we should get a massage. I have never had a massage before, so was very interested into how it would be. I opted for a 30 min foot-massage that was very good, and also got my leg massaged. Lewis opted for a back and shoulder massage as he has been suffering with a bad back. I could have carried on being pampered for another hour, whereas Lewis told me once we left, that his back was now 100 times worse than when we walked in. Deciding not to walk back, we caught a taxi to the hotel, and had our first swim in the pool. The only downside with the hotel pool, is that the guests tables are lined up along a counter that look directly onto the pool. It did feel a bit like you were the entertainment for the afternoon, once you ungracefully plopped yourself in. We had a few beers and enjoyed the afternoon having nothing to rush off to. We made sure that we had re-packed our bags before heading out for dinner. Where did we go, back to Nimman Social. We are creates of habit and wanted to have a meal that we knew would be good on our last night.
Thinking it would be hilarious once we got back to the hotel, we bought some extra hot Thai pot noodles. My god was this was a bad idea. I had one noodle and almost died, and Lewis ate half a packet and very much did die. What an end to the trip.