Northern Thailand: Chiang Mai and Pai

CHIANG MAI

Beautiful, modern yet authentic little bohemian city in the northern part of Thailand, which is the country’s second most-visited city! If you do a quick internet research, you will find and read countless blogs and articles from fellow travel bloggers around the world stating how they escaped their 9 to 5 jobs to live a life of freedom, have achieved location independence and are happier than they have ever been. And they will most probably talk about Chiang Mai.

What I found out is it’s easy to live in Chiang Mai on budget. If you have some savings, or you can manage to do a remote/ online job, or have some sort of rental income coming from your home, you can afford to pay a $150/month rent and join the expat community here in Chiang Mai! There are excellent shared work spaces, cafes with fast wifi connection and lots of Airbnb type monthly accommodation options for apartments that come with everything you’d need.

There are several options from 6 month tourist visa to education, to volunteer to retirement visa, which also make living in Thailand easier than most of other countries. However, you need to do everything according to the book since otherwise you may pay a penalty for overstaying or even end up in jail.
Temples
Some amazing temples spread around Chiang Mai

Top 10 activities in Chiang Mai

1. Shopping: A shopping heaven with its Night Bazaar, Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets  + outdoor markets that seem to be open as long as there’s life in the streets. They sell northern handicrafts, clothing, fisherman pants!, frogs, electronics and all kinds of souvenirs you can imagine.

Lots of shiny Buddha statues in the temples
Lots of shiny Buddha statues were in abundance in the temples

2. Wats (Temples): If Thai temples are your thing, then you will love Chiang Mai! The hill-top Wat Doi Suthep is the crown jewels, but the old city is packed with a collection of traditional Thai temples.

I spent a day wandering around and visiting some of the gorgeous temples all around town. To be more specific, I rented a bicycle for 24 hours hence could quickly travel between Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh (home to a magnificent Buddha statue), Wat Mahawan and some others that I couldn’t get the name of. I have always been fascinated by the intricate detail and effort that went into the construction of these temples. Grab a map, a bike, your camera, and you’re good to go and check out the temples in Chiang Mai!

3. Massage: It’s a massage mecca with services at various rates but my favorite is Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution: stop by for a coffee and get a massage from female inmates!

Monk chats
An afternoon spent nicely with chatting with Kosal, the 22 year old Cambodian monk who just finished the Buddhist University

4. Monk chats: There is a great program that allows english speakers to chat with monks so they can improve their english skills and we can ask our questions! You can find more info here


5. Eating!:
 There are so many healthy, vegetarian restaurants in CM and one of my favorite was: Blue Diamond where I enjoyed my healthy brunches. The others that still water my mouth by just thinking are Taste from Heaven (try green curry in coconut and banana flavored salad made with banana blossoms) and Bubbles Live for good organic vegetarian dishes, all in the old city.

A visit to the Hill Tribes was nice in terms of seeing traditional outfits and having a glimpse of these indigenous people’s lifestyles but that didn’t feel right at the end :/

6. Hill tribes: Most of these tribes are the immigrants from Burma. They don’t have the necessary paperwork to work in Thailand but the government gave them some place where they could sell souvenirs and present their traditional way of living to the outside world. I thought I could at least support them by buying handicrafts from them but unfortunately seeing their sad faces in a fake environment didn’t give me the feeling of supporting them.


7. Washing and feeding elephants:
There are many places in Chiang Mai where you can spend time with elephants.

Elephant sanctuaryI strongly oppose to riding the elephants since they are put through hard work to service the never ending tourist groups. Instead you can find an ELEPHANT SANCTUARY, which are organizations that rescue abused or over-worked elephants and rehabilitate them. I took a tour with TUM TRAVEL which was run by a guy who previously worked at a sanctuary for 11 years. He was very knowledgeable about elephants and genuinely loved them. I definitely recommend him and you can find his info here.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary or Elephant Nature Park are others where you can also volunteer at but they were much pricier than Tum.

It looks cool but it sucks for them. Here is why you should say NO to riding elephants:

Thai cooking class was completed successfully. Green curry, tom yum soup., mango sticky rice... all in the order when I'm back in the US
Thai cooking class was completed successfully. Green curry, tom yum soup., mango sticky rice… all in the order when I’m back in the US

8. Thai Cooking Classes – My hostel arranged an organic thai cooking class with Da who picked me up from the hostel, took us to the farmers market to buy the fresh ingredients that would soon go in the curries, rice, soups and salads! He was sweet and opened his own house to us. The mini lesson about herbs in his mini organic garden was fun! You can reach him with the info on his website here.

9. Taking day trips with scooter to the national parks, waterfalls and temples outside of the city  – make sure you wear a helmet or you get a ticket! We got stopped once for not having an int’l driving license and got away with a 500 baht donation to the policeman 😉

10 . Discovering hip, cute, little coffeeshops and hole in the wall bars. Meeting new people and hanging out with them till the sunrise is optional 🙂

10.5. Renting a bicycle and touring and getting lost in the small streets of Chiang Mai!

You can get to Chiang Mai via a short flight from Bangkok that costs around $50.  I use Skyscanner.com to compare prices for all domestic and international flights and do all my bookings. It’s been working great so far!

PAI

Tiny mountain town near Chiang Mai, which is also a hippies gathering center 😛 Tour companies and guesthouses all over Chiang Mai arrange minivan services between Chiang Mai and Pai and the trip takes 4 nauseating but pretty scenic hours.

Pai
There are several waterfalls is 30 mins away from town center (with scooter). Third picture is a cute/hip store I came across on the way back, which also has rooms for rent. I can easily join the hundreds of expats who have made Pai their home!

Places to see in PAI in 3 days:

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the beautiful mountain jewel Pai. Here are some of my recommendations, especially if you have a limited time (unless you extend your stay to weeks or months like most of the travelers 😉 )

  • Liquid Pool is a hip spot to cool off and socialize under the sizzling sun during the day. Be ready for reggae tunes, making cool new friends and yummy food.
  • Street food market that starts on the main street with the sunset..try mini sushi rolls, healthy wraps, veggie kebabs, sticky rice with mango and orgasmic coconut puffs.
  • Buddha Statue overlooking the town
  • Hop on a scooter and visit Pai canyon, waterfalls, and hot springs
  • Edible Jazz, Sunset Bar (ask for mushroom shake if it’s your thang ;))
  • Stay at: Purple Monkey and Breeze of Pai for 200-300 baht/night in a private bungalow
One of the main attractions in Pai is this Buddha Statue which you can climb up with your scooter first and then climb some hundred steps on foot
One of the main attractions in Pai is this Buddha Statue, to which you can climb up with your scooter first and then take some hundred steps on foot to reach the top
Hanging out at the hip pool Liquid.. This is the moment right before the 2 hour long strong showers hit us hard
Hanging out at the hip pool Liquid.. This is the moment right before the 2 hour long strong showers hit us hard

Thailand has been so amazing to visit and my related Thailand articles can be found here. Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or questions, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

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