I started writing this blog a few days ago and opened with “I think the jet lag is finally wearing off” HA! What a tease. 2 nights ago I went to bed at 6PM and slept 14 hours and last night I went to bed and here we are now, at 5am! I’ve been back from Thailand for almost a week after a three week trip and now that it’s over I can’t believe it happened. There were moments on the trip where I thought “I wish I could absorb this experience even more. I want to keep this feeling with me forever.” While it’s impossible for me to physically be in a private pool watching a sunset over the gulf of Thailand (more on that later), I can at least try to relive these memories through writing.
There are an overwhelming amount of blogs about Thailand. I want to get into detail so I’m going to do this in Three Parts.
- Chiang Mai
- Gulf Islands
Everyone has a version of their “perfect” trip but as we all know, “perfect” doesn’t exist. No amount of planning can prepare you for what is going to happen when you take a trip like this and as a person with ZERO CHILL, I urge you to relinquish some control and let yourself enjoy the journey. Is that what I did? HA! Let’s just say I’m working on it 😉
My husband, Matt, and I had never taken a trip of this magnitude. Other than an all inclusive trip to Cuba yonder years ago, we always just travel for comedy. We’ve been talking about travelling for years and finally said fuck it. What were we waiting for? We barely even had a honeymoon because we didn’t have money at the time so treated this trip as such. (Full disclosure for our first honeymoon we stayed at my aunt’s condo in Florida in a retirement community and it was awesome because it was quiet at hell and I think we’re secretly old people)
There are a million angles I could have taken with this blog. Here are some titles that I was considering:
Did I Got To The Right Places!?
OH GOD, MY BUTT
How To Not Be A Shitty Tourist/Human
White People Are Ruining Thailand
Am I in Russia?
Alas, I settled on “Eating My Way Through Thailand” because my quest for good food was at the heart of this trip.
I’ll yap about flights, booking hotels, planning, packing etc. later but let’s just friggin’ get to Thailand already! Our Journey began in…
HOLY SHIT I LOVE CHIANG MAI. Day 1 was thrilling and exhausting. Nothing beats the feeling of exploring a new city in a new country for the very first time. I wish I could bottle that excitement and dab it behind my ears like perfume. Chiang Mai is a sweet combination of old and new and you immediately feel at home. It’s not overwhelming or intimidating like Bangkok. Parts of it feel like someone went on Pinterest and designed a city.
We landed in Chiang Mai, a city in mountainous northern Thailand at 6am, January 29th. Everyone told us to get a sim card fo our phones at the airport but guess what? Nothing was open. We flagged a metered cab and he started driving despite not having any idea where we were going. Let’s just say we didn’t get dropped off at our hotel and had to take a Tuk Tuk the rest of the way. Off to a good start! We checked into the Holiday Garden Hotel, passed out for a few hours and then woke up still in time for the breakfast buffet which had a delicious red curry chicken option and some really gross breakfast sausage. Hell yeah. This hotel wasn’t great (grounds were nice, room was shit) but it was cheap and after over 24 hours of travelling (literally 22 hours of that on a plane) I would have slept in a dumpster.
Did you know you’re not supposed to flush toilet paper in Thailand?? I’m surprised that the 467 blogs I read failed to mention that. Instead, they have bum guns aka a hose that’s used to spray your naughty bits down. Then you dab with toilet paper and toss it in the trash! I’ve got mixed feelings about the bum gun, which I’ll elaborate on later.
Instead of literally just reciting the events of this trip like a journal, I’ll point out some highlights and be done with it so this blog doesn’t turn into the next Anna Karenina. Speaking of too long, we were in Chiang Mai for 6 nights which many people advised against. I could have stayed longer. There is SO much to do in this city and the surrounding areas and I feel like we only scratched the surface.
Chiang Mai Highlights
Who doesn’t love a big, shiny, air conditioned mall close to a trendy neighborhood? This was our first stop because we needed to get a sim card. Although people recommend getting it at the airport, I highly recommend waiting and getting it in the city because they’ll charge you WAY less. AIS had a promo on and I got 30 days unlimited high speed internet for 250 TBH which is a little over $8USD. We met some people who were paying $10USD a day. A DAY! The food court here looked amazing and it’s one of my biggest regrets that we didn’t eat here. One of my biggest pieces of advice would be “DON’T HESITATE JUST EAT IT.” Who cares if you’re not “that hungry” you can share it or save it for later but you must try it or your regret it. BELIEVE ME.
SUNDAY NIGHT MARKET (The Phae Walking Street)
Luckily we were in Chiang Mai on a Sunday because the Market is NOT to be missed! Maybe I’m biased because it was the first market we visited in Thailand, but it was by far my favourite. It was busy as Hell and no one seemed pushy or rude. Everyone says you should haggle at markets but when a nice pashmina is 100 TBH who am I to try to pay less? That’s like 3 bucks. I don’t care if it’s real cashmere. Besides, you’ll have plenty of time to haggle at other markets later where they for sure skyrocket the price. (I might have been duped! stay tuned!) This market seems to go on forever in the Old City with vendors up the wazoo. We had some sort of delicious meat on a stick and mango sticky rice! After buying a pashmina and sarong (good for covering up at temples) it started to pour rain and we tucked in to a bar, drank Chang and watched traditional Thai dancing until the jet lag kicked in.
I. Can’t. Recommend. This. ENOUGH. We took an all day cooking class here and it was some of the best food I ate our entire trip. AND I MADE IT. (With the help of a bunch of Thai women.) There were 10 people total on our tour. They pick you up at your hotel and the first stop is a Thai market where our guide, Gift, showed up some ingredients we’d be using.
The meat on a stick/breakfast curry from the previous day weren’t sitting well and after almost barfing/shitting our pants we continued on to the farm.
Here, Gift gave us a tour and showed us all the fresh ingredients, harvested from the farm, that we’d be using in our dishes. Our menu that day would consist of Tom Yum soup, spring rolls, curry (your choice of red, green, yellow), papaya salad, stir fry and mango sticky rice. Even if you’re a terrible cook who can’t even boil water, you can do this! She’s so good at explaining everything.
My favourite was making curry paste from scratch. You can adjust the heat by adding as many or a few chilis as you please. And you can choose your protein. Chicken, shrimp or tofu so it’s good for vegetarians! It was hands down the best green curry I’ve ever had and one of the best tom yum’s. FUN BONUS, you get a cook book to take home! I can’t wait to make these recipes again. You think I’d be sick of Thai food…
Similar to the Sunday Night Market, but it’s open every night! Again, it’s enormous. We went several times and kept stumbling upon new food areas and vendors. We got dumplings, more meat on a stick and beer. It’s more of the same stuff you’ll see at the Sunday Night Market but with a different vibe. You’ll also find some great cover bands at these markets. I never expected to go to Thailand and hear a man belting out Alanis Morisette tunes.
AFTERNOON TEA AT THE SHANGRI-LA
If you’re feeling fancy and want to enjoy some delicious treats in a beautiful, air-conditioned setting, I recommend getting afternoon tea! I found a voucher on Klook (kinda like groupon) and I think it was about 11 bucks per person?? Which is insane.
We got a HUGE bird cage full of treats as well as sparkling wine and our choice of coffee or tea. I definitely recommend the thai iced tea. If you think the iced coffee is good, the tea is almost better. I decided to dress like Harry Styles for the occasion.
This is very specific but if you happen to be in Chiang Mai over NYE, hundreds of people release paper lanterns into the sky at the Tha Pae gate square around midnight. After reading up on it more, it’s for sure not great for the environment but it’s definitely a breath taking and special experience. So, if you’re going to partake do you best to contribute to the planet in other ways.
Leading up to it, the Tha Pae walking street (same area as Sunday Night Market) had another market set up that we cruised around. I was craving wine (because there’s not a lot of wine in Thailand!) so went to a place called Writers Club and Wine Bar. I got some sort of spicy chicken and basil dish and it was delicious. Matt played it safe with a crispy beef.
The wine was fine! After a bit more bar hopping and buying ridiculous rings, we bought lanterns and went to the square. Everyone is very helpful and the energy is contagious. Keep your eyes open! Sometimes the lanterns don’t go up into the sky and can take nose dive into the crowd. FUN!
HIKING WAT PHA LAT AND DOI SUTHEP
Feeling like a bit of exercise? Hike the Monk’s trail! I recommend taking a taxi or Grab to Wat Pha Lat Hike (Monk’s Trail). It shows up in google maps but if you need a destination to plug in on your grab app, Army Radio and Channel 7 TV is right there too! Start your journey here and a take a moderate jaunt up to your first stop, Was Pha Lat.
It’s very peaceful, nestled in amongst waterfalls and trees. I recommend hanging out here for a bit because the next leg of the journey is no picnic! Follow the signs to Doi Suthep and curse your way up the mountain. I was wearing my slip on sketchers running shoes which are very comfortable but they kept slipping off my feet making the hike more difficult than it already ways but once you reach Doi Suthep Village, you feel very smug and accomplished!
Recharge for a sec with a cold juice. I got a passion fruit juice (100% fresh squeezed) for 30 TBH and it was the best damn thing I’ve ever had in my life. I spent the rest of the trip trying to chase that passion fruit high but nothing compared. Other places in markets will sell them but beware! Most are cut with some bullshit fake juice.
Once you navigate through the village you’ll be confronted with another set of stairs that go on forever. ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME. Drag your wet corpse up the stairs, buy you ticket and get in there! The temple itself is very busy and after a long ass hike it’s both overwhelming and exciting. Wether or not you are religious or spiritual, there’s a special energy at this hilltop temple in the clouds.To get down, hop on a red car (about 40 TBH) for person and get ready for a windy ride! You can also take hiking tours or take a red car or taxi the whole way if you’re not able to hike. But if your body allows it, I say go for it!
VERANDA HIGH RESORT CHIANG MAI
This a beautiful luxury resort up in the mountains, about a 25 minute drive from the city centre. It came highly recommend by a few people who live in Chiang Mai. They mentioned that you’re allowed to use the pool for a fee, even if you’re not a guest. After our grueling hike we thought we’d treat ourselves!
Upon arrival security bluntly told us NO. It was high season and they weren’t allowing outside visitors. After some back and forth with the manager and promising that we weren’t going to use a lounge chair dedicated to pool guests (who needs a lounge chair when there’s an infinity pool?) they let us in. Hooray!
The fee to use the pool came to about $27 USD for 2 people and it’s more than worth it. WOW. This was maybe one of the most relaxing afternoons of our entire trip. We ordered the Northern Platter which was an assortment of pork sausage and pickled things. In the north, pig is king apparently, and this was a platter fit for kings.
I have nothing negative to say about my experience here except for the dude with a man bun and his fit girlfriend who did crunches and setups by the pool. Like, drink a beer and enjoy the sunset ya weirdos!
Khao Soi is a Northern Thai dish and a must eat when in Chiang Mai. It’s a golden coconut curry egg noodle soup traditionally served with chicken. And not just any regular chicken. A poached chicken drumstick that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. It’s topped wth crispy noodles and served with pickled things, shallots and lime wedges. It’s supposed to be salty, sweet, sour and spicy. I had it 3 times in Chiang Mai and I wish I had it more! My first one was one of the first meals we had at a restaurant we just stumbled upon and entered, mostly because of the name. DOO DEE. We are 10 year old boys.
It was delicious. We also went to a joint made famous by Phil Rosenthal of Somebody Feed Phil. I don’t know if it was the hype of the show or the chicken that was casually walking around, but I loved it. If I saw a chicken walking around a restaurant in LA I’d call the health inspector but in Thailand I just thought “I guess that means it’s fresh!” Matt got the beef Kao Soi. Now cows walking around so I can’t say how fresh it was 😉
Our last Khao Soi was at Aroy Dee. It was a little less traditional because the chicken was not on the bone, but still creamy and flavourful. Something about sitting on plastic chairs on the sidewalk with a cold Chang makes thai food taste better. Get you someone who looks at you like I look at Khao Soi!
I still can’t believe that we got to do this. I chose the “Care for Elephants” package at elephant nature park and it was the experience of a lifetime.
You get to feed, bathe and hang out with these gentle giants all damn day. The elephants here have been saved from a bad life and are rehabilitated here. Words can’t describe how magical this day was so you’ll have to look at the pics of go experience it for yourself!
The vegan buffet lunch with a breathtaking view was a nice perk too. Did a dude on my tour get scared of an elephant running towards him and fall in the mud? Yes. Did I laugh? You betcha. Is he OK?? No. JUST KIDDING. He’s fine…just a bit muddy…
Just get a massage. Every damn day. I wish we got more. They’re usually around 300 TBH but some fancier places will charge up to 500. Over the course of our entire trip we had 7, 4 being in Chiang Mai. Not one of them was bad. They can get pretty intense and the masseuse will get all up in there but they’re good at reading your body language and if something hurts, tell them! They’re not out to hurt you, even though it may seem like they’re taking their frustrations out on your bod. In which case, good for them!
This is a neighborhood quite close to Maya Mall that’s very trendy and hip. Tons of boutiques, fancy little hotels, bars and and coffee shops. I had the best damn Thai iced coffee of my life at The Friendly Coffee Bar. Thai iced coffee is made with condensed milk and it’s creamy and sweet and such a good early afternoon pick-me-up on a hot day. Coming from someone who usually drinks drip coffee with a touch of unsweetened oat milk, this is a real treat!
In Nimman I felt like we were chasing the sunset, looking for bars with the BEST views. We went to Rise Roof Top Bar at Akyra Manor Hotel and had a drink right before sunset.
Some bad intel told us it was happy hour (which is was not) so we zipped over to another bar on the rooftop of Yayee Hotel. The sun ended up setting behind a building/mountain so we didn’t get to see it but the views were still stunning.
Side note, you’ll see A LOT of sunsets in Thailand so don’t fret if you miss a few. Both of these places were definitely more high end and had prices that reflected that but a fancy cocktail is still cheaper than a boring ass vodka soda in LA so treat yourself. There are SO many funky places in this area and that’s why I’m kinda bummed that we had a terrible meal at some random restaurant. If I were to go again I’d check out some Kao Soy Nimman or some of the restaurants on this list!
There are so many temples in Chiang Mai it’s overwhelming. You can go on a temple tour or you can literally just stumble upon them while you walk, like Wat Buppharam.
I like this approach because you can stop for snacks or a drink along the way. Or maybe research a few that you definitely want to see and walk or tuk tuk your way from point A to point B. They’re all unique in their own way and I don’t think you can go wrong. I highly recommend walking in Chiang Mai when you can! You never know what you’ll find on foot. If I had to choose, Wat San Dok was maybe my favourite.
Ok, there are no shortage of hotels in Chiang Mai and there are so many neighbourhoods you can stay in depending on what you want. We only stayed near Maya Mall for a night but then moved to a hotel just outside of the old city, on the other side of the river called Gategaa Hotel. I absolutely loved this hotel. It’s situated on a quiet, tucked away street and you can walk to the old city in 20 minutes or take a super quick tuk tuk or grab. The rooms are spacious and modern and come with a mini fridge and stove top in case you want to do your own cooking. Breakfast was included and you could choose between an American or Thai option every morning.
On top of that there was also toast, homemade jam (THE PASSION FRUIT ONE IS INSANE), yogurt, fruit, desserts etc. and amazing coffee and juice. And the price is SO reasonable. Under $90 USD a night during high season. Did I mention the cute rooftop pool, lovely staff, on site laundry, free bikes and gym? I LOVE GATEGAA.
I’ve mentioned Old City a bunch of times and it’s literally everything within the city square. It’s packed full of temples, restaurants, markets and more! Very walkable and always buzzing. The Broke Backpacker breaks down neighbourhoods in Chiang Mai better than I could, so check it out!
We ended up going here with a couple we met on the elephant excursion. It’s in the Anasurn market (yes, ANOTHER MARKET), part of the Night Bazaar. Tickets were 350 TBH each and included a beer. This is a Tiffany show (otherwise known as Lady Boys) but I’ve since heard that lady boys is maybe an offensive term. The dancers expect tips (and deserve them), so come prepared! Maybe it was the moustache, but my husband was catnip to these ladies. He was groped and fondled and one of the performers who was the comic relief even tricked Matt into a kiss on the lips. Oops! It was all in good fun. They brought one dude on stage and took off his shirt. Thank god they didn’t choose Matt or they would have revealed his security wallet that he wears under his shirt like a money bra.
You can literally be walking with your eyes shut and stumble onto a market. Ploen Ruedee is one of those markets that we just fell into.
It’s smaller and more manageable if you’re in the mood to have some good food, some drinks and listen to music. I’m telling you, the cover bands in Thailand blew me away. We got some delicious beef satay grilled on a bamboo stick and a sweet banana, nutella roti.
We flew out of Chiang Mai so on our last night while walking home from a final massage we found Kad Manee Market and indulged in some of the best meat on a stick we had the entire trip. Oh, and a big bottle of cold Chiang 😉
There are dogs everywhere. Street dogs and dogs that have owners. Cats too. Most are friendly but use your brain and pet at your own risk!
WE DID IT! THAT’S IT. Damn, this blog was long. And this is only part one! Here are some closing remarks:
-Negotiate a price BEFORE you get into a Tuk Tuk or Taxi
-Download the GRAB app on your phone (like uber or Lyft)
-stroll along Ping River
-cover up at temples
-get a Charles Schwab account (they refund you your ATM fees)
-Be prepared to pay cash for most things
The was PART ONE of this crazy trip. Stay tuned for PART TWO: THE GULF ISLANDS and PART THREE: BANGKOK. I’m sure I’ve left out a bunch of important detail but this damn thing is already way too long…until next time…read this and shut up! 😉