Back in October, we were in Hong Kong again to visit my sister and her family. Hong Kong is like a second home base for us, and we tend to spend anywhere between 1-3 months there every year. What we love about visiting Hong Kong, other than seeing our beloved family there, is that we can easily (and inexpensively) get tickets for side trips to Southeast Asia countries. This time, we decided to give Chiang Mai, Thailand a visit!
I booked a 10 day trip for Bridge and I to Chiang Mai, intending to give ourselves some time to immerse in the culture there and to hopefully meet some other worldschoolers. God’s plans are always better than mine though. When some of our family asked if they could join us, we welcomed them with open arms, as we love spending quality time with our friends and family in our travels. The more the merrier!
Bridge and I got the first few days to ourselves, and we had fun getting acclimated to this new country. Our resort, Khum Phaya, had one of the most amazing pools we’ve experienced, so we made sure to give ourselves some down time in between our explorations to take full enjoyment of that fabulous pool with its convenient swim up bar.
The downside of living in such a lush environment was, ofcourse, the bugs. We got use to all the geckos around us, but the mosquitos were a pain because both Bridge and I are sooooo prone to mosquito bites. We had a zillion different kind of repellent that we brought with us but none seemed to work. We eventually adapted to the constant itchiness. Traveling sure teaches us to be resilient in so many ways!
Here are all the FUN THINGS we experienced, and would recommend, from our trip to Chiang Mai:
1.) On our first day, we took an uber to the Elephant Poopoopaper Park, a place that our worldschooling friends had recommended. There, we learned about the fascinating process of turning elephant poop into paper products. Talk about sustainability at its best! For just 100 baht a person (roughly USD $3), we got a really informative, hands-on tour of the place to understand their process. At the end of the tour, there was a DIY area where you can buy their products and decorate each one! Here’s Bridgette’s video on Youtube to give you an idea on what that experience was like:
2.) Both Bridge and I love eating and trying out new foods, so I signed us up for a full day of the Siam Rice Cookery School in Chiang Mai. We picked it because it was rated highly on Tripadvisor. The day began with a tour of the local wet markets, where our guide/instructor attempted to give us a crash course on common ingredients that are used in Thai dishes. Having done something similar in Hanoi, Vietnam, we felt that this guide/instructor didn’t put much effort into this part because we literally went to 2 stalls and we were then released to explore the market on our own. The cooking class itself was fun, as we got to pick our own dishes to cook and were involved in all the prepping, cutting, and actual cooking. Our class size was small, just a total of 6 people, so that made it easy to ask questions and to move around the cooking area. Our favorite part was, ofcourse, eating the final dishes that we worked so hard on! 🙂 Here’s a video on our experience at the cooking school:
3.) Bridge and I got to meet up with another worldschooling family while in Chiang Mai, and they recommended the Grand Canyon Water Park for us to spend the day together. If you ask Bridge, she will now tell you that this was one of her favorite parts of the trip! This water park was the perfect escape on a super hot day. It consisted of all these cool, inflatable floaties, including some very vertical slides that drops you straight into the chilly water. Even with your best intentions to stay above water, there’s a sprinkler that circulates continually to keep everyone wet. Bridgette and her new friends probably got a little TOO sunburned and TOO wet after being there for a full day, but they absolutely had the best time! As for me, I got my fair share of flying off those floaties into the cold water, so I spent the afternoon in the cafe enjoying some mommy chats with my new friend Allison.
4.) Everyone visits Thailand for itsnight markets. Chiang Mai is no different. One can find night markets every night there, but they do have a special one just for Sunday nights. Honestly, I couldn’t quite tell the difference between the Sunday night market and the every night night market, but they were all fun to visit. Bridgette got to learn some bargaining tips from her grandma and grand uncle! 🙂
5.) For one full day, we hired a driver and took a day trip to Chiang Rai, a 2 hour drive north of Chiang Mai. The main purpose was to see the famous Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, in Chiang Rai. Half way there, our drive stopped at the Pha Soet Hot Spring, where we spent about an hour perusing through food/clothing stalls, soaking our feet in a natural hot spring, and actually boiling an egg in the hot spring! Just to clarify, the hot spring where we boiled our egg was a different one than where we soaked our feet. 🙂 The hard boiled egg tasted just like any hot boiled egg, but the process was much more interesting than the stove top that we’re use to.
It was also there that we tried GRILLED DURIAN for the very first time!!!! We were excited to try, being hard core durian lovers, but in the end, we all agreed that grilling fresh durian was a waste of this exotic food as it took away the freshness and texture of it.
Just as we feared, the White Temple was filled with tour buses when we arrived, promising crowds and crowds of tourists like us wanting a glimpse of that famous piece of architecture. We paid our fees to enter and followed the line that brought people in and through the temple in an orderly pace.
The all-white Buddhist temple, along with its intricate details, was truly an astounding view by itself. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the temple, but I can tell you that the quirky, colorful interior was an odd contrast to its fairy-tale, pure-looking exterior. Inside, there were murals with unexpected graphics of characters like Kung-Fu Panda, Michael Jackson, and even characters from Star Wars. It was the intention of Thai Buddhist artist Chalermchai Kositpipat to use a mix of good and evil images from the popular culture of the West to juxtapose it against the pureness and enlightenment that Buddhism is suppose to stand for.
The public restrooms on site are in this large, amazing gold temple. It’s definitely one of the highlights as well, and one of the few times where you’ll see tourists lining up to grab a selfie in front of a public restroom.
Before leaving Chiang Rai, our driver suggested we make one more stop to visit Wat Rong Suea Ten, also known as the Blue Temple. It’s a fairly new temple that’s still undergoing construction, but the striking blue and gold exterior was quite impressive upon arrival.
Tip: Although different websites give different info, neither the White Temple nor the Blue Temple would allow anyone to enter in shorts. At the White Temple, my mom had to buy a sarong from one of the shops outside, but at the Blue Temple, free sarongs were provided.
6.) Besides night markets, I’m sure no one ever visits Thailand without getting a massage! There are so many day spas all around town in Chiang Mai, and it’s hard to know which ones are trustworthy in terms of their hygiene. One can find a 60 minute massage for as long as USD $10! But, we’re always skeptical about the quality of service and level of hygiene when it comes to super cheap spas. I turned to my trusty TripAdvisor app and found Fah Lanna Spa, which has over a thousand 4-5 star reviews vouching for their good hygiene practices and quality massages. They even send a car to pick you up at your hotel!
I’m not a massage person. I don’t find it comfortable to have a voluntary beating on my body. But, every once in awhile when I’m with my family on vacation, I’ll agree to have a massage with them. Fortunately, the whole experience in Chiang Mai was quite nice, and Bridgette, in particular, was super excited and delighted by her very first spa experience. We shared one massage room with my mom, who fell asleep during her massage, which was a good sign. Bridgette’s masseuse seemed hesitant to use too much pressure on a child so throughout that hour, Bridgette could be heard constantly asking her masseuse to increase her pressure while I kept asking my masseuse to reduce her pressure. LOL!
7.) Our friends recommended the Art in Paradise interactive 3D museum as an excellent rainy day option in Chiang Mai, but after spending an afternoon there, I think we’d recommend it for all weathers! 🙂 At first, you’re kind of confused when you look at the artwork and try to figure out where to stand for the picture to get that 3D effect but once you figure it out the photos are absolutely hilarious to see!
8.) We stayed at 3 different hotels in our span of 10 days in Chiang Mai. Besides the Khum Phaya that we mentioned at the beginning of this post, we also stayed at Le Meridien and Na Nirand Romantic Boutique Resort. Of the 3, our absolute favorite was the Na Nirand, so I must mention this resort as one of the top places to visit in Chiang Mai! Located conveniently in the outskirts of the night market, the Na Nirand is like a tucked away gem. The moment you enter, you are greeted with the kindest check in staff, one of whom I must mention by name–Annie. Right after our check in, Annie took her time in walking us through the property for a very thorough tour. The property is small, but quaint and full of charm, with a vintage ambiance. A giant 100 year old rain tree sits at the center of the property, right by the Ping River.
We stayed in one of their Riverfront Colonial Suites, which was a surprise upgrade, and included a private pool right next to the Ping River! The bathroom was bigger than most hotel rooms we’ve stayed at, and had my dream bathtub in it.
The restaurant on property is this beautiful glasshouse with a rooftop, overlooking the Ping River. We had breakfast there every morning, and even enjoyed a lovely high tea on one of the afternoons. As someone who has worked in the hospitality industry for many years planning events with fine details, I can tell you that Na Nirand gets it. They completely get how to give an amazing guest experience that will bring customers back over and over again.
9. We didn’t have a short list of “must-try” restaurants for this trip, but received recommendations from locals that we conversed with along the way. Most were just average, but one local joint that stood out to us was Tongtemtoh. Its menu had many authentic Northern Thai dishes, which is different than the central or southern Thai food that we are more familiar with. You’ll find a lot of pork dishes on the menu, as well as fried items and various spices.
If you give Tongtemtoh a try, be sure to visit Mango Tango just down the road from them, for some superb mango desserts!
Other food pics I collected from our trip….
10.) We saved the VERY best recommendation for last, and that was our 2 day experience at the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Chiang Mai. Prior to the trip, our worldschooling friends had warn us not to participate in any activities where elephants were used to entertain tourists, which included elephant riding, elephant painting, and elephant dancing. By participating in such activities, we would be supporting the continual elephant abuse in Southeast Asia. Instead, our friends recommended 2 different elephant sanctuaries for us to visit, where we would be able to learn a ton about these amazingly gentle giants while also helping to care for them.
Most people pick the half day or full day tour, but to give Bridgette and I the full experience, I splurged and booked the 2 day/1 night tour for us. I would highly recommend spending the night there because the morning time was when it felt most majestic to us, with very few tourists on site.
During our time there, we learned so much about the elephant abuse that is still taking place all over Southeast Asia to support the tourism industry. It was honestly heartbreaking to hear what the elephants must go through in order to be “tamed” enough to be trained as entertainers. However, knowledge is power, and with the rise of social media, we can all do our part to spread awareness across the globe these days. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT support any activity where the elephants are trained to entertain humans! And, do not trust all places that have the word “sanctuary” in the name, because many of them are unethical, abusive places disguised as sanctuaries to trick tourists. Do your due diligence ahead of time by researching on these places. We can definitely vouch for the integrity of Elephant Nature Park after having spent 2 days there getting to know their operations, their staff members, and the unique story of each elephant. We also lucked out and got to meet the founder of Elephant Nature Park, Lek, as she just happened to be on site during our stay. She gave a short talk to those of us who were there, and we were all so touched by her passion to make it her lifetime mission to rescue these animals, and to provide a safe, loving habitat for them.
To get a sense of our experience at the Elephant Nature Park, here is a video by Bridgette:
Chiang Mai is definitely a place that we’ll want to go back, and next time, we hope to bring Alan with us!