Frequently visited by my circle of friends, Thailand’s tourism became trending in recent years. Most of the people I know end up visiting the southern islands, which are a lot more popular than visiting the north. However, I was more interested at the time of my visit to explore the north, knowing that I could only do one of the two. After spending the majority of my time in Asia by exquisite beaches, sparing some time for the mountains, canyons and springs was in order.
Heard a lot about Pai, a town in northern Thailand, and made a stop in Chiang Mai prior, which is the biggest city in the northern region. Of course, starting in Bangkok was kind of a must for logistical reasons, but was not a waste of time at all.
Pretty indifferent about this city, definitely busy for my taste, however, very well developed and contains lots of interesting features. Stayed in a somewhat snobby neighborhood, Sukhumvit, nonetheless still exhibiting the authentic Thai culture, which was pretty distinctive. The neighborhood is pretty famous for expats, which is the reason behind its gentrification. Yet, you’ll still find lots of street food and ‘hole in the wall’ type of establishments.
In Bangkok, you’re constantly walking within lots of street markets, day and night ones, countless number of temples, and street food on every corner. An amazing historical quarter ‘Phra Nakhon’ which contains the ‘Grand Palace’, ‘Wat Phra Kaew’, ‘Wat Pho’, and several other sights will not disappoint.
Wat Pho is especially famous for displaying one of the largest reclining Buddha statues in the world, at 46 m (151 ft) long. It is also considered the most sacred out of the 40,717 buddhist temples in Thailand. On a different note, an easy way to escape Bangkok’s traffic is to take the ferry. The ferries run down ‘Chao Phraya’ river, and connect the major neighborhoods of the city together.
Sukhumvit is home to a great deal of trendy dining options, a few speakeasys and dance clubs, thanks to a large presence of foreigners. In Sukhumvit, the dance clubs usually have live bands playing commercial Thai music – not my taste but couldn’t complain. The nightlife in Sukhumvit is average in terms of excitement, substantially overpriced, and the crowd shares a bit of snobbiness amongst themselves.
On a separate topic, the street food is spectacular, can’t count how many times I had ‘Sate’ or a ‘Pad Thai’ while walking down the busy streets of Bangkok. While walking, you come across lots of spas and massage centers; get yourself a Thai massage. Pretty good stretch, and unlike any other conventional massage.
Was expecting to do a lot of hiking while in Chiang Mai, but found out that the time I visited (mid March) was burning season. The burning season, also called the smoky season, happens every year during February, March and April. The main reason behind the smoke that fills Chiang Mai’s air is the burning of crop fields, in anticipation of the monsoon, which starts around the end of May. Wildfires are also another contributor to the problem, which makes it difficult to hike those hills that surround the city. As a result, sticked to normal elevation, and explored the city on a bicycle.
The walking street night market was impressive, shopped quite a bit there, before listening to some live jazz and blues at The North Gate Jazz Co-op. This place is definitely worth a visit, pretty international crowd; just so you know, Chiang Mai is full of expats and digital nomads.
Took a shuttle van from Chiang Mai to Pai, which takes about 3 hours and costs 150 bhats ($4.5). The shuttle can be booked online or through your hotel. Another alternative is renting a motor bike and riding to Pai. The journey is incredible along these hilly and winding roads. Moreover, some motor bike companies (such as Aya), offer one way rentals, where you can drop your motor bike off in Pai, if you do not plan to go back to Chiang Mai. Regardless, if you decide to take the shuttle, remember that the roads are winding. I’ve made a mistake of having a delicious pad thai at the bus station prior to departure, and that did not sit very well.
Pai is a popular hip town, frequented by young european travelers due to its affordability. When I say young, I mean -just finished high school- type of crowd. The good thing though, is the easiness of skipping those crowds and exploring the outskirts and countryside in just a few minutes. It’s a good idea to have a bicycle there, a scooter can get you further, but you typically don’t need to.
‘Sai Ngam’ hot spring may be one of the few attractions that is hard to get to by bicycle, and in this case you can share a ‘Tuk-tuk’ with others to get there. The water is not too hot, but warm enough to relax your body.
In addition to the hot springs, several waterfalls are scattered around Pai, also a canyon worth visiting. You can easily spend half a day at the canyon; the hike is pretty adventurous with breathtaking views. Otherwise, watching the sunset at the gigantic Buddha statue on one of the hills is another nice alternative to spend a late afternoon/early evening.
Returned from Pai to Chiang Mai using the same method stated above, and also having an identical pad thai prior to the journey. Guess what? Was a bad idea, again. Einstein defines stupidity by doing things the same way over and over, and expecting different results. Oh well, it was still delicious.
My flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok landed at the smaller airport, Duan Mueang, while my next flight back to India was from Suvarnabhumi. Both airports are 35 km (22 mi) apart, should take 40 minutes by taxi, without traffic. Unless you have a late flight, expect to run into some traffic. A free shuttle bus service between both airports is available, all you need to do is show the ticket confirmation at either one of the airports; flight needs to be within 24 hours to be eligible. Journey takes about one hour depending on traffic, so keep that in mind.
When you have two weeks to spare in Thailand, you need to choose between the north and south, between the mountains and the beaches. The energy is powerful by the mountains, and in a place like Thailand, its doubled. Anyway, the south of Thailand is next!