Chiang Mai is a beautiful laid back town with canals running through the roads. This is a nice place to chill out. There are temples, museum and local markets too. It’s a 12 hour train journey from Bangkok. You can go for several day trips from here, further up north. They also have a lot of adventure packages which includes zip lines and the likes.
Here is a detailed account of my travel, followed by the important points and Gyan gain sections.
My long narrative (For important information, please scroll down)
Had booked upper berth in A/C sleeper class, in the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. After, all the bad reviews I read on blogs, I was prepared for the worst. I was expecting a really bumpy ride, dirty toilets and no food. None of these were true. Each car had a dedicated attendant who set up the berths and beds. The sheets were spotlessly clean. Clean toilets (at least for 8 hours until people spoiled it without flushing)
Food on the train was good too. I had dinner for 170 baht. Quantity was good enough for overeating. In fact it may have been a meal for two!
The train was only 30 minutes off schedule unlike what I had read of longer delays. Reached Chiang Mai station at 12:30 pm, after a good nights sleep on the train. This was by far one of my best train journeys (in Asia).
We took the red taxi (a small truck with seats sideways facing each other) to get to the hostel. The place is really laid back unlike the busy streets of Bangkok. The roads have a huge canal running in between with small water fountains. And have huge pavements on both side of the canal. A perfect track for runners. The novice runner inside made a note to run the next day along side these canals.
On day 1, in the evening we cycled around on free bicycles offered at our stay. They were from grandfather era and had screeching breaks and worked only in combination with legs 🙂
Cycled in search of lunch and then visited local temples and booked our travel plan for next 2 days. A friendly senior monk in the temple told us about their routine and the talk with him was our highlight for the day.
There was a regular night market and a Sunday market too.
Chiang Mai has a lot of local day trip options to waterfalls or to elephant camps. You could also go to Chiang Rai and Pai from here. There are also a lot of options for adventure activities.
We went to Chiang Rai on day 2 instead of going for the local tour. It was a combination of white temple, tribal village (staged) and the golden triangle. The white temple is a real marvel. It’s one of a kind, I haven’t seen one like this before. It was finally a wow moment after 4 days of being on the go! The white temple is surrounded by water which signifies that the mind be cleansed before entering the temple. At the entrance were Rahu and death (as per the guide) standing there to decide if one would go to hell or heaven!
In the corridor leading to the main temple there were lot of hands rising from the floor. This signified people with bad deeds staying in hell and the people with good deeds enter heaven!
This was the guides version, however the interpretation of these hands in the corridor, stated on internet is different. The out-reaching hands symbolize unrestrained desire. The bridge proclaims that the way to happiness is by foregoing temptation, greed, and desire. Well I was able to walk past the corridor into the main temple 😉
After the temple we went to see the tribes. This was a good experience, in spite of it being a staged village. We got to see all 5 tribes in Chiang Rai in their traditional costumes. These tribes had migrated from China and Burma.
Long neck tribes were the maximum and were the highlight. Even 4-year-old girls were wearing the heavy neck ring. With the tourists flowing in to see them everyday, appears kids find it fashionable and they asked for it as early as 3. Thankfully the neck rings were removed in the night for children. I tried out a 1 kilo brass neck ring for a photograph and it was way too heavy to have it on even for a minute. Whereas the ones the women wore weighed 5 kilo. And I, complain of neck pain which came from my corporate job occupation (hazard) without even wearing a neck ring!! I saw them comfortably weaving shawls without moving their head or neck just like the way we work on computers, back home. But unlike me, these girls were smiling and happy about their work, wearing a 5 kilo neck jewelry!
Having a tour guide to talk about the history of the temple and tribe details kept the trip interesting. We also picked few Thai words from our guide, Mo. And also learnt that Chiang Rai has a different dialect from Thai.
Day three started with an easy 5 km run along side the canals, watching the sun rise!
And then we went to our half day adventure activities going over 49 different hurdles including 7 zip-lines. You can replace it with many other available day tours. Or just go around exploring locally, on your own. We booked our tours from CK travels and had a smooth experience on both days.
We headed out to Ayutthaya in the 6 pm train from Chiang Mai.
If you plan to cross over land into Laos, you can cover Ayutthaya on the way up to Chiang Mai instead of going back. We chose this trail as we had the Nok air option of fly and ride from Bangkok. Needed this for the visa. And it was cheap enough and saved more time than crossing into Lao via land border.
1. Food on the train is good but is a little highly priced compared to outside food
2. Clean bed sheets and blankets are provided on the train
3. Upper berths are smaller in width than lower berths and have no window (outside view) and hence costs 100 baht lesser. It’s still a better deal as it was comfortable. There is enough space to keep your day pack and food covers and a bottle too.
4. There are no charge points in the berths, so keep your electronic equipment well charged
5. Coffee on the train can be avoided, owing to the taste, if you are not a caffeine addict.
6. There are no tuk-tuks in Chiang Mai. Cheapest taxis are the red open vans that don’t run on meter. Please ask your hotel the approximate cost before hand so that you can bargain for a good rate. I bargained for 100 baht for two people for a distance of 5 km. It was 50 baht less than what the hotel guy had told me.
1. White temple at Chiang Rai was as beautiful as the pictures. Wat Rong Khung is the local name for the temple.
2. Local temples and night market in Chiang Mai
3. Long neck tribal village
4. Golden triangle
5. Phoenix Adventure activities
1. Known funda reinstated after visiting the tribes. The less you know about the world outside yours, the more content you are with what you have.
2. Few Thai words learnt today –
Savati kha : Hello to a woman
Savati khum: Hello to a man
Khapun kha : Thank you
Add a pe in front of a name for older men out of respect. Mo (the tour guide) addressed the driver Pao as ‘pe Pao’. Savati tao is hello in Chiang Mai dialect
See Pictures: Bangkok and North Thailand
Chiang Mai : 3 days and 2 nights
Stayed at : The Terrace B&B, Shriphum road.
Short review : Great location, facing the canals. Free breakfast (bread jam and butter) and drinking water.
Lots of mosquitoes, carry some repellents. Staff does not understand English, could be challenging to communicate.
Travelers: Two female backpackers
Loop: Bangkok -> Chiang Mai -> Ayutthaya -> Kanchanaburi -> Bangkok -> Udon Thani
Duration : 8 days
Country Loop: North Thailand -> Laos -> Vietnam -> Cambodia -> Myanmar -> Malaysia -> Philippines -> South Thailand -> Back Home