Monday, 25 January 2016

Chiang Mai In A Nutshell

There's so much to do in Chiang Mai and having stayed there for 2 weeks, we pretty much saw the lot of it. Here's what to do, where to stay and what to see.

Where To Stay:
Being backpackers, we moved around quite a lot during our time here. Never knowing if you're going to like the place or how long you'll be staying, booking for say 3-4 nights each time is ideal. Hostels are your best bet too, you'll pay between £3-£10 a night depending on location/rating and is the greatest app you'll come across. You simply pop in where you want to go, select the hostel you fancy, pay a small online deposit to secure the booking then that's it - all done. Chiang Mai city is fairly small, and you ideally want to get yourself somewhere inside the 'old city' (you'll know what I mean when you get there). Everything is in walking distance if you stay either inside or just outside the walls, and you can get really great, modern hostels. We stayed in 3 during our 2 weeks there but these were our favourites:

- '@box Hostel' - A really modern hostel made out of shipping containers, located North of the Old City. Great staff, very clean, very safe and each room has an en suite and air con. Roughly £6 per night.

- 'Sunny Hostel' - Again, really modern and clean. Air con in each room, shared toilets/showers but still lovely and clean with friendly staff. Located South East of the Old City. £5 per night. 

What To Do:
Chiang Mai is famous with backpackers for its excursions and trips in and out of the city. You'll find yourself spending a good chunk of your money here but it's well worth it, the activities are so much fun. We visited an elephant sanctuary, did a Thai cookery class, a 2 day jungle trek and visited Chiang Mai's own 'Grand Canyon'. There's also the infamous tiger temples which we were definitely not doing as they're so cruel, and a Thailand version of 'Go Ape' called 'The Flight of the Gibbon'. We've heard this is so much fun and is advertised all over the city, but we'd spent quite a lot of money already so went against it. Plus we weren't actually that fussed on doing it but if you like all that outdoor adventure kind of stuff then it's definitely the thing for you! If you want to do Chiang Mai properly, then expect to pay about £150-£250 for all of the activities. Sounds a lot I know, but you'll regret missing out.

Where To Eat:
There isn't actually a main place to eat in Chiang Mai as there are restaurants, cafe's and food markets all over the place. You can go for posh meals, cheap meals, casual meals, quick meals - you name it, Chiang Mai has it. If you just wander around the Old City you'll constantly find little places to eat and sometimes the not-so-attractive places offer the best food at around £2 a dish. But if you do want to stick to western food then McDonalds, Burger Kings and Subway's can be found all over. The best food we had was at a place called the 'Coffee Club' and was the day after our 48 hour trek when we were just craving British stodgy food. You can have anything from burgers to fish and chips, pizza's to pasta and the deserts are unreal. You do pay a little bit more (around £6) but it's so worth it. We even went back for brunch! It's located at the East entrance of the Old City. 

If you also fancy quick and traditional Thai food one night, head to the Bazzaar night market East of the Old City walls. There's loads of little restaurants (again, nice and cheap), a big square full of food/drink and live music and there's also the 'hay bales' as we called it where there's food vans offering all kinds of dishes. You then grab what you want, sit yourself down on hay bales in the middle of the square and watch a live band. We saw this one night after we'd already eaten so went back the next day (Sunday) and found it was closed! Gutted. So if you do go, don't go on a Sunday! 

Nights Out:
We had a few nights out here and every time, headed towards the middle of the Old City where you'll find the main bar/club 'Zoe Yellow'. If you ever get lost just ask someone along the way where it is, everyone knows of it. It's located in a square full of different bars, where the backs of them face out into a courtyard. The courtyard is filled with long tables and decorated in fairy lights, it's quite a cool little place to spend the night actually. What we didn't realise on our first night out is that all the bars here close at 12pm, and there really is no hanging around. As soon as the clock hits 12pm the song stops playing, the lights come on and the shutters come down. It's a little strange but you get used to it. 

There's places to go though after this called lock-ins, so just follow the crowds and you'll find yourself in one. The drinks in Chiang Mai are quite cheap if you're ordering beer. About 50 baht for a Chang, but can get a bit more pricey for your spirits and cocktails - about £2-£3. Still cheap compared to back home I know, but when you get into the backpacking swing £3 for a drink suddenly seems like a lot! Also the bars here literally have no measurements and pour your spirit in quite generously, so be prepared for that. Whether you're travelling alone or in a group though, this area is great for meeting people. Everyone is really chatty and willing to make conversation, so don't be afraid to go - it's so much fun.

Getting Around:
The city is really easy to get around and can mostly be done on foot. The Old City is definitely walkable, and you can go from temple to temple whilst having a look inside the shops on the way. If you want to go outside of the city walls it's still walkable depending on where you're staying, but it can be a bit of a longer walk so hop in a Tuk-Tuk or one of the red taxis - just make sure you negotiate a price with them beforehand so they don't take advantage of you being a tourist.

In terms of getting around with trips and excursions, e.g. the elephant sanctuary or treks, these can all be done at tourist information shops all around the city or through the trips official website/phone number. They'll almost always arrange to pick you up on the day of the trip, so it saves you having to arrange your own transport. You can also book all of your transport to other cities easily the same way, such as trips to Pai or your busses/trains to Laos or Bangkok. Chiang Mai also has an airport so you can just as easily get a flight to anywhere you want. We got our slow boat from Chiang Mai to Laos sorted in Bangkok, but pop into a tourist shop or even your hotels information desk and book it trough them. Everything is so easy!

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