Apr 9-23, 2016
A First Timer in Chiang Mai
Location: Chiang Mai (city), Thailand
I long heard about Chiang Mai as the mountain town of Thailand where the air is cool and crisp. Somehow, images of Sagada came to mind. But with only 14 days given to me for Thailand (over land), it was hardly enough for more than one destination. So I defaulted to Bangkok on my first few visits. Finally, since I just spent time in Bangkok not over a month ago, I could spend my next 14 days in Chiang Mai. Upon arrival though, it was a surprise awakening for me - Chiang Mai is a big city!
In my energetic parlance, when there is a struggle, it's a hint that something is not right. I felt that with Chiang Mai even as I started heading for it from Bangkok - fully booked train, fully booked hotel, night border crossing with no bus on the other side, bad hostel on my first night, etc. I was beginning to wonder why I even bothered to continue. But the struggle only lasted the first week. What followed was abundance. I'm glad I decided to stay on.
Nawa Sheeva Hotel | Nawa Saraan Hotel | Caffeine Fix | Waya Massage
While walking along the street, I happen to pass by an interesting establishment. It didn't even look like a hotel but it was, plus a cafe. It was only 2 months since they opened. Everything was new. I asked to talk to the owner about a barter deal. He liked my plan to put the word out about his business and in return, I got to stay in his 2 hotels, including breakfast, massage and coffee from his Caffeine Fix Cafe. The quality of the service and product from these establishments are first rate and impeccably delivered by a perfectionist. I am glad to be working with such people. That stroke of good fortune seem to turn the tide for me. Everything else after that was characterized by abundance.
If I were to state the highlight of Chiang Mai, it would be the kaleidoscope of people that went in and out of my orbit like people in a revolving door. Some were passing blurs while others left me inspired. It would range from a fleeting Hi and Hello with a few drinks to one of hanging with for a couple of days with a lingering feeling of connection. As travelers, these friendships had a limited shelf life, usually from a few hours to a few days...and the cycle repeats itself.
One guy that impressed me the most in Chiang Mai is Mike. He's only 40 years old and he already owns a string of businesses - hotels, cafe, massage parlour, travel and tours, and looking to expand even more. No, his being rich is not what impressed me. He has no air about himself. He's like the guy next door you want to have beer with. He knows what he wants and makes quick decisions without being bogged down on trivial details. He's not the kind to nickel-and-dime you. He's a perfectionist and understates what he offers. You just get blown away because you get more than what you expect. With his obsession to have consistency with his coffee, he purchased the top-of-the-line fully programmable Victoria Arduino VA388 Black Eagle espresso coffee maker - the most expensive in all of Chiang Mai (according to him - and he wasn't bragging...it's not like him). I looked it up, it's about $26,000. Who would spend that kind of money just to get a good cup of coffee? He very seldom makes mistakes. In my 4-day stay in his hotel, I was impressed. The only flaw I saw was a slow drain in the shower. He was quick to fix it. In fact, he lavishes you. He kills you with kindness and generosity to a point where the only reciprocity is to go the whole 9 yards with your very best with what you have to deliver. I resonate with such people. Before I left, I told him I don't want his money but I'll give him carpet coverage on all his enterprise...my way of saying 'Thank You' in my own currency.
Increasingly, I see more and more intrepid lone lady Chinese travelers - beautiful ones at that! I met Samantha in one of the temples, had an extended conversation with her at a cafe and later rode her bike with her in tandem as we searched for the best Khao Soi dish around town in the middle of the night. It was spontaneous adventure. She brought me back to my hotel and I never saw her again. All that happened within a few hours - short but memorable. As travelers, you live in a world of impermanence as detachment is forced upon you.
Eva and Dora
2 beautiful Hungarian ladies I met while enjoying a local dish in the market eatery. We spent a few times together having breakfast at my Nawa Sheeva Hotel, taking a dip in its salt-water pool, an exploration of Warorot Market and discovering Thamel Coffee in the area. I'm sure our paths will cross again.
Helena and I go back to the monastic retreat at Thai Plum Village in Pak Chong. We hung out and did yoga there together with an Austrian traveler, Sabrina. It was great seeing her again in Chiang Mai. We spent time over coffee, at the pool in Nawa Sheeva and enjoyed extended talks.
Malina and I met while enjoying our fruit shakes during Songkran, and braved getting wet during the festivities. We had sporadic coffee conversations in the days that came by. We even met at the bus station where she headed out for Laos, while I went ahead with my Tachileik border crossing.
Ana is perhaps the friendliest I met. A wonderful Greek lady now residing in Australia, she was my neighbor in Chiang Mai before I moved to Nawa Sheeva Hotel. We would share breakfast coffee talks and enjoy city walks over beer and eats. She was a kindred soul. Safe travels Ana!
Ton, from the way I saw things, was the overall manager of Nawa Sheeva and Nawa Saraan. He was on the ball who went the distance for me. When I would casually tell him something, he would be quick to suggest something better. If he is not sure, he would even make the trip to ascertain the information and come back to me with a map. He was prompt and alert. When I left the hotel, he even had a to-go sandwich for me. What a guy! I wish we had a picture together.
Like Helena, I met Pareena in the retreat at Thai Plum Village. She resides in Chiang Mai so we met up for coffee at Thamel Coffee in Warorot Market. It was a relaxed and leisurely conversation that took us back to Plum Village and to the prospects of tomorrow. Too bad that meeting wasn't followed-up. Next time perhaps.
I'd been crossing paths with Nhi since I met her in Kho Rong (Cambodia). We met again in Ho Chi Minh City and enjoyed a night meal with Phung, a common Vietnamese friend. Now we meet again in Chiang Mai. Always good to be catching up with her.
We met inside a minivan in Siem Reap en route to Chiang Mai. I thought that was it. Then we bumped into each other during Songkran...then accidentally met again on several occasions, up until she was boarding the red taxi for Bangkok. It was uncanny how we would keep bumping into each other. I'm sure I'll be surprised again.
The Frenchman from Toulouse
While staying in a budget B100/night dorm bed hostel, I met a fellow hostel guest, a Frenchman from Toulouse. He said he was traveling with no money and finding ways to survive on the road. I was thinking, "He's like me!". He left that night and came back at the crack of dawn. Around 9am, the hostel owner barged into our room and yelled at the Frenchman to pack up and get out. She continued yelling how the Frenchman promised to help clean up the place in exchange for free lodging, but he was still asleep at 9am after partying the entire night. The Frenchman hurriedly packed-up and was gone. I saw him again after a few days coming out of another hostel - scruffy, disheveled and looking dazed. In the meantime, I was already staying at the $100/night luxury Nawa Sheeva Hotel. Again, I couldn't help but contemplate. I am just like him - no home, no money, no job. But he ended up being thrown away and I end up lavished with luxury offerings. Did God just play dice? Or is there a natural law governing all this? How could two people in the same predicament end up on two separate ends of the spectrum?
The Wooden Elephant Puzzle
In Siem Reap, I bought a wooden elephant 3D jigsaw puzzle and I didn't really know what to do with it. Upon unpacking at Nawa Sheeva Hotel, I placed it on top of the tv stand together with some fixtures. It blended in. Having had a wonderful time at this hotel, it felt fitting to leave the elephant there where it seemed to find a comfortable home. It's my thanksgiving to a place that offered a roof over my head. Hotel staff later called my attention that I left an elephant after my checkout. I asked them to leave it there.
Bike LED Rear Light
When I saw a LED rear bike light for cheap, I purchased it and installed it on my rented bike. I forgot to get it back upon my return of the bike. I didn't like the owner for playing hardball, which made me want to get the light back even more. Then I got the nice hotel deals. With this abundance, getting the bike light back didn't seem too imperative. I was thinking...it won't benefit the bike owner since he doesn't use the bike. But it will benefit the next renter. I let it go. Pay it forward.
Chiang Mai was a big blessing. I can't really ask for more. A guy knowing no one with little money in a strange place ends up living in lavish hotels, Eggs Benedict for breakfast, dips in a salt-water pool, enjoys coffee from a $26,000 top-of-the-line coffee machine, gets kneaded like a bread dough by an expert Thai masseuse, participates in a Dance Mandala and meets the most interesting people - without spending a cent! What can I say? I remain humbled at all these blessings. The more I receive, the more I want to give back. Thank you Universe!
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Reader Comments:Eva Popoluska
(April 24, 2016) It was a pleasure to meet you Gigit! Enjoy Myanmar
(April 25, 2016) there's a great digital nomad meet up there Git, I recommend it. I love CM
(April 25, 2016) Safe travels Gigit.
(April 24, 2016) Read your blog Gigit and just a happy surprise to see Tui Pavinee Khemphet n your photo, cheers! I'm jealous of you both. Wish I were in Thailand now haha
(April 24, 2016) This is great, Gigit. I miss you so much! Your light is palpable even in your writing, just as it was the very moment I met you. I just KNOW our paths are going to cross again soon, my dear friend.
(April 24, 2016) Chiang mai always seems to work its magic
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai International Airport
Nong Buak Hard Park - free yoga classes daily
Arun Dara Villa - 7 exclusive rooms, 1 swimming pool for every room, grand opening
Nawa Sheeva Hotel - big room, high ceiling, salt-water pool
Nawa Saraan Hotel - upscale container-themed, garden setting, most expensive coffee maker in Chiang Mai
La Pizza Chiang Mai - Italian pizza, pasta, wine, dessert, coffee
Natural Bird Nest by Burapa - authentic bird's nest soup
ITM - International Training Massage School - Chiang Mai's most prestigious massage school
Float Chiang Mai - sensory deprivation float pod
Zira Spa - upscale authentic Thai massage and spa treatment
Tawan Bike - motorcycle rental | +66 91 635 2863 | Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200
Top Thailand Adventure Tour - bicycle rental
Chiang Mai FYI / Tips
- crop-burning season in Chiang Mai is between late Feb to early April. But laws change everytime. This year, 2019, there is a 61-day ban on burning so the farmers started burning early. When my plane was approaching Chiang Mai on Jan 24, 2019, there was already a thick blanket of smog covering the entire city (and beyond). But within the city itself, you won't feel it (but that doesn't mean the air is healthy). To monitor air conditions in real time, refer to site: Chiang Mai Air Pollution: Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI)
- you have to try Khao Soi, this is north Thailand's culinary staple
- visit Chiang Mai between October and April - best time, without the monsoon rains
- you have to try Khao Soi, this is north Thailand's culinary staple
- the tourist area where most of the hotels, restaurants, ticket offices, tour operators are, is located in the Old City
- to exchange your dollars to Thai Baht, the Super Rich Money Exchange give the best rates. There are many branches scattered around Chiang Mai
- get a red cab (songthao) outside the train station for Baht 50 (instead of paying B100 if inside the train station) to Old City - if you haggle nicely enough...I did!
- for only B50/day, best to rent a bike to go around the Old City - it's a 2.5km2 with lots to discover
- FREE daily yoga classes from 9:00am to 10:15am at Nong Buak Hard Park (southwest corner of Old City). Resident and passing-through teachers take turns conducting yoga classes.
How to Get around Chiang Mai
- red taxi (shared) - B50 standard fare
- bicycle - B50 daily rental
Blues/Jazz Bars in Chiang Mai
- North Gate Pub - at Chang Phueg Gate, great Tuesday jam session
- Road House - in front of Porn Ping Hotel
- Boy Blues Bar - at the Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai Cost Index
- B60 Chiang beer
- B250 1 hour drop-in yoga session
- B200 one hour Thai body massage at WAYA Massage (highly recommended)
- B50 noodle soup with meat
- B50 coffee
- B40 pad thai
- B30/kilo wash-only laundry
- B50/kilo wash+iron laundry
- B100-150 dorm bed/night
- B250 fan room/night
- B30 internet cafe/hour
- B170-190 Movies Sat-Sun and public holidays
- B130-150 Movies weekdays
- B100 Movies Wednesdays (movie discount day)
- B750 1/2 day Thai cooking lessons
- B900-1000 1 full day Thai cooking lessons
- B400 Muay Thai boxing ticket
- B2500 starting room rate at the luxury hotel, Nawa Sheeva (highly recommended)
- B450 bus, Chiang Mai to Bangkok
- B160-180 bus, Chiang Mai to Pai
- B1250 bus, Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- B1650 slow boat, Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- B210 bus, Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, 3-4 hours
- B360 Green VIP bus, Chiang Mai to Mae Sai (Thai border town for visa run to Tachileik, Myanmar)
- B50 bicycle rental, 24 hours
- B200 motorbike rental, 24 hours
- B273 #51 sleeping train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
- B638 #7 a/c train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
- B50 red taxi fare from point to point
- B100 red taxi fare from train terminal to city
- B2000 full day elephant sanctuary
- B750 Chiang Rai one-day tour
- B1500 mountain biking scenic ride
How to Get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok by Train from Bang Sue Train Station
For more train info: Bangkok to Chiang Mai trains - departing from Hua Lamphong - MRT (Bangkok)
(I'm using Bang Sue as a starting point because I was closer to it, but you may be closer to the Hua Lamphong station)
- take the MRT train to Bang Sue Station. Take the #1 Exit to the north provincial trains
- Proceed to Counter 2. You will see an information booth, a train schedule chart and the ticket counter. Choose the train and pay at the ticket counter.
- daily train schedule:
- 8:48am - #7 Train, arrive Chiang Mai 7:30pm, not sleeper, B638
- 2:06pm - #109 Train, arrive Chiang Mai 4:05am, sleeper
- 6:31pm - #9 Premium Train, arrive Chiang Mai 7:15am, sleeper, B938 upper deck, B1038 lower deck
- 7:56pm - #13 Train, arrive Chiang Mai 8:40am, sleeper, B768 upper deck, B838 lower deck
- 10:22pm - #51 Train, arrive Chiang Mai 12:10pm, sleeper, 3rd class B270 (non sleeper), 2nd class B438, B728 upper deck, B798 lower deck
Chiangmai Blogs by TheLoneRider
- Curing Cancer with Yoga? Feb 21, 2019
- Movie Review: Alita Battle Angel Feb 19, 2019
- International Training Massage School (ITM): Level 1 Feb 11-15, 2019
- Movie Review: Spider-Man - Into the Spider-Verse (2018) Feb 3, 2018
- Movie Review: Green Book Jan 30, 2019
- Meditation in a Sensory Deprivation Tank at Float Chiang Mai Jan 29, 2019
- Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Jan 27, 2019
- Movie Review: Aquaman Jan 26, 2019
- Reiki Share at the Mastermind Brain Spa Jan 26, 2019
- Resuming Life in Chiang Mai Jan 24, 2019
- 4 Days in Chiang Mai at Nawa Saraan Hotel Jan 2-6, 2019
- Mike Chong Aug 8, 2018
- An Intimate Conversation with my Universe in Chiang Mai Aug 8, 2018
- Kneaded and Pampered at Zira Spa Aug 4, 2018
- Savoring a Baht 3,500 Birds Nest Soup at Natural Bird Nest by Burapa Aug 3, 2018
- Yoga Exploration at The Yoga Tree with Gernot Aug 1, 2018
- Yoga In The Park - Chiang Mai July 31, 2018
- Yoga with Adam at Hidden House Yoga, Chiang Mai July 29, 2018
- 2 Weeks in Chiang Mai July 25 - Aug 7, 2018
- A First Timer in Chiang Mai Apr 9-23, 2016
- Dance Mandala in Chiang Mai at The Yoga Tree Apr 19, 2016
- Songkran Waterfight Festival in Chiang Mai Apr 13-15, 2016
- Border Crossing from Siem Reap (Cambodia) to Bangkok (Thailand) to Chiang Mai April 9-10, 2016
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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