To get the first taste of “Land of smiles” we flew straight to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s fourth largest city. Surrounded by lush mountains and dotted with temples of cultural importance, we were amazed by just how much there is to do and EAT!
Chiang Mai draws everyone’s attention to visit for an endless Buddhist temples, many will attend to cooking classes, practise yoga and meditation, experience thai body massage and flip through busy night markets. Thailand’s winter starts from November and we thought there won’t be any better time to visit, during sunny, warm days with average temperature of 30 degrees.
One of our main goals, besides volunteering at Elephant Nature Park (you can read it over here), was to catch up with thai food as much as we can. Early mornings seeking for light and nourishing meal, in the evenings we were having food fiestas along numerous food stalls at Night Bazar. Night markets are just unbelievable, even though it’s crowded and sometimes hectic, there are lots of vendors, simply impossible to leave without buying a souvenir! For top experience we recommend Sunday Night Market, in the middle of Old Town, when busy Ratchadamnoen Road is closed until Tha Pae Gate. Pad thai and spicy papaya salad were just heavenly good, but who doesn’t like the famous mango sticky rice or deep fried banana for dessert? Furthermore our best discovery was Khanom Krok, which is rice flour and coconut milk pancake. This sweet, accidentally vegan treat simply became our everyday snack.
If you are not brave enough to rent a scooter in Chiang Mai, the cheapest option to get around the city is popular Songthaew (pron: song-tail), local public red truck, which is easy to spot on the streets. Simply wave to driver, tell them your destination and you will share the ride with locals and other fellow travellers. Prices can vary depending on where you are heading, costs 20 to 60 baths (1£ to 1.50£) for a trip. Most of the time you can see that the drivers are inventing their own price so don’t forget to bargain no matter what. Journey can be a little bit adventurous, sitting in the back without any seat belt, but thats the reality of South East Asia.
Few more joints:
- Amrita Garden – little, hidden restaurant, microbiotic, you can sit outside in the garden area and enjoy homemade tiramisu, lots of Japanese food, they serve homemade kombucha, very reasonable prices!
- Imm Aim – friendly owner and he speaks good English, good value for money, banana blossom salad and massaman curry were absolute favourite! Their Logo says “before we go looking for life on the other planets can we stop killing life on this one?”
- Overstand – alternative coffee shop, serves coconut iced coffee, possible to find milk alternatives, nice place to hang out.
- Taste from Heaven – authentic Thai, lots of vegan options, clearly labelled, yummy spring rolls and Tom Yam soup.
- Food 4 thought – Airbnb and café at the same time, cosy eatery with some vegan options and sweet treats! Try their smoothies!
We managed to check only few places comparing to how many more more cafés and restaurants are worth to visit. For the best and the full list of veggie thai fusion check Happy Cow!
Two days before our flight to Bangkok we decided to get away to Pai, a hippie oasis between the mountains. Transfer from Chaing Mai to Pai cost around 195 THB (~5£) with Prem Pracha company and tickets are available from their website or directly from a driver. Prepare yourself for 2 hours ride with over 700 turns up and down the mountains but it’s totally worth the hassle.
We stayed in Pai Zen Jam River Hostel, which was a good place for one night especially if you are one the budget (their bungalows are for £6 a night).
Once arrived, we went straight to the Earth Tone, a vegetarian/vegan and health shop/cafe famous for it’s waffles and authentic setting in the garden surrounded by all the greenery.
This was a truly tasty introduction to Pai, make sure to try their super salad, tempeh sandwich and spring rolls! After all the freshly squeezed juices and their coconut kefir we left some room for probably the best vegan banoffee pie we have ever had! Our second visit was sweeter – raw berry cheese cake and their fluffy pancakes with homemade vegan ice cream went perfect with rich flavoured cold brew coffee. We stocked our bags with their goodies from a mini shop by the entry and went to explore the rest of the town.
Good reviews about Vespai Motorcycle Rental were convincing enough to rent a bike and explore Pai to the fullest. The owner was honest and trustworthy person, he gave us few tips and made sure we were confident and prepared. Highly recommended!
Pai attracts tourists because of unspoiled nature, live music venues, yoga and meditation centres and obviously healthy, tasty food. Majestic canyon, waterfalls and whole nature around town brought us great tranquillity after heavy traffic in Chiang Mai.
We found it really important to have a good travel insurance, especially after observing safety rules in Thailand. In the beginning it might be pretty shocking to watch the traffic for someone who never been in this part of the globe. It’s like an everyday routine to see two parents and two little kids riding one bike. Funny but locals are excellent drivers and even though accidents are quite common, it’s mainly happening because of inexperienced tourists.
In theory you should have driving license on you, but technically rental places don’t ask for it. Make sure to have a photocopy of your passport otherwise they are asking to hand it over. Most of the scooters are automatic, but first check the lights, breaks and horn before you pull away. Take some photos of your bike as we heard you can get scammed!
Few tips while driving in Thailand:
- Always, no matter what, wear a helmet
- Check your route before – plan ahead
- Drive on the left side, not too close to the edge,
- Check your mirrors frequently – stay alerted
- If you don’t feel confident on the road, let others overtake you
- Take a deep breath if you getting stressed!