Chiang Mai has been one of our favorite stops along the journey thus far. The food is delicious and inexpensive, the people are friendly, there are temples at every turn, and it’s a beautifully colorful place! But more than that,the city reminded us a little bit of home, with many of the same comforts that are found back in the USA. And after quite a few months on the road, it was exactly where we needed to be to relax, refocus and become reinvigorated for the remainder of our journey!
Now you might be thinking, “hey, Kimbles. You packed up and left the comforts of home on purpose back in January…remember? That was the whole point, right?” But the reason we mention how cozy we were in Chiang Mai is to encourage you, our reader. Maybe you are thinking of traveling to Thailand but are scared about the cultural differences. Or maybe you have never even considered traveling to Thailand because you don’t know much about the country. Whatever travel situation you find yourself in, we encourage you to consider adding Chiang Mai to your travel bucket list.
Here’s why Chiang Mai is not much different than home:
Lack of a language barrier: The majority of Thai people we met or crossed paths with in Chiang Mai spoke English. Street signs, menus and even movies are in both Thai and English, making navigation and daily life a breeze!
Cleanliness: Unlike a few other places we’ve visited this year, Thailand has a standard of cleanliness rivaling the US. From restaurants to street food stalls, and even hospitals (dang poison ivy), Chiang Mai is a well-kept place in nearly every aspect of living.
Air-conditioning: In a city whose lowest temperature all year is 60 degrees and in many months is a humid 90-plus degrees before noon, air-conditioning becomes a must. Most hotels, malls and restaurants offer reprieve from the heat with great “aircon” blasting 24 hours a day.
Cafés and wifi: There is no shortage of cute cafés serving up delicious drinks while patrons surf the internet using the free wifi. That’s right, just like in the states, you can sip on coffee and scroll through emails in a comfortable setting. And to top it off, the employees will often greet you with a very friendly welcome upon entering. It’s like a time warp back to the Cheers bar in Boston, without actually calling you by name.
Supermarkets: While most people don’t dream of visiting supermarkets on their trip, it’s a great way to save a bit of money when traveling long-term. Locating a grocery store has become one of the first things we look for when settling into a new city, and Chiang Mai did not disappoint! With stores like Tesco and Rimping, there is no shortage of quality produce and familiar brand names.
Movie Theaters: We visited two different theaters during our time in Chiang Mai and were very impressed with how nice they were. HUGE screens, really comfortable seats, delicious popcorn and tickets that cost less than $3 per person. One thing to be aware of is the Thai National Anthem, an ode to the King which is played before each film. Simply follow the directions to stand up during the anthem, and sit down when it is finished. Easy enough!
Have we convinced you yet? Maybe you find yourself thinking, “hey, Kimbles. If it’s so much like home, why should I visit?”
Because Chiang Mai will undoubtedly give you a cultural experience unlike anything you’ll experience at home:
Temples and Monks: There are over 300 buddhist temples (or “wats”) in Chiang Mai and each day you’re sure to see a monk (or 10!) walking around the city, going about their day. There is also a free “monk chat” that takes place each day, which provides the opportunity to speak face to face with a monk and ask them questions about daily life as a monk and life in the temples. So cool!
Wai: This is the hand-shake of Thailand. It consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. We recommend reading up on the proper timing and usage of the “wai” if you’re planning a visit to Thailand.
Songthaew: Literally meaning “two rows” in reference to the two benches in the back of the trunk, these red taxi trucks are found all over the city. Tourists and locals alike are hopping in and hopping out of the trucks as they take passengers from point to point at a very cheap fare. Taxis are shared, so don’t be surprised if your driver stops to pick up passengers along the route!
Jungle experiences: Just a few hours outside of the city you’ll find a number of adventure activities like bamboo rafting, elephant bathing and waterfall trekking. We highly recommend Next Step Thailand and the Spicy Villa Eco-Lodge crew if you’re looking to have a truly unique experience. For those interested in elephant trekking, we encourage you to do your research first and make sure you find a reputable company and are informed about the treatment of the elephants before you spend the money.
In total, we spent about three weeks exploring Chiang Mai. We stayed in two different guest houses on completely different sides of the city, and feel like we really got a feel for life in this laid-back and picturesque city. The people are sincerely some of the nicest we’ve encountered on this journey, always greeting you with a smile. We have met some lifelong friends in Thailand and wouldn’t trade those relationships for anything. And hopefully, one day, you can do the same!