Chiang Mai

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Chiang Mai is known to be one of the worlds most liveable cities. So it’s really no surprise to see expats dominating the local cafes. I had pictured it to be quite small, but it’s actually huge. It is the second biggest city in Thailand. If you are a nature lover – don’t be turned off by the idea of the city. It never feels like you are in a busy place, plus there are hundreds of different day trips to venture into the nearby jungles.

There are hundreds of hostel accommodation options in and around Chiang Mai. For travellers wanting to socialise, I would highly recommend a place called The Living Place 1 (they have 2 but 1 is more popular). Although it’s located outside the Old City walls, it is perfectly situated in a quiet laneway towards the night bazaar (which I guarantee you will spend a lot of time!) The owner, Aree, is especially welcoming.

If you are interested in trying something new, and if you have the time, I would recommend just booking the first night somewhere and playing the rest by ear. Wandering around the city, you can find numerous small guesthouses and B&Bs offering fantastically cheap deals for clean private rooms. Many of them don’t have websites, have no advertising whatsoever and aren’t affiliated with any travel companies. They literally wait for walk-ins! Step off the beaten track and find a hidden gem!

TIP: If you only have a set amount of time in Northern Thailand – don’t miss visiting Pai – the small hippy town 3 hours North. Read more about Pai here


1. F O O D

247694_10152724774703513_8201760212921012824_nPersonally, I think Thailand has some of the best street food in the world. Most of it is fresh, delicious and the variety is crazy! The markets are the best place to pick up decent meals. Pad Thai, mango sticky rice, soups, gyoza and a plate of meat skewers all average 30 baht per serving (only US$1) and you are guaranteed to leave full!

TIP: Try and eat food which is cooked fresh (in front of you) to avoid food poisoning. 


If you need a break from street food (or enjoy eating breakfast in a cafe like me!) here’s a few places I would highly recommend:

  • Blue Diamond Cafe – Great garden atmosphere with a gourmet bakery attached and homemade treats.
  • Free Bird Cafe – Delicious! And 100% of profits go towards Burmese Refugee Houses fighting against human trafficking.
  • Dada Cafe – Get educated while you eat. The walls are covered with posters teaching customers about the health benefits of everything they serve!
  • Dash Teak House – Although higher priced than the other restaurants, the Thai/American owners serve up delicious hearty Thai cuisine in a fine dining setting. (Try the mind blowing Khao Soi curry – only found in North Thailand!)


TIP: If you’re a coffee lover, head down to Nimmanhemin Road outside the Old City. The entire street is lined with boutique coffee houses including Australian owned – Risto8to (amazing coffee).  If you are lucky enough to have the global award winning barista on shift – he can create your portrait in the coffee foam!

2. G O  T O  A  T H A I  B O X I N G  M A T C H

10659282_10152730199313513_548007362247707682_nNormally, boxing does not appeal to me. Watching men smash each other’s faces in just seems pointless. I was convinced by a local that there is no blood and it’s “not so violent like America”. I reluctantly agreed to give it a go. A group of us from the hostel went together (400 baht each) and could BYO beer which was great. Our seats were reserved from earlier in the day and it ended up being an amazing experience. Being so close, we could smell the sweat and Thai boxing was much more about speed and skill rather than violence. It was good to watch.

We were lucky enough to see a number of international matches throughout the night including USA, Italy and The Netherlands (both male and female). By the end of the night, we were all so engrossed in the tournament that we were cheering them on and making bets (you can make official bets at the back) and we all loved it!

TIP: Buy tickets in the morning through the hostel or wander down to the night bazaar to reserve a good seat!

3. V I S I T  D O I  S U T H E P 

10387678_10152730198408513_1945864797352120890_nDoi Suthep is a mountain in the Chiang Mai province reaching 1,676 metres. It’s covered in lush vegetation and holds near the top, a stunning Buddhist temple.

James and I hired a scooter for 150 baht for the day. We probably could’ve gotten cheaper, (I had heard of others getting them for 120 baht) however we had a lazy morning and wanted to be quick and make the most of the day so couldn’t be bothered negotiating.

10995901_10152730199968513_846781321574079898_nTIP: Ensure you ask to add insurance (could be an additional 40 baht) but it’s worth it! If anything happens to the bike – they may not give back your passport until you cough up the money so insurance is a safe bet. 

The mountain is 15km away and has windy roads leading up, so if you are not comfortable on a scooter, you can opt for a taxi instead.

11001819_10152730198693513_8823875369769920858_nThe temple is beautiful. You need to take your shoes off to wander around the grounds. If you head right to the back in the small alcove, there is an old monk sitting there. Kneel down in front of him, he will bless you, ask Buddha to grant you good luck and he will tie a white string around your wrist to symbolise the bond between you and your soul. It’s polite to always keep your head lower than those of the Buddhas and monks (which might explain why people are crawling around!). We lit candles, worshipped alongside others and took in the energy around us. When we were ready to leave, we saw a group of young school kids trying to raise money for a school library. Having little else to do, James and I spent the next half an hour dancing with them and helped them raise over US$200! Not only that, we got to spend some quality time interacting with locals and learnt about cool new haircuts and where to get great Thai food!

10978561_10152730200678513_2780373707216229720_nWe continued on the scooter further up the hill because we had heard about the village on the top. To be honest, I don’t know if we found the right village, although we had fun getting lost. We came across a small village filled with small shops and local kids running around playing with younger siblings. It was here that I met a lady with raw crystals who carved me a beautiful amethyst necklace!

TIP: Try the noodle sausage at the base of the temple! (Another Northern Thai specialty)

For those who want to try meditation, Wat Suan Dok offer 2 day meditation retreats called “monk chats”. It allows tourists to get a taste of the Buddhist lifestyle by learning about meditation. Live, eat, sleep and meditate like a monk for 2 days and at the end – feel free to ask the monk questions about his life, rituals and beliefs. Really interesting. Find out more by clicking here.

4. S E E  A  T H A I  C A B E R E T  S H O W

10994595_10152730199673513_4627087296616630003_nHaving reluctantly seen a PingPong show in Bangkok before, I was very hesitant about agreeing to a “ladyboy show” when it was offered. I was assured that it was nothing sexual but I still had my doubts. All I can say is that it was one of the best things I saw in Chiang Mai. It was nothing like what I expected. If I wasn’t told they were ladyboys – there was NO WAY of knowing. They were all stunning and paraded around in beautiful intricate costumes and performed great well known hits we could all sing along to like Queen and Abba.

11001896_10152730199598513_5339678560286213498_nIt cost only 200 baht (including a beer) and went for about 2 hours. The first act included most of the performers singing and dancing to latest hits. Many of the performers constantly came off stage to involve the audience (whether they liked it or not!) so be careful if you are sitting in the front row! Some of the performances  were slow, deep solo acts, while others were energetic group dance offs. It was truly spectacular!

TIP: Audience in the front row get involved so sit back if you prefer just to watch!

After the show was over, despite being a bar – the venue became deserted. We headed out to Zoe’s Bar which played 80’s and 90’s hits all night resulting in many lost voices. I personally prefer bars rather than nightclubs so I should have called it a night after Zoe’s, however ended up visiting the raunchy ‘Spicys’ later in the night and quickly regretted it. For those who prefer something different – hit up some unique jazz bands playing live nightly at the North Gate bars!

5. W A N D E R  T H E  M A R K E T S

10997364_10152726173228513_5458950933051232322_nMarkets in Thailand are a must – especially in North. The handmade clothes and bags are influenced heavily by patterns and materials from Burma and India. They are truly unique. Expect to pay more than you would in the famous Chatuchuk markets in Bangkok. These shops are made especially for tourists so be warned, although it is still pleasant to walk around and admire what’s on offer.

TIP: Try the delectable herb sausage available in the night bazaar. It’s a local specialty and the herbs aid with digestion!

The night bazaar outside the city walls operate every night. It offers a live cultural show and numerous food stalls, whereas the weekend markets are only running in the main street on a Sunday evening. My only advice – make sure you go with an empty stomach because it’s hard to resist the huge array of food!

TIP: Try the antique ice-cream available at the weekend markets and experiment with flavours like black sesame or taro!

6. G E T  I N V O L V E D  A T  ‘A R T  I N  P A R A D I S E’

10361968_10152710987353513_1532988769892861303_n‘Art In Paradise’ is the world’s largest 3D art museum allowing visitors to be a part of the artwork. It’s a steep 300 baht entry but I thought it was worth every cent.

The museum was once an old department store and was transformed into a creative, colourful playground by 12 South Korean artists. The best part of all, is that anyone can produce great photos! No need for any special SLR lenses – even an old phone camera will do! The markings on the floor help you work out where best to stand for the best angle. Make sure you bring someone along with you so you can take photos for each other!


7. V I S I T  A N  E L E P H A N T  S A N C T U A R Y 

Being lucky enough to go on an African Safari recently, I decided I didn’t need to see/ride the elephants in Northern Thailand despite being the most popular thing to do. After speaking with both locals and tourists, I found the ethical debate very interesting. What I did learn though, is that not all elephant farms are acting ethically and many of the animals are mistreated.

In order for elephants to interact with humans, they generally need to be tamed – and in South East Asia – this can be a brutal process. Due to the increasing popular elephant tourism, there are now only 2000 wild elephants left in the entire region. It’s our demand for elephant rides and circus acts that leads to more baby elephants getting captured from their mothers, tortured, and sold off to entertain us.

Whether you ride elephants in Thailand or not is your choice. I completely understand the thrill in it and aware that we all have different morals and standards. Most people who go to Thailand to ride elephants are completely unaware of their mistreatment behind the scenes. I have ridden elephants before when I was younger and it’s easy to understand why people do it. However, traveling has opened my eyes to the reality of this industry. I am writing this simply to create awareness so you can each make an informed decision. If this is still a lifelong dream for you, below are a few tips to help you choose an equitable and right minded tour company.

Tips to choose an ethical company:

1. Ask the company where the elephants are kept overnight (in individual pens locked up or in a bigger park where they can interact with each other?)

2. Avoid any elephant-like shows or companies who offer them.

3. If you do choose to actually ride, try and ride bareback as the wooden or steel seats are harmful for an elephants back.

Many tour groups off a full day out including a jungle trek, sleeping in a local village, a boat ride, and a visit to an elephant sanctuary. I heard great things about Patara Elephant Farm and also The Elephants Nature Park.

TIP: If you have plenty of time to spare – you can volunteer to assist with elephant conservation and nurse sick elephants back to health. Particular sanctuaries rescue elephants from circus-like homes and care for them ethically. Volunteering can even be as short as one or two weeks. Read more here

8. G E T  A  M A S S A G E 

It’s easier to find a massage parlour in Chiang Mai than it is to spot a convenience store. A 1 hour Thai massage will set you back only 150-200 baht depending on the quality and they are phenomenal (in my opinion). I like massages. If you are not a fan, you will hate this one. Thai massage differs from Indonesian massages in that they don’t use oils and involves more pressure point stimulation and stretching. It is known to be very hard so don’t say you weren’t warned! They are however very good for you!

TIP: For a unique experience, get a massage at the Women’s Correctional Institute and support women trying to make a career in jail! 


“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  – Saint Augustine

It would be a crime to venture to Northern Thailand and not visit Pai.

Only 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, it seems to be a favourite among backpackers for it’s “off the beaten track” status. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. Pai attracts many long term foreign expats too. After visiting – I can see why. The town screams freedom. There are hundreds of free activities to engage in, food is cheap, accommodation is spacious and quirky and it’s located in the countryside. It ticks all the boxes for many travellers. I caught a bus up to Pai with the intention to explore for a couple of days but ended up staying well over a week. It’s a town where you don’t have to do much yet there is plenty to do. Some days I spent lounging in cafes all day, and other days I was up early on a motorbike exploring the mountains. It caters for everyone.

Before heading to Pai, I had a quick look on Hostelworld to suss out accommodation. I was surprised to see only 5 hostels showing up in the town!!! This made me panic a bit because a few of them were already full. I booked a night at Purple Monkey Hostel and would look into it more when I arrived. The bus from Chiang Mai cost 180baht and took 3 hours. Its a VERY windy road so a few people in the bus threw up. I was fine, but if you are prone to carsickness – take tablets prior!! When I got off the bus in Pai, there was accommodation EVERYWHERE! Guesthouses, B&Bs and just random signs ‘room for rent’. I shouldn’t have worried at all! After one night at Purple Monkeys, I was glad to leave. The wifi didn’t work, showers were cold, staff were really unfriendly and it had just opened so nothing really worked. I went for a walk and stumbled across a place called DarlingView on the hill over the bamboo bridge. It was ridiculously cute. The setup was amazing! Bonfires, hammocks, chalets and a stunning garden. The owner, (named Darling) was really welcoming and introduced us to others nearby which promoted a social vibe. The dorm rooms were in large chalets with huge balconies and stunning views over the town! The only downside was that it was FREEZING overnight! I was so cold!!! The chalet has open doors and the bed only had a single blanket. I caved after the second night and decided to wander around town to look for something with 4 solid walls. I stumbled across  a gorgeous little guesthouse on Bar Street called Baanpairoong (the street sign is entirely in Thai). The owner knew no English so we communicated in basic sign language and negotiated the rate by scribbling on bits of paper and crossing out numbers. We settled on 700 baht for a 3 night stay. The room was incredibly spacious, had a TV, hot water, free wifi and my own apartment entrance from the street. It was perfect. I ended up extending day by day and in the end stayed 10 days. It was difficult to leave!


1. H I R E  A  S C O O T E R

10407417_10152726171008513_7745071831494397870_nAfter having a motor accident in Greece last year, I was reluctant to get on a scooter. In fact, I was scared. It was my first day on a scooter and I had a million voices in my head. It didn’t help that they refused to offer insurance yet kept my passport. I guess that’s just the way things work here. Scooters start from roughly 110baht per day and in the bigger, more established places, you can add 40baht extra for insurance (I would strongly recommend this) As I started riding out of the garage, the owner grabbed my arm and said, “SLOWLY!!! Many people die here”. Very comforting. I was a bit unstable at first, but got the hang of it really quickly. They are designed to be easy to ride and by the end of the day I was feeling much more comfortable and actually loving it!

Honestly, having a scooter made everything a lot easier. The roads are perfect for beginners. Small hills, slight curves and mostly flat roads made riding really enjoyable and the scenery was magic. I had a map of a few main sights and managed to cover most of it within 3 days on the scooter.

TIP: Make a pitt stop at Landsplitt for lunch and enjoy fresh fruit and unique Roselle juice made from pressed flowers. It’s delicious and said to be a natural laxative for weight loss! It doesn’t even cost anything – just an optional donation!

If you really don’t feel comfortable getting on one, you do have the option to get taxis however you will be paying significantly more.

2.  V I S I T  T H E  B U D D H A  O N  T H E  H I L L 


I had a feeling this was going to be crazy busy – especially at sunset. But it wasn’t. It was actually really beautiful and peaceful. The Buddha is located on 5 minutes outside of the main town. You can ride right up the the base on your scooter and then up some stairs to take in the scenery. Well worth a trip!

3. W A L K  A L O N G  P A I  C A N Y O N

11001853_10152726171903513_7784280331243957431_nPeople had told me the canyon was overrated before I got there. So I didn’t expect much. That is maybe why I really enjoyed it. Never let anyone turn you off doing something – it is always worth seeing for yourself. It was difficult to find – signage wasn’t great, but made it eventually. You can walk around the edge of the circular canyon and admire the different views.

TIP: If you head to the Pai Canyon at sunset, the reflection turn the rocks to a stunning orange!

4. S O A K  I N  T H E  H O T  S P R I N G S

10930111_10152726169843513_7290566409338095802_nBeing situated in the mountains, Pai’s temperatures can fluctuate greatly in a 24 hour period. I visited in February and it reached 28 degrees most days and then dropped to 10 degrees within hours of the sun setting. This made the hot springs particularly appealing in the late afternoon or early morning. I decided on the morning because I didn’t want to ride back in the dark. The hot springs open at 7am and it’s a steep 300 baht for entry but worth it in my opinion. I got up at 8am (extremely early for a backpacker!) and rode my motorbike down to the springs. It was freezing! By the time I arrived my hands were blue! It was painful stripping down into my bikini but well worth it when I got in.

1378574_10152726169878513_5217045414727793596_nAs you enter, there are different pools with different temperatures. The first pool is the coolest (36 degrees celcius) and I would recommend starting here. There was hardly anyone else around other than a small group of Chinese tourists. It was so peaceful. It backs onto a stunning dense jungle and the steam from the water creates beautiful backdrop. I laid in the pool for about 5 minutes until it was no longer warm for me – it was beginning to feel cold. Slowly I moved to the next pool. Over the period of an hour, I moved from pool to pool, getting higher and higher until I reached 55 degrees celcius. This was perfect for me! I like my baths HOT! The pools are shallow enough to be able to lie down and rest your head on a rock. I closed my eyes and even think I had a little nap! It was a perfect way to start the day. I stayed at the hot springs until 10.30am when it started to warm up, and the crowds had made their way in. If you keep heading up the hill, the springs get as hot as 85 degrees celcius (and people are cooking their morning eggs in it!)

There are other hot springs around Pai that are cheaper. You can visit the Hot Springs in the nearby resorts and hotels however they are smaller and the setting is not so natural. Up to you.

A must do at some point no matter what your budget!

5. T R E K  T H R O U G H  T H E  J U N G L E  T O  M A E  Y E N  W A T E R F A L L

1378574_10152726170648513_3505404186228079980_nWhen I suggested a “trek” to my new found friends. Only a few were keen due to hangovers, so it took some encouragement. We rode our bikes to the entrance of the hike and started our walk. It was 7km and felt a lot longer considering our slow pace. We crossed rivers many times and climbed steep rocky paths. I would recommend wearing proper shoes (that you don’t mind getting wet/muddy) We even walked through a bush fire at one point towards the end. We had been hiking for hours at this point so not even a FIRE could stop us.

When we finally reached the waterfall, it was beautiful. And freezing. It doesn’t look too much from the base, but if you climb up to the right, you can find a pool at the top and it’s amazing! We all climbed up and ventured under the running water.

Totally worth it – but be prepared for a decent walk!

6. S U N B A T H E  B Y  M O R  P A E N G  W A T E R F A L L 

10993398_10152726170958513_5686538928112589045_nOnly 20 minutes by scooter, is a beautiful serene waterfall with perfect sunbathing rocks. If you head here after lunch, you will have the chance to cool off during the hottest part of the day and soak up some vitamin D.

TIP: Bring a book – you will probably want to stay for awhile!

7. T R Y  A  H E A L T H  C A F E

10991125_10152726172273513_2574356246104678127_nIt may not be your normal ‘go to’ but when in Pai – I strongly recommend visiting a health cafe. Its where the hippies thrive and hang, and if anything, it can be a great people watching experience.

Lonely Pai is situated in a mini library and with comfortable lounges, you could probably stay all day. Another option is Good Life in Pai with healthy smoothies and delicious Jewish bagels! If you are on a budget – opt for one of the fruit shake stands!

TIP: Try a wheatgrass shot (55 baht) for a powerful detoxification

8. V I S I T  T H E  C A V E S

19426_10152726172393513_7495774861952031398_nThe Lod caves are located about 55km north of Pai and are well worth a visit. I met people who rode a scooter there however it seemed too long on a bike for me so I arranged a taxi driver and a few extra people to split the cost. Many of the taxi drivers wouldn’t negotiate on price. The standard was 1500 baht for the van and driver for the day (when we split this between 6 people it was nothing). Considering the 6 of us were standing there ready to go instantly, we got it down to 1300 baht. The drive was 1.5 hours but the gorgeous scenic views made it feel much quicker. When we arrived, we went straight into the caves. You can’t go in without a guide and you pay for 1 guide per 3 people. Then you pay extra for a bamboo raft which takes you into the cave via the river – an awesome experience!

11018328_10152726172743513_3151730849209000568_nIf your feeling generous – buy some fish food from the ladies outside the gates and feed the fish in the cave. The large, blue fish swarm around the boats in masses! Pretty amazing! The guide then walked us through the caves with a small lantern and pointed out the incredible rock formations. They had clearly learnt particular words in English to help make the tour informative – “this look like crocodile”, “this look like buddha” – it was hilarious.

TIP: Opt for the walk back instead of getting a boat both ways – not only is it cheaper but you get to walk back through the beautiful jungle outside.  

9. T R Y  M E D I T A T I O N 

Meditation has been proven to reduce stress, promote happiness, strengthen the immune system and increase energy. Numerous studies around the world have confirmed its benefits in treating disease and if you are ever going to try it – this is the place. There are meditation classes, guidance and retreats everywhere you look!

How do you meditate?

There is no one set way to meditate because it’s a very personal practise. It simply involves sitting somewhere comfortable and quiet for 5-10 minutes each day and focusing on one thing. For most people, this is breathing. As you focus on your breath, your brain slowly filters out any other thoughts and reaches a truly relaxed state.

How does it benefit?

Stress and anxiety are a common cause of many illnesses and diseases that exist today. Meditation reduces the production of stress hormones in your body, therefore counteracting all stress related changes and allowing the body’s energy to boost the immune system and promote healing.

Meditation has been in practice for thousands of years but only recently have scientists truly understood the health benefits behind it. If you are going to give it a go, Pai is the best place. There are numerous yoga and meditation studios around. They also have one off retreats advertised around the town run by travelling yogis.

TIP: Steer clear of Mama Yoga studio – she is a nut job and has the worst reviews from fellow travelers!

10. D O  N O T H I N G

Travelling can become really tiring. Exhausting in fact, and when you are on the go a lot, it seems like the trip is fast forwarding in front of your eyes. Sometimes you need to rest. Pai is the perfect place for it. If your travelling long term or even escaping the daily grind at home, park yourself here for a week and recuperate. That’s what I did and it was invaluable. There are hammocks, parks, rivers and cafes all calling your name.

Let your body catch up with you!