A Malaysian at 22 visiting Thailand for the first time is pretty unheard of, given its only an hour plane ride away. But I had an absolute blast here! It was hot, humid and we hit up a ton of temples and even more Thai food. Thailand is very much known for its crazy backpacker travellers, but there’s so much more to see and do than just Khao San Road or the full moon parties.
Chiang Mai is one of the few South East Asian cities that I would consider very walkable. We stayed in the old town, where there are plenty of temples, restaurants and shops to keep you busy and entertained.
When I think Chiang Mai now, I think of my introduction to Khao Soi noodles. A chicken curry broth with yellow noodles topped with the same noodles deep fried is ingrained in my mind as one of my favourite experiences. We first had the delicious dish at this restaurant called Dash. We loved it so much, we were back for a second night while we were in this city. Yes, it was very touristy, but the outdoor dining and live music made for an unforgettable holiday experience.
Wat Chedi Luang – the stairs to the temple main hall were lined with two colourful dragons, and it was a beautiful way to ward off unfriendly spirits. As we entered the first main hall, the striking colours stuck out to me most. Red and gold plastered the ceilings, floors and walls. The colourful streamers were on the sides of the hall were absolutely beautiful, with the images of zodiac animals.
Wat Chiang Man – only a couple hundred metres away from Wat Chedi Luang, we made the short walk to be greeted by beautiful coloured streamers hanging from a tree in the entrance of the temple complex.
Wat Phra Singh – golden galore. The busiest one in the old town, Wat Phra Singh was a wonder to behold. The golden stupa was blinding, and the sun shining down on it made that much brighter. Definitely take the time to explore the various buildings, for there are some wonderful murals on the walls that you wouldn’t want to miss.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – we hired a red truck Chiang Mai is known for. We climbed the dragon staircase and it was tiring but beautiful. Be warned that this temple was absolutely packed with tourists and I would recommend coming early in the day to avoid the crowds, unlike us that decided to make it there in the early afternoon. Unfortunately for us, it was very overcast during our trip up, and we didn’t have too great a view of the city of Chiang Mai. It would have been absolutely spectacular to see the entire city, especially since we only really spent time in the old town.
Talat Warorot – the main market in Chiang Mai became one of our escapes from the old city. We walked over and were amazed by all the things that were for sale here. We got to stop and have a quick lunch while enjoying the sights and smells of the market around us. And of course, I came out with some lovely photos of the place.
No trip to Thailand would be complete without a massage. The massage therapists here know what they are doing, and go for very reasonable rates.
Wat Pho – Known for its giant reclining Buddha. As we walked around the beautiful flower stupas, I was stunned by the intricate patterns. What was even lovelier, was stumbling upon a group of monks praying in one of the buildings. Along with a host of other tourists, we sat behind them, listening to them chant, and it made for a truly magical experience.
Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace – I’ve been to quite a number of tourist destinations, but none were as busy and crazy as this. Buses and buses were parked outside, and there was not a moment of quiet as we roamed this massive temple and palace complex. The temple itself though, was breathtakingly grand and gold.
Wat Arun – Getting to this stunning temple just beside the Chao Phraya river involved taking a quick boat ride. As we crossed the busy river, the white towers of Wat Arun became clear, and I was already mesmerised. The symmetry of this Wat was absolutely stunning and I could not get enough. The beautiful colours used to decorate the Wat were bright and vibrant compared to the mostly white facade. I fell in love with this stunning temple, and it is by far my favourite place we visited in Bangkok.
Chatuchak Weekend Market – Only open on weekends, Chatuchak market is an absolute maze. There are sections upon sections of shops, and it was so easy to get lost in this place. We started out where all the food was, with a deliciously refreshing mango smoothie. When in Thailand, no one could not resist having mangoes all day every day. We spent the morning wandering through rows and rows of clothing stores, many of which were affordable and stylish. I We walked through sections for household items, pets, toys, gardening, food – literally everything you could want or ever want could be found here.
Jim Thompson House – this little house/museum is one of the most well-organised tourist attractions I’ve ever been to. The garden was beautiful but inside the house was decorated just as beautifully. Art and pieces of furniture from around the world were used throughout the building. As we walked through the various rooms, our guide took us through the life of Jim Thompson and his mysterious disappearance. It was a fascinating story and there was nothing like learning about the man while walking around his old home.
Khao San Road and surrounds – the centre of the backpacker universe, where all trips begin. It’s truly a crazy place. Shops and carts line the street, and everyone will be trying to convince you to purchase something from you. If you’re after cheap t-shirts or drinks, this is the perfect place for you. It’s a party here every night, and I think I would have loved the place even more if I still was 19.
Rooftop Bar – for our last night, we decided to splurge, and head to one of the most well-known spots – The Skybar at Lebua. Known for being featured in Hangover 2, this place was the fanciest places we visited, and for the first time in our trip, we got out of our sandals and shorts and dressed up for the occasion. The view was stunning, especially as we saw fireworks over the skyline. The drinks were also, unsurprisingly, amazing.
SOME PRACTICAL NOTES
- Do your temple time in the early mornings. The afternoons got far too warm, and looking back now, I would’ve much preferred an afternoon massage or swim rather than sweating through the sights.
- Yes, the food is spicy! As a Malaysian, I am used to the kind of spicy food that would blow your head off, but Thailand does take it to another level! Order yourself a cooling drink with your meal (anything mango or coconut should do the trick).
- Expand your Thai food horizons – we all know the classics, but try to venture out beyond what you already know!
- Looking back, I would never want to stay anywhere near Khao San Road again, but I’m glad I’ve done it at least once. It’s a crazy young person’s experience.
- Tuk Tuks can overcharge tourists all the time. Discuss the price before you leave, and be prepared to haggle for it. Alternatively, download the Grab app to get around.
- Wear long pants and a T-shirt when visiting a temple. Shorts/sleveless tops are not allowed.
- Elephants – there are A LOT of elephant riding/elephant sanctuary places that aren’t ethical. Do your research, or don’t go at all – but make sure to keep these beautiful animals safe and protected.