Thailand, here we come! Next stop on our six-week honeymoon around the world was Chiang Mai, Thailand. We had heard wonderful travel stories of elephant sanctuaries and beautiful temples in the jungles of northern Thailand, so we knew we had to add this city into our itinerary while we were visiting. In this post, we’ll be covering our three-day itinerary, including transportation, where to stay, guided tours, and the best Thai food in Thailand.
Quick note: Our trip to Thailand includes photos that some may find offensive. Lots of phallic imagery in this country: soaps, sculptures, paintings, and more. If you don’t wish to see these images, then check back in next week for a new Amarvelous Wedding post instead!
We departed Hong Kong at 10:35am and flew on Air Asia airlines to Chiang Mai International Airport arriving at 12:20pm. The flight was $272 USD for the both of us. There is a one-hour time difference between these cities.
Chiang Mai International Airport is small. Maybe I am biased, because we had an issue upon landing, but I don’t think the customer service was very good. When our brand-new (wedding gift) hard-shell Samsonite luggage came down the conveyor belt, it had a massive crack in it. That crack happened sometime while our luggage was in the care of the airline and/or airports (Hong Kong or Chiang Mai). Air Asia Customer Service offered us two options: to receive a comparably-sized non-brand-name luggage as a replacement or a small sum of cash so we could go purchase our own luggage in Thailand. We didn’t enjoy either of those options, because our newly destroyed luggage was valued at way higher than the two replacement options. When we expressed our dissatisfaction, they offered us a third option to fill out a form from the airline company, which we did. SPOILER ALERT: Samsonite is a fantastic company and they replaced our luggages. We got the same model, but in soft shell this time.
Pro Tip: Duck tape is your broken luggage’s best friend. We found a 7-Eleven store that sold a roll, and we taped up our luggage. It looked unsightly, but it held the luggage together for the rest of our trip. We were only halfway done with our six-week honeymoon around the world and had several more flights to go.
Our hotel was a 15-minute drive away from the Chiang Mai International Airport, and we utilized the airport taxi stand. Our driver rode over a curb and popped his tire before we even left the parking lot haha. So we got in a new taxi and were finally on our way! Between the broken luggage and the taxi, our first hour in Thailand was eventful.
Where to Stay
Old City is the best area to stay within Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is a cube of land surrounded by a canal located in the heart of Chiang Mai. This area is walkable and has many hotels, restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and small temples. Additionally, most tours that provide transportation will only pick you up from a location within the Old City borders. Being that we were booking two days of tour groups, it was essential to stay in Old City.
We stayed at the Somwang Boutique House near the west border of the Old City cube. This was a beautiful, charming three-floor boutique hotel with lots of outdoor seating areas. It checked off all the boxes on our travel wishlist, and, in the end, it worked out really well for us.
- Washing Machines: We were traveling on a six-week trip and wanted to wash our own clothes as much as possible. Do-it-yourself laundry facilities within the hotel were high on our “must-have” list. The washers were on the top floor with many cables hanging to dry clothes on. We purchased laundry soap at the local store, washed all our clothes upon arrival, and then again before we left. We of course brought all our delicates back to the room to hang dry, but shirts, pants, and bathing suits dried outside on the cables. It was actually really nice putting clothes in the washer then hanging out poolside while they washed. It didn’t matter that the hotel didn’t have dryers, because it was so hot outside that the clothes air-dried very quickly.
- Pool: It is super HOT in Chiang Mai in the summer. We visited in early May, so we only looked at hotels that had a pool. In hindsight, this pool was in the center of the U-shaped hotel, so most of the day the three-floor building shaded the pool, leaving the water a little chilly. There were other hotels that had a pool on the roof or in an unshaded area. If you can find a hotel like that, the water will be warmer. But like I said, it was so hot that even the brisk water temperature was a welcome relief to my boiling blood. (Can you tell I don’t like being hot? Haha)
- Included Breakfast: On a long vacation, it’s nice having one meal a day included by the hotel. Eating out three meals a day is not only costly, but it can be exhausting trying to find a spot. This hotel offered a really nice breakfast just across the small street in a separate building. Every morning, they served from 7:30am-10am, and if you had to leave the hotel earlier than 7:30am, then they could prepare you a breakfast to go if you let them know the day before. They offered a buffet of continental breakfast items such as breads, fruits, and juices, then you could sit down at your table and order your hot breakfast items such as eggs and sliced meats. It was nice being able to eat something while the rest of your breakfast was made to order. It helped with getting us on the road for our tours faster.
There were two downsides to our hotel:
- The room had no storage space. We understood that in a boutique hotel the room may be smaller, which we were totally fine with because we planned on being out all day anyway and hardly spending any time in the room. But guests still expect a closet to hang clothes or drawers to fold and put them away. With the exception of a couple wall hooks, we ended up living out of our suitcases. We made do for our three days here, but had we been staying longer it would have been annoying not having the space.
- Being only three floors, there were no elevators. Our room was on the second floor. We had a large suitcase, two carry-ons, and two personal bags. The staff was friendly and helped us bring everything upstairs.
After we checked into the hotel, we quickly dropped our bags in the room and left to walk around and explore. The roads are small, and there are hidden gems everywhere. One road had an entrance to a stand market where I picked up a sheer white scarf with blue elephants on it. The next road had a large catch-all store where I purchased a wooden hand fan (so hot).
The next road had a small temple that we decided to explore called Wat Phantao. I knew that Thailand’s temples had certain clothing etiquette, but I hadn’t anticipated on our first day that we would just stumble upon a temple in the heart of the city, so I wasn’t prepared with attire to cover my shoulders and knees. Fortunately for me, there were some very friendly monks that worked at the temple entrance that would loan visitors skirt wraps and shirts for free so they could enter, and they even helped me tie it on. The temple had a tile floor, dark wood walls, a peaked light and dark wood slatted interior roof, and gold ribbons hanging as accents. There was a gorgeous gold Buddha at the far side of the building. The gold color really popped on the dark cherry walls. The sides of the building had donation urns set up. We walked the grounds, then continued on exploring the city.
Our next stop on the walk back to our hotel was a travel agent company storefront. We had only booked our elephant excursion in advance of our travel, because we were informed that they sell out quickly. Other than that, we hadn’t booked other excursions, so we stopped in to see what they offered. Our goal was to book a day at the famous White Temple. The travel agent offered a combo Blue Temple, White Temple, and Black House package that included lunch and transportation. We booked that for one day. They also offered a cooking class with the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre and had a few additional slots available that very evening, so we booked that too.
We quickly headed back to the hotel to be ready for our cooking class hotel pick-up. A little after we arrived, they showed up in a tuk-tuk van. We were the first hotel pick-up. We stopped at two more hotels that picked up a group of three women, and then two men. We introduced ourselves as we rode along to the first destination and learned that they were from England and Australia and were all taking a gap year between high school and college (so my husband and I were a decade older than everyone else in the class haha). The first stop was a local grocery store to pick up all the ingredients for the cooking class. The hilarious guide cracked jokes and taught us about all the essential Thai cooking ingredients, allowed us to taste several spices and mini dried shrimp, then gave us another five minutes to explore the store on our own and purchase anything we wanted before meeting back in the tuk-tuk and heading to the cooking studio.
The cooking studio was basically a house. You entered the main door to a big courtyard. The cooking school took place in the courtyard and a small air-conditioned building in the back. Everyone was provided an apron and was allowed to select between a few dishes to cook. Everyone made spring rolls as appetizers, then hubby and I each selected different soup, protein dish, and noodle dish options so we could taste several dishes. They also provided everyone with white rice. We had so much fun cooking and learning new techniques. We loved that since everyone had their own cooking station and was only cooking single-serve portions for themselves, you could leave out whatever ingredients you didn’t want. For example, my dish was supposed to include mushrooms, but I don’t care for them so I just left them out! When we finished cooking, we brought all our hard-earned food into the air-conditioned room and feasted on (no exaggeration) the most delicious Thai food that I have, still to this day, ever had in my life. As a parting gift, the cooking school gifted everyone with their own cookbook. All the recipes we cooked were included, plus some extras that we didn’t make.
After the class, with full bellies, we were ready for some dessert. We wanted to keep exploring and walk off some of our meal, so we skipped the shuttle back to our hotel and instead continued our walk around town. We came across this wonderful street and indoor market named Anusarn Market with what seemed like hundreds of stalls selling all types of goods. I purchased a long skirt similar in style to the one that the monk had tied on me (just a whole lot cuter). We haggled down the price a bit because the stand I liked the print at the most had a higher price, so we made a deal. We continued on until we found ice cream cones. Even in the evening, it was so warm that the cold treat was just what the doctor ordered. We ate our desserts as we strolled back to our hotel. We took a night-time dip in the pool to end our first day in Chiang Mai.
Day Two was dedicated to an all-day excursion at the Elephant Nature Park. We knew coming to Thailand that we wanted to see elephants up close and personal. It took some research, but we decided on this specific park because they did not allow riding, and all the elephants were rescued from terrible conditions and were being nursed back to health. The proceeds of ticket sales are used to save elephants from extreme conditions and bring them to a peaceful retirement. How can you say no to that?
We woke up, had breakfast at 7:30am at the hotel, then got picked up by bus. The Elephant Nature Park was just over an hour away from our hotel. Upon arrival, we were in awe. There were a bunch of other buses and tourists there, but the property was so large and full of lush greenery, that when we split into our smaller guided groups, it didn’t seem touristy. We were literally in a valley in the middle of the jungle with the Mae Taeng River flowing on the exterior border. It was an elephants’ paradise. The main building was a place for visitors to line up and throughout the day feed the elephants by hand. We held pieces of melon and bananas in our hands, and the elephants would stretch out their trunks to each get a fresh piece. I found it fascinating that they ate the whole piece—rind, skin, and all!
On our guided walk around the park, we were introduced to each elephant by name, told their back story of where they were rescued from, and if they were currently on the mend and healing from an ailment. The park had rescued elephants of all ages, from old to young. Some of the elephants on property even had their own baby elephants. They even had two different species of elephants in the park.
By midday it was so hot, but we got a cool-down with a rain shower. I had worn a one-piece bathing suit and shorts to the park that day, because I knew it would be hot, so I didn’t mind at all that we were getting wet. Bring on the rain! During the rain, we had a lunch break. All the groups headed up to the main facility for our included buffet lunch. Our tour group had been at the far side of the park and arrived last, so some dishes were completely gone. I liked what I had eaten, but I wish we had been able to see what the other dishes were. They were probably the more popular ones, and that’s why they ran out. Oh well! In the time that we were heading back to the dining hall, and hardly any groups were out, our tour guide let us take individual photos with some elephants. I’ll take close-up interactions with elephants over Pad Thai any day haha!
After lunch, we walked around some more and watched the staff wash the elephants. That had been an activity the website said we could participate in, but before we had left for Thailand they emailed us and said for the safety of the elephants they had changed their policy, and guests were no longer allowed in the water. I had been looking forward to getting in the water with the elephants, but when I saw how rough the baby elephants were playing, holding each other under the water, I was relieved we weren’t in there with them! We purchased a mango smoothie and a Thai iced tea from the café, then we got back on the bus to our hotel.
The Elephant Nature Park offered other kinds of tours too. They had tours where you could sleep overnight and then volunteer and be more hands-on and work at the facility. We were on our honeymoon and wanted to fit in other activities while in Chiang Mai, so that option didn’t work for us. They also have a dog sanctuary where you can go for the day and do similar activities that we did with the elephants.
After we arrived back at the hotel, we took a dip in the pool to cool down. Then hubby did some laundry while I headed out to a nail salon a few blocks away called 2SiS Nails & Spa. We had gotten married three weeks earlier, and my gel manicure was not looking pretty, especially after a day with the elephants. It was the tiniest nail place I’ve ever been to. Basically just one woman and two chairs. It took her almost two hours to strip my gel manicure and do a new manicure and pedicure. I hadn’t anticipated it would take that long, but I was glad I did it.
Once she was done, hubby met me, and we walked back towards the hotel to John’s Place Tapae Gate restaurant just at the corner of our block. We went to the upstairs balcony overlooking the canal below and sat at a booth. So many things on the menu sounded good. We ordered the same soup we had the night before at the cooking school, Pad Thai, battered and fried shrimp, and a mango sticky rice for dessert. The people at the booth next to us were looking at us and laughing a bit. We had not really known why, until we got our food. When the server was coming over the people turned around to us and said “big!” and that’s when we realize just how large the portion sizes were at this restaurant. The soup was like a whole pot’s worth. The fried shrimp was a whole plate of fried shrimp among other battered and fried foods like onion rings. The Pad Thai was a big heaping pile. And the mango sticky rice was also really large for a dessert. Haha whelp… no way of knowing we were significantly over-ordering. We had such a long day we were probably ordering with our eyes. We ate as much as we possibly could then headed back to the hotel.
Our first two days in Thailand were jam-packed with shopping, cooking, elephants, and swimming. Even though we got off to a rocky start with a broken luggage and a busted taxi, things significantly turned around, and we were loving our time in Thailand!! Stay tuned for the rest of our 3 Day Chiang Mai Thailand Itinerary: Part 2 will be released in two weeks!
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