Gavin and I have been five times each to Thailand! This time we wanted something different. We have done our days of Khao San Road and been excited by the attractions of Southeast Asia that used to be so authentically Thailand… we wanted to try Thailand differently. We had never been further north than Bangkok, so this time booked flights in to Chiang Mai directly. We wondered how we would enjoy Thailand in the north, without the iconically touristic beaches and sights of the south…
We were very pleasantly surprised by the north!
What we loved:
As far as getting lost-in-the-right-direction goes, I’m claiming Northern Thailand as a win. It really surprised us! We have so many memories from finding trails and bush tracks, and pulling over when we saw a sign for a waterfall or a hike signposted from the roadside.
Pu Kaeng was particularly stunning. We had no intentions of stopping, and knew nothing of Pu Kaeng previously, but it was past lunchtime when we spotted the small signpost all in Thai, with a tiny picture of a waterfall on it… and a sought picnic-spot turned into a grand jungle adventure!
Hiking in Lampang
We found out about a hike up into the hills above Lampang, and literally headed south to stay two nights and try and find Wat Chalermprakiat.
It was right about the time when I didn’t think we could actually climb much further (and Oscar definitely didn’t) that we finally heard the jingling sound of prayer bells ringing in the wind from the summit temple…
We literally emerged out above the clouds, at a monestary-style wat and temples, surrounded by pagodas perched on all angles of the cliff tops!
It turned out it was well worth the extra early start, a snake sighting, the concerning number of jungle roads that even the GPS didn’t seem to know about, and even the final 800 metre climb.
Plus, we found some pretty cool 100-legged creatures to offer encouragement/excitement for the steps!
Roadtrip to the Golden Triangle
We loved the days road trip to the far north of Thailand. It took us about 1.5 hours from Chiang Rai to reach the Golden Triangle – the point in Thailand where you can see Laos and Myanmar from the one spot on the river bank. An interesting spot, and a place for us with a whole lot of memories from each country; but in truth, the actual site of the Golden Triangle was slightly underwhelming, and filled with tourist buses and cheap little market stalls and vendors touting their far-from-authentic wares.
However, our day had only just begun, and from there we wound out into some of the back roads with plans to find one of the the highest villages of the Akha hilltribe, where the lookout spans right down over the entirety of the Golden Triangle: Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand.
Highlight of the mission to climb up into the hills and find the hilltop village was definitely the chance to ride the old tractor up the last part, AND discovering a couple of different Akha swings made out of four bamboo poles and a swing with a view!
Chiang Mai and Muay Thai Boxing
We found a great AirBnB in Chiang Mai, and felt so relaxed with our own space after the rush of the past months travelling. We explored the Old City, and made sure to check out Wat Chedi Luang, but in honesty we loved relaxing in to the local neighbourhood and finding out bearings for a few days of stability. There was a small vegetable market within five minutes walk, and after five days of daily market-ventures we had found our favourite stalls and were recognised by the stall-holders who loved meeting the boys and gave them little sweets and treats when we returned!
We made one chore-run to a mall to sort out a few errands, but happily and quickly retreated to our little neighbourhood, pleased by the sense of familiar in staying put for more than a few days.
Gavin met the local owner of a Muay Thai boxing gym just around the corner from our house, and ended up having a few morning sessions which he really enjoyed!
Fishing for Harry’s Birthday
I sometimes wonder how we luck out and find ourselves in these situations, meeting such incredible people on our travels and seeing such beautiful places; but this time I credit it to Harry…
Once again his passion for fishing has led him to make connections with a group of fishermen, and this time we ended up out in the middle of nowhere, on Gea’s farm, fishing for catfish and tilapia for his sixth birthday.
An unforgettable day.
One thing that challenged us…
Finding culture underneath the tourism.
We were wary. The changes even we have seen in Thailand over the last ten years are massive. It doesn’t feel authentic to us, or like people on a general scale have a huge tolerance for tourism, aside from the much-anticipated money that comes from the size of the industry. It takes a bit more digging to find genuine culture amongst the mass tourism now; but we did find it, and felt both very lucky that we did, and happy that it is still there; and, that tourism hasn’t destroyed a culture so beautiful underneath.
Where we stayed
- Chiang Mai: AirBnB [3 bedroom house, good location, self-contained; very clean and spacious; within five minutes walk to convenience stores and vegetable market; we stayed here twice!].
- Phayao: The Cozy Nest [a huge room, nice breakfast, bikes to borrow, restaurant across the road].
- Chiang Rai: Na Na Doo Homestay [Amazing! Our favourite place to stay in Thailand. The host, Moo, is fantastic and suggested perfect outings that really did suit us and the kids – not just standard packages. We loved the swimming pool, and Moo’s breakfast each day. We stayed twice and highly recommend!].
- Lampang: Martin Place Lampang [very basic, easy to find; fine for base to explore from].
We returned to the same spot in Lake Phayao after touring Northern Thailand, and I was doubling Oscar on my bike through the neighbourhood. As we rode past a cafe we heard, “Oscar… Osssscaaaar!” and the hotel receptionists were all out having dinner. The next day Gavin was back at the same Muay Thai boxing class and the guys are all waving out to Harry.
It is always special to return to the same place and feel that comfort in the familiar.
Thailand is easy to get around! In Chiang Mai we used tuk tuks and Grab taxis to get around, and walked a lot from the neighbourhood we were staying in, into the Old City Walls of Chiang Mai.
We hired a car for two weeks from rentalcars.com and this turned out to be the best decision for us to explore Northern Thailand with the freedom to stop whenever we pleased!
- Average accommodation per night: $85 NZD
- Average daily spend (food, transport, necessities): $83 NZD
If we went again we would…
Explore more of the North and Central regions of Thailand. We loved the chance to find places that we hadn’t heard of, and learn so much more about the culture in different states and regions that are less travelled.
The North is totally worth it!