If you read my previous post where I shared my 2-day itinerary in Phuket, Thailand, then you already know that this is the second city in Thailand that we visited on our 16-day Asia trip that spanned 4 countries and 6 cities! As mentioned, we had started and ended our trip in Singapore because it was the cheapest way to travel to Asia from Canada (Toronto specifically). We had decided to spend 7 days in Thailand in 3 cities, and since it was so jammed packed with activities, I decided to create a post for each city we visited to really highlight everything we did and loved. To get to Chiang Mai, we flew from Phuket, Thailand via Air Asia.
Here is some general information of our time in Chiang Mai, Thailand:
Transportation from the Airport to our Hotel: We had arrived to Chiang Mai Airport (CNX) at around 11PM. We were in communication with our hotel before hand to let them know about our late arrival and they had advised that we can take a taxi from the airport to the hotel, which only cost about 250 THB (about $10 CAD). It was only about a 15-minute ride to the hotel and there was no traffic at this time.
Transportation in and around Chiang Mai: Since we had access to an international SIM, we used Grab to get from the hotel to the night bazaar. Outside of this, we didn’t need to book any transportation as it was included in our excursions. We also took taxis to and from our hotel.
WIFI Access: I will leave the same comments as my Singapore post as it is still relevant here. Connection was only available in our hotel room and some public establishments. To get around this, what I have done in the past, and also implemented on this trip, was to load our itinerary on Google maps and download the map for offline navigation. This method works most of the time, however sometimes the GPS gets confused and doesn’t know where you and ends up restarting. You end up having to use the map the old way (aka without a GPS and finding your own directions like a traditional map). However, I do recommend just purchasing an international SIM card that you can use and be connected to at all times (if you need to). Personally, for me, I preferred to be connected the entire time since the offline google maps kept restarting and was unable to locate us. It is also useful if you plan on using Grab while in the city. This was the first time travelling internationally where we had purchased an international SIM to be able to be connect to internet and I must say that now I am a converted. The international SIMs are very affordable and offer a lot of data (we would also turn it off if we were going to be in a given location for an extended amount of time to preserve data and batter power) and we were able to use the same SIM for the remainder of our entire trip in all of the other countries. We did end up using 3 different types of connection, but I recommend the last option so that you can be connected the entire time:
- International SIM (purchased at the airport) – Once we left Singapore and arrived to Phuket Airport, there were lots of boots that were selling international SIMs. We ended up purchasing one of these at a booth called Smile and they connected it for me – it was super easy to use however kind of confusing because I couldn’t understand how much data I had left so we used it sparingly during our visit in Phuket and Chiang Mai. Because we paid in cash, I unfortunately do not recall how much we spent, but it was definitely less than $10 CAD.
- Rented WIFI Device – I had actually rented a device when we were in Singapore for our visit in Bangkok since we were going to be here for 3 days without any excursions. We rented a pocket WIFI which we picked up at the BBK airport via Klook. In total it cost $26 for the 3 days (which at the time we thought was a bargain) – they do have to hold a deposit which is refundable once you return the device, so make sure you have enough cash to avoid the change in exchange rates on your credit card. It was also not clear how much data we had but I think it was unlimited. I didn’t mind the hand held device since we had used one when we visited Tokyo, however I definitely would recommend an international SIM when possible.
- International SIM (purchased online and picked up at airport) – After doing more research while in Bangkok and realizing that the convenience of being connected to data became a growing need, which was already 6 days into our trip, I did more research on Klook. I found SIMs available for 15 countries in South East Asia, which meant that for the remainder of our trip (still 7 days), we could be connected in all of the countries (Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore) and not have to worry about finding WIFI. We found a great deal with the SIM only costing $8.90 for 4GB of data from Klook. This option ended up being the best because not only is it a one-time purchase (no need to return anything like we had for the rented WIFI device), but you can actually download an app that came in English that tracked how much data you had. If you did go over the allotted data, you had to option of adding more data if necessary. I really liked the convenience and visibility of this option the best and felt in full control.
Hotel in Chiang Mai:
We stayed at the Peaberry Hotel in Chiang Mai. This hotel doesn’t look that big from the outside, but once inside it has many floors. It has almost a resort feel, since only the café and the front desk have a closed roof – the areas where the rooms were situated are open like you would find in resorts. There are no elevators, but there are ramps on the side of the staircase where you can easily wheel up your luggage. The hotel was great and contacted us right after we booked the hotel to ensure they received our flight information. The hotel does lock their doors after 10PM for security reasons and they were very accommodating with our late arrival. They also answered emails very quickly and provided great information for getting to the hotel from the airport. It was also great to see that there was breakfast included, however it was a smaller selection and included mainly cereal, toast and fresh fruit, they did have a menu where you can choose hot items (1 per person) that they make upon request. The manger, Lee, was very friendly and made us our omelettes in the morning.
Budget: We had budgeted $70 CAD cash per day, which was meant to be used for food, transportation and shopping. We knew credit card wouldn’t be readily available in most establishments so we carried more cash than Singapore, but less than the other countries we visited. Again, I also used Budget your Trip to gauge how much expenses to expect per day. See below for the breakdown of our actual expenses (keep in mind this is for 2 people):
- Airfare from Phuket to Chiang Mai for 2 people: $190
- Hotel: $105 (for 2 nights)
- Cash (mostly for meals): $20 CAD
- Meals (on credit card): $52
- Shopping and other expenses (on credit card, which includes our excursion): $257
- Transportation (credit card): $8.5 (Grab)
- Total cost of trip for 2 days: $632
Excluding airfare, we actually spent $442 per day, or $221 a person. If we exclude the cost of the excursion, we actually only spent $92 per day per person, which is higher than the $56 per day approximation found on Budget your Trip, however we did splurge on the meal and could have gotten cheaper food if we just ate at the night market, so I still highly recommend this website as a great resource in budget planning.
See below for the full details. Don’t forget to also check out some highlights from our trip (video above).
Now set forth and be savvy!
This was the first (and only) full day of our visit to Chiang Mai. When we were planning our Asia trip and planned to visit Thailand, I knew that I wanted to make a visit to Chiang Mai to check out their elephant sanctuaries. There is so much information out there and it’s hard to tell which companies are truly ethical. I was lucky to have a friend visit the year before who had done extensive research and she recommended the Elephant Happy Home Sanctuary, and I am glad that she did. We had booked directly through their website, which contained lots of information about their elephants and their practices. Transportation was included to and from the sanctuary. Technically we booked the half day morning excursion, thought it felt like it a full day adventure with these elephants. The day included taking care of the elephants like feeding them, walking them and giving them their bath. Keep reading for more details!
After being picked up from our hotel, it was about an hour ride to the sanctuary, which is up in the mountains. The guide picks you up with a driver and the ride includes a break at the halfway point where we could pick up snacks before making our way to the sanctuary. Upon arrival, we are immediately taken to a cubby area where we could safely leave our belongings and change into what they call their native wear. It is recommended that you bring a bathing suit and a towel since you will be giving the elephants a bath. I also liked how changing into the clothing meant that we didn’t get our own clothing dirty. They also give you a pouch where you can keep your phone on you for photos.
After changing, our guide Apple gave us an orientation, describing the differences between Thai and African elephants and giving us a background history on how elephants became domesticated within Thailand. She also gave us background knowledge on what signs to recognize as being inhumane and unethical when researching sanctuaries, such as riding an elephant on their back or having the elephants tied up. It was very eye opening and you can see the passion and love that the sanctuary has for their elephants. We also learned about how they acquire their elephants, mostly through donations where they purchase elephants from circuses or other unethical establishments.
After the orientation, we were put straight to work! We grabbed baskets and had cut down sugar cane small enough so that the elephants can eat them as a snack. There were tree stumps where we would cut the sugar canes with a machete against, which was actually harder than it looked. After we each cut and collected our baskets full of sugar cane, it was time to meet the elephants. We got to meet a baby elephant which was kept in the stables and wasn’t going to be joining us for the day, so we got to visit him before we continued our activities with the other elephants. This is also where we met the former baby, Halloween, a.k.a Naughty Boy, who stole my heart. He was very rambunctious and very curious, which is why he has the nick name Naughty Boy. He would also run after you and put his trunk straight into your basket to steal food.
After going into the field to meet and feed the rest of the elephants, we were taken to a mud pit where we got to throw mud on the elephants which is supposed to help protect and keep their skin moisturized. This did get quite messy, so make sure you have flip lops you don’t mind getting dirty! We spent quite some time here with the elephants, and it was great because one of the other guides walked around taking photos for us to retrieve on Facebook later, which made for great souvenirs!
After giving them a “spa” bath, it was time for us to have lunch. I really enjoyed the family style set up. We got to portion and cook our own food (they had an option for tofu and veggie broth which was great) and top it with traditional toppings like fried onions and fresh herbs. The lunch was light but comforting – perfect fuel for the rest of the day.
After lunch, we prepared the elephants daily dose of vitamins, made into giant energy balls. Each elephant is allowed one per day and it consists of ingredients that would be found in energy balls for humans, such as dates and nuts. We got to feed the elephants a bit more sugar cane before taking a walk to the river where it was time to give them a bath. On our walk, we did see another sanctuary that was much larger on the other side of the pond. Even though they are technically a competitor, it was nice to see the community that these sanctuaries had with each other. These animals are large and surprisingly the walk did take some time because they do walk quite slow and often got distracted and would stop for some fresh greens.
Once we got to the river, we got to go into the water and play with them. The water itself wasn’t deep however the currents were really strong and it was scary at some points, but we stuck together and made it in and out safely. It was funny to see how much energy Naughty Boy had, and was trying to mount all of the other elephants. This ended up being our last activity for the day and once we returned to the sanctuary, we were able to take a shower to wash off all of the dirt. After this, we were taken back to our hotel.
After getting dropped off at our hotel, we decided to take a grab and have dinner at the vegan restaurant The Whole Earth. The restaurant is situated right off the main street and upon entering, we are advised to take off our shoes before entering the actual restaurant, however they did also offer slippers. Taking off our shoes didn’t bother us and it just added to the ambiance of the restaurant. We ordered pumpkin red curry, tempeh sautee, laarb tofu and pad thai. We also enjoyed a fresh cocktail and beer. The service was very friendly and they spoke English and was able to answer any questions we had. Everything was amazing and I highly recommend it here.
After dinner, we walked over to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. This is where you can do some shopping for clothes, souvenirs and teas to bring back home to share with your family. There was also lots of food and you can really stretch your money by having dinner here. We spent about 2 hours walking up and down the night bazaar since there was so much to see and so much to do. I highly recommend visiting when in Chiang Mai.
One of the must do activities when visiting Chiang Mai is a cooking class! This was our last day in Chiang Mai and it was only a half day which was perfect for our half day cooking class at Thai Farm Cooking School. They do have an option for a full day, so if you do have a full-day available I highly recommend it. Our flight was leaving at 6PM and the cooking class ended at 2PM and was about a 20-minute walk from our hotel so it was perfect timing.
The day started early with a visit to the local market where our guide, Wass, explained to us the different types of rice, herbs and vegetables commonly found in Thai cooking. It was also great because she gave us time to roam around the market and purchase anything for personal consumption. Unfortunately, because this was our last day in Chiang Mai, we didn’t get a chance to purchase anything but all of the fresh fruit and Thai desserts were so tempting.
After our tour in the market was over, we went over to the farm where we would spend the morning exploring their organic farm and cooking methods. The farm itself is large and has so many fruits and veggies, ranging from pandan leaves to start fruit. There were multiple large outdoor cooking stations for the various classes. The way that it was set up was very nice with a community feel even though you had your own cooking station. We also got to choose what type of soup and curry we wanted to learn to make as part of our cooking class.
Wass took us on a tour of the organic farm where we got to pick fresh ingredients for our dishes, such as bird eye chilis and edible flowers for our dessert. She also showed us all of the veggies that the garden grows and is used in the cooking school for all of the dishes. After the tour, we learned how to make steamed jasmine rice.
For the actual cooking class, we learned how to make soup (choice between Tom Yum or Coconut soup), curry (green, red or yellow), veggie spring rolls and of course mango stick rice. I am so happy to have experienced how to authentically make Thai curry paste and sticky
jasmine rice. These are skills and techniques that I have used back home when re-creating these recipes. The cooking class showed us that it isn’t so intimidating making these Thai dishes and that it can easily be conquered at home. We were also given a cook book at the end of the day full of all of the Thai recipes that they teach at their cooking school. Many of the recipes have become household favourites since returning from Thailand. The cookbook serves as a great souvenir and reminder of the flavours of Thailand.