Becoming Familiar with Northern Thailand
We have always wanted to make our way up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, since the very first trip to Thailand we took years ago. It’s known to be a very travel friendly city, and a great place for digital nomads, including travel bloggers. After spending a month on the island of Koh Samui, we needed a town that was a little more laid back and more our style. So we hopped on a plane and headed north into cooler weather, and beautiful mountain surroundings.
Travel Dream Come True! Experiencing the Loy Krathong Lantern Festival
Our arrival in Chiang Mai coincided with the famous Loy Krathong Festival (also known as the Lantern Festival). We had heard about this festival before and had always wanted to see it. So our timing arriving in Chiang Mai was perfect. Upon arrival we settled into our Chiang Mai accommodation, a homestay in the Old City area, a perfect location to enjoy the festivities.
The festival kicked off with several parades leading up to the big day (Friday). Beautifully decorated floats lined the streets in celebration, and even more beautiful costumes and lanterns. We even had a chance to make our own homemade Krathongs at a local restaurant, where the proceeds went to a local orphanage. This was a lot of fun, and a great way to participate in the local traditions.
Celebrations rang out all over the entire city of Chiang Mai, and we enjoyed wandering around the soaking up all the ambiance and joining in the festivities. Beyond lanterns floating in the sky and on the water, fireworks rang out across town. This could be a little scary at times, especially when you have a group of 8 year olds lighting fireworks and throwing them into the river. Sometimes the fireworks went into the crowds and everyone did their best “There is a firework coming at me Dance”.
But hey… this is Thailand.
The Loy Krathong festival was such a special experience that we wrote a whole post about it (and the photos are pretty awesome too). Click here to read our full experience at the festival: Lanterns Everywhere at the Loy Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Making New Friends in Chiang Mai
While here in Chiang Mai we met so many great people. But it’s here where we met our new friend, Kat, from California. We have mutual friends in California who realized that we were in Chiang Mai at the same time, so we were introduced us via Facebook. Oh Facebook bringing people together! It was awesome to be able to hangout with Kat. We got to enjoy the Krathong Festival together, as well as enjoying a traditional Khantoke dinner show at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. (more on this later in the post…)
We also had the opportunity to meet some other travel bloggers while here in Chiang Mai. Some travel blogging friends, Ivanna and Giavanni from Nomad is Beautiful put together a dinner where we were able to meet 13 other travel bloggers from around the world who happened to be in town the same time as us. We had a wonderful time chatting with everyone, and even took them geocaching for the first time!
Mastering Local Thai Transportation – The Motorbike!
For the longest time, we hesitated getting a motorbike to drive around Thailand. The motorbike is the number one mode of transportation…and the cheapest. But it is also the most dangerous. But since we were going to be here in Chaing Mai for a while, and possibly doing some work around town, we knew that the time had come to master the motorbike. Unfortunately I did not grow up riding a bicycle, so I knew I couldn’t drive a motorbike safely. Luckily, Liz grew up riding bikes and ATVs. So even though she was concerned about the motorbike, we realized that she would need to be the one doing the driving.
One day, as I was walking around town in the heat to put in job applications at hotels in the area, I was approached by a gorgeous blonde on a pink motorbike. She whipped her bike right up next to me as I was walking back to our place, and it took me a minute to realize who it was!
Liz impressed the heck out of me by cruising on the bike. So I hopped on, and we haven’t looked back since. We are super glad we got the bike and became comfortable with it. It has given us so much freedom to explore town, and the countryside. And it has been nice not having to haggle with drivers to get a ride down the street to the store!
** Check out the full story “I Feel Like I’m in a Biker Gang!” Driving a Motorbike Like a Local Around Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Getting an Apartment in Chiang Mai
We were really loving Chiang Mai and everything it had to offer, so we decided to go apartment hunting and man did we luck out. We found a fully furnished apartment east of the the Old City and right near the train station and the Super Highway. There is also a mall near by and a Big C, which is like a Wal-Mart for the U.S.
Right below us there are some great inexpensive restaurants with traditional Thai dishes. There is also a 7-11 (which you may know, is the answer to everything in Thailand!). There is also laundry facilities in the main lobby, and a pool (although we never use it). I mean we really lucked out, and for the price we are paying, it’s perfect.
We have really loved our little place here in Chiang Mai, and for the first time in months, it feels like home. After being on the road for a few months now, it really felt great to unpack our bags. Not having to keep going to the backpack is a nice change. Plus, getting we are getting used to living like a Thai. Plus, we really love the fact that we can lounge on the couch and watch a movie (because we have a TV / DVD player, along with tons of DVDs!).
Attending a Golf Tournament in Thailand
While here in Thailand, I was given a piece of home by going out and enjoying the Chiang Mai Golf Tournament at the Alpine Golf Resort. As soon as we landed in Chiang Mai, we both saw advertisements for the golf tournament and noticed that one of my favorite PGA golfers would be there. Jason Dufner is an Auburn University graduate, and so that made our minds up that we were not going to miss going to a golf tournament in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
So we took a drive on our new motorbike out into the countryside to the golf course. It was a beautiful ride, and it helped build our motorbike skills. Once there, we were even able to meet some other Auburn fans to chat with! It was a great way for us golf fans to spend a Sunday walking this beautiful course in Chiang Mai, Thailand. A great day indeed.
A Khantoke Dinner / Dance Show at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center
As most of you may know by now, we love experiencing different cultural activities, such as music, art, dance, as well as food as we travel around the world. And we found all of this at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center.
We really didn’t know what to expect, but we walked away with a full belly of great local cuisine and a dinner show that entertained us throughout the night. The live band, singers, and dancers in authentic dress really put on a beautiful show. Plus, the environment was very casual and laid back. We were sitting outside in an open-air theater on a beautiful night. Then we could see the stars above us and lanterns lit up all around since it was Loy Krathong. Overall one of the best dinners we have had here in Chiang Mai.
Teaching English in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Luckily, Liz and I were able to put our newly earned TEFL certifications to the use while here in Chiang Mai. We got connected with a great language school in Chiang Mai and before we knew it, we were both had our own tutoring jobs for Russian students. Yes, we were teaching English to Russian students in Thailand. It turned out, we had a wonderful time teaching them and enjoyed learning a bit about their culture too!
Geocaching in Chiang Mai
We also had some fun geocaching adventures while in Chiang Mai. While here, we were able to find some great caches, meet a cache owner, introduce geocaching to a group of travel bloggers, and we also met a German cacher while out caching too! Overall, our geocaching experience here in Chiang Mai has been a fun one. It was also the first time we got to go geocaching, on a motorbike. Not may people can say they’ve done that! It was a different way to get around from cache to cache, but a fun way that Liz and I will remember forever.
Myanmar Border Run
While here in Chiang Mai we knew that if we wanted to stay longer that we would need to make a border run to extend our visas. So we decided to take a bus north to the border of Myanmar. I was a bit concerned about how this would all turn out, but luckily, all went perfectly fine.
We actually spent the night in Myanmar and did a little bit of exploring in the town of Thalick. We got to see some of the sights to see there and even did a little bit of gambling at the local casino. We were truly impressed with how well we were treated there. We had people go out of their way to guide us to our hotel and show us where to go to go shopping. Overall a great and easy experience.
Other Experiences in Chiang Mai
Being here for more than a month now, we have been able to do some other things around town too. One day we went to the Chiang Mai Zoo, definitely worth a visit if you are here. The zoo was HUGE, and you actually need to get a bus ticket to get around (if you walk it, you will be exhausted and it will take all day long!). So you basically check out each area, before taking the bus to the next area.
On another day we took the motorbike up the mountain just outside of town to explore the Doi Suthep Temple. This was a really beautiful drive up into the hills, and a great way to spend the day. We made a few stops on the way up, but once at the top, there is a village with lots of shopping and restaurants, as well as a beautiful temple! We actually spent quite a bit of time at the temple, which also has an awesome view of the city of Chiang Mai below.
** If you don’t have a motorbike, you can always do a guided group tour with transportation to Doi Suthep
While we were here in Chaing Mai, there also happened to be an International Hot Air Balloon Festival! There are actually a lot of festivals here in Chiang Mai year-round. So we got up super early one morning (before sunrise) and headed out to see the balloons rise with the sun. It was a beautiful way to spend a morning. Throughout the weekend they had different festivities, as well as concerts, balloon “night glows” and lots of food and drink vendors.
Yet another event was taking place around town at the same time as the Balloon Festival. Chiang Mai Design Week is an enormous event, with activities being held all over town. If you are a designer, or enjoy arts and crafts, then you will go nuts at this show! We walked down a few streets set up with awesome local artists making all kinds of things; from ceramics, to clothing, art, furniture, jewelry, and other unique items. It was tough not to buy everything we saw. But we did have a chance to participate in some of the free crafting classes!
Caves, Mineral Pools, and Hot Springs
There is just something awesome about having the freedom to ride the motorbike out into the Thai countryside. It really is refreshing for the soul. The Thai countryside is so beautiful and to us, it just something about it seems untouched. We actually rode a good 40 km outside of Chiang Mai near the town of Mae On. Here you will find some lesser known tourists attractions like Muang On Cave and San Kamphaeng Hot Springs.
Our first stop was the cave. We drive up the mountain, to the top where the cave entrance was. This was a really awesome cave, and it was quite large! Most caves are normally cool, but this one was still pretty warm inside. There are a number of Buddhist statues inside, kind of like a temple with shrines throughout.
The stairs to get inside were pretty tight, especially for my big southern boy frame! Once inside, it opened up and we walked along a long path. Then we had to go down deeper, wedging our way through another narrow and steep stair case to get deep inside the cave. Overall, a very cool experience!
After cave exploring, we headed down the road another 10 minutes or so to explore San Kamphaeng Hot Springs and mineral pools. This attraction was a true delight to both of us. Again, we were surprised with what we found here. The grounds were beautiful, with sculptured gardens and hot spring water that is guided around like a winding creek. People are able to sit along the sides and dip their feet in the warm water. The closer to the source you go, the hotter it is.
Another activity here is to boil eggs (seriously) in the scalding water that is coming fresh out of the ground! However, we decided to spend our time at the mineral pool. We relaxed near the waterfall and contemplated getting foot massage too (which looked so relaxing). But we needed to get back on the bike and drive home!
So Much More to do in Chiang Mai – But China is Calling…Literally!
Overall, we are really loving Chiang Mai! Our goal was to stay here for a while; however, the teaching jobs that we found were only part time. And during our time here, I was actually contacted about a job in China. I rolled ahead with the interviews just to see what would happen, and I landed the job! Since this is a full time paying gig that includes accommodation and visas, we have decided to move on. While we wish we could stay in Chiang Mai longer, they need us in China ASAP because the teacher I’m replacing is going to have a baby.