Chiang Mai has long been on our list of must dos. A hub for expats and digital nomads in Southeast Asia, we imagined it as a place we could settle down for awhile. After a few weeks of Bangkok, we needed to get out of the big city so we purchased a cheap flight to Thailand’s north. You can also take the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but for a minimal amount more you can trade the 12 hour ride for a 1 hour flight. On arrival around midnight we took a cheap taxi pickup truck, called a songthaew to our hostel.
The hostel, to our dismay, had forgotten our booking, which we found out right as it started to downpour. Fortunately we found a private room right around the corner at Nomadic Guesthouse for only 200 baht per night and got ourselves some rest, ready to explore the town in the morning.
We instantly loved Chiang Mai. The vibe was so much more relaxed than our previous weeks in Bangkok, and the friendly people made us feel very welcome. Next door to our hostel was a vegan restaurant with delicious breakfast and coffee. There were many veggie friendly spots around town and Carrie, as a vegan, was delighted to have so many options.
After breakfast we were greeted by our good friend Julie. Julie and Carrie managed USA Hostels Ocean Beach together and its was great to meet up with such a good friend. Julie had spent a lot of time in Chiang Mai and was currently working on a project called Live It Global, a experiential learning and cultural exchange program centered on giving back to local sustainable agriculture.
She picked us up on her motorbike, the three of us just barely fitting on the seat. Carrie liked to use the Swahili word “mshikaki“, meaning “shish kabab” to describe this. It was illegal to ride like this in Thailand, but we decided nothing is illegal if you don’t get caught!
We rode up to her favorite temple, 700 year old Wat Umong. The temple was a series of caves dug into a hillside with a tall structure on top. It was very serene in the mountains and the temple was relatively tourist free. There was a small lake next to the temple and we hung out for a bit, taking pictures of the scenery.
Once back at the parking lot we saw that Julie’s tire was flat, so we walked to 7 Eleven to get a water while she had someone patch the tire for 100 baht. Repairs completed, we rode out to peaceful Lake Huay Tung Tao where we had a nice lunch in a lakeside bungalow. The mountains looked down on us and we breathed deep breaths of clean air. We were already loving Chiang Mai and our souls were getting happier by the second. Nature is such a wonderful recharge!
With some rainstorms on the horizon we got ready to head back into town. But not before I took Julie’s motorbike on a quick trip around the lake. It was my first motorbike ride and I LOVED IT! It was like bicycling but so fast and you didn’t get tired – I was instantly addicted. We made plans to rent them in a few days and go out to some waterfalls.
That night we went to Julie’s favorite bar, My Bar. The owner/bartender was a great guy named Bamboo – ex monk, tuk tuk driver, owner of a classic car. We hung out til close (midnight) with a few crazy locals and some European guys. After Bamboo closed the shop, he gave us a ride home in his old car. We kept talking about how we had to live in Chiang Mai as digital nomads.
On our last night we returned to My Bar but it was closed. This was the one year anniversary of King Rama IX passing, and no alcohol was to be served. It wasn’t a real rule, mostly a suggestion by the local police force. Bamboo let us come in anyhow and we hung out in the dark playing guitar and listening to stories. Carrie asked Bamboo a question about being a monk, and he proceeded to tell us all about it. He studied with an old monk at a temple in Isaan, the least traveled region of Thailand. Every morning he would walk 2.5 hours to town down slippery stairs with his bowl to collect his daily food from the faithful. Easy step had to be precise and conscious as falling and spilling his bowl would have been to lose his daily meal. He studied their for a while, meditating and looking within, fasting and breaking food’s hold on his body. The next step was to move into the caves, where you could not differentiate night from day. Still they meditated, concentrating on the flame, losing themselves in the universe. Eventually he felt the need to go home, ending his training and returning to normal(ish) life. Many Thais becoming monks for a short time as it brings respect to your family.
Stay tuned for more stories of Chiang Mai waterfalls, sustainable farmers, rice whiskey, and adventures on motorbikes!
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