Chiang Mai, Thailand was the second stop of my 2017 trip to Southeast Asia. (The first was a month in Bali and you can read about it here.)
When I planned my trip to Bali, I figured I might as well take advantage of the fact I was in that part of world by checking out another country before heading back home to the states.
If you’ve listened to my podcast for a while, or any travel podcast for that matter, you’ve heard Chiang Mai come up over and over again. I decided I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Now, I’m one of those people who can’t stop talking about my time there.
Prior to my trip, I was certain I would love Bali and expected Chiang Mai to be a little bit of a disappointment. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I haven’t really made a secret of the fact that, while Bali was absolutely amazing and I really liked the people I was with, I didn’t exactly fall in love with the island as much as everyone has. It was honestly a little disappointing and I’ll actually be devoting an entire blog post to that topic here soon.
On the other hand, Chiang Mai took me completely by surprise. Looking back, I realize that I almost went into it with an attitude of trying not to like it.
By the time I landed in Thailand, I had already been away from my husband for a little over a month and was pretty ready to back home with him. I was sad about leaving the new friends I had made in Bali, tired of sweating my ass off (I moved to the mountains for a reason), and was honestly intimidated by the thought of my first-ever completely solo trip to a foreign country.
Thailand’s King passed away last year and, in their culture, they do a year of mourning and then hold the funeral. The day of the funeral, was the day I landed. Almost every business was closed in honor of the event and I was very frustrated by that fact initially.
It wasn’t until I got to my hostel and realized it was a two minute walk from a beautiful temple that my attitude started to change a little. Even though I was exhausted and intimidated, I walked to the temple that night after settling into my room and was completely in awe.
Not only was the temple itself beautiful, but it was all lit up with candles and shrines to the King. I realized in that moment that I was going about everything with the wrong attitude and perspective. I stopped being frustrated and started being grateful that I was there to witness a country celebrating the life of a King they truly loved. It was a beautiful and powerful moment that I’ll never forget.
The following day most of the businesses were still closed so I hung out in my room at the hostel and got some work done … okay, who am I kidding? I spent the entire day watching Outlander. A friend in Bali introduced me to the show so I binge-watched the second season.
On my second full day there, I finally had the courage to venture out and explore the city. I started small by walking a few miles around the hostel and checking out the incredibly beautiful 13th-century temple, Wat Chiang Mun, and some local restaurants and shops.
After only a couple of nights at the hostel, I decided that I needed to make a change. When I booked the private room, I was under the impression the room had A/C and, if you’ve read or heard me talk about my experience in Bali, you know A/C is a deal-breaker for me. I absolutely cannot sleep if I’m too hot and I especially can’t sleep if I’m sweating. When I arrived, I discovered there was a fan in the room but no A/C.
Plus, the room wasn’t as clean as I would’ve preferred and the bed was incredibly uncomfortable. Apparently, most beds in SE Asia are very hard but this one was basically like sleeping on the floor.
Luckily, I found an incredibly good last-minute rate for the Star Hotel so I booked it immediately and made my way over there on my third day in the city. I’m so thankful I did because it ended up leading to one of my favorite moments from entire trip to SE Asia.
The hotel was outside the old city but it was located just steps from an incredible night market so I decided to go exploring and see what deals I could find. After wandering up and down a few streets, I started to hear live music with a pretty decent singer belting out Wonderwall by Oasis. I absolutely love that song so I had to check it out further.
I eventually found myself in this incredible plaza that a few booths selling trinkets but there were at least 30 food vendors and a really cool stage/seating area near the band. I wandered around for a while and ordered some food from a few different vendors before sitting down and listening to band play for a while.
My time in Chiang Mai had gotten off to a rocky start and I had been pretty intimidated by everything up to this point but, sitting there in that plaza, eating delicious ice cream, being around people who were all having a good time, and listening to a pretty decent band play a song by Maroon 5 (who just so happen to be one of my favorite bands of all-time) I found myself finally feeling completely comfortable. More comfortable than I had been the entire trip, in fact.
I didn’t let myself stay holed up in my familar hotel room. I got out and let my curiosity guide me and it led me to an amazing place that I never would’ve experienced otherwise.
I honestly had tears in my eyes at one point because that exact moment, and the whole trip for that matter, was exactly what I’ve been working towards for years and have been dreaming of almost my entire life.
I had never been more proud or content than I was in that moment.
The next few days were spent checking out different cafes, actually getting some work done, and attending a Muay Thai fight.
Something most people don’t know about me is the fact that I love watching mixed martial arts; especially in person. When I first realized I was going to Thailand, one of the first things I thought about was that I would be in the home of Muay Thai and that it would be really cool to attend a fight.
When I first arrived, I was so intimidated that I immediately ruled out attending a fight. I figured it would be in a seedy location, with a rough crowd, and not a place for a young woman to be on her own at night.
However, after a couple of days, my confidence grew and I decided I would not let myself get in the way of a potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. So, I went …
… and it was awesome!
The location wasn’t seedy at all. I was actually upgraded to a seat within the first couple of rows, the beers were cheap, and the fights were entertaining. All-in-all, it was a really cool experience and I’m so glad I didn’t talk myself out of it.
It was another lesson in the fact that great things can happen when you go outside of your comfort zone.
Now, my week in Chiang Mai wasn’t all live bands and Muay Thai fights. I do still have a business to run after all.
I actually ended up having to cancel a day-trip out of the city because I just had too much work to do and that’s the not-so-fun part of being a digital nomad.
Since I loved the co-working space we used in Bali so much, I decided to check out one of the most popular co-working spaces in Chiang Mai.
It was cool space and it might’ve been different if I had been in a position to go there on a regular basis and get to know some of the other people but, I honestly wasn’t that crazy about it.
I didn’t love the vibe and it was crazy busy so it was sometimes a pain to get a decent seat. It also was a little expensive for what it was. I actually ended up having a much better time working out of cafes than I did working out of Punspace.
Speaking of working out of cafes, one day I decided I wanted to check out one of the coolest cafes in the city for lunch so I got to Googling.
Clay Studio Cafe was closer so it won. It was right in the city but it was almost like this garden/sculpture oasis. It was stunningly beautiful! Honestly, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Unfortunately, I absolutely hated the food. I’m an incredibly picky eater so I wouldn’t say I should ever have any influence over someone’s food choices, but I personally couldn’t eat more than a couple of bites.
So, since I had been torn between two cafes to begin with and I was still starving, I decided to go ahead and make my way over to The Barn Eatery and Desing using my preferred method of getting around in Chiang Mai, Grab.
When I arrived at The Barn Eatery and Design I was instantly in love. If a human being could be an emoji, I would’ve been the one with hearts for eyes. It was so perfectly my style.
Not only was the decor the perfect mix of rustic, vintage, and industrial but it also had A/C, electrical outlets, decent WiFi, and delicious food. Can you say, Heaven on Earth? I mean, just look at this smoothie and tell me you wouldn’t love this place as well.
I loved this place so much it’s actually where I decided to kill the six hours I had between when I had to check out of my hotel and head to the airport. Honestly, if I lived in Chiang Mai, this place would become my new office.
When I landed in Chiang Mai, I was ready to be back home in the states with my husband. When I had to leave Chiang Mai, I still missed husband of course, but I so desperately wanted more time in that amazing city. I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer and I wasn’t able to get outside of the city at all to explore.
I can confidently say I have zero desire to let that be the last time I visit Chiang Mai. It snuck up on me and made me fall completely in love for a variety of reasons that I’ll be outlining in a separate blog post.
So, if you’re constantly hearing people talk about Chiang Mai … I can now say, it’s for a good reason.