I left Bangkok and headed north on the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai, on the 2nd January.
Yes, this write up is two and a half months overdue. I have been very slack on my travel writing. Having taken lots of pictures and made some mental notes about the different places I have been and experiences I have had, I never actually got around to sitting down and writing it up.
So here we go. Thanks to Bernadette for kicking my ass to actually write travel posts.
I took a cab to the train station for 8pm to board the sleeper train for a 15 hour journey to the north-west of Thailand. Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city, nestled in the mountains, and the most popular city in the world for digital nomads (expats who work on the internet).
The train was relatively pleasant, certainly more so than a bus journey. With a reasonably comfortable bed for the night, after chatting to the guys in my cabin for a couple of hours, I settled down to sleep. The beauty of a train is that there are no bumps in the road and no stops to let people on and off or use the toilet. Much easier to sleep through the night than on a bus.
I woke the next morning around 8, meaning we still had 4 hours to travel. Now that it was daylight I could watch the countryside flow past, but in honesty, the journey was getting tedious. I was ready to arrive and get my first experiences of the city.
First Impressions of Chiang Mai
My first couple of nights in Chiang Mai, I was couch surfing with a lovely girl called Jessie, who worked as a school teacher and lived just outside the city. Couch surfing is an awesome way to meet someone with a bit of local knowledge, who can help you out while you find your feet and a place to stay more permanently. I took a tuk-tuk from the train station to Jessie’s neighbourhood and she kindly picked me and my heavy ass bags up on her scooter. I even got her spare room and a double bed – result!
After a much needed shower and a little sit down, we headed in to town to get some food and have a little look around a couple of temples and the food market. I had Pad Thai and it was much tastier than any of the dozen or so I had while in Bangkok, so I already liked the food in Chiang Mai!
First arriving in Chiang Mai, it has a very small town kind of feel and it wasn’t until I fully explored it later on a scooter, that I realised it is a vast city. I think a big part of the appeal for so many people living in Chiang Mai, is that there is such a wider community and so much to do, that you typically won’t see if you just travel through for a week or less. It creates a very homely feel very quickly. Within about a week I felt like I had lived there for years.
Next day I was dropped off in town to rent a scooter and explore the city. I was supposed to be looking for a place to stay, but I was having way more fun buzzing around on my scooter. I’ve never really ridden motorbikes much so it was quite liberating, whizzing around in the warm open air. I actually visited about 4 coffee shops from this list, as an excuse to explore different neighbourhoods and get to know the city. Safe to say, I was pretty buzzed by the end of it.
I did eventually do some hunting for a place to stay, but it dropped dark and it is hard to navigate the little back streets in the centre of town in the dark. I didn’t want to lose where I had left my scooter, so I headed home, with an idea of the layout and where I wanted to stay, to return in the morning.
Next day I returned first thing in the morning and after a couple of hours walking around and visiting dozens of places, I settled on a place to stay. I opted for Number Nice Guesthouse, right in the centre of the old town. I would stay there for about 5 weeks in total.
Living in Chiang Mai
All in all I spent about 6 weeks in Chiang Mai and even after that much time, I didn’t want to leave. I had to force myself to actually set off and do some travelling. I almost booked another month in Chiang Mai, but I was suppposed to be travelling and seeing different places.
Why is it so good?
Honestly, I don’t really know. There is nothing that is standout amazing… it’s not as beautiful as the islands, it’s not as exciting as Bangkok, it’s not as chilled as smaller towns, it just feels right somehow.
Everybody I have spoken to, both living there and on my travels, has loved it and nobody ever wants to leave it seems.
Community & People in Chiang Mai
I met some awesome people in Chiang Mai, both Thai and Westerners. Like I said, Chiang Mai is the most popular city in the world for digital nomads and seemingly, for teaching English abroad also. There is a huge coffee shop culture and various co-working spaces where you are guaranteed to bump in to numerous Europeans and North Americans working on their online businesses.
Thai people are very open and friendly, and I quickly became acquainted with the people in the coffee shops, restaurants and market stalls that I frequented. They are laid back, fun people and certainly seem to have a soft spot for anyone with coloured eyes and facial hair. Never before have I been told that I am a very handsome man, quite so frequently.
The title of my favourite person in Chiang Mai has to go to my landlady, Nice. She was awesome, heaps of fun and we became really good friends in the time that I stayed with her. She was very good to me, letting me borrow her scooter to get around and go to the gym on, feeding me the local food that she ate and generally being awesome.
We hung around a lot, going out to eat – she took me out of town and introduced me to proper local Thai food (very very spicy), partying at the locals bars and clubs and introducing me to some of her friends. She and everyone else who works there, her sister, her parents hanging around, really did make my place much more than just a bed to sleep in. I had a great time getting to know some Thai culture and personalities and will always go back there if I’m in Chiang Mai.
Check out Part 2 of Trapped in Chiang Mai where I talk about what it is like working, living, partying, eating & drinking in Chiang Mai, and explore the nature and surrounding areas. Plus possibly my favourite gym in the world.