I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world since I was a kid. But most of my trips consisted of traveling to big cities, mainstream destination, or places to visit family. In June 2017, my buddy and I took a trip around Asia hitting up Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and this one city that turned out to be our favorite…Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Chiang Mai was never on our list of cities to visit. We had never even heard about the city until a family friend of mine suggested it instead of Phuket. It was one of the best decisions we made, here are four reasons why.
Not Super Touristy…yet
It’s hard to go to places that haven’t been vetted by tourist but to get a real traditional Thai experience you have to venture to places like Chiang Mai.
When we first got to Thailand, we explored Bangkok but to me it seemed very overrated. Too many tourist, tourist traps, and expensive restaurants for my liking. I’m not hating on cities with that reputation but I’d rather experience something different.
After Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai and right when you landed you weren’t bombarded by tuk-tuk or cab drivers trying to solicit your business – which was the opposite in Bangkok. Everywhere we researched and experienced felt very local and you didn’t see many westerners around. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some tourists but it didn’t feel congested like the center of Bangkok did. Also, you rarely saw mainstream fast food chains. There was one KFC and that’s all I saw. Everything else were small local restaurants, bars, and shops.
Best of all, we were treated just like a local. In other tourist cities, someone is always trying to sell you something, drag you into their store, or hover around you trying to get your business. In Chiang Mai, everyone was very welcoming and could care less if you bought something or was just looking around.
When most of us eat Thai food, we expect the standard dishes: red curry, green curry, pad Thai, etc. But like any other country, each region has their own style of cooking and flavors. The regional Chiang Mai food is beyond amazing.
One restaurant we couldn’t get enough of was Dash! Restaurant & Bar. This place was unreal. While walking through some random residential streets we stumbled upon Dash. It looked like a bungalow/house with indoor and outdoor seating but it seemed like no one was there (granted it was a little early for normal Asian dinnertime). We were so exhausted and sweaty from walking around all day we said F-it, let’s eat here.
We got a few refreshing cocktails and order Poh Pia Sod, Khao Soi curry noodles, and
Phad Kraphao with chicken. Each dish was hot, fresh, and extremely delicious. While we were sweating from inhaling our food, we were cooled down by a live band playing their interpretation of popular Thai and Western music.
The atmosphere was super relaxing. So amazing in fact, we went back the next day…to cure our hangover (see number 3). The second time, we were able to talk to the owner and hear his story on how he was born in Chiang Mai, raised in Seattle with his mom, and when he finished college they moved back to Chiang Mai to open Dash. They only employ people from around the area and they consistently give back to their community any way they can.
If you visit Chiang Mai, I highly recommend that you head straight to this restaurant when you land! They have a 4.5-star rating with over 3,400 reviews on Trip Advisor.
Everyone is down for a good time!
After our Dash dinner, we knew we had to find out if Chiang Mai had a night life. We found a place that was the perfect mix of local and western so we assumed it was safe. Zoe In Yellow is a local “night club” hot spot that offers heavy poured cheap drinks with all types of music you could think of.
When you walk in, there’s a bunch of outdoor seating with a bar and a dancefloor, but that was just the beginning. Beyond that were 5 or 6 different storefronts that had bars, food and a dance floor, all playing different music. This place was huge. If you wanted EDM/House music, they had it. If you wanted rap/hip hop, you got it. If you wanted Thai music, it was a few steps away. No country music though (sorry not sorry).
We made a B-line to the bar and asked the bartender what they suggested. They were doing a drink special on tequila so obviously we couldn’t say no. For the two of us we order 6 tequila shots for $5.00 USD!!! I proceeded to ask if they offered bottle service (only joking, mom).
While waiting for our order, people were very friendly, wanting to know where we were from, how we were enjoying out time, etc. We met people from all over the world but most were young professionals from around the area.
As we continued to make friends, drinks were flowing, we saw a baby on the dance floor, my friend took over the dance floor, and everyone was having the best time. An experience I’ll never forget – well maybe a little ;).
So my recommendation, if you want cheap drinks, great music, and fun company, hit up Zoe In Yellow. But make sure you bring some extra cash to splurge on some late night Thai drunk food. You won’t regret it.
High Quality, Super Affordable Hotels
There are no skyscrapers, corporate buildings, or big name hotel chains in Chiang Mai. Instead, you can opt for a hostel, local hotel, boutique hotel, or AirBnB.
Most of the local hostels and hotels were super cheap but were not that pleasnant looking in pictures. Not to seem boogie, but I’m not a college student anymore so I was willing to spend a little more money to have nice bedroom and bathroom accommodations.
AirBnB’s were a little better but there weren’t many available and the ones that were, were quite small.
After some searching I came across a boutique hotel that looked new, modern, clean and super trendy. The BED Phrasingh Hotel is an adult only hotel that I believe is part of a small chain of boutique hotels originating from Spain. The hotel only had 3 floors and had a stretch pool in between the lobby and the stairs to the rooms.
The lobby had a table filled with fresh fruit that was replenished daily. They also had a line of big coolers (like the ones you see at gas stations filled with beverages) that had cut up fruit, cold coffees, teas, water bottles, cakes, and pastries that you would eat all day everyday…FOR FREE. Oh, and I forgot to mention that breakfast was included as well. The breakfast consisted of local Thai dishes, a few continental options, noodles, eggs, along with all the items listed previously…yes, for free!
The rooms were solid. The air conditioning wasn’t super strong but everything was clean and tidy. We found out that our fridge was fully stocked with Chang Beer which was also free – we could also call down at any time to get it re-stocked.
When we settled in, we grabbed some beers and jumped in the pool. After a few minutes some of the staff came out to talk to us. They were so kind that they made us fresh smoothies, got us ice cream, replenished our empty beers, and cut up fresh mangoes while we relaxed. The service and hospitality were second to none.
You’re probably wondering, “with all that free stuff, it must have cost a lot?” You couldn’t be more wrong. It only costed us $55 per night!!! Safe to say that this is reason enough to stay here.
5-star service, 5-star hotel, highly recommended!
In summary, Chiang Mai is becoming more popular season after season. But before it turns into another Bangkok, jump on the opportunity to check out this amazing city. Beyond the 4 reasons listed in this blog post, there are so many sites to see, temples to explore, and animal sanctuaries to visit. If you have the time, make a trip out here – you can thank me later.
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