We had spent weeks planning for our Philippines itinerary but with flights being cancelled and rebooked every week for about three weeks straight, doubts started to creep in that this trip wasn’t going to happen. It was the Asian Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) the week we were flying in and media outlets were buzzing about all the bigwigs that were going to be there (including our very own Mr. Obama) and of the flight closures that were going to happen because of it. So when our third attempt of a rerouting got cancelled the day before, we did a little a travel dance and asked the adventure gods to make a miracle happen. We talked to AirAsia agents in Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines and after waiting forever and spending all of our Skype money, they told us the earliest they could get us over there was four days past when we were supposed to be there originally.
After about thirty minutes of pondering it, we made the decision to cancel the trip and go somewhere else… we gotta make the most of long holidays and get every ounce of travel in as possible! On the positive side, I can’t recommend booking.com enough. They were absolutely amazing with calling all the hotels we booked through them and personally trying to get us out of the reservations even though their policy was no cancellations that close to a trip. They said they understood this being out of our control and many of the hotels gave us a “compassion cancellation.” However, Agoda was not as forgiving. With about half of our hotels still in the air and a us sending out a few begging emails to refund us, we booked flights for Chiang Mai the day before we would leave. Northern Thailand and Laos had been on the top of our list as well and our travel brains quickly switched over to a new kind of trip.
The next morning we hopped on a plane to Bangkok where I happily scooped up a tea latte with soy milk at Starbucks and we enjoyed a few minutes of modern conveniences. Next up was Chiang Mai. It was a short flight from Bangkok via AirAsia (gotta love their airline!) and we touched down to mountains and sunshine. Strangely enough, it reminded me a bit of Santa Barbara from the sky – minus the ocean of course. We zoomed out of the airport in a speed car/thai tuk tuk and headed to a little hotel I had found on Instagram called Yayee. It was in the Nimman area and was super new. Unfortunately, there were no rooms available but we enjoyed the ambiance, the super awesomely designed decor and had lunch there.
Since we loved the area we were in, we began our Tripadvisor “search” and checked out a few of the spots after. There are SO many cute hotels in this area, including one with YES a slide. But, since our Tuk Tuk driver was starting to get a bit annoyed with our selectiveness, we narrowed it down and ended up at the funky British-themed S’Private House pictured above. It was a cute little place but unfortunately, they seemed to still be working out the kinks in the customer service. The rooms were okay, nothing to rave about, but comfy bed and clean. We took a short nap and then strolled around the area.
That night we ended up meeting up with a friend from my (Jax) college days at UMD and her husband. They were on their honeymoon – a month long trip to Thailand. I hadn’t seen her in ages but had seen on insta that she happened to be in Chiang Mai. With a few “comments” back and forth, we decided to meet up at the food cart central of Chiang Mai for some obvious pairings – beers, sushi, pad thai and spicy papaya salad (mmmm…how I had missed those salads!) We listened to some free music before making our way over to our 100th Asian night market. We strolled along drinking Chang beers, looking at knick knacks and laughing. We also stopped in this underground spot where people were making paintings. Not sure the name of it but it was pretty cool to see people in action. I love that ART is so much a part of this city!
The second day we headed over to Rustic and Blue, a brunch spot in Nimman and the down the street from our hotel, I had found via instagram and the Paper Planes blog. The food was impossible not to photograph as it was so beautiful and the cafe itself was darling. I loved that they had about 50 different homemade teas you could choose from. We also stumbled upon a flyer for a farm to table event that they were hosting that weekend. I had always wanted to go to one of these in California or in the PNW and thought what better place to have this culinary experience. By the end of the meal, we were feeling quite good about our decision to do it the next day.
With brunch in our bellies, we rented a moto and headed up to the famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It was a bit of a gnarly trek, up winding roads, but the views were incredible and it was so nice to feel the mountain air on our faces. Once we got to the wat, we hiked up some steps to get to the actual temple and hung out with some adorable kiddos dressed in traditional Akha hilltribe garb. By the way, they are way better than me at the kissey selfie face! Once we got to the top, we were blown away. It was breath taking and awe-inspiring! It was on the very top of the hill and you could see out onto the whole valley below. But, it wasn’t just the view that captivated us – it was the bells ringing, people chanting prayers and lemongrass and jasmine incense burning amongst overflowing bougainvillea and golden structures sparkling from the mid-day sun. As we took some time to look around individually and breathe in the spirituality that was permeating this place, Adam and I both came back together and immediately knew we had been thinking of the same thing. Our friends father had recently passed away in NorCal and we both felt like now was the right time to intentionally remember him and say a prayer for him and his family. With a heavy heart and a tear filled embrace, we walked back down and leaned into the sadness that we were feeling and found solace in getting a special place to remember him.
After two nights at the S’Private House, we decided to venture out and see what else we could find since we didn’t love it. I stumbled upon a $35/night (bfast n0t included) place on Tripadvisor and we went to go check it out. It only had a few pictures up and hadn’t been reviewed much so we were pleasantly surprised when we found yet again the cutest little place ever Qi 68 Hotel. There are only 6 rooms, a little koi pond and green sanctuary in the back of everyone’s room and a cute little common area with a kitchen. If I could be in love with a guesthouse, I would choose this one!
In passing on our earlier travels (aka the back of the moto is where I do all my best scouting), I noticed that there was a busy local spot pretty close to us. I do not think it had an actual name. However, I think it was owned by the married couple serving the food. The menu consisted of the three pictures that were on the wall. Adam and I both picked something different and of course pointed to 2 Thai teas as well. I have to say this honestly was the best meal I have had in Thailand. It was hot as heck and did not look particularly blog worthy but MAN it set the bar high on all future Thai meals. It consisted of noodles, some kind of yellow-orange broth, crunchy toppings and a chicken leg (which I have to add my chopstick skills are pretty up there now – I ate this no problem).
With our bellies full and taste buds shot, we headed out for a Thai massage. Adam had never gotten one and I didn’t think a second trip to Thailand would be complete without it. Plus, how can you resist when one hour is like 5 bucks. We went over to the recommended spot Fah Lanna (the one in Old City is cheaper and simpler) and loved it so much we extended our one hour massages into two. After being whirled around, cracked (and my awesome sweet lady braiding my hair at the end) and thoroughly relaxed, we went back home to chill out a bit.
After cleaning up (awesome showers at that place), we went out for dinner. I had remembered seeing some sort of outdoorsey place that had potential and luckily enough we passed right by it. We swung back and walked into hipster town Thailand. Seriously felt like we were in the Portland of Asia. It was called the Simple Market and there were about ten stalls set up with different foods and drinks. There was also music bumping and pretty beer chicas walking around promoting. We weren’t sure if we were cool enough for this place but we were happily met by some local Thai people. We sat at their little faux beach scene, ordered Pad Thai and took in the scenery. We also chatted about our upcoming plans and when we should make our way to Laos. The latern festival, Loy Krathong was on Wednesday and we had both been putting off the inevitable – the fact that we probably couldn’t stay for this if we wanted to get all three cities in Laos that we had originally mentioned. Even though we were a little bummed, we booked a flight over to Luang Prabang for Sunday afternoon. (Lao Airlines is the only option and flights are pricey but the other option of taking a slow boat was just going to take too much time. We did read mixed reviews about the slow boats. My friend did it and had an awesome time. However, I think just like in Vietnam, there is a range of cruises and what you get is dependent on that.)
On Saturday, we cruised around town. We hit up the Chiang Mai Living Arts Centre which was every bit as cutely adorable as it sounds.
After casually passing by an apparent Thai popstar on our way out, we headed home. We got dressed up a bit for the Rustic and Blue event. We hopped over around four and they provided one of the “red truck” taxis over to the farm. We arrived at the perfect timing as the sun was starting to set and we right away knew that this was going to be a memorable night. The table was set for 60 people, lights were strewn everywhere and piece de resistance was the hanging chandelier from a big oak tree.
Once the sun set and after drinking a cocktail and mingling with a group of international teachers mainly from the states, we sat down to the table. We ended up chatting with the Thai families on both sides of us and learning about both of them. The one family that we were sitting closer to us ending up being the President of the Chiang Mai University. Their son was a doctor and their daughter was a dentist. Their third one they explained wanted to be a actor in Hollywood. They were great conversationalist and we tried to learn as much as possible about Thai culture from them. Oh and let me not forget the FIVE COURSE DINNER. It was amazing! My favorite was probably the pulled duck tacos. They had braised duck with a chocolate chipolte kind of sauce, grilled corn and radish slaw. They were divine! They also served us red snapper soup, charred vegetable salad and beer can chicken with butternut squash puree. Is your mouth watering yet? The dessert was also quite good and I loved that they paired the strawberries and cream with this basil-mint coulis.
Even though we were missing our families and all things American majorily, this years thanksgiving while not the most traditional of sorts was filled with all the right kind of magic. It seemed to hit us that while we are not with those we have known the longest, there is something that feels so natural about being part of this larger international community.
Lesson Learned # 18: One little tip we would recommend is don’t forget to check out the bnbs on Tripadvisor. We both like unique spots and it seems like you can find ones with a lot more character (and support a small business), especially in places like Chiang Mai, when you look under this list versus the hotels. Lesson Learned #19: Talk to locals when you travel! Talk to children, talk to families, talk to people your age…you will learn something from every single one of them. Lesson Learned #20: We could live in Chiang Mai. We loved it that much!
“The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living. The courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from encounters with them. The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places. These qualities are the essential elements of global citizenship.”