This post marks the final part of my Thailand tour. I’ve been putting off writing this because I didn’t want to stop thinking about how amazing it was. However, it’s been over a month since I landed back in England so I guess it’s time to let go. Warning: it’s a long one!
After Sai Yok we embarked on the lengthy drive to Chiang Mai. I think this was my least favourite car journey because I knew we only had two spots left and it was hard not to think about having to head home. Chiang Mai was so overwhelming to arrive in! It was the first big city we explored and it was the first experience I had of the hustle and bustle of urban Thai life.
The hotel we were staying at was gorgeous and also super central which was nice. The morning after we arrived it was just a short drive to our breakfast spot. My Dad took me to a place he had eaten at before which was called the Forest Fern Cafe. If you follow me on any social media you will probably have seen photos of place since it was so beautiful. There were low tables outside surrounded by greenery, a small bridge over a stream of Koi Carp and then a clean white interior if you didn’t fancy sitting outside.
Here are some photos of our favourite breakfast spot in Chiang Mai.
After eating a delicious breakfast, we left the car and walked in to explore Chiang Mai on foot. It was incredibly hot so we ambled slowly around, looking at the hundreds of temples dotted around the city centre. One of my favourite things about Chiang Mai was how integrated the monk community was in everyday life: while we explored markets and stalls, it was easy to spot the groups of orange-clad monks milling about and buying supplies.
Chiang Mai was also where we experienced some incredible night markets. We walked over 9,000 steps just in the evening as we explored the maze of different stalls selling anything from handmade art to wooden carvings to ‘genuine fakes’. There was also an incredible amount of street food on sale which was very tempting. I wouldn’t have dared go near the meat/fish even if I wasn’t vegetarian, but I did have an incredible corn on the cob with hot butter. How anyone can cook on an open grill in that heat is beyond me, but I was very thankful after I had a bite. Delicious.
There was also an excellent number of cats around. My favourite cat of the day was this great big furry fella who was sat in a basket on a mango stall at the night market. The ladies cutting up the mangoes were perfectly happy for me to stand and give him some attention for a while. Food, shopping, cats: that’s what I consider a great night out.
The next morning we headed to a breakfast spot that Dad had read was excellent, but we were too early! Instead we walked around the surrounding area and found a sleepy artists’ village just opening its doors. It was an incredible thing to stumble upon. It turned out that the owner/convener was the 82 year old father of a young man with Down’s syndrome. He had set up this entire enterprise as a way to employ and raise money for the intellectually challenged. The parents and other helpers would set up the looms in the little workshop and the artists would get to work weaving scarves and other material goods. Then the items were sold to help fund the space and the continued care for the artists. Overall, it was an incredible place to see! It was frustrating to hear that they got no support from the government, but the community had flourished off their own hard work. We bought a few items not only to support the community but also because they were beautiful!
The breakfast place we were heading for finally opened, but didn’t end up serving breakfast foods! Instead we explored the connected art shop and I ended up buying two really lovely handmade bowls which I took a shine to. We ended up back at the Forest Fern cafe for breakfast again – no regrets!
In the afternoon I wrote a bunch of postcards and had a rest before we headed out to another eatery Dad had been to before. It was stunning. It was a large dome-shaped building by the water with greenery, internal trees and orchids, flowers, a waterfall and beautiful lighting! Unfortunately, the service and food were a bit crap, but I really enjoyed myself just exploring the place and taking many, many photos.
That was it for our second day in Chiang Mai! After another lovely sleep in the hotel, we set off again for our last location: Chiang Rai. As we approached Chiang Rai, I was going through the guidebook and spotted an interesting place to visit called Wat Rong Khun. It was a temple unusually restored by a Thai artist/architect named Chalermchai Kositpipat. Luckily, we were only about ten minutes away and it was precisely on our route! We stopped to have a look and I’m glad we did. The place is famous because it’s incredibly unusual. There is a white temple covered in mirrored pieces, with a pond surrounding it. On either side of the bridge up to the temple there are blue, clay hands reaching up towards you – this is supposed to represent despair according to the guidebook.
Inside was just as intriguing. Chalermchai painted a mural on one of the internal walls of the temple. The mural is packed full of contemporary references: for example, a depiction of Freddy Krueger, Michael Jackson, the collapse of the Twin Towers, minions (from Despicable Me) and more! It must be updated quite regularly because the references were very up to date. I thought it was really interesting to see the modern world painted inside a traditional religious setting, opposite a giant statue of the ancient Buddha.
After the unexpected stop at Wat Rong Khun we carried on to our hotel. It was probably the worst place we stayed, but it was still perfectly acceptable with wifi and comfortable beds and so on. We only really slept there, preferring to get out and about to make the most of our last few days in Thailand. After exploring the centre of Chiang Rai I was a little grumpy because I was disappointed by the city. We were there off-season so it was just a bit quiet and grubby. We did find a really nice bakery for breakfast which was run by a charity helping young people from the nomadic hill tribes near Chiang Rai. The bakery hired young people, helped them prep for education or interviews and also pumped 100% of their profit back into the charity! On top of all that, the service was fantastic and the food was excellent.
Anyway, I was feeling a little grumpy and just wanted to go back to the hotel to sleep when my Dad spotted something. It was a glass-fronted cafe near where we had parked and it was called Cat ‘n a Cup. We’d stumbled across a Thai cat cafe! Suffice to say, I instantly cheered up.
Let me just say, Thai cat cafes are far superior to their British counterparts! This place had some luxury cats: Siamese, Persian, Maine Coon – it was amazing! Also, you only had to pay for your drink, instead of your drink plus entry, which I thought was a great deal. Shout out to my Dad for knowing cats would knock the grump out of me and for letting me spend ages in there! (He sat outside with a drink, poor long-suffering man.)
In the evening, it was my choice of restaurant. I did my research, happily, and stumbled upon a place with incredible ratings. We headed out over the river to explore. I’m always worried when I choose a place, just in case it doesn’t live up to expectations. I shouldn’t have worried. The place was utterly astounding. It was spread over two buildings and a garden beside the river. The main restaurant/bar was a beautifully restored white building which looked like an old plantation mansion with white, wicker armchairs. Upstairs was a proper old-school bureau style room with a pool table, brown tufted leather chairs and a library with a secret door in the freaking fracking bookshelf!!! So basically, I want to move in forever. The place is called the Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, Bistro & Bar – if you’re ever in Chiang Rai please, please, please check it out. We were in Chiang Rai for three days and ate there every single day!
I can’t rave enough about this place, I really can’t. I miss you – Chivit!
For our second day in Chiang Rai, we had quite a bit planned. I was in charge again, I think Dad regretted that about two hours into the day… I had seen rave reviews of this garden at the top of a mountain just outside the city, so we set off. After driving for well over an hour up these winding, steep roads (in a very little automatic car!) we arrived. Oh, but not at the garden, no, no. We arrived at an army check point. Two Thai guards with very big guns approached car and asked why we wanted to come through. We tried to explain about the garden and I even showed them the map we were following, but obviously there was a language barrier. They said: ‘Coffee?’ So we just sort of agreed and were let through.
Turns out we were right by the Myanmar/Thai border so on one side were aggressive looking Thai soldiers, on the other were equally grim looking Myanmar soldiers. We were s c r e e c h i n g in this tiny little rental car and just keeping our heads forwards, pretending not to see the guns. There was a lot of manic laughter from me since I thought I was leading us to our deaths. Instead we arrived at a sheer drop leading down to a little village. We had to turn around since there was no sign of anything aside from rural village life. But then we couldn’t get back up the freaking mountain! Dad had his foot to the floor and we just weren’t ascending at all. Cue more nervous laughter from me… We eventually managed to get back onto vaguely flat ground and spotted a little coffee cafe! We figured that must have been what the Thai soldiers were on about.
It turns out this small mountain coffee shop was really popular in high season, but we were the only people there. It was stunning. Dad bought a tonne of coffee so the owner was very pleased. I tried a Thai tea which was delicious.
After we had thoroughly recovered and quenched our thirst, we headed back up the mountain. We waved the bag of coffee around at the check point as a makeshift pass and luckily they let us back through, probably thinking we were ridiculous tourists. On the way back down we saw signs for the garden we had been aiming for, so we had a look! Again, stunning.
Again, we were the only ones there! It was kind of creepy to wander these miles of beautiful garden in utter silence. Very tranquil, though, I would love to go and write there.
We went back to our favourite restaurant for a late lunch, nearly dying atop a mountain really does build an appetite…
We also had our last Thai breakfast there before heading to the airport. Once in the airport we went our separate ways since Pops was off to the Singapore Grand Prix and I was headed back to reality. I flew from Chiang Rai to Bangkok, Bangkok to Dubai, Dubai to Birmingham and then caught a train back home. It was an incredible few weeks in Thailand, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it because I certainly enjoyed writing it all up.
That’s the end of the Thailand Tour 2017. Thank you for reading! Congrats if you made it all the way to the end.
Special shout-out to my wonderful Dad for taking me to Thailand and helping me explore a little bit more of the world. Thank you for not abandoning me at the top of a Thai mountain and thank you for being an incredible tour partner. I love you x