Two Weeks in Northern Thailand: Finding my Bliss

May 13, 2014
northern Thailand

foreign-correspondent badge finalTeaching in Southeast Thailand, I am incredibly close to Bangkok but a far stretch from the north. I knew immediately that I wanted to take advantage of my time this summer to explore this area and affirm all of the amazing things I’ve heard about it. Its reputation for beautiful scenery, green trees, friendly people and a laid-back atmosphere held true. I fell in love with the north the moment I landed at the airport in Chiang Mai.  It didn’t hurt that our taxi was only 60 baht each–opposed to the 200 baht we each paid in Bangkok!

In Chiang Mai, we laid low. We stayed at an amazing hostel, Aoi Garden Home, which was filled with friendly people, guests eager to mingle, and simple, cheap, but clean and comfortable rooms. Khao Soi, a coconut and ginger curry with noodles that the north is famous for, became our favorite food. We temple hopped, toured a handicraft village, enjoyed the cooler weather and sporadic rain, and drank the best coffee I’ve had in Thailand. After Chiang Mai, we had to travel 762 curves to get to the smaller mountain town of Pai.

Pai was a really cool place filled to the brim with people with dreadlocks, cheap beers, handmade jewelry, and Rasta bars. A mountain silhouette follows you everywhere you go, and I was overwhelmed by how much green I was seeing.  Having grown accustomed to Bangkok’s sidewalks, I was amazed to learn that this lush vegetation grows in Thailand.

The Thai use a phrase, mai pen rai, which generally translates to never mind or no worries.  It means that when things don’t go your way at first, they’ll always work out in the end.

Pai is a place where you need to go with the flow, which I learned the moment I arrived. I had emailed about reserving a room at a hostel on the river, but when we arrived, it was all booked. So, we were onto Plan B, which we didn’t yet have so we stopped to grab a sandwich for lunch. It turned out that the restaurant, Pai Country House, also served as a guest home with a large “Rooms Available” sign hanging on the bulletin board behind us… Plan B.

While they were booked that night, we reserved for the following three, and set off to find a place for that evening. While the place we found next was a bit more expensive than we planned for, it had free bicycles to use and was next to an awesome jazz bar. The Thai use a phrase, mai pen rai, which generally translates to never mind or no worries.  It means that when things don’t go your way at first, they’ll always work out in the end.

smoothie in northern thailand
Enjoying my trip to Chiang Mai

The next day we attempted to ride motorbikes (note the word: attempted). Renting a motorbike for the day costs just 100 baht, which is what makes it so tempting for all of the farangs. However, this also makes it dangerous, as they rent out bikes to anybody who asks, regardless of their experience or skill. I was given a chance to test drive one before I took my bike out on the road, and I’m glad I did. I just couldn’t master the gas-break combination and crashed my bike into a bush, falling off as it kept going (sorry, Dad!). I stood up unscathed and tried to get back on, but from my experience, it is not just like riding a bike, and I admitted defeat.

While a guided tour in a truck cost more, I felt safer and a lot more comfortable, especially after seeing the steep hills and windy roads I would have been driving on. Plus, I didn’t want to be one of those people you see limping down the street with bandages around their ankles, knees, arms and face! It was cool to try, though, and I can technically cross, “Rode a motorbike in Pai” off of my Thailand bucket list! If it’s something you want to try and you’ve never ridden before, definitely ask to test drive first. I’ve heard that Pai is one of the best places to learn, but don’t take it on the road if you’re not 100% comfortable.

Our “treat-yo’self” guest house wasn’t all that nice, food was significantly more expensive, and cafes were few and far between.

After a few more days of relaxing by the river, and eating delicious Thai food and amazing breakfasts at Witching Well, we were off to Chiang Rai. After seven hours of traveling in a minibus, we quickly realized there wasn’t much to do in the northern-most province of Thailand. Our “treat-yo’self” guest house wasn’t all that nice, food was significantly more expensive, and cafes were few and far between.

Following the mai pen rai attitude we adopted on this holiday, we decided to head back to Chiang Mai two days earlier than planned, but not before seeing the White Temple and Black House. Both are incredible works of architecture and art, the White Temple showing an interpretation of heaven and the fight between good and evil, and the Black House symbolizing hell, death and destruction. These two attractions draw most visitors to the area. After a long day of sightseeing, we headed back to Chiang Mai the next morning in order to prepare for soaking wet Songkran.

Songkran  in thailand
Celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai

Songkran is the Thai New Year and is celebrated in most areas of Thailand with a four-day countrywide water fight. I walked through the streets armed with a super soaker, ready to fight back anyone who sprayed me. People dump ice cold water over your head, throw water off the back of a pickup truck, fill their water guns, and practice no mercy. Everyone participates–young, old, Thai, farang. It’s constant insanity from April 13 to 16, and it was so much fun I can’t even put it into words. It’s a holiday that you just have to experience; I’m thankful to my friends who have waterproof cameras that I can share the craziness via pictures.

Visiting Northern Thailand helped me fall in love with the country all over again. I have never felt so at ease, relaxed and blissful while traveling. With the incredible views, how could anyone feel anything else while there?

northern thailand views
I loved the beautiful views of Northern Thailand.

About Nichole Baldino

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