If you’ve been following me on social media you’ll know that I’m in Chiang Mai, my favourite city in the world, next to Cape Town. Chiang Mai’s in the north of Thailand where it’s a little bit cooler (but you’re not going to wear jeans or anything long-sleeved, like ever) and everything is half the price in comparison to Bangkok.
A peaceful temple-filled city full of monks, killer good food and a huge digital nomad (puke! I still hate that word) population, the whole place is on a crazy health kick, so if you’re a yoga-loving vegan into juicing, craft beer and quirky hipster-filled coffee shops then you’re going to be in your element.
I landed in the dead of night via a one hour Nok Air flight (R495) that was super delayed then hopped into one of the official airport taxis with a uniformed driver, many of which are women. These are stationed outside the airport 24/7, so you never have to book, fuss with a taxi app or worry about driving off into the dark with a psycho killer.
One of the many great things about Chiang Mai is that the centre of town is super close to the airport so your trip from terminal to hotel, assuming you’re staying in town, will never be more than ten minutes. My taxi ride was just 8 minutes and cost R58. For the record, the airport trip, even if you use uber or their competitor, grab, is always ‘expensive’. When I take ten minute trips anywhere else in the city it costs me around R25.
When I arrived at my hotel, Hi Airport Guesthouse, it was a complete ghost town. The lights were off and there was nobody at reception, but I could see a key labeled number 5 just chilling on a hook. I was super moeg, having hit Bangkok like a wrecking ball, powered up on the poor man’s version of cocaine – a liver-destroying mix of Grandpa and Coke – and now I was crashing. I didn’t really know what else to do so I just took it, dragged my body to what may or may not have been my room and collapsed.
Sorted, right? But then I couldn’t sleep. So, after tossing and turning, I went down to the reception area to grab a bunch of tour flyers and, upon trying to return to bed, realised I’d locked myself out!
This is how I met Lek, the lovely owner. While trying to climb through the reception window so, when I did finally black out, after reading up on cooking schools and elephant sanctuaries, it would be under her desk on a pile of freshly laundered towels. An awkward intro to say the least. ‘Heeeey! So, I broke into a room. I’m, like, SOOO sorry. But now I’m locked out…’
I was finally put to bed but got up in the night to pee a thousand times and didn’t flush once. I’m still on autopilot for Cape Town’s super strict drought regulations so, if it’s yellow, I let it mellow. I also use loads of toilet paper (because, clearly, I’m water conscious but hate trees) and that’s something you’re not supposed to do here. In fact, in many hotels, you’re to put your used toilet paper into a basket next to the loo because if you flush it you’ll block it. Can we get an ‘ewww, gross’? I’ve come across these loo paper baskets often and I always ignore them. I flagrantly flush my loo paper and have never had any kind of ish. ‘Had’ being the operative word.
The next morning, having filled the loo to the brim, I decided it was time to flush and that’s how I managed to flood my entire bathroom with a fantastic mix of pee and soggy paper. (‘No! Nooooo! NOOOOO!’) It just gushed and gushed and GUSHED and in a panic, I managed to ‘fix’ the situation by plunging my hands deep into the loo, pulling out the wads that were ‘choking’ it and throwing them out onto the already pee water-soaked bathroom mat.
Oh! My! Fucking! God!
I was already Lek’s ‘favourite’ guest. There was no way on God’s green earth I was going to pop down to her office and be all ‘Oh hey… so this totally crazy thing just happened…’ No fucking way. This is how I came to find myself washing the mat myself, with my John Frieda Sheer Blonde shampoo that, dare I say, did a lovely job.
Awkward start aside, Lek and I get on super-duper well. She’s the most interesting, funny person and has told me so many fantastic tales about her life (which has been very unusual) but I don’t think it’s my place to share them on the internet. Still, if you do ever find yourself staying at Hi Airport and she’s still around (she’s currently working here more as a favour to the owner than anything else) be sure to ask her about decorating for Victoria and David Beckham and the man who built the white temple in Chiang Rai. Girl has stories, yo!
Anyway, let’s get general. When it comes to visiting Chiang Mai, a MUST if you’re ever in Thailand, be sure to book your accommodation in Old Town, a large square in the middle of the city surrounded by a moat. I’m currently on the edge of Old Town, which is fine because I can walk into it, but it’s a good ten-minute stomp so, when it’s boiling hot, I find myself hating life and resorting to catching an uber. This isn’t a biggie because it costs basically nothing – like R10 – but now, having stayed on the lip, I’d recommend paying the little bit extra for the heart of Old Town. This way you can wake up and nip straight into one of the aforementioned hipster coffee shops before you even brush your teeth.
Still, I’m enjoying my stay at Hi Airport and picked it because it was close to Old Town, had air con, a pool you could swim in as well as tan next to (not a plunge pool or one indoors) and was within my budget. I’ll be moving into the heart of town in a few days (to avoid the uber/walk) but this means sacrificing my daily dip (sob!) and lovely Lek (double sob!) as all the available hotels with pools within the square are just outside my price bracket. I’m trying to sticking to my budget carefully (no more than R260 a night for a hotel), which I’ll write about in another post soon, as I want to spend my cash on awesome experiences, not silk sheets and room service.
If you’re coming to Chiang Mai as a couple, or have more money than me, you won’t ever have to make any kind of ‘one or the other’ sacrifice. I find myself paying ‘twin room’ rates for my solo self wherever I go. If I was sharing with another person, my budget would double and then I’d be able to afford places like this sexy li’l spot – four star fabulosity in the heart of Old Town WITH A POOL for just R593 per night i.e. R296 each. In Thailand, just a dash more cash makes the world of difference!
By the way, I make all my hotel bookings using Booking.com. If you book with them (regardless of whether you pick a hotel in South Africa or overseas) and use this link and you’ll get 10% off your stay and I’ll get $15 towards my next hotel. Win-win, bitches!
I intended to include a lot more in this post but have done so much in the last little while that it’ll drag on forever so let’s end this here and I’ll write more tomorrow, okay? I’ve got so much cool stuff to show you!
P.S. I found my cheap Bangkok to Chiang Mai flight on Traveloka. It’s one of my fave flight comparison sites when I’m in Asia as it includes all the Kulula-style cheapies like Nok Air, VietJet, Thai Lion etc. Another great site to find local travel deals is 12go.asia. It’s BRILLIANT if you want to get from one place to another and the journey includes multiple forms of transport. I.e. a flight, bus and then ferry. You should also always check it before you book any flight as it’ll often serve up a slightly less convenient option but at a price so low you’ll pick it.
For example, I might go hang out with this guy I just met (relax mom, he’s gay) in Koh Tau, a little island, later this month. I could get there fast (and then take it slow, like the Beach Boy’s in Kokomo, OMG that rhymes!) by flying from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui (the island with an airport that’s closest to Tau) then get there via a super quick ferry would cost R2 500. BUT via performing a ‘Chiang Mai to Koh Tau’ search on 12go.asia, I learned I could fly from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani (ja, I have no clue where that is either) then take a slower ferry to Koh Tau for just R1 300! Budget babes, I’ve said this before, but it really does pay to shop around!