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Highlights of The Land of Smiles (Northern Thailand)

People say you haven't truly travelled Thailand until you've visited the northern region of it. While I didn't see as much of it as I would have liked, I definitely agree with this statement. I fell in love with Pai, and a 5 day stay quickly turned into 2 weeks. I stayed in Chiang Mai before and after my visit to Pai, for a total of another 2 weeks before jetting off to Indonesia. This post is filled with just some of my favourite places during my trip. Enjoy!

Location:Chiang Mai

Accommodation: 1) Deejai Backpackers: located right in the heart of the old city walls, Deejai backpackers is an inexpensive, clean hostel that offers laundry services along with lots of options for activities within the city, and guests who are always ready for a party. It is walking distance from one of Chiang Mai's most popular night markets, restaurants, and nightlife both within and outside the old city walls. On top of this, you can grab a bed for only $5.50CAD!

2) Hug Hostel: also located in the old city walls on the north end, Hug Hostel is clean, and in a great location. I found the atmosphere a little more hostel (no pun intended) than I did at Deejai, but still had a friendly staff, laundry services and plenty of options for activities around the city. Beds start at $6.65CAD/night!

Activities: 1) Food, food, and more food: Local or international, Chiang Mai has pretty much everything you could think of. My personal favourites include Salsa Kitchen: a Mexican restaurant just outside the north western wall of the old city; Bar Fry: a tapas (and wine) bar outside of the west wall of the old city; Blue Diamond: a vegetarian restaurant with dishes ranging from local cuisine to more classic western dishes, located in the northeast corner of the old city; and last but not least: Any Chiang Mai night market (and there are a ton): the best place to grab samples of local dishes (while you shop!). There is pretty much a night market bustling every night of the week, so talk to your hostel or a local to find out where to be!

2) Temples: They're literally everywhere. A few of my personal favourites include 1) Wat Phra Singh: located in the east part of the old city, this temple is as beautiful as any, but brings a special experience if you so choose. The temple is located right next to the dorms of one of Chiang Mai's Buddhist universities. Novices and monks spend time in the courtyard and are always willing to practice their english with you. To this day, I hold the conversation I had with Pong, and 23 year old Novice studying to be a writer, dear to my heart and consider it one of my richest experiences in Thailand. 2) Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep: is located within the mountain of Doi Suthep. If you manage to go on a clear day, you will get an amazing birdseye view of Chiang Mai. The road up to mountain is windy and steep, so if you get carsick easily make sure you grab a gravol! I also do not advise making this trip hungover..

3) Visit Doi Inthanon National Park: You can do a guided tour, or rent a bike and go yourself. Due to my track record with motorbikes, we went with the guided tour. Visit the highest point of Thailand, two beautiful waterfalls, the Royal Twin Pagodas built for the King and Queen, and enjoy a locally cooked meal with new friends you meet on the way. Price for the day: ~$35CAD

4) Visit Elephant Nature Park: Or elephant jungle sanctuary or any of the other many elephant rescue centres that the Chiang Mai area has to offer. Be sure to check there is NO RIDING, even without an iron chair, before you visit. For more information on this check out my post Ride Bikes, Not Elephants. I spent a week with ENP's Journey to Freedom program and let me tell you, spending a week living in the beautiful Thai jungle with a herd of elephants is life changing. If you can't afford to do the whole week, both ENP and EJS offer half day, and full day adventures to experience and get up close with these beautiful animals. Price for Journey to Freedom: ~560CAD (includes meals and accommodation). Price for half/full day at ENP: ~94CAD.

Location: Pai

Accommodation: Spicy Pai Backpackers: located just outside of the main town (as most hostels in Pai are), Spicy Pai is a clean, inexpensive hostel with a staff and guests who are always down for an adventure (as well as a party). I found this hostel particularly special because of the atmosphere. During my 2 week stay, the hostel hosted 2 BBQ's, 2 trivia nights, and excursions to my favourite place on earth, Conserve Natural Forests. The hostel also has a bar/restaurant, staff that begin to feel like family, and a lofted common area that overlooks a beautiful rice field. To really sell you on this, beds start at $7CAD! A backpackers dream. (Also check out Spicy Thai hostel run by the same people located in Chiang Mai).

Activities: 1) Visit the White Buddha: Located about a 5 minute scooter drive from Spicy Pai lives Wat Phra That Mae Yen (the Temple On the Hill), the towering White Buddha. The presence of the statue is capturing from various points of the town, and after a climb of 353 steps, you can grab a picture of the immaculate statue and the beautiful view of the Pai countryside that comes with it.

2) Pai Canyon: About a 15 drive from the town centre, the Pai Canyon is a great mini hike that overlooks the beautiful Pai Countryside. It's also a great place to catch the sunset!

3) Waterfalls!: The locals have names for the most popular ones: slidey falls, which have slippery rocks that allow you to slide all the way to the bottom; and jumpy falls which was a little more difficult to find but a lot of fun to jump off of! Be sure to visit during the wet season if you want the chance to swim!

4) Food!: Amazing. And a little touch of everything. My top picks are: 1) Big Little's Cafe: Located right on the edge of walking street, Big Little's serves amazing food, and I mean amazing. Be it his huge eggs, hash brown, bean and bacon breakfast for $4, or his delicious burgers for dinner for $4, Big's food will keep your tummy happy. Be sure to keep an eye out for his sisters brownie stand out at night to get your chocolate fix! 2) Boomelicious: After travelling for a couple of months you start to miss the comforts at home. Boomelicious' eggs benedict solves that.

3) Walking Street: The best place in town for dinner. Most restaurants in Pai close down for dinner and many have a stand on Walking Street. Skewers, corn on the cob, samosas, pizzas, noodles, smoothies and pretty much anything else you could want, it's available.

4) Cafecita: A little mexican joint located about a 5 minute drive outside of the main town square. Their pumpkin cheesecake and specialty coffees make for the perfect place to spend a rainy day in Pai.

5) Visit Conserve Natural Forests: You guessed it, another elephant sanctuary. But this one is different. Conserve Natural Forests aims to restore and conserve damaged ecosystems and educate the community about the importance of the natural vegetation, as well as endangered species, such as the 3 rescued elephants they have on site. For a one time $20 donation, you can experience the beautiful landscape, hang out with elephants, plant a tree and learn about this amazing project. Chairman Miguel Tenorio Tagle welcomes guests back time and time again with a friendly smile, and a gin and tonic. I cannot recommend this place enough!

I could ramble on forever about Chiang Mai and Pai, but this post is already a little lengthy. These are just some of my favourite places to visit and things to experience. There are many viewpoints to see, caves to explore, and foods to try that cannot be captured in a blog post, but I hope this gives you a guide as to where to get started. Happy travels!

Ps. One final tip for my fellow Canadians: Purple Monkey hostel in Pai is run by a Canadian and serves caesars and poutine!

Caylie Smith

Not Your Average

Whatever is good for your soul, do that

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