Chiang Mai Favorite Tips by allthai
Chiang Mai Favorites: 132 reviews and 149 photos
River front bungalow room in Thailand
Favorite thing: When you stay in your own bamboo home or bungalow in a hill tribe village they know that is your space. They will not bother you or burst into your home. You can visit them at your leisure and enjoy your privacy at the same time. The villagers are much happier as you are respecting their privacy also. The village headman or someone in the village will probably invite you into their home for a cup of tea. If you would like to see the inside of a hill tribe home always ask your guide first. The tour guide usually arranges visiting a hill tribe home in advance. The folks in the village know you are coming and a designated home is planned for your visit.
This type of hill tribe village stay promotes harmony in the village. The culture is not disrupted, everyone’s privacy is respected and you are treated like a friend rather than a source of income as a tourist. The building of the home is paid for by the tour operator to the villagers and a fee is charged for the overnight stay to be shared by all the villagers.
For those looking for comfort and scenic beauty, visiting hill tribe villages but not wishing to stay in one, there are many options. Excellent fully furnished bungalows with air conditioning in a small town on the banks of a beautiful river surround with mountains in a fruit orchard is just one of the choices. For bird lovers there are wonderful resorts that cater to the birds along with the guests in total comfort. Many of these hotel/bungalow resorts are on large garden laden grounds with hike and bike trails. Bikes are available to take a leisurely ride through forest and small villages. They all have excellent restaurants serving Thai and Western food and yes a Jacuzzi and/or swimming pool.
Fondest memory: What ever your inside Thailand travel or accommodations needs there is the transport and place for you. Check around and find a good flexible tour operator that will give you many choices of transport, accommodations and tours to meet your needs and expectations. No need to reserve your hotel or resort for every night in one place. Many operators will say you can’t do this or that, take this package tour, stay at this hotel, take this flight, etc. If you do, you might miss out on a wonderful experience to remember for a lifetime.
2nd class overnight train Thailand
Favorite thing: First thing is deciding how you are going to get to Chiang Mai. There are many options for traveling inside Thailand. Your travel agent or airline Internet booking sites are limited in their knowledge on what is available or they just don’t offer all possibilities.
Most will point you to Thai Airways however there are now a few excellent budget airlines where you can book directly over the Internet and save loads of cash. Nok Air for example has excellent service and cheaper, Air Asia is the cheapest but no assigned seating on their 737 aircraft. You can save as much as 70% when flying Air Asia if you book on their web site a few months in advance.
Another option is the train. The great thing about the overnight train that it is cheaper than flying (except with Air Asia at times) and you won’t need to spend money on overnight accommodations. The 2nd class berths are fine but 1st class is the way to go. In 1st class you will have your own private cabin with 2 berths in each cabin. There are two bathrooms to share with only 20 people. In 2nd class you will need to share the small toilet space and sink area with more than 40 persons. Also you will need to keep an eye on your baggage as everyone in the 2nd class car has their luggage exposed to others. Not much room for your bags either.
The 1st class cabins are connecting so if you are a family you have a door you can open to the joining cabin. The porter is always cleaning the bathrooms and available during the complete trip to meet you needs. There is plenty of room to put your baggage in your cabin where it is not exposed to others. The 1st class car is locked at night securing it from the other train cars.
Food from the dining car will be brought to your room. A waiter or waitress will come to your berth for you to order. You can even request what time you would like to eat dinner and breakfast. The porter will have hot water, coffee or tea ready for you when you wake up in his service area of the car.
Fondest memory: The train is clean, safe, comfortable and fun. For 1st class there are two trains. The first one departs Bangkok at 6 PM arriving in Chiang Mai around 7:10 AM. The second train is for those who want to enjoy the beautiful north Thailand mountain countryside in the morning. That train departs Bangkok at 7:20 PM arriving in Chiang Mai around 9:40 AM.
Now lets talk about accommodations.
Most people do not know that there are excellent places to stay in the smallest towns and villages in North Thailand. These include everything from beautiful 5 star garden resorts in the forested mountains to clean bamboo bungalows in hill tribe villages with toilets and cold showers for guests only. To stay at anyone of these will enhance your Thailand Experience.
Spending an evening in a hill tribe village is an excellent way to learn about the culture of the people in the village. A good hill tribe village to spend your evening in should have a separate bamboo home, toilets and showers for their guests. Excellent Thai meals will be prepared by your guide or delivered fresh from a clean nearby restaurant.
Spending an evening with a family in a hill tribe village has many problems. Here is why.
First if there is a toilet and shower it is shared with everyone in the village if there is one at all. You will then have to wait your turn to go to the bathroom what ever your need. Most are very dirty and some with no running water. Second the cooking utensils; plates, spoon etc. are not at all clean. Many who spend an evening with a hill tribe family in a village become ill because of poor hygiene by the villages that handle and prepare the food, dirty dishes and eating utensils. Third is you are constantly bothered by the family trying to sell you something or to pay for a massage. They will invite neighbors into the home to do the same.
CONTINUED IN PART 3
Favorite thing: Thailand is a fairly large country with many different cultures, scenery and attractions. If you plan your schedule carefully you can cover most of these on your first visit to the Kingdom. The main question is how?
Although a lot of this depends on how much time you have there are many mistakes people make on planning their visit so they miss out on experiencing the real culture and natural beauty of Thailand.
With the Internet you can find loads of information on Thailand but learning how to use this information is critical. It is easy to be overwhelmed with facts, suggestions, tour itineraries, hotel decisions, and ideas from others on where to go and what to do. All this information is great and of immense value if you can just sort it all out. I will try to help you do that here.
I have written many Thailand travel Blogs, journals and posted on several travel forums. I receive lots of email from visitors to these web sites asking about the Kingdom, culture, history, what to see, when, where and how. In almost every case it is impossible for them to enjoy the rich culture and natural beauty of Thailand away from the normal tourist crowds. Most have contacted me too late.
They have made several errors when planning their holiday/vacation so now they are limited to doing the normal canned tour offered by most tour operators. They could have enjoyed a wonderful experience that will be remembered for a lifetime if they made the correct decisions in the proper order during their planning, here’s how.
DO NOT book your hotels or transportation inside Thailand until you have decided what you want to see, do and enjoy!!!
This is the biggest mistake you can make. Lets start with visiting north Thailand first.
Fondest memory: Most of the email I receive is like this; “We have booked our flights Bangkok – Chiang Mai - Bangkok and 5 nights in a hotel in Chiang Mai. We want to go elephant riding, visit hill tribe villages, take a long tail boat ride, visit the Golden Triangle, Night Bazaar and Doi Inthanon National Park, is this possible in the time I have?”
Because they already have their flights and hotels booked they are limited to day trips from Chiang Mai. They will spend more time riding in a vehicle than enjoying the attractions.
Just to get to the Golden Triangle and return it will take 7 hours or more just riding in a vehicle. For Doi Inthanon they have just enough time to ride to the summit of the mountain, take a 20-minute trail walk, have lunch at a touristy restaurant, visit a few waterfalls and return to Chiang Mai.
For the long tail boat ride they will be limited to riding on the Ping River in town. If they choose to ride through the mountains it will be a 3 and 1/2 hour journey by vehicle, 3 hours in the boat and another 3 to 4 hours in a vehicle to return to Chiang Mai. Again, too much time in a vehicle. The elephant riding and hill tribe villages they visit will be close to town filled with tourists with not much real culture or natural beauty if any.
There is a much better way.
Decide on what you would like to see and do along with how much time you have first before booking your flights and hotel.
Now if the same person asked me; “I will be visiting Chiang Mai from Bangkok for 5 days, I want to go elephant riding, visit hill tribe villages, take a long tail boat ride, visit the Golden Triangle, Night Bazaar and Doi Inthanon National Park, is this possible in the time I have? We have not booked our hotels or flights inside Thailand yet”
Wow are they going to have a good time.
CONTINUED IN PART 2. WITH PHOTOS.
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep overlooking the city.
Favorite thing: As countless travelers have discovered, Chiang Mai's many attractions enthrall, delight, and capture your imagination. To visit this northern city just once is to remain forever enchanted.
Amidst the rolling foothills of the Himalayan Mountains some 800 kilometers north of Bangkok is the culturally rich city of Chiang Mai, the longest continuously lived in settlement from the ancient days of Siam. Founded in 1296 AD it was isolated from Bangkok and could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant back trip until the 1920's. Such isolation has helped keep Chiang Mai's distinctive charm intact up to the present day.
Inside Chiang Mai's remaining city wall are more then 30 temples dating back to the founding of the principality in 1296. Doi Suthep temple which is on the mountaintop at 3500 feet above and overlooking the city is a shrine to both Thai and foreign visitors. These Temples are a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan, and Lanna Thai styles decorated with beautiful woodcarvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree.
Chiang Mai is not only the home of culture, charm and hospitality but adventure as well. Elephant riding, trekking, hiking, camping and long tail boat riding are all very popular activities and are offered in our excursion. Orchids, butterflies, and exotic plants and fauna will surround you. Friendly hill tribe people greet you. Waterfalls and spectacular mountain top vistas will dazzle you. This is the best way to enjoy the unique natural beauty of the north Thailand countryside and it's people.
Village Trekking near Chiang Mai Thailand.
Favorite thing: So what can you do?
Try to find such a tour or trekking operator. The most important thing is being willing to pay more for you tour or trek. The fewer people on the trek or tour the better the experience. This costs more but well worth it. Most guides that work for these eco- culture friendly operators are very dedicated to helping people including you. They go out and visit these villages and natural areas regularly if they have people to take or not. They have extensive training about the environment, animals, birds, insects and about the local people you will see and meet. They are paid much more than the normal commercial guide and are well worth it so be willing to pay more.
Eco-tourism is not cheap so before you go out to find the best price for a trek or tour, first think about who wins and who looses on a cheap tour or trek. No one wins. Think about it.
Traditional Hmong dress
Favorite thing: Ask how many persons are going on the trek with you and get it in writing as part of your receipt. Many people are told a small number later to find out there are up to 15 persons going on the trek. If they come to pick you up and there is more than what they wrote on your receipt when you paid for the trek get your money back. Go to the tourist police and file a complaint. If they do not give you a refund just make sure you have the number of persons in your trekking party written in your receipt. 6 persons should be the maximum and the fewer the better and a private trek is best. An eco-culture tour and trekking operator will keep the number of persons visiting a village small. The impact of even 50 visitors a month in a village is devastating and should not be allowed. Some excellent operators take visitor to village only once a week and then no more than 6 persons. They have many villages they can visit so they can take tourists daily to different villages.
3. The ability and willingness of the tour operator to donate some profits to the people in the villages they visit and in helping protect and improve nature and the environment.
There are very few tour and adventure operators in Thailand that are willing to support this belief. The ones that do started their business out of love for nature and the people and wanting to share their experiences with travelers not just for the money. They know the profits will rise once previous clients talk to their friends and others about the wonderful time they had on their holiday. This means more money for the locals and the tour operator. They must work together without exploitation.
Fondest memory: The relationship that develops between the operator, guides, local people and communities when the tour or trekking company helps them is very important. This means you as a visitor can enjoy something special and richly rewarding instead feeling like of a source of income. You can develop true friendships with the people you meet and enjoy a spectacular natural unspoiled environment. You and your guide will be well respected by everyone you come in contact with. They also know that some of the money you paid for your holiday to visit them goes to help them and the local environment. They know their customs will be respected and their culture and way of life will remain intact.
Good Eco-aware tour operator helps in many ways in Thailand. They buy books and other supplies for local schools. They pay to build schools and pay for teachers to live in the remote villages. They provide blankets and clothing yearly to families and children. They pay for doctors to visit remote villages on a regular basis and provide medicines and money for treatments if needed. Some pay local remote villagers to keep a watch out for poachers in the jungle and rain forest and report any potential problems to local authorities. They also work with local police, park rangers and forest ranges providing funds for rewards when poachers or tree cutters are caught. They pay locals to plant trees where needed and teach the people about waste disposal and hygiene. Build toilet facilities and water wells or water gathering reservoirs in small mountain canyons. They pay for pipes and plumping from the wells and reservoirs to the village. The list goes on and on but the important thing is the tour or trekking operator wants to help.
Read more in Part V
Visiting an Akha hill tribe village.
Favorite thing: Many villages now also use the streams to wash in because they know there is nothing left to gather or fish for. They don’t know why everything is gone but it was all-fine before the tourists arrived. They also figure if the well-educated, smart and rich tourists are using the water to bath why should we carry water when we can just do what they do.
So what can you do?
Do not bath in streams or waterfalls using chemical soaps and shampoos. There are biodegradable soaps and shampoos made that do not pollute so use these products. Another thing you can do is to carry the water down hill and away from the stream at least 20 meters. The best is not to use soap or shampoo at all while in or near the stream or waterfalls. Bring along a face cloth and add a little soap to clean your body and rinse off far away from the water source.
The people who lived in the rain forest or jungle knew in the past how important their water source was. It is a tragedy that these peoples had to give this up because of tourism. There are still several villages in Thailand that are pristine and still follow these good environmental practices. Their villages are in very remote areas far away from the normal tourist crowds.
These are the two main problems with tourism and the environment in Thailand today. For sure there are many others such as waste disposal that most of us already know about.
2. The ability and the willingness for proper control when visiting ethnic peoples and villages in such a way that they can continue to maintain their natural being, customs, traditions and lifestyle.
Fondest memory: These are the worst horror stories not only in Thailand but also throughout the world today. Almost all of the villages visited by tour operators today have lost everything their elders have taught them going back hundreds of years. Villagers are starving, addicted to drugs and they are selling their children to be used as prostitutes or slaves. Believe it or not the villages that accept tourists have the biggest chance of falling into this problem. Here are the ways it usually (but not always) happens.
A guide goes out looking for a new area and villages to take tourists. He (or she) meets the people in the villages and wants to bring tourists with the promise of a more prosperous life (money) than what they have now. There are no rules or guide lines set except that the villagers can sell trinkets and handicrafts (most bought and not made by them) to the tourists. The family that has guests overnight receives a small sum of money, a meal but must supply the rice (in most cases). If the villagers can supply opium for the trekkers to smoke, so much the better, as the guide will make lots of money from this. Once this starts the local drug lords will make them keep purchasing the opium.
After a year or two here is what happens to this once beautiful village. The once shy villagers rush to meet the tourists with souvenirs for them to buy. Most of these are made in Burma and not by the villagers themselves. They will not stop bothering people until they buy something and then leave.
The children ask and beg for money. Now, the villagers are looking at the tourist as a source of income not as a visitor. Most have quit working their fields just to meet and beg and sell junk to the tourists. Most of the hill tribe villages do not own land but are given an area to plant crops. If it is not used then another village will take over the fields. This is usually a nearby village that does not accept tourists.
Read more in Part III
A Lisu hill tribe family
Favorite thing: The guide starts dinner at the family home and gives the host family around 50 Baht for having them. It is now evening and the guide asks who wants to smoke opium. Some in the group will probably say yes. The guide then buys the opium in the village for maybe 400 baht from which can supply around 20 or more pipe loads. The guide then sells it again to the tourist for maybe 100 to 200 baht a pipe load. This is big money for the guide. Mean while the children in the village see the foreigners smoking opium and think that they do the same everyday. In their mind they think they can smoke opium, go to college and make lots of money like the tourists do.
It is now a year later and the village has no culture to speak of any more. There is no cultural interaction between the villagers and tourists as the visitors are looked upon only as a source of income. The tour operator and guides decide to now leave this village for new villages without tourists and the process starts all over again. Now this village has no more tourists. They have no place to plant crops anymore as the fields they stopped planting have been taken over by nearby villagers. This means they now have to buy food and basic necessities but have no money. Many are now addicted to opium or heroin and even sell their children to keep up the habit.
This is a worst-case example but has happened and continues to happen to this day.
So what can you do?
Please be careful with trekking operators that advertise new area or village. Find out why they have to go to a new village or area. Most good eco-culture friendly operators go to the same area and villages year after year. They have an excellent relationship with them so everything is in balance and harmony so they do not need to go to a new area.
Fondest memory: Most hill tribe villages do not have handicrafts as they spend most of their time working in their fields. There may however be elderly women in the village taking care of young children that do make handicrafts. In this case there will be one home or area where handicrafts can be viewed and bought. No one will bother you to buy anything and you are not looked at as a major source of income.
Make sure you are not allowed to give candy to children or money for pictures. As a matter of fact nothing should be exchanged directly between you and anyone in the village. A village is a very communal place and what belongs to one belongs to all. Jealousy and hate between villagers can arise because one family or person received something from you and they didn’t. It is true that many villages that are visited by tourist drop drastically in population because of jealousy. It is the lucky ones that move away to a different village, usually that of another family member that has already moved because of marriage to a village member.
Ask to meet your guide first. Talk alone with your guide. Find out how much your guide knows about the village as you can. Tell your guide you want to smoke opium and if he or she says no problem find a different operator and guide. Many tour operators don’t know their guides are selling drugs to tourists so you need to ask your guide. If you go on a trek and the guide tries to sell pipe loads of opium and you see the tourists smoking turn the guide into the tourist police as soon as you return to the city. Do not say anything to the guide or tour operator just go to the police. This is the only way this can be stopped.
Read more in Part IV
Hmong Hiill tribe woman and baby
Favorite thing: It seems these days everyone is doing Eco tours and treks but what is it? Do you know the questions to ask a tour or trekking operator to find out if they are for real or just a ploy to get you to go with them?
First of all, most operators care only about making you happy. They will say yes to what ever you want to do. This is fine if you are doing a normal commercial tour to the handicraft factories or city tour however if you want to visit a hill tribe village or a nature area this is not acceptable. The reason is because that is what the consumer wants and the operators want to meet the needs of their clients, which might not be in the best interest for the environment or local people. This means it is up to you to be well informed about what is and what is not eco-tourism.
Here is a list of subjects and whys that separates the Eco-culture and nature friendly tour and trekking operators from those that are not. It is then up to you to decide which companies properly adhere to the true meaning of Eco-tourism in Thailand.
Tour and Trekking operators first must meet three basic standards to be called Eco tourism.
1. The willingness and ability to maintain or improve the environment.
Did you know that most of the plants and animals on the endangered species list are because of destruction of habit and not poaching, hunting or gathering? There are many examples of this in north Thailand. Not so many years ago there were lots of rare species of birds along the Mae Kok, Ping, Fang and Mae Teang rivers. Now because of clear cutting of bamboo for tourist for rafting all of the large and many rare species of bamboo are now gone. This means no more places for the birds to roost or nest, insects to eat and the beautiful stands of bamboo that were once abundant along the river banks are now gone forever.
Fondest memory: So what can you do?
Try to find operators that use recycled bamboo rafts when ever possible They pick them up at the take out point and bring them back to the starting point by large truck. The rafts can be used again and again for a year or so. Others just take them to the end of the rafting trip and sell them for other uses or most are disposed of along the bank to rot and they cut fresh bamboo for new ones. Finding these operators will be difficult, as many tour operators will say yes they reuse the rafts when in fact you will find out at the end of your rafting trip they do not. Better yet find an operator that use rubber boats, kayaks or canoes with out gasoline engines if possible.
Another major problem is water pollution. With the large numbers of travelers wanting to trek and visit hill tribe villages they are the number 1 source of water pollution in remote areas. I know of many hill tribe villagers that used to go to streams for small fish, frogs and insects to gather and eat. Because of the trekkers using soap and shampoo at waterfalls and in streams the animals that depend on clean water along with the plant life that supports them are now gone. It is a fact that the hill tribe villagers before the tourists arrived used to gather the water and wash their clothes and body away from the streams or waterfalls so as not to pollute.
Read more in Part II
Akha hill tribe near Chiang Mai
Favorite thing: There are hundreds of trekking operators in and around Chiang mai. Some treks are excellent and some horrible. Here are a few tips on how to decide who to go trekking with.
Please be careful with trekking operators that advertise new area or village. Most good eco-culture friendly operators go to the same area and villages year after year. They have an excellent relationship with them so everything is in balance and harmony so they do not need to go to a new area.
Most hill tribe villages do not have handicrafts as they spend most of their time working in their fields. There may however be elderly women in the village taking care of young children that do make handicrafts. In this case there will be one home or area where handicrafts can be viewed and bought. No one will bother you to buy anything and you are not looked at as a major source of income.
Make sure you are not allowed to give candy to children or money for pictures. Nothing should be exchanged directly between you and anyone in the village. A village is a very communal place and what belongs to one belongs to all. Jealousy and hate between villagers can arise because one family or person received something from you and they didn’t. It is true that many villages that are visited by tourists drop drastically in population because of jealousy. Most move away to a different village. Usually that of another family member who is married to a someone in that village.
Fondest memory: Ask to meet your guide first. Talk alone with your guide. Find out how much your guide knows about the village as you can. Tell your guide you want to smoke opium and if he or she says no problem find a different operator and guide. Many tour operators don’t know their guides are selling drugs to tourists so you need to ask your guide.
Ask how many persons are going on the trek with you and get it in writing as part of your receipt. Many people are told a small number later to find out there are up to 15 persons going on the trek. If they come to pick you up and there is more than what they wrote on your receipt when you paid for the trek get your money back. 6 persons should be the maximum and the fewer the better and a private trek is best. The fewer people on the trek or tour the better the experience.
An eco-culture tour and trekking operator will keep the number of persons visiting a village small. The impact of even 50 visitors a month in a village is devastating and should not be allowed. Some excellent operators take visitor to a village only once a week and then no more than 6 persons. They have many villages they can visit so they can take tourists daily to different villages.
Eco-tourism is not cheap so before you go out to find the best price for a trek or tour, first think about who wins and who looses on a cheap tour or trek. No one wins. Think about it.
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