I wish I could say I was writing to you from one of the hundreds of coffee shops in the northern Thailand town of Chiang Mai, but instead I’ll admit that I’m really bad at keeping up with this blogging thing. (I’m actually in Hoi An, Vietnam.) When you have two months to travel you think, That’s loads of time! Surely I can take a couple days off to blog and lounge around, right? Wrong. The more time you have, the more tempted you are to visit all the places and do all the things.
That’s why I’ve had to forgive myself these past few days. My body was telling me to slow down and I didn’t want to listen. When you spend three straight weeks with a full itinerary, there are bound to be consequences. And when I decided to celebrate my birthday eve by partying until 4 a.m., I paid for it the next day—and the next few days after that.
Which brings me to where I am now: no longer hungover, but stuck popping DayQuil at a bakery in Hoi An. Luckily, I decided to treat myself the past two nights with a large private room at a resort and spa. But tonight it’s back to hostel life. And I’m sure my roommates will be thrilled to have my sniffling, coughing self join the party.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a single second of how I’ve spent my time thus far. But now I’m stuck debating whether or not to let my body rest and recover, or to power through so I can enjoy the beautiful coastal town of Hoi An to the fullest. But we’ll get to that later; you’re here to read about Chiang Mai.
When I left hot and hazy Bangkok, I was excited to slow things down in Chiang Mai. Nestled near the mountains either a 14-hour bus ride or an hour flight away, I had heard it was Bangkok’s hip sister—akin to an Austin/Dallas relationship, perhaps. Flawed comparison aside, I immediately noticed how laidback Chiang Mai was: the buildings stayed under a certain height, and the streets were filled with green garden cafes, coffee shops, and tucked away art galleries.
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to get lost in a city like this (which is exactly what my travel guru Anthony Bourdain did here over a decade ago). Strolling along trendy Nimmanhaemin Road, or “Nimman” for short, I wandered down the various alleyways, stumbling upon relaxing cafe libraries, rose-shaped ice cream, and photo exhibitions. The next day I rented a bicycle to explore the hundreds of temples and backroads in Chiang Mai. On my second to last day I took the road less traveled—literally—and hiked up a monk’s trail to a secret temple in the mountains, where I saw only a handful of other people.
I did touristy things too: I took a wonderful cooking class where I learned to make fried spring rolls, Khao Soi noodles, and curry; I shopped at the never-ending night markets; I visited a rooftop bar with hostel friends; I watched a ladyboy show at Chiang Mai Cabaret. But I have to agree with the all-knowing Bourdain: You don’t really know Chiang Mai until you get lost here. Steal a moment away from the hostel, other backpackers, and guided tours. Take a moment for yourself and just go.
Follow along on my travels through Southeast Asia: