My Week as a Pai-rate: Working at a Hostel With Workaway.com & How You Can Travel For Free

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It seems that people who haven’t traveled much always have this idea in their heads that traveling is expensive.  If you do it like a backpacker and you’re smart about it, it’s really not.  There are also a MILLION ways that you can travel for free, or at least get free accommodation.

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Pai, where I  decided to work for a week.

I’m a big proponent of working and living abroad.  I studied in Italy, I taught in Thailand, and one thing I can say is that living in a foreign country is a COMPLETELY different experience from just traveling there.  The expat world and backpacking world could not be more different.  As an expat you learn a lot more about the country, you get to see things you never would otherwise, and it provides a good home base for visiting other neighboring countries.  As much as I love backpacking, living out of a 14 kilo bag and sleeping in dorms gets exhausting after a while.

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Studying abroad was funnnn.

Ways you can work abroad:

  • Workaway.com – this is a website where people post volunteering opportunities where you work in exchange for accommodation, and sometimes meals/yoga classes/other things as well. The subscription costs $30 for a year.  Most of the opportunities I’ve seen are either agriculture, language tutoring, or hostel work-based.  Con – many of the opportunities are long-term.  I was offered a position working at an elephant rescue center in Chiang Mai as a tour guide, but I would’ve had to give up an entire 3 weeks of travel.
  • Trustedhousesitter.com – there are many similar websites to this, this is just the one that I’m familiar with. If you pay the $30 yearly subscription fee, you can house-sit other peoples’ houses for free, in exchange for staying there.  You also could try house-sitting via Craigslist, but it’s no as guaranteed.
  • Showing up at a hostel – a LOT of hostels offer work in exchange for free accommodation, and sometimes compensation. The downside – you often have to spend a little time at the hostel first before you get the job; it’s hard to find guaranteed jobs online beforehand.  And sometimes you have to commit to a large amount of time, usually around a month.  But it’s an easy way to meet people.  For example I know Slumber Party hostel in Krabi hires all the time, but you have to commit for at least 3 months.  I also saw many hostels in Pai that advertised work for accommodation.
  • Teaching – obvious and self-explanatory. You can get TEFL or CELTA certified on your own and find your own job, or you can go through a program like I did.  You also can find agencies in cities like Bangkok that will help you find a job for a small cut.  Program pros – they take care of your visa and all the confusing paperwork for you, program cons- they’re expensive.
  • Working as a flight attendant – even if you just do it for a year, some programs offer free housing in addition to a salary, and you get to see the world.
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Teaching is a good time
  • VIPKid and other online tutoring websites – it really pays to be a native English speaker in 2017, as English is quickly becoming the number 1 language worldwide, and people will pay money to try and pick up a good accent. So if you are a native English-speaker, there are many websites(most of my friends use VIPKid) where you can sign up to tutor virtually using a Skype-like program.  This pays very well; my friends earn around $19/hour.  And you can pick your own schedule; good for traveling.
  • Upwork.com – and other freelancing websites. These are websites that let you freelance write, graphic design, etc.; all from the comfort of your own laptop.
  • Au pairing – I’ve never really looked into doing this because I’d make a terrible housekeeper, but this is a popular option in France/Spain.
  • Teaching diving – this is a popular option in Thailand on popular diving islands like Ko Tao, where people show up to get PADI certified one week and are teaching the next.  They generally don’t pay well, if they pay at all, but hey, you get to live on an island for at least accommodation usually.
  • Working as a tour guide – there are companies in Europe, specifically Florence where I studied, that do organized tours aimed at students.  I actually applied, interviewed, and was accepted to work for Bus2Alps, but teaching seemed like a more stable source of income, and I had never been to Thailand.  My only complaint about these student tour guide groups is that they’re heavily based on compensation, and most tour guides are required to go out to bars several nights a week to party with prospects to try and sell tours.  I know, I partied with many a tour guide during my time in Florence.  Partying in the week and leading travel groups Thurdsay night-Sunday can be exhausting.  Some companies that do the same thing: FlorenceForFun, SmartTrips, and Euroadventures.
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One of the many lovely cafes in Pai

I gave teaching abroad in Thailand a go, and had a wonderful experience.  That’s never guaranteed of course, a lot of the time people’s experience depends on their placement, boss, etc.  I know several people who couldn’t handle teaching in the same program I was in that bailed.

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Teaching

IMG_4680.jpgI gave my second working-abroad attempt a go in the beginning of March.  I paid $30 for a 1-year subscription on Workaway.com, and started messaging hostels in the Thai islands and Pai, a hippie town 2 hours from Chiang Mai, as those are both places I’ve wanted to visit in Thailand but hadn’t had a chance to yet.

Right before I left Myanmar and was planning on heading to the south of Thailand, I received an e-mail inviting me to work at a backpacker hostel in Pai.  I went to Mochit station, hopped on an overnight bus to Chaing Mai (you have to go to Chiang Mai first to get to Pai), and off I went.

When applying, I only applied to hostels that seemed social, as I was going to be solo traveling extensively for the first time ever and I wanted to meet people.  I got lucky, the hostel I worked at was very social and a little bit of a party hostel, but it was still pretty small and had a nice family-vibe to it.

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Pretty Pai

Overall, I had a great experience during my 1 week working at this hostel.  I worked the front desk, helping check in customers etc., helped out at the bar a couple nights, and spent 1 unfortunate day doing housekeeping.  I saw unfortunate because it was unfortunate for the hostel owner; I’m not very good at cleaning and she wasn’t very shy about letting me know it.  I’ve never had someone rip my cleaning skills so hard in front of my peers.  With my stay came free water, a free bed, drinks at wholesale price(which saved me a lot of baht), and 1 free meal a day.

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Disclaimer: not a free meal, just good coconut milk outmeal I had at a vegetarian restaurant in Pai(Om Garden café)

The owner of the hostel wasn’t the friendliest person, my bed was literally a bamboo cot, and I’m pretty sure one of the nightstands in the staff dorm had termites in it, but I met a lot of awesome people that week and saved a bit of money.  Overall I’d recommend trying workaway.  If you have the guts, however, I’d say showing up somewhere you want to be and trying to find a hostel hiring may be better.  Saving money on a bed doesn’t save you too much in Southeast Asia, but in other places like Europe it really does.  I plan on giving workaway another go in September while I’m apartment hunting in Madrid to save on staying at a hostel, so we’ll see how it goes.

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Biking in Pai

Elephriends in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is known for servicing as an access point for half day and full day trips to hang out with elephants.  There are companies that allow you to feed them, ride them, play with them, and even shovel their poop.  Yes, you have to pay a hefty fee to be privileged with the honor of shoveling elephant poop.  And people do actually pay it.

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So naturally, after we decided to go to Chiang Mai, the first thing we did was book our own play date with elephants.  Many of the parks blatantly give no regards for the well-being of the animals, some claim for be humane, and a few actually are humane(or at least they’ve tricked me into thinking they are).  Lonely Planet Guidebook in hand, after much debating we selected a full day of “Elephant Day Care” at Baanchang Elephant Park.

If you are planning to book a day with elephants, I would recommend doing so very far in advance, as we booked a month in advance and many places were already full.  Although we really liked our park, so it ended up working out for the best.

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Baby elephant!

So what exactly is “Elephant Day Care” you may ask?  Did I pay to shovel elephant poop?  Absofreakingloutely not.  I’ve had a dog since I was 9 and still have yet to pick up a single piece of dog crap.  S/o to Mama & Papa O for blessing me with two brothers who have to do the dirty work around the house.  So there’s no way I would pay to break my princess feces-free streak.

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Elephant Day Care was just hanging out with the elephants.  When we first arrived to the park(after getting picked up from our hostel by van and driving an hour outside of the city), we sat with our guide for about an hour while he imparted wisdom about our pachyderm friends.

ElephFUN Facts(hehe see what I did there?)

  • There are around 10,000 elephants in Thaland. 8,000 of them are in captivity.
  • Elephants can live without their eyes, but they can’t live without their trunks.
  • It costs 1 million Baht to rescue one elephant (around $350,000 USD)
  • It hurts an elephant if you ride on it’s back with a contraption, but they can be safely and comfortably ridden bareback.
  • Elephants don’t like cars and are scared of people in the wild due to poaching etc.
  • In Thailand, most rescue elephants come from illegal logging activities and tourist attractions, ex. elephant riding and shows in Ayutthaya.
  • Only one person can train an elephant, the elephant may be aggressive or dangerous for other trainers.
  • When elephants are happy, they flap their ears and wag their tails, kind of like a dog.

So after getting #educated on elephants and how they live in Thailand, we were introduced to some of the elephants and got to feed them sugarcane.  TBH I don’t remember the names of the elephants because they were all in Thai, but they each had a name and a trainer.  The elephants were very smart, they’d reach out to us with their trunks for food constantly.  They’d even hold several pieces of sugarcane in their trunks while they were chewing another piece.  That was how I found my favorite elephant, the one who stocked up the most sugarcane and was most thirstily begging for food.

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My favorite elephant.  Couldn’t tell you the name because they told us their names in Thai, in one ear and out the other.

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Said elephant swooping in to steal sugarcane I was trying to feed to another elephant.

Then we grabbed 3 elephants (and their Burmese trainers) and headed out into the jungle.  Did I mention we were all wearing matching little karate outfit things the people had given us?

First we stopped in some kind of a meadow, for the elephants to eat even more grass.  This was adorable until we got to find out first hand that two of the elephants didn’t like each other, after they started fighting and almost charged each other.

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Then we went to some kind of a hut structure in the woods, where we cut even more sugarcane for them.  We also made them sticky rice balls, with taro, bananas, sticky rice, and coconut milk.  These were kind of gross and slimy, since the elephants can’t hold them in their trunk you have to place them directly in the elephants’ mouths, after yelling commands at them in Thai.  We spent most of our time here, feeding the elephants and eating our own Pad Thai lunch.

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Then we headed even FURTHER into the jungle so the elephants could roll in mud and chill with each other.  We had been given more sugarcane at this point, and, you guessed it, the elephants kept eating (this is starting to sound like a children’s book).

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We then began the long walk back to the elephant camp.  On the way there the elephants kept either spraying water or peeing, so there were several times that it is highly possible that I got peed on by an elephant.  Thailand truly has dropped my sanitation standards to an all-time low.  Although in the elephant’s defense, I would totally pee on tourists paying to see me every day for laughs.

The final part of our play date was bathing the elephants.  This I wasn’t too pumped about, as the water was murky and the elephants were clearly pooping in it while we were standing right there, but I didn’t want to be the prissy blonde who only came to take selfies with the elephants so I sucked it up.  Besides, at that point in the day I was fully coated with a vile sludge anyways.  The selfies were worth it all.

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So there you have it.  We made food for the elephants, watched them roll in the mud, and fed them.  So basically we paid to feed elephants all day.  They ate and they ate and they ate.  And I think they peed on me.  We did not ride them once.  But you know what?  It was awesome, and I would definitely do it again.  I’d highly recommend Baanchang, they seemed to actually care for the elephants.

A Brief Review of Chiang Mai Markets

One of my favorite things about Thailand is the markets.  Day markets, night markets, floating markets, walking markets, food markets, clothing markets…literally anything you could ever possibly want you can buy on the streets.  It’s fabulous.  After seeing so many, I’m becoming kind of a market snob, so here’s a quick review of the few I saw in Chiang Mai.

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On Running Late & Dealing with the Night Bazaar

This market is open 7 days a week in Chiang Mai.  They have handicraft items, souvenirs, ladyboys pushing their cabaret shows, and a tonnnn of tourists.  This market was my first taste of Chiang Mai after rolling off my 10 hour bus, and to be honest it was a bitter taste to begin with.

To be fair my trip started a little rough.  I originally wanted to take an overnight train from Bangkok, as they’re supposed to be a good time, but I forgot that Thai people also had the Buddhist holiday off so the trains sold out.  Usually you don’t have to book ahead of time and it’s cheaper to purchase them at the station.  So I ended up taking a 6AM bus from Bangkok because I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the 8PM bus coming from Dan Chang and dealing with the hell that is Bangkok rush hour traffic.

I was actually pleasantly surprised with how nice my bus was.  I used Bangkok bus lines.  I took an air-conditioned double-decker bus, complete with a stewardess and American movies dubbed in Thai.  They even provided a little snack box and Thai lunch at our rest stop.  However, due to the holiday traffic, we unfortunately arrived 3 hours late in Chiang Mai, so I was already running behind on meeting up with my friends.

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Said snack box, including ~green tea~ knock-off oreos.  Not a big oreo fan but I LOVE green tea so I gave them a try, not too shabby.

After hastily checking into the hostel, I grabbed my friends’ new Australian friend/our hostel roommate Liz and made a terrible attempt at trying to find my friends in the city.  Not knowing that were so many night markets in Chiang Mai, we ran around for about 2 hours and then realized that we were at different markets.  No matter though, it all worked out in the end and we had a fabulous night on the town.  I digress.

The Night Bazaar is always open at night in Chiang Mai.  They have your typical goods, meaning knock off ray-bans, elephant pants, Chang Beer shirts, etc.  However this market also tried to ~exoticize~ and ~capitalize~ on Northern tribes and also sell cheesy goods that had supposedly been made by tribes people in the mountains.  Everything was also severely overpriced and the market was very dirty.

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Not that Thai markets aren’t usually dirty, it isn’t exactly the cleanest of counties, with it’s lax attitude towards littering and the vermin that come with tropical weather, but in this case it just added to the already grotesque atmosphere.  There also were fish spas out in the middle of the market, where you pay to have fish eat off your dead skin, which kind of grossed me out seeing that they were next to food stalls.

The food was overpriced and clearly geared towards tourists, with large menus written in English with lots of pictures.  Unfortunately Liz & I were running low on time and had no other options, so I dropped 80 baht for some severely mediocre crispy pork.  The place was also crawling with tourists and lacking Thai people, always a red flag.

All in all I would only go to this market if you’re going for the ladyboy cabaret or if you’re bored.

Ploen Ruedee Night Market – International Food Park

This place was actually pretty cute.  Being a semi-professional food snob I usually turn up my nose at western food in foreign countries, but this place was trendy and a lot of Thai people were there.  I like to think that if I lived in Chiang Mai I would eat here when I missed western food.

They had craft burgers, pizza, WINE, Pakistani food, a cute little cart that sold cocktails for only 100 baht, and anything else you could ever imagine.  I went for the tofu Khao Soi as I wanted to lap up as much of it as possible while in Northern Thailand, but my friend got a burger that was only 100 baht.  That’s cheap for a burger in Thailand.

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I was half expecting my Khao Soi not to be the best seeing as it was in an area that sold western food, but it was surprisingly good.  Top that off with a good mojito, cute seating, and the same good band we had seen out the night before, and all around this market was a cute little square.  I’d recommend stopping here if you’re craving your hometown favorites.

The Sunday Night Market

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The entrance to the market through old city walls.

I saved the best for last.  This market was the best I’ve seen in Thailand yet, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time perusing Bangkok(although I have yet to visit Chatuchak weekend market).  It was located right by the old city walls, and it’s only open on Sunday evenings.

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A food vendor miraculously pushing her cart through the crowd of people and simultaneously selling food.  This should be an Olympic Sport.

This market had all your usual tourist goods, meaning elephant pants, Thailand t-shirts, and elephant trinkets; but they had a great deal more as well.  They had some Northern Thai hippy clothing, and a tonnnnn of tied-dye clothes.  The clothes were actually pretty cute too.

The market spilled out into the street in front of a few boutiques that set up stalls.  There I saw the cutest and most unique harem pants that I’ve seen in Thailand, so I decided to treat myself and buy my first pair.  They also had super cute jewelry, so I bought a few stacking rings and a new choker, along with cute little earrings for my cartilage piercings.  Finding small earrings that are actually cute is a feat.

We also got dinner at this market.  Jutting off of the main streets there were several little areas that had food.  They were done in usual Thai fashion, meaning there were food stalls that had short little tables with plastic chairs.  There were also Thai people eating here, which is again, always a good sign.

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I opted for my first Khao Soi and some unidentified crab item.  They were both absolutely amazing.  Khao Soi is a Northern specialty.  It’s a coconut curry with a bunch of other stuff in it, and one of the only dishes I’ve had in Thailand that isn’t noodle/rice based.  It’s more of a soup than other curries that I’ve had, and it’s the best thing I’ve had in Thailand yet.  The crab thing(meaning some kind of crab stuff baked into it’s shell) was also really good, although I still don’t know what it was.  We topped up the whole thing with coconut milk ice cream with peanuts, and it was a great dinner out.

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I think my favorite part of the market was an area where local artists were selling paintings and such.  By local artists I don’t mean your typical tourist-area natives slapping paint onto some exotic artifact, I mean like actual artists who created more modern art.  It was nice to see Thai culture done in a more modern fashion in a tourist area for once.  They had Peter Max style paintings of elephants and tuk-tuks, and ink drawings of Buddhas and such on elephant poop paper.  The artists were sitting there themselves watching over their wares, which proved their legitimacy.  I’ll have to come back when I’m a real grown up who has a house to decorate someday to browse.

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The downside to the market being so cool was that it was absurdly crowded.  Like we lost a few crew members several times, and it was difficult to browse with a group.  We also had to hover to get seats after we bought food.  But it still was all great, definitely the best market I experienced in Chiang Mai.

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The best thing I found at the market, s/o to the language barrier.

Thai Markets – A Mishap

This isn’t one of the market attractions, this is just a random little Thai market with all food stalls and Thai people, the same as in any Thai town.  But if you want good cheap legit food try to find it, it’s on Sri Poom Road.  These are my favorite places to eat in Thailand, by far the best and cheapest food you’ll find.

On the last day we were trying to find dinner and were sightly in a rush, so we decided to grab something quick and cheap. The market was down the street from our hostel. It was nice being able to go to a Thai food stall where people speak English for once and I’m not limited to ordering the 1 menu item I know they have.

After we sat down and started shoveling pork and rice into our faces, a young and kind of gaunt-looking Thai guy sitting at our table started chatting with us in broken English. This isn’t unusual and happens all the time as Thai people are very friendly. We were also the only westerners at this market so we were probably a slight curiosity.

At first it was business as usual, “where are you from” “how long are you in Thailand for” and a few mystery questions that were simply answered with a polite nod, but then things took a turn for the worse. Back to Thai people being friendly – I’ve been offered food by Thai people regularly, as they like to give my farang self a chance so try new things. This is nice usually. However, this guy decided to literally hold out his spoon and try to feed me his pork and rice, which was twice as confusing because I was eating the exact same meal? Cue the most awkward moment of my life.

At first when he held it up I politely held my spoon up so that he could slide it on(gross still I know, but it’s rude to refuse food in Thailand). But he insisted on trying to put the pork and rice in my mouth off of his spoon. I shut him down by clumsily mumbling, waving my hands, and turning the other way, but the damage had been done and the rest of the meal was super awkward. Like I said it’s rude to refuse food in Thailand, but he was giving me the chills and I’ve seen Thai dental hygiene standards and simply could not. The cultural/language barrier really won this time.

So there you have it.  Ditch the Night Bazaar and save your money for the Sunday market.  Next visit to Chiang Mai I’ll definitely hit up some more markets.

~Fly~ in Chiang Mai

Sorry for the brief hiatus, I’ve been traveling for the past two weeks from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to the south to Bangkok and back, with little to no wifi to work with.

I finally got my first holiday off!!!  The week of July 18-20 was “Buddhist lent” or at least that’s what Thais keep telling me, so some sort of Buddhist holiday.  That meant I got my first chunk of time off to travel outside of central Thailand.  Seeing as no one from my orientation can leave the country yet, a couple of friends & I decided to go to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai was just rated the top underrated city in Asia, which is extremely ironic because it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand, right up there with Bangkok and the Southern Islands.  So I’m not sure who thought it wasn’t known but apparently they missed the memo a while ago.

That being said, it was quite jarring how tourist-friendly the place was.  Bangkok gets a lot of tourists, but the city is so congested that not everyone speaks English and not every place caters to farang.  I did not have a single issue with the language barrier in Chiang Mai, and as much as I love Bangkok the people seemed to appreciate tourists a lot more in Chiang Mai.

The city also seemed to have the most western people that I’ve seen so far.  I saw hordes of hippie dippy expats with dreadlocks, throngs of backpackers in elephant pants, and a surprising amount of western families that were vacationing.  Although we didn’t see any Americans that were outside of our teaching program.  Even though Thailand is trendy right now in the US, it seems that Thailand is much more popular with the Australian and British crowd comparatively.

It really is a great city, although the city serves more as a base for people to book day trips to mountains outside of the city and sign up for cooking classes and such.  The city itself has a few temples, a decent art scene, and a few backpacker bars, but other than that everything is mostly outside the city limits.

Doi Suthep & Meditation

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The first mini-day trip we did in Chiang Mai was visit a popular temple on a mountain at the edge of the city, Doi Suthep.  Originally we planned on hiking it, but due to miscommunication with some stubborn Songtaew drivers we ended up just getting a ride to the temple.  Although it ended up working out in our favor, as after a winding rough half hour ride up the mountain, we realized we were way too hungover to do anything that athletic and had severely underestimated the distance of the hike.  But the height of the mountain did provide some sick views of the city.

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The cute little girls above were running around the steps dressed like Northern Thai Karen and charging tourists for pictures, their mother/adult handler not in sight.

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Dragon puking dragons ft. selfie stick.

The temple itself was very pretty, with tons of gold Buddhas and a dragon motif.  The climb up the stairs to the temple was a tad rough, but again this was after a night on the town.  Unfortunately it was very crowded when we went, but we dragged and didn’t leave until 11AM, so I’d recommend leaving earlier if you’re visiting.

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While at Doi Suthep we happened to stumble onto a meditation center next to the monks’ quarters at the temple.  There were no other tourists there, a rarity in a sea of Chinese tour groups and Thai people on holiday.  The only other people in there were all clothed in white and doing yoga-esque moves mid-meditation, so to be honest I’m not really sure if we were allowed to just waltz right in and start meditating.  But either way no one said anything, and we were able to bust out a brief 10 minutes of meditation.  And by 10 minutes I mean 10 minutes of sitting with brief 5 second intervals where I was actually able to think about nothing.  Meditation is freaking hard.

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After finding the Meditation Center and trying to find our way back without climbing up the same long set of stairs, we found another cool staircase, again with no other tourists.  This one featured Buddhas in old pants, and I actually think that it was a graveyard-type staircase at there were graves underneath each Buddha.  We probably weren’t supposed to be here but whoops.  Apparently if you follow the monks scarves wrapped around trees that are pictured above, it leads you to the next temple on the mountain.  But again, we were hungover and dying of heat stroke, so next time.

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Coffee Over Everything – Ristr8to

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Chiang Mai is known for it’s trendy coffee scene.  While strolling through the trendy Nimmahaemin neighborhood, we happened to stumble onto Ristr8to, supposedly one of the top coffee shops in the city.  Being a latte geek I of course had to pop in and try it.  I actually wound up having the most amazing latte of my life, both in appearance and in flavor.  And that actually is saying something considering that I studied abroad in Italy.  It was a flat white New Zealand blend, I would highly recommend.  The whole place had a super trendy worldly black-and-white vibe going, and we were the only farang in there.  That’s how you know the place is legit.

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Another cute little coffee shop we found in the Nimmahaeim neighborhood.

Graffiti, Nimmahaeim Road and Other Trendy Stuff

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Chiang Mai also has a decent art scene going, although they didn’t have any museums that were really highly recommended.  In the Sunday night market several artists were selling their paintings, and around the entire city there’s some really sick graffiti.  Next time I visit I definitely want to rent a motorbike and spend time looking for more.

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Nimmahaeim Road is supposedly the trendy area in Chiang Mai.  We found a few cute bars to go out to there at night, outlined in another upcoming post.  While wandering around during the day they had quite a few cute coffee shops, along with some trendy clothing shops and pricey eateries.  We also stumbled onto some area called the Think Park, with weird art, a weird coffee shop, and some very trendy very overpriced clothing that I had also seen for cheaper at the Sunday Night Market.  Although it still is a pretty area to see.

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Just for fun – we found a cute little bookstore in Nimmahaeim that sold Harry Potter Books, complete with an Asian version of Harry Potter on the cover.

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Lady Boy Cabaret

This we found in the super-touristy Night Bazaar.  Seeing a ladyboy show has been on my Thailand bucket list, so I was super pumped to go.  PS “Ladyboy” is the Thai word for transgender male to female.  Thailand is extremely accepting of ladyboys and they are very common.  I have even seen several in my tiny little farming town, including teachers that work at my school and even some students who already identify with the opposite gender.

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This show was clearly geared for tourists, as it was located in the touristy Night Bazaar, but it was only 280 baht so no big deal.  It’s actually spooky how womanly many of the ladyboys look, if I had seen them on the street I literally wouldn’t have known the difference.  The show itself was entertaining, consisting of 80s drag classics like “It’s Raining Men” and “I Will Always Love You.”  The lipsyncing was less than mediocre, but I’m going to chalk that one up to the language barrier once again.  It was a good show, but I definitely want to see a more legit one in Bangkok, preferably with some more modern Britney Spears and Beyonce.

San Kampaeng

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On our last day in Chiang Mai we were struggling to find something to do as we couldn’t really do any day trips to Chiang Rai or Doi Inthanon and still make our busses/flights home.  Our hostel owner recommended seeing the craft making and shops in San Kampaeng, about 10 meters outside the city.  We had time to kill so we decided to give it a whirl, even though we didn’t really know what it was.

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Apparently San Kampaeng used to have a ton of crafting factories for things like elephant poop paper, silver, and other Northern Thai crafts, but today the area is dwindling as factories are relocated and businesses die out.  The only thing left really is a parasol factory, where you can go buy fancy Thai parasols and watch people make them by hand.

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The umbrella factory was cool to see, and the umbrellas they were selling were gorgeous, but seeing as I lack a house to decorate them with am about 30 years too young to start collecting useless knick-knacks, all we really did was look around.  But I did get a chance to get some nice pictures.

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We hired a songtaew for 200 baht each to take us from stop to stop and back and forth from the city.  For the second stop our driver recommended a store where they hand make jewelry.  This turned out to be a huge showroom for precious gems and gold, complete with an irritating salesperson that followed our 20-something and broke selves around the whole time.  All around I would not recommend taking time to see San Kampaeng, aside from the umbrella factory if you have time.

At Baan Khun 2 Hostel

A quick shout out to my hostel- if you’re headed to Chiang Mai definitely stay here.  It was only 100 baht a night, cheap even by Thailand standards.  Not only was it 100 baht, but it had air conditioning AND was super clean.  It’s very rare to get air-con for 100 baht a night.  It’s also very rare to get clean for 100 baht a night.  Having both in one of the top tourist destinations in Thailand is simply unheard of.

The hostel had an awesome backpacker vibe complete with friendly backpackers, friendly staff, free coffee and bananas, and a secret rooftop garden with a great view of the city.  A lot of people we met there actually had wound up staying there for a few weeks, and I can easily see why.  I’ll definitely be staying there next time I’m in Chiang Mai.