Chiang Dao is the perfect short break from Chiang Mai or the starting point of a road trip over the mountains to Chiang Rai.
Nothing much happens here, but it is a scenic spot to relax for a night or two with stunning views of the 2186 meter high Doi Luang Chiang Dao. The mountain itself is located 40 km south of the Myanmar border, and famous for overnight treks and bird watching. Chiang Dao translates as the city of stars and maybe people used to think that the mountain top touched the stars.
The impressive karst stone mountain range holds many caves of course, of which Wat Tham Chiang Dao cave is the main attraction. With over 12 kilometres of underpasses and caverns, there are plenty of stalactites and stalagmites. To explore the deeper interior of this cave you will need a guide.
The town itself is also the unlikely destination for some of the best crab in northern Thailand – The Alaska King Crab restaurant. This feels kind of weird considering the location, but I have to admit that it was a food highlight with oversized portions and the place is extremely popular with the local crowd.
You can find some great resorts and B&B’s here. There used to be only The Chiang Dao Nest for a decent overnight stay, always a popular choice for biker caravans and cravers of western food. The Thai owner used to work as a chef in England so she can have her staff cook up a storm with western food. (Pictures from the Nest below from June 2010)
I have driven through Chiang Dao many times but only stayed overnight on three occasions. Twice at The Nest in the old days, and last year in June we got a fantastic reopening price after the covid lockdown at Chiang Dao Azalea Village. Azalea has nice small bungalows, a pool with scenic views of the mountain and it is close to the evening market in town. Perfect place to do nothing!
Nowadays we prefer to stay at the newer resorts in Chiang Dao and the Treehouse Hideaway in Mae Mae village looks inviting. Believe it or not, but it seems like Chiang Dao also got its whisky bar now.
Need a coffee with a view, try the Pronto cafe.
Chiang Dao is beautiful in the rainy season or green season that we prefer to call it here. The cold season from November to February is also favourable. But when the burning season starts it is best to avoid Chiang Dao in late February, March and April. Tend to be a lot of fires forest fires at the time.
Deriving from the word Singora in Pattani Malay( lion city) this town has a touch of Georgetown, the potential of Hoi An, similarities to Phuket old town, but also a distinctive own character. In my opinion the most charming city of all the towns in the South. The historical old town with Sino – Portuguese shophouse heritage is located by the largest lake of Thailand – literally the only natural freshwater lake in the country.
Once an important harbour for foreign trade with India, China and European powers of its time, that importance is well documented in the colorful Songkhla National museum(once a Chinese palace), you also have the proximity to the sea with the white, casuarina pine grove covered Samila beach fading into the Bay of Thailand. The mermaid on the beach is the city symbol of Songkhla.
The Songkhla heritage fund did great work to restore former merchants homes into museums, restaurants and coffee shops opened up and the instagramable, street art murals are hugely popular. A good idea is to stroll around in the old town during the early morning hours when the light is favourable for taking pictures of the shophouses and murals When the heat makes its presence known continue to a lovely café by the lake and then start visiting the museums. The traffic tends to be busy during the day also so activating the early bird in yourself will be beneficial.
The Club Tree hotel where I stayed was a clean “but nothing special hotel”, with a good location close to the lake view heritage area.
The good part was that opposite the hotel there was a fantastic morning food market with multiple choices of southern curries on rice (30-40 baht). I never paid for breakfast in the hotel, which was a bit dull anyway. Breakfast in the morning market, watching the monks do their alms, and then returning to the hotel for free coffee(machine) and borrowing a bike for exploring.
I went quite far with that bike. Rode to Thailands longest concrete bridge, the Tinsulanond Bridge that connects to the southern coast of Koh Yo Island in Songkhla lake. I passed through Muslim and Buddhist villages on the island and finally taking the local ferry back.
It is also nice to take the lift up to the Tang Kan Hill lift. You will get a great panoramic view from there.
You can easily spend a weekend just enjoying downtown Songkhla, but there is more to do. For instance, you can explore old fortresses in the mountains, and from Songkhla, you are very close to Phattalung province with the Tale Noi bird sanctuary and just a 45 – 1 hour ride to bustling Had Yai.
I flew in with a direct flight with Air Asia from Chiang Mai to Had Yai and then from there, I got a taxi to Songkhla. Songkhla is the capital of the province with the same name and you should check your embassy’s travel advice for the region. Some embassies still advise not to go here due to events in the past. I visited in September 2020. The place was pretty much deserted due to Covid -19 travel restrictions. But my assumption at the time was that Songkhla was a very welcoming and friendly place.
I can’t wait to go there again!!
Round up with a few favourite eateries.
Driving up to the top of Thailands highest mountain you will pass an area of lush rice fields. Not exactly Ubud in Bali, or Longsheng in Chinas Guangxi province, but there are still some comforting views in the lower foothills of Himalaya in the mountain retreat of Mae Klang Luang.
While most Thai tourist is looking for close to zero temperatures and camping in Doi Inthanon in December and January, the rice terraces are most spectacular during the late rain season before the rice is harvested. We stayed there from the 14th to the 15th of October 2020.
Getting to Mae Klang Luang
Driving to Mae Klang Luang in good traffic is just a two-hour drive southwest of Chiang Mai. Find yourself a cosy homestay in Doi Inthanon national park and let the Karen villagers host you. Back in the day’s hill tribes used to grow opium, but now tourism, coffee and rice are the prime sources of income for them.
Don’t book too late but do try to negotiate the price a bit. The prices ranged from 1500 – 2000 baht per night. The beds are hard, but, but it is still worth staying overnight a real welcome city break.
Homestay Mae Klang Luang has nice kayaking and swimming opportunities for kids, and a wonderful coffee shop. With my early morning habits, I was so grateful for their efforts to get the coffee machine warmed up before 7 am.
The homestay includes a decent restaurant and they offer the nowadays almost obligatory shabu/hot pot on your balcony in the evening for an extra charge of 500 baht.
Just a few minutes drive from Mae Klang Luang you will find the entrance for one of the nicest and easiest hikes in the national park. A local guide is required, which is also nice to have.
A later post will be about Doi Inthanon. To be followed.
" March 14th 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs introduced a dissuasion from unnecessary travel to all countries, due to the extensive uncertainty for global travel linked to covid-19 "
When the news broke out, I burst out in some kind of weird laughter because up until then, this just sounded so unreal, and absurd. Sars had stopped me from visiting China for half a year, but that the whole world would close just felt unimaginable. But it happened.
I had been busy coordinating tours around Asia and, creating content for tour companies on Social Media. In my life, there wasn’t much time for hobbies, apart from taking a lot of photos on tour. All the free time would rightfully go to family life at home in Chiang Mai, and indulging myself in a nice coffee now and then. But then the news of covid, a pandemic struck, and all work-related travel came to an end by mid-March 2020. Suddenly I found myself with more free time than ever, to think and reflect on my travel-related life in Asia.
A kind of “unemployment deluxe situation ” in a way. Because being stuck in Chiang Mai wasn’t a bad place to get stuck in.
Thailand managed early to push back the virus and after a lockdown of a month or so, there was suddenly a chance to explore this country again, but under completely different premises. A rather empty country when it came to visitors, but we still did our best to try to support the travel and tourism industry, doing a few family road trips. And then I did some short trips on my own.
Well, I concluded that now is a good time to tell my journey through Thailand since my first visit in 1994 and share some tips and ideas that I hope some of you might find useful. Tidbits from the land of smiles, where the food taste a bit more, and life can be both complicated and easy. So let’s savour the Tom Yam soup, the flavoursome dish with a taste explosion, that can stand as a bit of a symbol of colourful life and travels in Thailand.
The beyond part was a recommendation from an Australian friend: – Don’t forget to tell the stories of your other Asian journeys.
So let’s explore now and then, I will share new experiences and walk down memory lane. My ambition and hope are that you the reader will get both useful travel tips and a bit of knowledge from reading this blog in “Swenglish”. Welcome!
Let’s be touched by nature by looking at it with the heart. Appreciating seasonal changes, the time of renewal, and the fleeting nature of life. Well maybe not quite as Zen here. But in recent years with more Thais than ever going to the land of the rising sun – why not grow Himalayan cherries at home as well? Locally named Tiger Queen flowers(Nang Paya Sua Kroang). Cherry magic in the north is arguably the most perfect instagramable hot spot in January.
There are a few places you can visit. When the blooming reaches its peak period you will enjoy your sakura with the crowd, but it is still a worthwhile experience. Sakurawatching Thai style means local hill tribes selling sweet potatoes, strawberries, excellent arabica coffee (local produce). Many smiles and great scenery. Traffic might get busy in and out, and it is a good way to avoid weekends.
The place we went to is just beyond the Doi Pui camping grounds,
Khun Chang Khian Agricultural Center is located 1400 meter above sea level, and the Himalayan cherry trees were planted for tourism.
The road here can get a bit narrow and there will be local red buses, so-called Songthews standing by to provide bumpy taxi service from The Bhuping Palace parking. (Prices can be negotiated).
Estimate around two hours for the visit, depending on if you’re indulging in coffee at The Fernpresso cafe or not.
There are a few quite nice restaurants around the parking, just by the market area. Our choice was ครัวระเบียงชมวิว, that served a nice variety of dishes. You could get the general Thai cuisine, Northern and Northeastern food such as papaya salad and black pepper mushroom soup.
A new food nightmarket has recently opened in the Nimmanhemin vicinity. Trendy japanese eateries(because everything is sooo japonais at the moment), the usual café, food stalls and an amazing collection of food trucks. There is even a classic photo automat. Welcome to More Space!