I have a three week visit to Thailand planned in November, and I have up to 10 days set aside for Chiang Mai and surrounding areas. Yes, I'd love to have more...but I'm afraid that's all I've got.
I'll be coming in by train from Bangkok.
So far I'm pretty set on seeing:
I'm looking for good variety and for photographic opportunities (landscapes, architecture/temples, people, colors, 'traditional' culture, etc).
Any route recommendations or sights I should look into?
#1 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
Do not go to Chiangmai and then double-back to Sukhothai . Better to stop in Sukhothai/ Phitsanulok on your way to Chiangmai, or on your way back to Bangkok. Otherwise you'll be wasting an entire day traveling there and back.
Sukhothai is great for temples and Buddha images, but Si Satchanalai is better. It's about an hour north of Sukhothai. Best way to get there is to rent a motorbike in Sukhothai and ride there on your own. It's easy, very well-signed, and the roads are both quiet and well-surfaced. The bike would come in very handy in both places and might run you about B200/day.
Both places will give you loads of great photo ops.
Wat Yai (or Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat Woramahawihan) in Phitsanulok is worth going to if you are interested in Buddha images. It has one of the most sacred Buddhas in the country, and the temple it sits in is gorgeous. The temple is beside the river and can be reached on foot from the train station, or you can ask your bus driver to drop you off on your way to or from Sukhothai ... which is about an hour from Phitsanulok by bus.
One of the more photogenic places I like in November (and December/January) is anywhere in the hills above about 800m elevation north or west of Chiang Mai like the Doi Pui summit, above the popular Doi Suthep temple to the coffee plantation near the Ban Chang Khian Hmong village (by hired motorbike, is you're up for it). Bright yellow "dok bua thong" sunflowers blanket the area, also true for the area west to Doi Inthanon (Thailand's highest peak) and Mae Hong Son province. It takes time and commitment to get up there but worth it. The winter-season wildflowers and blue skies are a treat. I motorbike in the hills during the prime season.
Some photos here
Great advice, thanks soooo so much!
I love the motorbike ideas. I actually ride a motorcycle here in the US, so that sounds like a blast. I've heard some awful stories about people being scammed with motorbike rentals (where they claim you damaged it, follow you then steal it, etc)...should I be concerned with that?
Captain Bob (and anyone else) - is there a way I could make a small loop out of some of those locations? I really like the idea of including MHS, the views of the flowers and fields, and the coffee plantations...but I don't have a ton of time to dedicate.
Would doing all of that be too much?
It's looking like I'm trying to work with the following:
Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, hopefully Phitsanulok
Mae Hong Son (and basically any/all of the places Captain Bob mentioned)
Again, I have about 10 days.
#4 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
Just curious, but not contemporary culture? I've always thought seeking out "traditional culture" is like going to a museum with a pulse.
#5 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
MADMAC - I guess traditional culture is viewing a tribe or community who live almost entirely as their ancestors might have done, something which most of us in the Western world cannot claim to do, for sure.
In terms of good photographic opportunities, I am guessing the OP is after multi-coloured costumes, girls walking to the market with produce etc etc. Sapa and Muang Sing immediately spring to mind.
#6 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
"something which most of us in the Western world cannot claim to do, for sure."
Something I would not want to do for sure. My ancestors were drunk, pugnacious Irishmen from County Cork, Scottish lumberjacks and farmers for six generations in Northern Maine, and Mic Mac Indians. None of the lifestyles of my ancestors is particularly appealing.
As for Thailand, almost no one here is living as their ancestors did either. Even out where I live, the Pu Thai have motorbikes, TVs, western clothes. If you can get there on vacation, then civilization beat you there. Whateve you see is not what you we could call "authentic" because it's not in the required isolation. The world's moving too fast for that.
#7 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
To clarify - I just meant something a little more 'rural', honestly. Farming, fishing, small village life, etc. Simply because I'll be in Bangkok for around a week and live in a very large city already.
Not trying to be the narrow-minded westerner that thinks all foreigners are primitive
And I'm getting to the point where I'm trying to squeeze in too much stuff I believe, so if I can get a good enough variety from what I listed above (if all of that is even possible), that would be awesome.
#8 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
"To clarify - I just meant something a little more 'rural', honestly. Farming, fishing, small village life, etc."
This is easy then. I know just the place - BUT it's not where you asked to go.
I know the guy who runs this place. Really nice guy, easy going, friendly. If you want rural, laid back, with some expsure to the real deal, this is a good way to go.
#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
A route like this http://goo.gl/maps/FFbM would be doable in 10 days. You're basically doing the short version of the popular Mae Hong Son loop back to Chiang Mai then grab a 5-hour bus down to Sukhothai. There's a good map of the MHS Loop you can buy in book shops in Chiang Mai.
I like that route, actually. I do know that I want to see Chiang Dao, so maybe I can replace Pai with that? I don't expect to spend more than a day there. I'll likely visit Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai on my way up from Bangkok, as I'm going to be able to make the monkey festival in Lopburi .
Here's the route I'm considering - would love to hear your thoughts.
From Bangkok (by bus or train):
Ayutthaya (half day)
Lopburi (full day, one night)
Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai (two days)
Chiang Mai (four days)
Chiang Dao (half day, morning until evening)
Mae Hong Son (two days)
Mae Chaem (half day, morning until evening)
That puts me at 12 days, but I was originally considering Lopburi and Ayutthaya as day trips from Bangkok, so I think I can squeeze it.
#11 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
Woops I forgot to include Chiang Dao which I do like as well. There are very (very) frequent buses going there from the Chang Peuak bus station just outside the northern gate of Chiang Mai old city. Take any bus going to Thaton/Fang and it will also stop at Chiang Dao. Favorite place to stay out there is Malee Nature Bungalows near the cave, or next door Chiang Dao Nest. The folks there can probably help with transport to Pai, etc. Note slight error on your Google map, from Chiang Dao you'll need to come back down to the 1095 turnoff south of Mae Taeng then head for Pai, MHS. Your planned itinerary looks rushed. Remember it might take all day to get from Chiang Dao to MHS. You might also choose Sukhothai OR Ayutthaya not both, unless you're seriously into ancient Siam ruins. Lopburi isn't IMO all that interesting, just gangs of rival monkeys that jump on your head and steal your sunglasses.
Chiang Dao cave is alright and there's a good elephant camp out that way but you'll need a car to visit CD and get over to MHS in a day. Some back tracking needed and you'd be driving thru Pai to get there. Pai has a resort with hot spring baths then 1 hour past there is Tham Lot which means big cave and it's very impressive. It's near a town called Soppong. You can visit this cave on a tour (or just drive yourself) from either Pai or MHS but if you came from MHS it would be back tracking again.
If you don't want to drive you'd have to do a day tour to Chiang Dao then return to CM and catch a bus to MHS after that and I think the bus takes about 6 hours so you'll lose 2 days travelling to and from MHS so really don't have time to do that.
Your itinery looks unrealistic and rushed.
In that limited amount of time I really think you should drop MHS and just do the other things by car. CD in a day then drive onto Pai stay 2 nights and visit Tham Lot. Then drive back to CM.
Otherwise fly to MHS (nok air) and drop the other things.
#13 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
Longbeach, did you read my itinerary?
I'm not planning to do CD and MHS in a day. CD is less than two hours from Chiang Mai (from the available bus runs I've seen), so I plan on making it an early morning day trip from Chiang Mai. I can take an early morning bus from Chiang Mai to MHS, spend 2 days there, then leave MHS back to Chiang Mai. Mae Chaem isn't a priority, but I don't see it as being a problem either.
I could do the whole Chiang Mai/CD/MHS loop in 7-8 days, including travel time.
#14 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
I think you are being unrealistic. Go for it if you like but rushing around isn't much fun.
You will lose 2 days going to MHS and back so that cuts your time down. If you really want to bus it there and back you'll have to cut back 2 days on CM.
CD is about 2 hrs away but return is 4 hrs plus doing things plus Thai buses are often late/slow and your day is gone. Plus if you don't have a car or bike the cave is about the only thing you can do. That will last 30 mins then you'll be eating and waiting for the next bus. A long day for not much.
I've done this trip in a car and I wouldn't do a bus there and back to visit 1 ok cave.
If you hired a car you could do the cave, elephant camp and cobra snake show. See more and be done in less time.
#15 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
Well wait a minute...by 'hire a car' do you mean hire a driver to drive me around, or rent a car to drive myself? I figured you meant driving myself, but that reaaaaally seems like a bad idea (can't read Thai, would have no idea where I was going, etc).
If I could hire a driver for a decent price that would be awesome.
#16 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
Thai roads are good, signs in English and roads numbered. Easy to navigate if you have basic map reading skills. But if you are solo an organised tour would be easier.
#17 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
Longbeach is right. Driving around here is easy. Highway signs tend to be in English and it's resaonably well marked.
But you are moving around a lot. Ten days sounds good to me for two places.
#18 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Agree 5 days per location is good. I spent 10 nights in Krabi and wasn't bored. Changing hotels is tiresome. Pack, wait for bus, sit on bus, wait again for songthaew, unpack then do it all again in 2-3 days that sucks. Moving a lot is only fun if you have a car and can control the trip more.
#19 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
Well I suppose the two locations then should be Chiang Mai and MHS? I've read from a few places that 2-3 days is adequate to see a good bit of MHS. Would I really need a full 5 days?
I actually found a way to squeeze around 14 days (cut a day out of SR, BKK, and Krabi). So if I can still see Si Satchanalai and Lopburi that would be awesome (I'm skipping Ayutthaya and could skip Sukhothai). I do want to go to the monkey festival, though...sorry, but I love monkeys and that will be ridiculously fun for photographing them.
#20 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
Did some looking at MHS loop possibilities, and am actually considering just renting a motorbike and skipping Chiang Dao in favor of Soppong's Tham Lod.
Note: on dates that overlap, it's because I'm traveling in the middle of the day. On dates that do not overlap, I'm staying the night and leaving early in the morning.
Here's the breakdown in a calendar format.
#21 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
It comes down to a basic philosophy about how to spend your time here. For some people they want to see as much as possible, get a lot of pictures and move on... For me, most of the architecture here is crap. The scenery is OK, but it's not like the scenery here is all that special either (course I'm not a nature guy). It's the pace of life that makes the place cool. This is a great place to do nothing meaningful. Also, buses suck. Trains suck. If you don't have a motorcycle, then getting from place to place here sucks. So my own personal view is minimal time moving around, maximum time being a bum. Because that's what makes the place cool. Racing around and seeing tons of stuff - well Europe is MUCH better for that.
#22 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Ah, fair enough. It's probably different for me, because I am definitely a nature guy, and know I like to see a lot of things. I'm not a fat fanny-pack-wearing tourist that just wants cool pics though, I also care deeply about people and am fascinated by cultures...so perhaps I'm somewhere in between.
I live in Houston, which is basically a giant, sprawling city full of nothing but flatness and buildings. Just being out in nature makes me giddy (I grew up near the country), and I love to find the best in everything. Variety, activity, and photo opportunities are really a big deal to me, and I know I'll want to see a good bit (I'm a very visual person). If I stayed in one spot it would probably drive me crazy.
This trip was intentionally planned as more of a fast-paced adventure type trip, simply because my eagerness to see it all has built up for so long, and I kinda just want to do it to get it out of my system. I know I'll be taking slower trips in the future, but am using this more as a halfway point between being a crazy overzealous tourist and just staying in one spot.
Plus, I would much rather have a plan of HOW to 'do it all' and have the option to just chill if I want to. I work a lot here at home, so having a dedicated time of even 5 hours of bumming around is great for me, and I doubt I'd need much more. I actually expect that riding a motorbike around will count just as well, as it's super relaxing for me here at home. I view that whole journey as part of the adventure.
Also, to be fair...my time in Siem Reap will be pretty relaxed, as will my time in Krabi.
#23 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
Well you know yourself better than anybody else. Sounds like you need to keep busy to enjoy yourself. Nothing wrong with that. Have a great trip.
#24 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
With travel I find you need some relaxing days otherwise it becomes a blur and your very own contiki tour where you dont get to soak in the atmosphere.
busy 1-2 days then relax 1 days and repeat. Maybe relax 3 days in a row if you need it. Rushing around makes the experience a blurred photo trip
I would say not pre book your rooms then you can work it out as you go. Book 2 nights at a time.
#25 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
And yeah (longbeach), that's actually what I'm planning on doing, hence the two days in Soppong (which I switched to instead of Pai), three days in MHS, five days in Chiang Mai, etc. I'm going to take the motorbike rides very leisurely too, stopping along the way to enjoy the view, take photos, and just relax. Should be just fine for my needs.
#26 Dayyanum has been a member since 12/7/2012. Posts: 22
Let us know how it works out for you. Always nice to have feedback after the trip is over.
#27 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957