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First Days - Bangkok Chiang Mai

Posted by saramac on 2/8/2013 at 23:29

Hi everyone. I'm arriving in Bangkok early in the morning on August 16, and while I have a loose idea about what my plans are (I will be in the region from August 16 through September 11), after reading so much on this forum, I've decided that (contrary to my overly-planning ways), I am going to try my best to wing it a bit and see what happens! 33 year old female, just quit my job, first time really traveling alone, not a party animal. Am I out of my mind?! This is going to be AMAZING.

So, here are my questions:

I arrive early in the morning on August 16 (7am). I think that I will want to check in to a hotel fairly quickly, so that I can shower, try to get normal after such long flights (coming from Philadelphia, PA, USA). Based on what I've read here, I think it makes sense to get out of Bangkok (I will try to spend a few days in Bangkok at the end of the trip) and I will leave August 17 on the night train to Chiang Mai .

Any suggestions on where to stay (area/suggestions?) given the fact that I will be there two days, one night, coming from airport and leaving for train station? I think for this first night, I prefer to stay someplace on the nicer end (as opposed to backpacker/dorm), a nice hotel. I'm willing to spend a little on this first night. Also, any idea if I will be able to check in really early?

One thing that I will want to do in Bangkok is hit a spot to get a SIM card (MBK?) (I'm assuming I will need one so I can call places to reserve guest houses/etc (any opinion on this?).

I haven't even done enough research to know what exactly I want to do in Bangkok - definitely like the arts, markets, food, interesting things. Of course some of the normal tourist things, but also really want to figure out some more unique experiences. Chinatown, amulet market, dusit, wat pho, canals are on my list (but I realize i can't tackle all of this in one day, I plan to head back at the end of my trip). What would you suggest doing before heading for Chiang Mai? Should I get some kind of guide to take me around?

I'm also interested in Erawan National Park (and/or Koh Yai). Rather than heading to Chiang Mai on night two, should I stop at one of these places? Overnight there?

At this time of year, do I need to get my overnight train ticket ahead of time? Should I handle this on my own now or wait until I get to Bangkok?

Lastly, what section of Chiang Mai should I stay in? Should I book a place ahead of time or wait? Suggestions?

Thank you for enduring this really long email. As you may be able to tell, I'm a bit overwhelmed. This is kind of a last minute adventure for me (which means getting everything in order here to go away for so long all at the same time as leaving my job has eaten into my time to research and figure out my plans - this could be a great thing, or could really backfire!)

Thanks for any and all advice! I appreciate it!

Sara

#1 saramac has been a member since 2/8/2013. Posts: 6

Posted by exacto on 3/8/2013 at 00:23

Hi Sara,

Your trip sounds great. It will be AMAZING.

I'm a big fan of the overnight trains in Thailand, but if I were in your situation, arriving in Bangkok at 7 am, I might just catch a connecting flight and continue right on to Chiang Mai. It will only add a few more hours to your trip. The reason is that after that long trip from the east coast, you'll likely be really jet lagged. The last thing I'd want to do is be in BKK for about 36 hours and then catch an overnight train to Chiang Mai, because even though the adventure of the sleeper train is great, it won't be such a great night's sleep.

If you do decide to stop over in Bangkok as planned, then I'd definitely suggest getting that overnight sleeper train reservation as soon as you can, because I seriously doubt you'd be able to get a berth if you wait until you arrive in Bangkok. Whatever you do, don't get a third class seat on the overnight train. It would be absolute misery! By the way, there was a crash a few weeks back on the overnight train to Chiang Mai. Crashes are rare, so I wouldn't be too worried about that, but I mention it because I'm not completely sure that the train is even running again.

Normally I'd recommend that any first time visitor to Bangkok stay in the greater Khao San Road area. Even though it is backpacker central, there are lots of nice places to stay near there too. Plus, it puts you close to the tourist attractions most people want to see, like the National Museum and Grand Palace and Wat Arun. But in your case, I might recommend the Silom area, because it puts you close to MBK and the train station and Lumpini Park. The lower Sukhumvit area is also popular with tourists, has a solid selection of nice hotels, and puts you right on the sky train for getting around.

No matter when you get to Chiang Mai, once you arrive, have a look at the Tha Phae Gate area. There are scores of places to stay. You can pick a few that you think you might like and check them out once you arrive, or make a reservation ahead of time, which is a good idea if you'll be arriving late or to make sure you can get straight into a room for that shower and rest after a long trip.

Finally, no need to feel overwhelmed. You've still got plenty of time to pencil in the details of your trip, and Thailand is pretty easy to work out as you go too. Have a great time.

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Posted by MADMAC on 3/8/2013 at 00:28

"Your trip sounds great. It will be AMAZING."

You typed this in just to screw with me huh?

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Posted by exacto on 3/8/2013 at 00:49

No malice intended. But I do remember that thread and how entertaining it was. Regards.

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Posted by Captain_Bob on 3/8/2013 at 04:44

Another train derailment this morning on the same route - doh!
http://www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/362840/chiang-mai-bound-train-derailed

Sara, I wouldn't let this worry you too much. It's still a rare occurrence. The sleeper trains go really slow, which is why the 500 mile journey takes about 15 hours. In Bangkok book somewhere to stay near Khao San Road. See listings here. Buy your train or bus ticket the first day then check out Bangkok for a couple days or until you feel like moving on. Walk to the Phra Atit pier on the river and take a Chao Phraya express boat for 15 baht - great intro to the city. There are also canal boats and the Skytrain to help you get around cheap, or just take a tuk tuk. In Chiang Mai stay somewhere in the old city near the Thaphae Gate area. Tons of cheap guesthouses and easiest to find rooms around 9am-noon but don't worry things are relatively quiet now. Then come round to Ginny Cafe for some khao soy and local info ;-)

P.S. Wing it!

#5 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,918

Posted by greg121 on 3/8/2013 at 04:58

You can get a SIM card and top up from any 7Eleven. If you decide to have a days rest, choose a hotel in the area around the train station. So it is easy to book your ticket and hop on the train.

China town is in walking distance to the train station, which is interesting to explore by foot.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 3/8/2013 at 08:42

What a waste of 15 hours.

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Posted by fondo on 4/8/2013 at 04:09

Get your SIM at the airport, you'll be AMAZED how easy it is there!

I'd say fly straight up to CM and stay in the Old City. Stay in Bangkok a bit longer at the end - there's plenty to do!

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Posted by Blackartemis on 4/8/2013 at 07:02

Hey, Philly native (West Chester really) now Chiang Mai expat for the past few years.

As others have said, you can get a sim at 7-ll Dtac, AIS, and the rest are all about the same. The benefit of getting a phone or sim in a mall is that they are much more likely to be able to explain things to you.

As for Khao Yai, it's HUGE, it's a few kilos from just the entrance to the grounds. You need transportation and possibly a tour, it's not a place to just knock around for the day. Ayutthaya and Sukothai however are places you can stop for a day trip, through they are temple ruins and not nature reserves.

Getting to Chiang Mai, Bus is better than train, about 6hrs less and if you go with Nakhon Chai Air or Sambat tours you can get on a bus with 21-24 seats that are leather and recline like first class plane seats and have lcd screens (Thai only) but have video/audio in ports if you have an iphone. They cost 876B or so.
Or you can book an Air Asia ticket now and spent anwhere from 1300-2700B for a 55minute flight to CM.

Stay in either the old city, moonmuang soi 6 seems to be one of the largest backpacker hot spots, or if you want to stay in a trendy Thai area, look at nimmanhaemin area.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 4/8/2013 at 07:40

I'll never understand the need to fly into a city then train it up to another city 36 hours later. CM is just a smaller less interesting version of Bangkok. You are far better off spending a few days in Bangkok getting used to the time zone and settling in. Bangkok is a great city and it's a good idea to stay in a nice hotel with a pool to relax into the trip. $50 gets you a decent hotel with a pool.

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Posted by exacto on 4/8/2013 at 13:15

Well, the trains do tend to fill up every night, so someone must think the experience is worthwhile. Short answer? It takes all kinds. Most of my friends where I live have never been overseas and never plan to go. They'll never understand why one needs to fly into a foreign city in the first place, much less continue on to another. And they aren't wrong either, because they are doing what is right for them.

Personally, I love Chiang Mai. It's Thailand's sweet spot. Cheers.

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Posted by saramac on 4/8/2013 at 13:54

Thanks, everyone for all of the great advice. I think I'm going to fly straight to CM to save some time, find a nice place there and relax a bit before digging in. All of your help is greatly appreciated. (I'm going to ignore the fact that I think my all caps "AMAZING" was being mocked a little bit...)

After a few days in CM (2-3 nights?), I'm thinking of doing the MHS loop. While doing it on a motorcycle sounds like way more fun, I don't know how to ride one (I've driven a scooter a few times, but that's it), so I'm guessing I'll rent a car. Good idea or bad? Should I rent at the airport so I can return it there and head wherever I'm going next?

After that is wide open. Everyone says to do Siem Reap, I really want to go to LPB, but I know from reading on here everyone tries to cover too much with their itinerary. I'm winging it as much as I can allow myself, Captain Bob. Bangkok will be at the end of the trip before I head back. How much time should I realistically leave myself there?

Blackartemis - my Mom's side of the family is from West Chester; my aunt and uncle still live there... Small world! (And thanks for the heads up about Khao Yai being so big...)

Thanks,
Sara

#12 saramac has been a member since 2/8/2013. Posts: 6

Posted by fondo on 4/8/2013 at 19:47

Renting a car is a fine idea. I always rent a pickup from Budget - http://www.budget.co.th/
You can pick up at the airport or their office, which is essentially just around the corner, and drop off at the airport.
That website has some very decent maps of the MHS loop too.

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Posted by Blackartemis on 4/8/2013 at 20:21

Hey Saramac, I don't know whether to suggest you a scooter (they have plenty of small autos that can do the loop) or a car.
Both have the pluses and minuses.
Car:
I know you have the tight spaces down if you live in Philly, but if you are unused to driving a LHD car, your spacial judgement is going to be way off. Driving a car can be a lot safer, but the traffic is crazy, not that it's alot (it IS growing in CM, but on the loop you would be fine). However people criss cross in front and turn where they want and it can be hard to get out of the way.

A bike is much more mobile, but it is more dangerous (and more fun).

Chiang Mai is fine for 2-3 nights, but if you meet friends you might spend time in the surrounding area for much longer!

I vote for SR, it's awesome, fully deserving that word. You can spend 700B to take a bus from Bangkok to SR and realistically see all of Angkor in 2-3days and get back to BKK for a total of 4-5days travel. I was just there my second time last week, and would go again.

If you arrive in CM and need ideas of things to do or find yourself bored etc, feel free to PM me.

#14 Blackartemis has been a member since 16/7/2011. Posts: 36

Posted by MADMAC on 5/8/2013 at 12:36

Saramac - It's because the word "amazing" has got to be the most overused word in the tourist lexicon. It's nothing personal. We've had discussions about it before. This one was an inside joke.

#15 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by nomadicate on 5/8/2013 at 12:55

Have you thought about doing some volunteer work near Chiang Mai ? I stayed at a mindful farm about 3 hours from Chiang Mai and it was a great experience. Learnt how to plant trees, ate great food, and the whole place was really nice and peaceful.

Definitely stay in the old city in Chiang Mai. I stayed at a place near Happy Apartments (forgot the name) and it was great. Free tea/coffee all day, and only about 280 baht for a double room (fan only) with private bathroom.

Oh and check out the Sunday night market! Don't have dinner and just snack at all the stalls along the way!

Sean.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 5/8/2013 at 20:12

"Well, the trains do tend to fill up every night, so someone must think the experience is worthwhile."

Full of Thais on budgets.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 5/8/2013 at 22:29

"I'm thinking of doing the MHS loop. While doing it on a motorcycle sounds like way more fun, I don't know how to ride one (I've driven a scooter a few times, but that's it), so I'm guessing I'll rent a car. Good idea or bad? Should I rent at the airport so I can return it there and head wherever I'm going next?"

Bike - only for experience riders.

Car - good idea for 2-3 people but solo could be lonely and expensive.

Car rental 1200 baht
fuel 700-1000
food and drink 200-400
room 600-1000
entrance fees 200-400

You looking at around 3300 baht a day and will be hard to meet people like that. Better to find someone to share the experience and costs or just do a multi day tour.

Northern Wheels is a very good car hire place and offer free airport drop off for hires over certain no of days.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 5/8/2013 at 22:31

"Learnt how to plant trees, ate great food"

Most people learnt how to plant trees when they were young. Not exactly a unique experience to Thailand. Dig hole, put tree in ground, cover with dirt and water.

#19 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
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Posted by nomadicate on 6/8/2013 at 00:42

hahaha.

Did I say anything about it being a "unique" experience? ... nope.

But I do think it is quite unique. It's a mindful farm where you spend the mornings in meditation, eating in silence, working, yoga, learning about the different medicinal effects of plants etc, helping local villages with tasks, all in a setting completely foreign to most people.

Did you learn to do this when you were young? I sure didn't..

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Posted by MADMAC on 6/8/2013 at 00:55

"It's a mindful farm where you spend the mornings in meditation, eating in silence, working, yoga, learning about the different medicinal effects of plants etc, helping local villages with tasks, all in a setting completely foreign to most people."

This would so completely suck for me - I'm glad you enjoyed it and got something out of it, but I would be bored shitless. I hate Yoga, I hate eating in silence (I want to eat and drink with friends / family and enjoy conversation), I'm not interested in the medicinal effects of plants, as I go to the pharmacy if I need medecine. I'm not trying to be Kane in Kung Fu without the ability to fight. I only want the ability to fight. Hence I train at the dojo every night.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 6/8/2013 at 07:59

Yoga is a fancy word for stretching which you can do in your living room. I like to eat in silence because it's hard to talk with food in the mouth.

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Posted by MADMAC on 6/8/2013 at 08:35

"I like to eat in silence because it's hard to talk with food in the mouth."

You chew in silence. But you dine in company. Well at least I prefer to. And if at all possible, attractive company.

#23 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by nomadicate on 6/8/2013 at 11:18

MADMAC.

If you do martial arts then the farm would be PERFECT for you! Don't you know that yoga is great for flexibility? :)

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Posted by MADMAC on 6/8/2013 at 12:10

"If you do martial arts then the farm would be PERFECT for you! Don't you know that yoga is great for flexibility?"

Stretching in the dojo is great for flexilibility. But if I had a desire to do Yoga, I would do it right here at the Yoga studio in Mukdahan where I live. The stretches I do are designed to specifically improve flexilibity for fighting, and I do them daily.

Honestly, I don't like nature much and while I have a farmhouse house here that I go to once in a while to see my father in law, it's not a place that has some great allure. I hate meditation (I have a friend who is really into it) and I'm not a kumbaya kind of guy. Glad it works for you, but that's not my kind of thing. I like the city, I love to fight and I enjoy a good game of chess (Thai or International). I like to ride my motorcycle. But hanging out on a farm doing Yoga and "eating in silence" - ahhh, no.

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Posted by nomadicate on 6/8/2013 at 14:01

Fair enough mate.

I was just trying to add something new into the mix, something the OP may not have thought of.

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Posted by MADMAC on 6/8/2013 at 14:05

Which is good. Because everyone ain't me and Leonard.

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Posted by hikumar on 7/8/2013 at 07:56

Hi Sara,

I am also traveling to Thailand and will reach to Bangkok around same time on 16th August. Let me know if you want plan out something together. That might save us lots of money.

-Thanks

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Posted by saramac on 17/8/2013 at 00:33

So, I made it! I arrived in Chiang Mai yesterday afternoon and just now feel like I'm coming to after the travel! I am staying at de lanna hotel in old city (?). I booked the room through Monday. Any tips on things I must do that aren't in the tour guides?

I plan to do the Mae Hong Son loop starting on Monday via rental car. I was wary based on your advice, but now that I have seen the traffic, I think I feel comfortable. I still wish I could do it on motorbike. Anyone interested in coming along? I plan on taking 4 days 3 nights to do the loop and think I will rent the car from the airport. Am I mad? Does anyone know where I can get the gt rider map locally?

How about where I might meet people interested in traveling together or hanging out? I'm new to this solo traveler thing....

Thanks for all of your help!

Sara

#29 saramac has been a member since 2/8/2013. Posts: 6

Posted by saramac on 17/8/2013 at 00:39

p.s. @blackartemis, your PM feature is disabled, otherwise I would totally be hitting you up for the local info from a fellow Philadelphian!

#30 saramac has been a member since 2/8/2013. Posts: 6

Posted by Dorotich on 7/3/2014 at 12:46

Hi Sara;
I am planning a trip to the Chiang Mai region this summer and would love to hear about your experience with the rental car and driving MHS loop. Can you post an update about what was good and bad about that option? Thanks.

Paul

#31 Dorotich has been a member since 5/3/2014. Posts: 8


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