Backpacking Thailand: Solo-ing it out in Chiang Mai

Visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand, just came by chance.  Initially, I was only interested in going around Bangkok, since I have not really explored the city.  But, because The Red Backpacker knew that I’m more of a culture person and well, yeah, I do not like crowded places that much, she suggested that I spend my first few days in Chiang Mai instead, before I rendezvous with her and our friend, Helen, in Bangkok to head to Ayutthaya.  I am grateful for choosing to do so.

I spent 4 days and 3 nights in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on my first solo travel experience.  I had the chance to connect with myself again and with the people I met, locals and fellow travelers alike.  I also had the opportunity to try new things out, meet people and visit places I thought I would only see in travel magazines.  Even while I was still on my way to the airport for my flight to Bangkok, I already thought not just once that traveling solo is an experience I would love to go through again.

Looking for ideas on how to enjoy your trip as much as I did?  Here’s a glimpse. :)

First things first: Get to Chiang Mai, Thailand, safe and sound

I took the first flight out of Manila to Bangkok via Cebu Pacific.  Upon arrival at Bangkok and after going through the routine immigration process, I then looked for the free shuttle offered by Suvarnabhumi Airport to Don Mueang Airport (just ask the airport staff and they will happily point you to the right direction).  I found the free shuttle service very useful and convenient as this would only require you to show them your printed boarding pass or ticket for your flight from Don Mueang on that day and you can avail of the free shuttle service.

Suvarnabhumi to Don Mueang Shuttle-001

Upon arrival at Don Mueang Airport, I checked my bags in right away.  There would be AirAsia staff who would be there to help you out and show you to the right counter.  Not only once was I spoken to in Thai LOL.  So, I would just smile and say, “I’m sorry?”  Then they would ask where I’m from.  This was also the case in other countries – Indonesia especially.  So, I guess we all look alike, yeah?

Oh, by the way, while I was walking to the check in counters, I stumbled upon a valuable piece of information related to exchange rates that can be useful for you guys.  Please click here to know more about it.

Don Mueang Airport-001

The Don Mueang Airport was quite big.  It was a good thing that I checked my bag in and was not carrying it the entire time ‘cos, man, that was one heck of a walk.  I arrived at our gate and whiled the hours there.  It was also refreshing to experience that strangers would ask you to watch over their bags while they go to the loo, trusting you with their belongings.  While I don’t advice this as this can result to not-so-nice experience, I was still grateful to experience people who believe in the goodness of everyone.  That was really refreshing.

From Chiang Mai International Airport, I took the taxi to my hostel, D-Well Hostel.  There’s a kiosk where you can show your destination (make sure that you have your accommodation’s address printed in Thai as this makes it easier for them to determine where you’re going).  They will then give you a paper, including the fare that you would have to pay, that you can show to the drivers waiting outside.  This was one of the things that impressed me about Chiang Mai, since I didn’t need to haggle and the risk of getting ripped off for the fare was minimized.

Choose your accommodation well:  Check in at D-Well Hostel

There are a lot of options for accommodation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to be honest.  They’re very much prepared to welcome tourists and the options are very responsive to your budget as well.  Since I would be staying in Chiang Mai for a few days, I scouted the net for the perfect spot to call my home while I was there.  After much research, I chose to book with D-Well Hostel, a new backpacker’s hostel with English-speaking staff and amenities that provided a good balance between the opportunity to interact with other backpackers and privacy.  Click here for information on why I recommend D-Well Hostel Chiang Mai.

D-Well Hostel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

D-Well Hostel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

D-Well Hostel, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Photo from D-Well Hostel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Now, what to do in Chiang Mai?

While I did a lot of preparation for my backpacking trip to Thailand, it mostly revolved around possible things to do, where to stay, and itineraries for when I’m already with my friends.  The Chiang Mai leg was left a bit unpredictable, save for my stay at D-Well Hostel.  I had an idea of what are the things that I wanted to do but, well, that’s the beauty of solo traveling, right?  You can be as flexible as you want and just go with where your heart wants to take you.  So, here’s what I did – The See ya, Monica style.  :)

Spend time with your friends:  Enjoy the city at night

On my first night, my roommates, Lata and Marie, and I had dinner first and sort of bar-hopped (which I haven’t done in a while LOL) with Brian.  It was funny because I think that it was the first in so many months that I had alcohol intake.  It was also nice because they knew that I was already a bit dizzy so they constantly checked on me.  For me, that was important.  That I was with people who don’t look only after themselves but for the people they’re travelling with.  Kind of reminded me when I took a trip to Guinaang for one of my first few experiences in Couchsurfing.

Chiang Mai Night Out

After we got back to the hotel, I was invited by Lata and Marie to go on an adventurous trek with them (ziplining, etc).  But, I was a bit too tired to try that out.  I knew that I wouldn’t enjoy it that much because I haven’t had a decent sleep in two days and dealing with heights will just take a lot of energy from me.  Reasons, haha!  So, yep, I just opted to explore the city.

Have a taste of their culture:  Visit temples

Initially, I was in contact with another travel agency who I was supposed to book a tour with.  But, as soon as I arrived in Chiang Mai, they went incognito and only replied to me when I was already leaving.  It was a bit of a setback but, you know, life goes on.  I asked the staff of D-Well Hostel to help me out.  I just went to book a tour with Segway Gibbon.  It was a bit pricey but I think was my best shot at that time to explore the city with a guided tour.  Plus, it turned out to be really fun!  Balancing yourself on the Segway is quite easy and it’s like being on a motorcycle but  a bit safer. LOL.  Here are some of the places we visited:

Wat Chiang Man

Segway Gibbon Monica

Segway Gibbon Elephant

Wat Phra Singh

Segway Gibbon Prayer

Segway Gibbon Incense

Wat Chedi Luang

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I went on a tour with a family from Hong Kong.  They’re quite cute as the parents seem to want to have a conversation with me but, since I don’t know how to speak their language and they don’t know how to speak English, they rely on their daughter to translate everything.  They were very nice and I’m happy I did the tour with them.

Segway Gibbon Family

The staff of Segway Gibbon were also very nice.  While they speak broken English, I appreciated that they answered my questions sufficiently (I just had to speak a bit more slowly than normal).  They also took care of us and made sure that we knew how to manage the Segway before we went for a ride – after all, we had to cross major streets, which was super fun!

Explore farther:  Do a side-trip to Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son, Thailand

One of the things that I really wanted to do in Chiang Mai was to visit the Karieng tribe.  While a bit touristy, I still felt that my trip to Chiang Mai wouldn’t be complete without this experience.  So, I asked for help from the staff of D-Well Hostel to book me a tour that included a visit to their community.

I was picked up by a van at D-Well Hostel as I joined a full-day tour to Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son, Thailand.  It was like United Colors of Benetton in the van, LOL.  While it took a while before we all talked with each other, I would say that I was blessed to have this warm group as my companions.

Wat Rong Khun

Before you enter the temple, you would see these (quite creepy) creatures hanging on the trees. According to our guide, this was the artist’s representation of the play of different entities in the world we live in. It was a mix of animals, “monsters”, and human beings. It kind of reminded me of my believe that we are not alone in this world.

Chiang Rai White Temple Masks

The temple is stunning. It is the artist’s representation of our journey in this world.

Chiang Rai White Temple

The outreaching hands signify the unrestrained desires. Crossing the bridge to the gate of heaven, symbolizes that you are letting go of temptations and desires. And, after crossing the bridge, you arrive at the gate of heaven.

Chiang Rai White Temple Hands

Chiang Rai White Temple Back

Experience The Golden Triangle

This was another interesting thing that we got to do. The tour company brought us to The Golden Triangle, where three countries meet – Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.

Golden Triangle Buddha

Golden Triangle Laos

Golden Triangle Myanmar

It was also quite a treat for all of us that we got to step foot on Laos, woot! The heat of the sun notwithstanding, my new friends and I walked around for some possible good finds and just to take some photos.

Golden Triangle Fafa and Flower

Golden Triangle Welcome to Laos

Golden Triangle Camera

Visit Karieng Tribe at Mae Hong Son, Thailand

“Why Karen Tribe?” I asked our tour guide. I found that Karen was a bit too Westernized, even for a community that did not originally come from Thailand. Our tour guide explained that it’s really Karieng Tribe. But, because of the visitors who couldn’t get the correct pronunciation, it later evolved to being called the Karen tribe.

Mae Hong Son Karieng Tribe Elder

The Karieng tribe was believed to have originally come from Mongolia. It is believed that because of the hard life in their community, they migrated to Myanmar and Thailand. Them having long necks is a myth. The bronze rings around their necks, about 10 kilos heavy, pull their shoulders down, which cause for them to appear like they have longer necks. They usually start wearing the bronze rings at the age of 5 and they barely take them out. During my visit, I even got to witness someone wearing it as early as three years old.

Mae Hong Son Karieng Tribe Kid

To be honest, hearing the story about them kind of made me feel bad. There are several beliefs as to why they wear bronze rings came about. On the one hand, it is believed that the males in their community wanted to protect them from being bitten by animals who usually target the neck first. On the other hand, it is also believed that this practice was brought about by the desire of the males in their community to push away people who are not part of their tribe from marrying their women. To some people, this is some sort of abuse, considering that members of the Karieng tribe are not recognized by the government of Thailand but are deemed to be “used” as a tourist attraction.

Mae Hong Son Karieng Tribe Teenager

While I empathize with this view, I would also have to say that the members of the tribe I met looked like they were content with what they have. Not all of them speak English but for those who do (and even those who don’t), short conversations with them ensued and they would give me their sweet smiles. While they constantly offered that I buy some of their products (which may put off some visitors), I found it necessary, too. That’s their main source of income. And, with the experience that they provided me and the opportunity to meet them and talk to them, buying a trinket or two is not even enough as a payback. I do hope, though, that at some point in the future, they will find their strength to obtain freedom and their definition of who they are. It would take a while longer to attain this, I understand. A drastic change in context is needed. But, who am I to judge? For now, selfish as it may sound, I will take solace in the thought that they still find reasons to smile on a daily basis.

Mae Hong Son Karieng Tribe Adolescent

Nurture moments:  Enjoy your last day in Chiang Mai, Thailand

It was a bittersweet day on my last in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I started it with a breakfast with my roommate Queenie, who is also from Hong Kong. I ate the first pad thai I fell in love with.

After a discussion on a couple of political issues surrounding hers and my country, we parted ways. I went around and looked for some postcards in the rain and enjoyed my solitary walk as I just embraced being grateful for the opportunity to travel on my own.

Some thoughts:  First solo travel experience

Traveling solo isn’t that much of a problem for me, I realized. I have been living semi-independently for the past few years and this was an opportunity for me to see if I could really make it alone. Alone is an exaggerated word, even. ‘Cos even if you didn’t go to a place with anyone, you are still bound to meet new people through your journey. I have said it several times before, this was my first solo trip and this was the first time in so many years that I have met people and really connected with – something you are most of the times bereft of when you travel with a group.

And, another plus is that you don’t have to deal with different schedules and wants of the other people you travel with. When you travel solo, you can just look deeply into your being, inspect what it is that would make you happy, and you are able to pursue that – without much of a consideration.

But, however happy I was, I also miss having someone to share stories with, dissect discoveries with, and just create memories with. In less than 48 hours, I will have that – with two special people.

So, without hesitation, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my lovely hosts at D-Well Hostel, hailed a red truck to the Chiang Mai International Airport. And, waited for my flight to leave.

Bangkok, here I come!



Liked what you read?  Share the love!  Follow See ya, Monica on social media to get updates on my recent travels, with tips and a lot of shares on what I got during my trips.  Plus, some barely edited photos to give you the most authentic feel of the place. (I do not know how to use Photoshop, and what I can only do are cropping, adjusting brightness and colors the way I remember it):

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/seeyamonica
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Thank you! And, in whatever space you’re in now, I hope that you get something from reading my articles.

See ya,
Monica

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