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What to Expect when Arriving in Chiang Mai

Downtown Chiang Mai

By Courtney Ridgel

You may find yourself arriving into Chiang Mai via either a domestic flight (coming from somewhere else in Thailand) or on an International Flight.  If you are coming from a neighboring country such as Cambodia or Laos, you’ll likely be arriving on a smaller aircraft, which means that you’ll disembark outside.  Intercontinental flights will be arriving on larger aircraft which taxi up to the gate as usual.

Smaller international flights may disembark on the tarmac

A very short bus ride will ferry you to the air conditioned Immigration wing of the airport.  (If you are arriving on a domestic flight, you won’t need to pass through Immigration again – you’ll just collect your luggage and head out to meet your guide.)

A bus will transfer you to Immigration

Thailand is one the most visited places in the world, so the airports tend to be much busier than those found in Laos and Cambodia. For US citizens, if you will be staying less than 30 days, no visa is necessary.  Your passport will be stamped on arrival.  You should receive the necessary entry and exit forms on your flight into Thailand.  (If not, you can always pick them up in the airport when you arrive.)

The Immigration desks in Chiang Mai are divided between citizens of Thailand and other ASEAN countries, and all other travelers

If you are not a US citizen, be sure to check the Immigration and visa requirements for your home country before traveling.  If you need visa on arrival, the visa application window is to the left of the main Immigration line in the Chiang Mai airport.  You may need a passport photo, and you can bring this with you, or have a photo taken for a fee.

Journeys Within guide, Tien helping with luggage and checking the schedule

Once you pass through Immigration, collect your luggage and head outside to meet your waiting Journeys Within guide, who will be holding a sign with your name.

Cars in Thailand drive on the other side of the road!

Your guide and driver will help load your luggage into the car, and will transfer you to your hotel to check in.

The Ping River runs right through Chiang Mai

Welcome to the ancient city of Chiang Mai!

The original city walls of Chiang Mai can still be seen in between the modern buildings and streets

From the Ground: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai was founded in July 2014 is a joint initiative between Chiang Mai locals and Karen hill tribe mahouts who were concerned about the welfare and conservation of elephants in Thailand. The sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project designed to raise awareness and educate people about a proper elephant care and the plight of the Asian Elephant. The Sanctuary is comprised of 5 spacious locations (Mountain Village, Tranquil Valley, Paddy Field, Hilltop Paradise and Waterfall Grove Sanctuaries) and 30 formerly mistreated elephants. A visit to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an affordable alternative to visiting the more long-standing elephant conservation projects in Chiang Mai such as Patara Elephant Farm and Elephant Nature Park, which are also frequently fully booked. This is a great alternative for families too, as children under the age of 3 are permitted entry for free, whereas they would be charged by the other organizations.

Here’s what you can expect from a day at the Elephant Sanctuary:

Chiang Mai: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary’s Full Day Visit

You will be picked up from your hotel between 8:00-8:30am in the morning, and travel with fellow tour participants around 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai to the Karen village and Sanctuary. Breathe clear mountain air as you drive through the beautiful agricultural countryside of Northern Thailand, and get a glimpse of local life outside of the city. When you arrive at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary around 10:30am, an English-speaking guide will walk with you through the adjacent Karen village, and teach you a little about elephants and the local way of life. Get changed into traditional Karen clothing, listen as your guide tells you more about the Sanctuary, grab some bananas and sugar cane for feeding, and you will be ready to meet the elephants.  In small groups, you will meet and interact with each of the friendly elephants personally. Learn about elephant behavior, and discover the unique and interesting history of each elephant as you touch, play, feed, and photograph them. Once you have met and spent time with each of the elephants, you can retire to a relaxing platform overlooking a picturesque river and jungle. There, you will enjoy a delicious lunch of traditional Thai food and fresh fruit, before being re-united with your elephant friends. At this point during the day, you will walk alongside the elephants to a nearby river and join them for a bath in the refreshing water. Here, you will have the opportunity to bathe and brush the elephants while they enjoy wading through the water. Next, it will be time for a therapeutic mud spa. Feel free to get muddy as you cover the elephants in a protective layer of mud. Have fun playing with them and watch as they joyfully frolic in the mud spa. When it’s time to say goodbye to the elephants, you can take some final photos with them to preserve this precious memory, then head upstream and wash off your remaining mud, or relax with a swim in the fresh, clean water. Finally, you will change clothes and take a scenic walk back through the Karen village. You will then part ways with your local guide, and return to Chiang Mai, experiencing the drive through picturesque rural scenery in the pleasant glow of the afternoon sun. Return to your hotel between 5:00-5:30pm.

Please note: Today you will get wet when you help with the elephants’ bath. Please bring appropriate clothing for this, as well as a towel and change of clothes. We recommend you also bring a hat, sunscreen, walking shoes, bathing suit and towel.

Note: As always, we take pride in our standards for philanthropic travel and animal treatment when recommending any experiences to our guests touring in Southeast Asia.  We only recommend experiences that we feel are beneficial to both the local people and animals.  We hope that the increased attendance to genuine conservation programs will help encourage others to lift their standards.

 

Vegan-friendly Dining in Southeast Asia

By Courtney Ridgel

Vegans Rejoice!  Chiang Mai, Saigon and Bangkok have been named among the top ten Vegan-Friendly Cities in Asia by PETA.  After seeing the article, we sent our team out to see if we agreed.   We asked our team about their favorite vegan meals and where to go:

Travelers can find a variety of fresh vegan dishes in Southeast Asia – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

Joy & Chris, Thailand: “Our favorite vegan dishes are stir-fried mixed vegetables, Thai Fresh Spring Rolls with spicy sauce, Vegetarian Pad Thai with Tofu (ask for no egg and no meat), and Vegetarian Som Tam.  You can find these delicious local dishes almost anywhere!”

Lotus Rice (Com Sen) – rice and vegetables with cooked lotus seeds – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

Michelle & Khoa, Southern Vietnam:   “The Loving Hut is a great place!  It closes at 9pm except for vegan/vegetarian days of the Buddhist calendar when it stays open a bit longer. It is a great location, but you will need a car or motorbike taxi to get there and English-speaking skills are limited so we recommend having your guide assist you.   The food is hot, delivered quickly and delicious, and the menu has a lot of variety.  For kids and less adventurous visitors, there are even options such as vegan burgers, pizza and Spaghetti Bolognese versions.   Some of the items we liked were the sea nuggets rolled with seaweed, the Vietnamese-style papaya salad, the Kumquat & coconut juice, and hot soya milk.”

‘Sea Nuggets’  – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

We also recommend Hum Vegetarian, Cafe & Restaurant and 3 Lá Vegetarian and you can find dishes such as lotus rice, “vegan pork” in clay pot, and fresh “vegan beef” rolls dipped in pineapple and mushroom sauce.

Vietnamese-style Papaya Salad (Goi Du Du Viet)  – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

Remember, if you have dietary preferences, requirements or allergies – be sure to let our team and your guides know so that we can have translation cards made for you and so we can recommend the best restaurants for your needs.

Fresh vegan spring rolls with peanuts  – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

Journeys Within Signature Hotels: Rachamankha, Chiang Mai

Racha 1.Photo

A Journeys Within Signature Hotel, Rachamankha is located within the boundaries of the original city of Chiang Mai. This incredibly unique hotel is the result of a collaboration between a renowned architect father and interior designer son. Rachamankha has received numerous accolades and press for its design, and is atypical to the architecture seen throughout Chiang Mai. The accommodation is the essence of Zen with ornate roof lines, the rooms centered around courtyards with beautifully manicured landscaping, rock walkways, and the entire property is decorated in the family’s own personal art collection. To stay here feels as if to be a privileged guest at an acquaintance’s extraordinary property. In the evening, spiral sticks of incense burn and subtly fill the space with fragrance.

Racha 3.Photo

General Manager, Paul Walker, has been managing the property for over a decade and is a wealth of information about the hotel and Chiang Mai. Every detail of Rachamankha is the well thought out construct of taste and imagination. Walker explained that the design at Rachamankha comes first over pragmatism. This is not a property that was designed under the constraints of compliance for accessibility or safety regulation. In fact, this hotel welcomes guests age 12 and older. This is for a few purposes, one being the potential for slips and falls of smaller children; the art collection that decorates the guest rooms and common areas is priceless and must receive the necessary respect of all guests; most guest rooms (with an exception of the suites) face one another in a courtyard, so noise from small children could disturb the Zen state that the owners of this property have worked so hard to achieve.

Racha Pool.Image

Rachamankha includes a pool, a library that includes a collection of the owner’s books and complimentary cognac, a restaurant, and a studio upstairs from the restaurant which may be used for small meetings and gatherings.

Racha 4.Photo

Stay tuned for our hotel review of Rachamankha coming soon. Rachamankha is included among Secret Retreats, a collection of inspirational boutique hotels, villas, cruises, and restaurants. Follow the hotel on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for more images and information. Contact one of our Tour Consultants for information about booking a stay at Rachamankha and tours in Chiang Mai and throughout Thailand at 877-454-3672.

On Tour with Journeys Within: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai, Thailand

Some of the Journeys Within Team (from left to right) Sone, Nicole, Ounkham, Onkeo, and Naida
Some of the Journeys Within Team (from left to right) Sone, Nicole, Ounkham, Onkeo, and Naida

Over the next several weeks, some of the Journeys Within team is on our annual inspection tours throughout some of our Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia tour locations. This is an exciting time of the year for us to visit the countries we love and return home from our journeys revived with inspiration for travel, and with new stories to tell our followers.

I am Marketing and Booking Coordinator, Kena Cataneso, for our Truckee, California location. I will be blogging on behalf of Journeys Within this spring as I make my way through Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Luang Prabang, Phonesavanh, Vientiane, Pakse, and Siem Reap.

Kena Cataneso at the Grand Palace in Bangkok
Kena Cataneso at the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Follow my journey for updates and travel tips on some of our key locations and tours throughout the months of April and May, and get inspired for your own next adventure.

The first three days – An Introduction to Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai

For travelers who seek to acquaint themselves with highlights of Thailand, these Journeys Within tours are ideal:

Day 1: Bangkok: Public Transport City Tour with Klongs 

Day 2: Chiang Mai: Elephant Daycare at Patara Elephant Farm

Day 3: In and Around Chiang Rai

These tours are customizable to the guest’s preferences and schedules, though Journeys Within can make recommendations on the best timing to schedule certain tours and activities to beat crowds and the sun on hot days.

A view from one of Bangkok's many canals.
A view from one of Bangkok’s many canals.

Bangkok: Public Transport City Tour with Klongs

Guests who arrive in Bangkok via international flight late in the evening prior to this tour have the option to be picked up at the airport by van with a Journeys Within guide. This is a favorable option as guests will typically experience fatigue, jet lag, and if you’re at all like me, disorientation and irritability after a day of flying with potential connections and delays.

I arrived in Bangkok an hour late, around midnight, due to a delay with my connecting flight in Korea. The process to go through immigration and to pick up my baggage took about one more hour, putting me at nearly 1 am. At that point, I would not want to navigate my own way to my hotel. Bangkok is large and taxis are expensive, and public transportation does not run 24 hours a day.

Guests can choose to arrange their own transportation or use a taxi from the airport to their hotel, but it’s worth speaking with a Journeys Within Tour Consultant to discuss their priorities, options, and budget. Our Journeys Within Tour Consultants are transparent with our guests about practicality with logistics.

I was thrilled to be met outside the baggage claim by my guide. He took my bags, and walked me to my air conditioned van where I was provided ice cold water and a fresh, cold towel.

Kena, from the US Journeys Within office and Guide Ron, from the Bangkok office.
Kena, from the US Journeys Within office and Guide Ron, from the Bangkok office.

This time in Bangkok I inspected VIE Hotel, which is located a half hour from the airport. I was pleased to stay with VIE Hotel on my introduction night to Thailand. VIE is a large, modern hotel situated in the heart of Bangkok.

I haven’t traveled since last year, and frankly, it was a huge comfort to stay on my introduction night in an immaculate hotel with all the luxuries I would expect from a high-end hotel in the US. An insider tip to VIE – they automatically upgrade all guests to nicer rooms if they are available. I was upgraded to a suite.

The rooms are appointed with dark wood and the high ceilings provide a feeling of grandeur. Once I arrived at my room I promptly charged my electronics, which require no adapters for the power outlets, as they are compatible with standard US power cords. The restroom was equipped with a rain shower and fresh white bath robes.

I awoke the next morning reborn and ready to tour the city, especially after the complimentary international breakfast buffet, which is a veritable feast of international options.

Why public transport for the tour? The answer is simple; public transport in Bangkok is incredibly accessible, efficient, and inexpensive. The option of private transport by van may offer some guests a feeling of privacy and independence, however, traffic in Bangkok is heavy and guests using private transport will find themselves often sitting in traffic and with considerably less available time on their itinerary to tour.

I was met in the lobby by my guide and we were only a few minutes walk to the Skytrain, which is immaculately clean and air-conditioned, and then we took a short boat ride to The Grand Palace.

An exhibit of the Royal Family's history at The Grand Palace in Bangkok.
An exhibit of the Royal Family’s history at The Grand Palace in Bangkok.

The Palace is, by every meaning of the word, grand, with what seem like miles of murals that depict an epic Indian poem, multiple Temples highly ornamented with gold leaf and glass mosaic, a miniature construction of Angkor Wat, many Buddha statues, a weapon museum, and gift shop. Another insider tip – visitors may stand in line at the box office to buy tickets for entry, or there men and women sitting at the gates near the entrance who also sell tickets.

I asked my guide if they have ever been known to sell fake tickets, but he said no. I enjoy having  guides whenever I visit historical landmarks, as I prefer to have a historical and religious context of the places I visit. My guide gave me information about every building and temple we saw at The Grand palace, and information about the Royal Family and how the buildings were influenced over the years.

An exerpt from the extensive mural at Bangkok's Grand Palace.
An exerpt from the extensive mural at Bangkok’s Grand Palace.

My guide took me to a massage parlor once we finished our tour of the The Grand Palace, which was heavenly after my long flight the day prior. The rest of the day was spent strolling the nearby flower and produce markets, we had a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, and concluded the day with the klong tour. Klongs are the canals that run throughout Bangkok. My guide told me that Bangkok is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of Thailand”.

What to Wear for this Tour: 

Sunscreen

Insect repellant

Hat or umbrella (seriously, the sun is very hot)

Loose fitting, breathable clothing, i.e. cottons, linens, long skirts and pants, and shirts that cover the shoulders

Sandals or walking shoes

Chiang Mai: Elephant Daycare at Patara Elephant Farm 

My departure time from my hotel was at 6:30am. My guide met me in the lobby of VIE Hotel and rode with me in the van back to the airport so I could make my transfer from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. My bag was overweight and I opted to pay the charge rather than fuss with having to carry something more. Insider tip: If traveling to Thailand via Bangkok Airways, go to www.bangkokair.com, register for Premier or Priority Flyer Bonus, and get 10-20 additional kilograms added to your standard luggage weight limit. Other airlines will have similar options.

The flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is one hour and a half, then a couple hour’s car ride. Once again, I was met by my Chiang Mai guide and given ice cold water and cold towels.

Chiang Mai is quaint, the original city measuring only roughly one square mile. My hotel, the Rachamankha, is located within the boundaries of the original city. This place is so incredibly unique, I could do an entire blog on the hotel alone. The Rachamankha, designed by a renowned architect father and interior designer son, has received numerous accolades and press for its design. The accommodation is the essence of Zen with ornate roof lines, the rooms centered around courtyards with beautifully manicured landscaping, rock walkways, and the entire property is decorated in the family’s own personal art collection. To stay here feels as if to be a privileged guest at an acquaintance’s extraordinary property. In the evening, spiral sticks of incense burn and subtly fill the space with fragrance.

Rachamankha in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Rachamankha in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I met with the General Manager, Paul Walker, who has been managing the property for over a decade and is an utter wealth of information about the hotel and Chiang Mai. We spoke over tea, which was served out of gorgeous blue and white china. Every detail of Rachamankha is the well thought out construct of taste and imagination. Walker explained to me that the design at Rachamankha comes first over pragmatism. This is not a property that was designed under the constraints of compliance for accessibility or safety regulation. In fact, here’s another insider tip: this hotel welcomes guests age 12 and older. This is for a few purposes, one being the potential for slips and falls of smaller children; the art collection that decorates the guest rooms and common areas is priceless and must receive the necessary respect of all guests; most guest rooms (with an exception of the suites) face one another in a courtyard, so noise from small children could disturb the zenful state that this property has worked so hard to achieve.

Walker showed me the property in its entirety, which also includes a pool, a library with a collection of the owner’s books, a restaurant, and a studio upstairs from the restaurant which may be used for small meetings. Walker said small yoga groups have visited and held classes in the studio on occasion. Insider tip: there is complimentary cogniac for guests in the library. 

The library at Rachamankha.
The library at Rachamankha.

The hotel has been a Chiang Mai favorite of celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, according to Walker. He says that they receive repeat guests every year from all over the world, and that Rachamankha is a true home away from home for people who have come to know and love Chiang Mai. Insider tip: there is free live music from local artists almost every night in the courtyard at Rachamankha.

The months in late spring and early summer are considered “low season”, primarily because many tourists would rather not travel in the hotter months. I’d recommend travel in Thailand in April to anyone. It is hot and humid but worth experiencing the benefits of low season, like less crowding and more privacy at accommodations. For example, I went for a lovely night swim at Rachamankha and had the pool entirely to myself.

I could have spoken with Walker all afternoon about the property’s design theory and Chiang Mai’s architectural history, but I had to stay on tour schedule and visit Patara Elephant Farm.

Patara Elephant Farm
Patara Elephant Farm

Patara is located 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. Journeys Within can coordinate transport for guests from their hotel in Chiang Mai to Patara. Once at Patara, guests are provided fruit, juice, and all the water they desire. I did a half-day at the farm due to my schedule, but whole day visits are also available. We first got to observe the elephants and play with a baby elephant. Then we fed the elephants, learned about the elephants, their names and commands, and bathed them. The elephants are gentile and the staff of Patara very attentive. The elephants are humanely cared for, an objective that Journeys Within prides itself. Our brand is cognizant of the humane treatment of animals on all of the tours we book. Insider tip: The staff takes photos and GoPro video which they provide on a complimentary DVD at the end of the day. 

Kena at Patara Elephant Farm.
Kena at Patara Elephant Farm.

What to Wear for this Tour:

Lots of sunscreen

Lots of insect repellant

Hat

A swimsuit as a first layer, do not intend to bathe the elephants in a swimsuit alone. Thai people are modest, so visitors should dress accordingly.

Swim trunks, board shorts, tanks tops, quick-dry shirts

Sandals

Waterproof camera or camera in a waterproof case

In and Around Chiang Rai

My departure from my hotel was at 7:00am. I was met at my hotel by my guide and the drive was a few hours throughout the countryside, stopping first at natural hot springs, where visitors may dip their feet if they like, and do a little shopping and barganing. Then we stopped at The White Temple, or Wat Ong Khun, which was built in 1997 by a man renowned as the greatest artist in Thailand, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed and funded the project. He volunteered himself to build it, at the cost of 400 million Bhat. Insider tip: admission to the temple is currently free of charge until October 2016. 

The White Temple in Chiang Rai.
The White Temple in Chiang Rai.

My guide told me the history of the temple and its artist, and explained details of Buddhist beliefs and how those beliefs are reflected in art. The exterior of the temple is ornate and stunning, regardless that it is only one color. There is also a museum located on the temple grounds that contains artwork by Kositpipat. The inside of the temple as well as the paintings in the museum include some unexpected depictions which are both commentary and satire on American politics. These provide an interesting Thai perspective on the Bush Administration, 9/11, terrorism, and American pop-culture. Also located on the temple grounds is “The Golden Toilet”, an ornate golden temple-like building that houses a restroom, which visitors readily wait in line to use. Insider tip: there is another restroom down the walkway behind The Golden Toilet and to the left, which is very clean and there is no line.  

Throughout the rest of the tour day, we visited the villages of the Akhe tribe and the Mien tribe, stopped for an authentic local lunch, and then visited a street market just outside the border of Thailand and Myanmar. To finish off the day, we visited “The Golden Triangle”, renowned for centuries as the epicenter of the opium trade. This location offers a hilltop view of the Mekong River, with a temple situated at the top that is 1000 years old. We also visited the nearby Opium Museum, which provides a history of the opium trade, as well as information about local tribes.

The Opium Museum, located at the Golden Triangle.
The Opium Museum, located at the Golden Triangle.

There are many stops throughout this tour day and a lot of walking. As usual, I returned to an air conditioned van, ice cold water and cold towels. I stayed at Laluna Hotel & Resort, which I was relieved to find to be like an oasis away from the city after a long day of touring. Laluna’s guest rooms are centered around a large pool, and while it feels like a retreat it is a short taxi or tuktuk away from city life. Insider tip: taxis are available right outside the hotel. 

What to Wear for this Tour:

Lots of sunscreen

Insect repellant

Hat or umbrella

Loose fitting, breathable clothing, i.e. cottons, linens, long skirts and pants, and shirts that cover the shoulders

Sandals or walking shoes

Next up in this series of blogs, I will journey from Thailand to Laos via riverboat on the Mekong. I will spend 12 days touring throughout Luang Prabang, Phonesavanh, Vientiane, and Paske. See more photos of this journey on our Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/journeys_within/. I will post blogs weekly and photos depending on the strength of my hotel Wi-Fi connections, so stay tuned to get an insider account of some of our tours!