After Bangkok, Chiang Mai or beaches?
May 31, 2016 10:12 AM   Subscribe

We're going to Thailand, and need help deciding which area to visit.

My boyfriend and I are going to Thailand in November for 9 days (including travel time.) Since it's a relatively short time, I think we might need to limit it to two locations. We are flying in and out of Bangkok and will probably spend three or four days there. In Bangkok we plan to shop, eat, drink, get massages, visit a couple temples, Chinatown and the Green Lung.

After Bangkok, we would like to visit either Chiang Mai (or the Chiang Rai province?) or a beach or two.

1. As easy/quick as possible to reach from Bangkok - we're fine paying for flights.
2. My top priority is to gawk at and photograph beautiful scenes (whether ruins, nature or something else).
3. We like good food and drink, socialization, relaxing, walking around/light hiking, being independent, exploring, and would probably like easy fun activities like snorkeling or riding around in a boat.
4. We don't like intense physical activities (rock climbing, diving, camping), and it's NOT important to us to see elephants, tigers, monkeys, etc. We don't do yoga or meditate.
5. We like a good value, and are pretty open-minded, but I will require wi-fi, hot water and AC.

For comparison, this was a recent perfect vacation day for us: Central Turkey, staying in a small, clean, friendly inn. We rented an ATV for the day and drove around on dirt roads with amazing views everywhere, then spent hours climbing around and exploring an abandoned village cut into a rock cliff. After, we got a big dinner at an authentic family-run restaurant with a great atmosphere and spent the rest of the night drinking local beers on the patio of a bar.

Thank you so much for your input and suggestions!
posted by ohsnapdragon to Travel & Transportation around Thailand (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Given your ideal day above, I would recommend Chiang Mai over the beach. Both are short flights from Bangkok, and not too expensive.

I had a great relaxing few days on Koh Samui. Seaside food and hour long on-beach massages were delightful, but I wouldn't call it activity filled. While I didn't really even venture out from Chiang Mai (which I would recommend you do), I still would vote for there over the beach. According to my memory (fuzzy at this point) there are easy low-key adventures nearby, and the internet there was totally quality.
posted by Phredward at 10:38 AM on May 31, 2016

You can also get a sleeper train to Chiang Mai, and given how annoying I found it to get out to the older Bangkok airport, this may be a better option.

I loved Chiang Mai. I did a cooking class, we walked a lot, we cycled a little, we explored lots of temples.

On the other hand, it's probably more similar to Bangkok that going down to islands/beaches.
posted by kadia_a at 11:51 AM on May 31, 2016

Check on the monsoon seasons which differs according to what part of the country you are in. IIRC, November is the rainy season on the Koh Samui side but not on the Krabbe side wrt beaches.

Chiang Mai will be just entering the cool season (yum!). The center of CM is tree-lined streets and winding sois, very walkable and bicycle-able with lots of food options, walking markets (jammed); the absolute best miniature Chinatown (much more fun IMO than the one in BKK) is a short distance away on the Ping River. Can you tell which one I prefer?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:52 AM on May 31, 2016

My experience of Chiang Mai was similar to kadia_a's (took a sleeper train there, took a cooking class and walked around). It was pretty nice. After Chiang Mai we flew down to Phuket and then went to some of the islands there. It was pretty fun snorkelling and hanging out on the beach but there wasn't too much to do otherwise. So it really depends on how many days it takes before you get bored of hanging out on a beach.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:27 PM on May 31, 2016

Another vote for Chiang Mai. I loved my time there and, in retrospect, would have spent less time in Bangkok and headed north earlier. You'll have your pick of activities while enjoying the city and there are so many wonderful guesthouses to choose from.

Have a lovely trip!
posted by WaspEnterprises at 1:32 PM on May 31, 2016

Yeah, another vote for Chiang Mai! I took a cooking class and a Thai Massage course (it was a week, but they may have shorter classes), which were both really fun!
posted by pennypiper at 2:13 PM on May 31, 2016

Yet another vote for Chiang Mai here, though more for it serving as a gateway to better parts of northern Thailand than as a destination itself.

Heading northwest of Chiang Mai, I really enjoyed Pai -- a beautiful mountain town near the border with Myanmar that's populated by western hippies, Thai Muslims, and Burmese -- and also Chiang Rai in the northeast, which has that weird White Temple (that's unlike any other temple you'll see in Thailand), the Black House artist's complex, and proximity to the Golden Triangle (Myanmar - Lao - Thailand border). [Hm, all of these attractions have colors in their names.] Scootering around outside of Pai was particularly enjoyable, as I got to see some great rural scenery and there were lots of low-key places to visit a ways out of town that were fun to drive to (a canyon you can climb in, hilltop buddha, waterfalls, etc.)

Chiang Mai itself was enjoyable in the way that being in Thailand is always enjoyable, but there wasn't anything there that felt specific to the city or a "must-do" (plus, parts of it felt sanitized / too geared toward upper-middle class tourists). Taking the overnight train there though, as noted above, was a pretty cool experience, I'd definitely recommend trying that (perhaps for the way back to BKK and your flight home, in lieu of a final hotel stay).

The southern beaches, meanwhile, are beaches. I understand the urge to go check them out (I did it myself on my first pass through Thailand), but I didn't find them to be the sunset porn I had expected and didn't find that much to do around there other than scootering/ATVing (which was, admittedly, a great time, but which are also something you can do up north to the same effect).

If you do end up going down south, however, and find yourself in Phuket, be sure to check out the Muay Thai fights at "Bangla Boxing Stadium, Bangla Boxing Stadium! To-night, to-night, to-night!"*

All that said, you'll have a great time regardless, as Thailand is an awesome county to visit!

(*Apologies, that facility's promotional truck left a permanent scratch on my brain)
posted by charlemangy at 7:24 PM on May 31, 2016

I found Chiang Mai pleasant enough, but I'll put in a vote for the southern beaches. Beautiful relaxation and recuperation after hectic Bangkok. It's dry season on the Andaman side. Consider doing a kayak trip (don't worry, they paddle for you) around the stunning Phang Nga bay near Phuket. We splurged on this and it was so very worth it! Then head down to one of the quieter islands such as Ko Ngai, Ko Lanta, or Ko Lipe.
posted by mkuhnell at 8:50 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm an American retiree with a retirement visa in Thailand. I spend 5-8 months a year in Chiang Mai....and after traveling extensively throughout Asia and other parts of the world, CM gets my vote as most liveable, economical, and pleasant city to be in.

You can indulge/ignore the tourist crowd and doings, at your leisure. But it has a great variety of restaurants of many ethnicities, some beautiful temples, great coffee shops, and great countryside within 15 minutes of any direction from the city.

Great food markets abound. And don't pass up a chance to drink fresh coconut water and sugarcane juice.

I'd also recommend checking out TCDC. It's a great design resource with a great library with full use of giant Apple monitors and computers.
posted by lometogo at 10:31 PM on May 31, 2016

Koh Lanta.Nokair or similar to Trang then bus,ferry.
Like stepping back 20 years.No traffic lights,no jet skis.
I think the fact it has no really nearby airport has made it a bit more old school.
posted by johnny7 at 2:11 AM on June 2, 2016

« Older Is there a draft in here?   |   When I email myself, iMessage converts the email... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.