Thailand City Tour: Chiang Mai and Bangkok

Posted by on May 11, 2013 in Countries, Thailand | 6 comments

I love Thailand!  It’s people are friendly and welcoming, the food is delicious, and the landscape strikes a wonderful balance between thriving cities and nature.  I enjoy greeting locals and foreigners alike with a rousing “sawadee ka” (took me 2 weeks to pronounce this correctly).  I find joy and excitement in exploring city markets.  And I cannot stop myself from indulging when I see a good and affordable ($5) Thai massage shop (there is literally one on every corner!).  

Mike and I spent three weeks in Thailand, the longest time spent in one country, and I was sad to leave. I would recommend spending time here to any traveler because there is something in Thailand for everyone.  I am glad that we had a good mix of everything: we began with laid back city life in Chiang Mai, moved to a remote yet picturesque beach in Koh Lipe, and ended in the busy and modern Bangkok. I knew that I would love the beaches of Thailand because they are beautiful, but I am surprised by how much I enjoyed the two cities that we toured.  Below I have included a few highlights and impressions from Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

Chiang Mai:

With over 300 temples, Chiang Mai (the country’s 5th largest city) is viewed as the cultural crux of Northern Thailand.  We lived in the city for two weeks while volunteering at a Children’s home and did a terrible job of “seeing the sights”, opting for a more relaxed approach to enjoying the city.  There are a few sites in the city and several day trips to surrounding areas to choose from, but what I liked the most was how livable Chiang Mai was. 

I found the people very welcoming and the city itself very easy to navigate (not a small feat considering I am terrible with directions) as there is a moat and ancient wall around the old historic portion of the city.  We enjoyed strolling the streets, sampling Thai and western restaurants, and sipping on cold Chang or Singha beers from the casual roof top bars.  We would go for a run in the early morning (as long as we hadn’t indulged in too many Changs the night before) along the river or around the moat and were able to catch a glimpse of the local people.  It was fascinating to observe the Thai people giving alms to the Buddhist monks or small families visiting the local street markets at 6 am for their daily groceries.  Of course, we did do a few touristy things…visited an elephant camp, frequented the various markets around town (Night Market, Sunday Market, Warrowat Market), and spent an evening at a ladyboy show.

Chiang Mai was a great home for us for two weeks and I am glad we had it as a point of comparison when we visited its bigger, crazier, sexed up brother, Bangkok.


I actually liked Bangkok way more than I anticipated.  (My only previous point of reference was the movie Hangover 2).  I had pictured a hectic, seedy, city that had more Red Light district feel than real culture.  And, while sex tourism  is rampant (from what we have read) and you can have the wild party experience if you seek it out, I found Bangkok to be a thriving, modern, and interesting city with fabulous nightlife and shopping.  

We rented a studio apartment for 2 nights in the Sukhumvit neighborhood in the heart of some of the best bars and restaurants in the city.  We spent a day touring the historic area and really enjoyed the unique architecture of Wat Pho and the Grand Palace.  We also strolled along the river, ate delicious street food, and explored Lumphini Park.  While more difficult to navigate than Chiang Mai (because of its size), Bangkok has much more to offer for the city lover….variety in cuisine, a great range of shopping (from small markets to air conditioned mega malls), and ridiculous nightlife.  I sometimes felt like I could be in New York, Chicago, or any big city.

Fortunately, we were able to connect with a friend of a friend who lived in Bangkok and have an authentic night out with him and his sister. We noshed on some amazing Thai food at “Soul Food” restaurant and had the chance to join them at a friend’s luxe birthday party complete with top shelf bottle service, a champagne toast at midnight (Dom anyone!?), and a Thai cover band (surreal but fantastic).  And, unbelievably, a good friend of mine from work just happened to be in Bangkok for a few days coinciding with our visit so we met him for cocktails as well.  I love that this trip has allowed for opportunities like this- we can make new connections and re-connect with old friends on the other side of the globe!

While Bangkok and Chiang Mai were very different in many ways, there were two things that stood out in both cities that were, as the common Thai phrase goes, “same, same”.  First is the prevalence of middle aged to old white men who have seemingly left their normal lives to find a permanent (or semi permanent) Thai girlfriend/wife while abroad.  We could not walk down the street without seeing old (and out of shape) western men strolling hand in hand with young, attractive Thai women.  I don’t get it, but we have been told that this occurs because the Thai women are seeking out the comfort and perceived wealth that comes from aging white men and the men want….well, obviously a hot young companion.

The second thing any tourist is sure to see in these cities is a ladyboy, or as the Thais say, Kathoeys- transgender or effeminate gay men who are generally widely accepted in the Thai culture.  Ladyboys work and thrive throughout the cities and many perform in very entertaining shows.  In fact, Mike and I were surprised to be taken to a ladyboy show on our second night in Chiang Mai by some of the other volunteers. While we worried about being extremely uncomfortable (especially Mike), we had an absolute blast.  I was even thrilled to see Mike join in on the fun after being pushed on stage by another volunteer to dance along to the closing music. 

While I was sad to leave Thailand, I have a feeling that I will be back at some point.  There are too many beaches left unexplored, villages left unvisited, and food left untasted.  Until that time, I will do my best to harness the laid back, welcoming vibe that the country emits. I can only hope that my next experience is “same same…but different.”


  1. Haha Mom!!

    I sat next to an older man on a flight once. He was headed to Thailand to meet his young girlfriend… so strange!!

  2. Any older white women with younger hot companions?

  3. Hi Kat! Love the post! We’re heading to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket in November. In Bangkok we will be staying in the Sukhumvit neighborhood as well. Any clubs/restaurants (I made a note of “Soul Food”) that we should definitely see (or avoid?) Keep having a blast!

  4. What is Mike eating? Or maybe I don’t want to know. Gram

  5. Mike on stage with the ladyboys- now we’ ve seen it all. Dad

  6. Any video of Mike onstage??? 🙂 haha

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