A lot of people will be surprised that this was my first trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Aside from my recent tour of luxury villas in Thailand I have been to the country at least ten times. But this was my first trip to Chiang Mai. I absolutely love Bangkok and if I left, I went south in Thailand. If I went north I went up to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam or elsewhere. I feel like my time to really enjoy the whole expat backpacker thing in Chiang Mai has passed me by but I still managed to have fun as always. I won’t pretend it was my favorite place but here is what I did on my first trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I arrived and checked into the Presidential suite at the Le Meridien Hotel. I booked it a day prior and as a Starwood Lifetime Platinum member I was upgraded. The hotel was packed because of a conference so I felt lucky to even get a room let alone the top suite.
The Meridien was good because it was pretty central to old town. My buddy Charlie and I got picked up to do a street food tour. The tour was pretty awesome and brought us to places we never would’ve known to eat at otherwise. I normally don’t like tours but I find food tours to be the best ones. Why take chances, go where the local guides know is good. The tour only cost $22 a person, which included everything and it lasted over 3 hours. That’s good value!
After stuffing our faces we headed over to the Reggae Bar area our guide recommended. It is basically a complex with a bunch of bars where white backpacker kids hang out. It wasn’t ideal but it was fun of course. These types of places exist all over Southeast Asia, wherever backpackers like to travel.
Ironically, I met up with my buddy Charles Veley, the worlds most traveled man and not to be confused with my other buddy Charlie. He was randomly in Chiang Mai as well. It is always a pleasure to see him. We always have fun catching up, laughing and telling stories over several drinks wherever in the world we see each other.
The next day I had to change hotels because the Le Meridien was completely booked solid and I didn’t want to do a Platinum Override to kick someone out of their room. That’s such a dick thing to do. So the Le Meridien called around and got me a good deal at the Dusit D2 Chiang Mai Hotel. I had never stayed at a Dusit before although I have seen many in Asia.
The hotel was pretty awesome to be honest. I got a really nice junior suite with club level access for only $150 and they banned durian-my least favorite food on Earth. I really enjoyed staying there and would likely stay there again if I ever go back to Chiang Mai.
But day 2 was for golfing. Chiang Mai has become a hot golfing destination for Asian tourists in the last few years. We booked a tee time at Chiang Mai Highlands Golf Course. It was about 45 minutes from the city. The booking included a driver to and from the course plus rental clubs and caddies. The whole thing costs us each $130 or so. We didn’t actually want the caddies but it was course policy so we had no choice. They were two adorable Thai girls who seriously hustled and earned their tips for sure although my caddy’s greens reading skills were questionable!
The course itself was pretty nice. It wasn’t life changing like the Old Course at St. Andrew’s or anything but it was very well maintained and in great shape. Due to an injury and the winter weather in the northeast, I hadn’t played since my epic golf trip to Ireland in October so I was a little rusty. However, I managed to play pretty well hitting some booming drives and shot 83 with no cheating!
There are 3 courses at Chiang Mai Highlands and we played 9 at the Valley Course and 9 at the Mountain Course. The Mountain Course had the top views. Neither was particularly difficult but it’s just such a blast being out swinging the sticks with a good friend drinking Singha beers in the sun!
That obviously led to a nap and some laziness for the evening. So we just headed to a really gentrified night food market near the hotel. I say gentrified because it was all tourists, pretty modern/nice and clearly catered to them with much higher prices than local markets. They had food stalls that sold everything from Thai to Pizza to Mexican to Ice Cream sundaes while old Thai men played Southern Rock and Irish music-it was weird! It was also delicious but hardly Thai!
Anyway that was basically my first trip to Chiang Mai for two solid days. It’s a nice enough place to chill out for a few days. I can see the draw but I much prefer Bangkok for a Thai city without question.
Admittedly, I didn’t care to visit a single temple in Chiang Mai and I know they’re supposed to have some nice ones. When time is limited you do what you want to do and not what you’re supposed to do as a tourist. For me, food tours and golf is as good as it gets! Those were the highlights of my first trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand.