Northern Thailand: Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai

Introducing Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai, the underrated treasures on the northern part of Thailand. Apart from affordable shopping and unbeatable natural scenery, get ready for stunning ancient temples, large underground caves and gorgeous sunsets over mountaintops as I explore this part of the country.

I was lucky to catch the most luxurious and newest train from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. This particular train uses new high quality Chinese-built sleeping cars introduced only recently in November 2016. 

12-hours journey, 856Baht (USD25)

After 20-minutes on the train~~ 😴😴😴

Automated door and information panel

The cleanest toilet I had seen on a train so far 😱

Like airplane’s toilet 😱

Bed converted to spacious seat upon arrival

YAYYYYY~~ Finallyyy~~~

Chiang Mai is often referred as “the rose of the North” and is the second largest city in Thailand. It was built as a walled city surrounded by a moat, with new city grown up around it. Though a good portion of the original city wall has collapsed, the four corner bastions are still intact along with various other sections. Most of the ancient temples and museums are located within the walls, I would recommend staying in old city where everywhere is within walking distance.

Inside the wall

Outside the wall

Not expensive to rent a bike to ride around but I prefer to walk since it’s such a small city!

Most of the temples are free to enter! However, do respect the dress code especially for females.

Young monks

Wisdom trees

Though an old city, Chiang Mai is filled with creativity! 🎨🎨🎨

Massage is slightly higher than Bangkok if you enter a nice, air-conditioned parlor. However, you can still find cheap and good masseses inside a temple or pop-up stall at night market. The price difference can range about 100-150Baht for a 60-minutes body massage.

Sunday night market is a MUST go and it’s within the walled city. There is also stage performance by the students as well. If you missed it, there is a daily night market outside the wall but not as good as the Sunday ones. 

Most travellers would opt for elephant camp or tiger kingdom whereas I chose to explore Doi Inthanon National Park, the highest peak in Thailand. Along the way to the peak, you will see two pagodas for the King and Queen.

Inside the King’s pagoda

This is actually not the highest spot…..yet

King Inthawichayanon’s tomb

A little history here: The name Doi Inthanon was given in honor of King Inthawichayanon, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai, who was concerned about the forests in the north and tried to preserve them. He ordered that after his death his remains be interred at Doi Luang (former name which means “Big Mountain”), which was then renamed in his honor.

Now, here’s the highest point!

Nearby, there are two waterfalls: Siritarn Waterfall and Wachiaratarn Waterfall. Siritarn Waterfall was named by the Queen who came to visit the fall. Visitors are only allow to view the 40-meters waterfall from a designated wooden platform. 

Wachiaratarn Waterfall is a spectacular steep drop of 50-meters with a large cascade plummeting over the edge into a deep pool below, creating a misty veil of great beauty.

Due to dry season, it doesn’t seems spectacular

Meet my pai-buddy from Belgium!!

Since both of us are done with Chiang Mai, we decided to take a more adventurous way by riding up to Pai!! 🏍🏍🏍

A popular choice among the backpackers to rent a bike up to Pai as they have another branch over there. Free baggage delivery service!

We shared this bike for 140Baht (USD4) per day

Ready to brave through 762 curves on Route 1095!

Pai is a small town of population 3,000 people, up in the valley north of Chiang Mai. With Thai-Western style restaurants, daily night market, live music bars, tattoo parlors, and lots of hidden gems to be discovered, Pai is a haven for backpackers.  

3-beds room for 160Baht (USD5) per night

First thing to do after 5-hours of riding

As long as you can ride, there’s nowhere you can’t go in Pai!

We were stopped by the police….to take a photo with us

yes, he broke the vine!

50Baht to spend half a day soaking in hot spring

Boss of land split. No charge to visit the land, eat or drink. Amount is given by your own choice

Most popular place to catch sunsets

One of the coolest bar we found inside an alley

The Chinese Village; best to come for sunrise

Luckily there’s 3 of us to share the cost

60Baht (USD2) to spend a day to chill

We spent days biking around looking for new places to explore and chill. When we were done with Pai, we decided to ride back to Chiang Mai before parting our ways 😢😢😢

And yet we went to Pai without a scratch!

Last meal together

My next and last destination in Thailand is Chiang Rai. It’s only less than 4-hours bus ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. 

129Baht (USD4)

There is only a few popular attractions in Chiang Rai, pretty straight forward if you google it. 

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

Admission: 80Baht (less than USD2)

Best time to go: Late noon to evening to avoid crowds

Things to note: Photography is not allowed inside the temple. Females have to wear pants/skirts/dress over the knee in order to enter 

Baan Dam Museum (Black House)

Admission: 80Baht (USD3)

“Long Neck” Tribe

Admission: 300Baht (USD9)

The women in “Long Neck” tribe aren’t literally looooong neck! The metal bangles they been wearing are so heavy that their collar bone sank, giving the “long neck” impression.

Blue Temple

Admission: Free

Golden Triangle

Admission: Free

Mae Sai (Thai-Burma Border)

Admission: Free

There’s a huge market for shopaholic 

Where Thailand and Myanmar networks intersect

Immigration border to enter Myanmar

Clock Tower

Admission: Free

Light-Changing Timing: 1900hrs, 2000hrs, 2100hrs

Something to keep you entertained if you stayed around the area. 5-minutes walk from night market.

2-weeks in Northern Thailand….and next will be spending 2-days on a boat ride to Luang Prabang, Laos.

Bangkok: Off the Beaten Path

“If man has no knowledge of the past, he is nothing but a vessel without a rudder on the high seas” 

Bangkok, probably the most popular destination in Asia with its chaotic streets and crazy nightlife. Been in this bustling city several times with all the eat-and-shop-till-you-drop experiences, so this time I’ve decided to explore a little out of the city. No Chatuchak, no night markets, no fanciful cafes nor those “must-visit” temples 😎😎😎

Erawan Museum

Just outside South of Bangkok in Samut Prakan province stand a 250-tons, 44-meters tall three-headed copper elephant. That is the massive icon of Erawan Museum which houses one of the most exquisite art and religious collections in Thailand. 

I was wowed by the impressive rounded stained-glass roof the moment I stepped into the shrine 😱😱😱

A world map blending into the Zodiac and galaxies beyond 😍

A small statue of Mahayana Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion

As you continue to head up through a long spiraling staircases, you feel cooler and somehow reached a “fantasy world”.

Standing Gold Buddha surrounded by moons, sun, clouds and constellations

If it’s not too hot, you can take a walk along the tropical garden outside the shrine.

How I get there: BTS Skytrain to Bearing Station and then use Uber Bike to Erawan Museum (130Baht; USD4)

Admission Fee: Foreigner price is 400Baht (USD12).  I used Klook apps to book online which cost me SGD11 (USD7) 

The Ancient City

Taking up 320 acres of land, roughly in the shape of Thailand, Ancient City is the largest open-air museum in the world. This huge park reproduces over 100 important monuments from around Thailand. Some of them are reconstructions of buildings that no longer exist. Other buildings are examples of traditional architecture that were scheduled to be demolished and instead were purchased by the Ancient City, dismantled and reconstructed in the park. 

Entrance to the museum

Map of the museum

Opening Hours: 0900-1900hrs

Tourist pass is 700Baht (USD20), but if you go after 1600hrs, the fee will be halved (USD10)

Bicycle rental is inclusive! Trust me, you wouldn’t want to walk in this museum

Spending a day here taking pictures with all the architectures is as good as going around Thailand visiting different temples and monuments!! A great place for instagramable photographs 📷📷📷

How I get there: Taking Uber Car from Erawan Museum to Ancient City: 200Baht (USD5.50)

“Death Railway” in Kanchanaburi 

One of the major projects during World War II was to construct a 250-miles railway from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbuyuzayat, Burma. Originally called the Thailand-Burma Railway, it earned the nickname “Death Railway” because over one hundred thousand laborers died during its 16 month construction between 1942 and 1943. Today, part of the railway is still in use daily for visitors to pay remembrance to the horrific history of the Death Railway.

100Baht one-way, about 3-hours journey

Only 3rd class train available

Thai-Burma Railway starting station

River Kwai Bridge where usually tourists will get off here

But I continued on to pass this bridge by train

High-5 to tourists along the wayy

Most locals will get off here……

To pray inside this cave, a cave used to keep the POWs

You can walk along this railway before the train returned from another side

I’m definitely going to get fined for doing this if in my own country! 😋

Just walk back to the previous station (20-minutes) and wait for train back to BKK!

When you board the train from an under-utilized station, you pay your fare to the train captain

How I get there: Took Uber Car from hostel to Thonburi Station 150Baht (USD4) to catch a 0745hrs train. Returned on a 1330hrs train.

*Take note of the return train timetable if you planning for a day-trip only.

Maeklong Railway Market

Apart from floating markets, street markets and night markets, Maeklong Railway market is one unique experience you should try when visiting Thailand. One minute there is a bustling market under umbrellas with stalls scattered everywhere. The next minute a train passes right through the middle of it all, only to turn back into a market a few minutes later. How cool is that?! 

13Baht bus ride

Mini-van from Sai Tai Mai (Southern Bus Terminal) 70Baht (USD2)

Waiting for 1110hrs train to arrive

Here it comes~

So near I can touch it

Catch you later~~

I chose an easier way to get to Maeklong Market by taking mini-van from Southern Bus Terminal, 90-minutes journey. Do not go to Victory Monument, services do not run from there as of 2016.

Train arrival times: 8.30 a.m., 11.10 a.m., 2.30 p.m. and 5.40 p.m.

Train departure times: 6.20 a.m., 9.00 a.m., 11.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m.

And now, I’m going to catch the 1130hrs train back to Bangkok, which will take me about 3-hours 😴😴😴

Managed to get a ticket 5-minutes the train leaves for Ban Laem: 10Baht 

After 1-hour, reached Ban Laem Station

From Ban Laem Station, walk about 10-minutes along the street you will see ferry crossing pier

Ferry: 3Baht

Once reach to the opposite side at Mahachai, walk along the seafood market and will reach a train station

Another 1-hour train ride: 10Baht

Once arrive at WongWian Yai Station, walk about 15-minutes to the nearest BTS station.

Ayutthaya

Used to be second capital of the Siamese Kingdom, Ayutthaya was attacked and razed by the Burmese army in 1767 who burned the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. Today, Ayutthaya is an archaeological ruin, characterized by the remains of tall prang (reliquary towers) and Buddhist monasteries of monumental proportions, which give an idea of the city’s past size and the splendor of its architecture. 

15Baht, 3-hours from Bangkok

260baht (USD7) per night

Renting a bicycle is one of the best ways to explore the city

A more luxury option is to go by tour tram

It’s my lucky day!! All attractions are free!!! 😇

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Maha That

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

River crossing to floating market

200Baht to floating market

yummy but so spicy~

Boat ride along the river

2 days in Ayutthaya is not enough at all…I will definitely come back again and stay longer next time! 

Spending 24-hours in Hat Yai, Thailand

After travelling for almost 24-hours from Johor Bahru, I have finally reached Hat Yai, the closest city in Thailand from Malaysia’s border 🤗

Train hotel inside train station

I checked into Hat Yai Youth Hostel which is about 20-minutes of walking from train station and 5-minutes from Lee Garden Plaza. 

Owner of the hostel

Boss of the owner 🐱

Wisdom words from the late King 🤴🏽

How many of these people can you recognized??

187baht (USD5) per night for 6-beds dorm

Lee Garden Plaza is the centre of Hatyai surrounded by shopping centers and restaurants. As Hat Yai is a highly popular city among the Malaysians and Singaporeans, most of the locals are able to speak Mandarin and Hokkien instead of English. 

First cooked meal: 50baht (USD1.50)

SIM Card: 599baht (USD17)

Next morning, i woke up looking forward to what surprises this under-rated city can offer me! 

Vegetarian noodle: 50baht (USD1.50)

Over the breakfast, I chatted with a songthaew driver and showed him a list of places I wanted to visit. I bargained from 1500baht (USD45) to 800baht (USD23) for a day of his service. I’m happy with the deal considering that I’ve chartered the whole car by myself 😇

Wat Hai Yai Nai

Measuring 35-meters long, 15-meters tall and 10-meters wide, Phra Phuttha Hattha Mongkhon is the third largest reclining Buddha in the world. This open-air temple is free of charge!

epic failure picture taken by the driver…🙄

selfie is still a better choice

another failed picture….where’s my pretty roof top?? 😑

 

Municipal Park

Located 6-kilometers outside of central Hat Yai is a park that covered from hills to a lake. In the park there is White Jade Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), Laughing Buddha and a standing Golden Buddha. Newly addition of cable car brings you to Kor Hong Mountain where the four-faced Brahma Shrine is located. The park admission is FREE!

Guan Yin with Jade Girl and Golden Boy

Kwan Kung, God of Business

Grand entrance to Laughing Buddha

Wishing bells

Laughing Buddha

Standing at 20-meters, Phra Buddha Mongkol Maharaj was built to mark King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 72nd birthday

200baht for one-way ride

As I did not want to spend anymore money on transportation, the driver was kind enough to send me to see the Four-Faced Brahma Shrine on the opposite mountain. 

Didn’t want to take cable car but still must take a selfie

Erawan: Three-headed Elephant

So many miniature elephants

View of Hat Yai City

Samila Beach

About 30-kilometers away from Hat Yai lies the neighboring city of Songkhla. Famously known as “the great city on two seas” this city is surrounded by beaches such as Samila and Son Awn. 

Road block…but would he really stop suspicious car?? 🤔

This probably the only beach in Thailand not populated among foreigners 😉

Am I the only human here?? 👻

Such an empty beach!!

The most iconic statue: The Golden Mermaid

On the far end of the beach, you can see this Great Serpent “Nag”. Locals believe that he sprays divine water to make people feel happy and purified their minds.

Tang Kuan Hill

About less than 5-minutes from Samila Beach, Tang Kuan Hill is not only a place for 360-degree breathtaking views of Songkhla City but also housed the sacred pagoda Dvaravati Chedi built to contains the Lord Buddha’s relics.

Admission is free but you have to pay 30baht if you choose to take a 3-minutes, 170-meters inclined-lift ride up

Lift operator 😴😴😴

The Lighthouse

Phra Chedi Luang

Love locks 💝

Accidentally came across this house which used to belong to King Rama V

By the time I reached back Hat Yai, I have 3-hours to get prepared and catch the evening train heading to BANGKOK! 

Hat Yai to BKK: 755Baht (USD22)

Alternative Travel: From Singapore to Thailand on Land

“Little by Little,

One Travels Far”

Apart from flying, another alternative and fun way is to travel by train! Not only you can get off at any city/town you would like to explore, you also get to catch beautiful scenery of the countryside. Unlike airfares, train prices are quite standard and you do not need to worry about your over-sized backpack at all!

On my most recent trip, I had decided to travel to Thailand from Malaysia by train and fell in love with it. I ended up commuting around Thailand via railways for two weeks 🚂🚂🚂

There are actually a few ways to cross Malaysia-Thailand border by train raging from luxurious price to backpacker price:

  1. Eastern and Oriental Express: runs twice a month from Singapore to Bangkok for 3-days 2-night. Price ranges from £2,792 (~USD3,500) for solo traveller 😱
  2. Johor Bahru —> Gemas —> Kuala Lumpur —> Penang —> Padang Besar —> Hatyai: about 19-hours (excluding transferring and waiting), total cost SGD48 (~USD35)
  3. Johor Bahru —> Gemas —> Padang Besar —> Hatyai: about 19-hours (excluding transferring and waiting), total cost SGD48 (~USD35)
  4. Johor Bahru —> Pasir Mas —> Rantau Panjang —> Sungei Kolok —> Hatyai: almost 24hrs, total cost SGD28 (~USD20)

And needless to say, I chose the cheapest way to start my adventure!😅

My initial plan was to take the shuttle bus from Woodlands Train Checkpoint to Johor Bahru. However, due to weekends, the tickets were sold out completely even though I was 3-hours early to get a ticket (’cause they don’t sell it online anymore🙄). The queues for public buses entering JB were horrendous! 😫 and so decided to squeeze into a blue bus meant for factory workers. This helped me skipped the horrible long queue and only cost me RM2.

look out for this blue bus if you ever want to get out of checkpoint during peak period

After clearing in JB checkpoint, just follow signage towards JB Sentral to get train ticket to Pasir Mas!

Note that there is only one train leaving daily at 1900hrs from JB to Pasir Mas.

Train ticket: RM55 (USD12)

The whole journey took about 18-hours. There are several long stops in between enough time for you to get down the train to buy food or smoke.

From Pasir Mas train station, it’s only a less than 10-minutes walk to bus station.

The counter is only for inter-city buses, but you can approach the staff to ask for bus number to Rantau Panjang

There will be a destination signage in front of the bus. Fare: RM3.30, about 45-minutes ride

it’s a local bus and they are kind to tell you where to get off (=

Malaysia Checkpoint (to be stamped out of Malaysia)

Leaving Malaysia~~~

and crossing the bridge to enter THAILAND! 🤗

Random thoughts: does one side belong to Malaysia and the other belong to Thailand? 🤔

Thailand Checkpoint

At this point of time I don’t understand why I still chose to walk the 80o-meters to Sungei Kolok Railway Station under the hot sun at 1400hrs 😥😥😥 

A sign of relief~

Train ticket: 323 Bhat (USD9) Journey: ~3.5hrs

Windowless seat! 😇

local business

And this is how I spent my 24-hours commuting across 3 countries, enjoying every moment of it!! 😎😎😎