From the ancient history in every corner of Ayutthaya to the contemporary excitement in Chiang Mai, see what you can do with just 4 days travelling north through Thailand as we begin our Stray Asia tour!
Day 1 – Ayutthaya
The morning we left Bangkok we packed up and got ready to head to the Stray Asia office, where our bus would be departing from to begin our bus tour. We were unsure of what to expect, whether we’d find lots of travellers joining us on the bus, or whether it would be a bus at all! We quickly realised it was just four of us; myself and my travel partner, plus two others who we fortunately became quick friends with. We hopped on our minibus to start the journey along with our guide, who was quick to explain all the confusing things to us and tell us a little more about the places we would soon visit, and best of all, taught us some important phrases to use with the locals.
After a few hours, we reached Ayutthaya, which is the old capital city, where you quickly realise has more of the ancient history than the bustling Bangkok. The afternoon there was spent on a boat ride (with a stop or two to get out of the thick river weeds!) around the ancient temples which, as we were quickly finding out, are abundant and plentiful. It sounds ridiculous, but at times it’s difficult to distinguish them from one another! This time however we visited some Chinese influenced temples which made an interesting change from the usual styles we had seen. The most standout temples however were definitely the ancient ruins of temples. It really gives you a better perspective of just how old the religion and culture is, and how even now these places are considered to be places of significant interest for both the religion and the country.
Once back on the main land away from the island of temples, we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing at the pool in the last of the sunshine, and getting to know our new travel companions much better. We instantly knew we clicked with them both, and our constant chatter and laughter was something that remained for the rest of our time with them both. Our time in Ayutthaya was brief but well spent, and we were glad to have at least had a sample of what was once a great city. Our journey was now taking us further north on an overnight train, which one might be surprised to hear is actually extremely comfortable, air-conditioned, and a great night’s sleep in a private pod.
Day 2 & 3 – Chiang Mai Market & Cooking School
The early arrival into the city of Chiang Mai meant we had plenty of time to get our bearings. Without really knowing where we were or what we wanted to do, we relied on our guide for advice. We spent the morning enjoying the sun and the pool (trying not to make this a habit, but in the heat it’s necessary!), before settling on a few things to spend our day doing.
Chiang Mai is world renowned for its incredible food, and so we couldn’t resist a cooking class to teach us all about how to make curry, pad thai, spring rolls and paste all from scratch. The hilariously sassy teacher made the afternoon of constant eating even better than it sounds, and we really did learn some amazing techniques and all about how traditional Thai food is made at home. With full tummies and a few shots of rice wine in us, to top it all off, we were given a recipe book to take away, so we would have no excuse not to recreate the delicious dishes at home either.
Our evening felt like it couldn’t get any better than that. Then we stumbled upon our next destination: the Night Bazaar. Now, a good market was our Achilles Heel at the best of times, however this market was on a whole new level. We could have wandered the market for hours, but fortunately for our bank accounts we had to make our way to the Chiang Mai Cabaret Show, aka the ladyboy show. Now, we had heard much about such a show, and had pretty low expectations and assumed it would extremely tacky and cringey. We could not have been more wrong. It’s safe to say it was possibly one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. It was hilarious, witty, with some extremely talented performers, and all round great entertainment for the evening. Yes, of course some of the acts were better than others, but somehow it didn’t even matter because the whole room was so enraptured by it all, you just completely get into it. So, we left the show on even more of a high than before, and felt like we had well and truly made the most of our first night in this fantastic, lively and exciting city.
Day 3 – Chiang Mai Scooter Hire & Grand Canyon
The next day was always going to be a tough act to follow, and boy was it eventful. We had made the decision to hire scooters for the day, because coming in at around £5 each we thought we were beating the system and would manage to see all the sights quickly and cheaply. We had been told about an app which allows you to use GPS to track your location and use an offline map on your phone, which sounded oh so simple at the time, but on what was apparently the hottest day yet things were bound to go wrong. After stopping just around the corner because we’d already gone the wrong way and one bike ran out of petrol, in the 42 degree heat we deliriously chose to solider on, ended up near the airport before finally giving up and going for a leisurely ride around the city (and avoid getting hit by tuk tuks!).
Once back safe and sound, we then got a cheaper than anticipated taxi to the Grand Canyon, about 20 minutes drive out of town. When we finally reached where we’d been aiming for all day, we were not disappointed. The astounding view of the cavernous pit filled with deep green waters was quite something, and to realise that it was manmade and filled with rainwater made it even more so. Now, this little tourist hotspot is known for thrill-seekers willing to throw themselves off a cliff and into the deep unknown waters. And we were not going to shy away from this one, no sir. Now, once you’re at the edge of the cliff you certainly start to reconsider your life choices on the matter. The 10 metres could be 1000 metres, that’s how intimidating it feels. And with a decent crowd having already made the literal plunge you can’t help but feel the pressure! So after a few flaps and faffing, we decided to go for it. Together. Now one friend was having none of this, and just went for it; we really should have followed her example because the three of us then made the stupid decision to go all at once. Which was adrenaline rushing, exciting, and insane. I jumped off to the right hand side, but the others managed to remain somewhat attached to each other and resulted in one friend landing with a huge “slap!” to the water. As I popped up to the surface, I heard frantic gasps and saw a couple of kind strangers start to swim over, and before I realised what had happened so did the others appear. Her leg at this point was already bruising up real nice, and we gladly accepted the offer to float on a raft with some fellow travellers to recount the mad event that had just occurred.
As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones to go about the jump the wrong way. It was quite the spectacle to see so many bellyflops, dives, pencil jumps and down right catastrophes head into the murky waters. And even more fun to encourage them from far below. Joking aside, this spot has actually been the site of some real tragedies, and so personal safety certainly isn’t to be taken lightly. While we all turned out fine, one wrong move and it could have all been a very different story. We were told that in that same week they had banned people jumping from a 20m cliff as a young traveller had sustained some really serious injuries, and you know it’s bad when the Thai start banning something! After a couple more jumps,a swim, a few laughs and a climb up the cliff we were heading back to the hostel to get ourselves together for the evening. Our last night in Chiang Mai was spent utilising our newfound bartering skills in the Night Bazaar and spending far more than we should have. When in Rome!
The Grand Canyon (Thai version!)
Day 4 – Chiang Rai
We departed Chiang Mai with triple the bus companions we arrived with, as there were plenty of travellers joining the four of us and our favourite guide on our journey. We continued up north of the country, for a long drive up to Chiang Rai where we stopped for a bite to eat at lunch, before heading to one of Thailand’s most famous Temples. Wat Rong Khun, known as The White Temple was created, designed and constructed by Chalermchai Kositpipat who is a world famous artist originally from the region. He created the temple in order to bring people to his beloved home, and to provide a modern and quirky way to appreciate Buddhist culture. I must say, it still stands out as probably my favourite temple, although it’s purpose for being built was not entirely religious, its ingenuity and creativity are completely astounding. I really could have spent hours wandering the grounds and admiring the complex and delicate work of the building. There’s so much to be said about this temple, so for now I will just leave you with the knowledge that the interior walls are adorned with elaborate paintings of superheroes, popular characters from film and TV, all intertwined with Buddhist symbolism. Magical.
The stunningly fascinating but at times creepy White Temple