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Chiang Mai Party Train

flagsA definite must on the Thailand backpacker trail is to head north to Chiang Mai. 

There are a few different options of how to get there - cheap internal flights are aplenty in Thailand, check out AirAsia or Bangkok Air. The route Bangkok to Chiang Mai is the busiest internal route in the country. The cheapest is the overnight bus which is pretty unpleasant and people have been known to shed a few baht as they sleep. Or if you want to go for the middle option, the one I took, book the night train. A double saving as the train becomes your accommodation for the evening. At approx 600-800 baht (£13-15), depending on whether you book through an agent or sort out the ticket yourself, it is, in my view, a billy bargain for a journey of approximately 460 miles!

trainGet yourself to the station in plenty of time, to ensure that you have enough time to walk to your carriage. If you are on the one furthest away from the station it takes some time to get there! 

My top advice is, whether you are on your own or not, once the train has set off make your way straight to the restaurant car and get a table. I took myself along there with some friendly Spanish and Portuguese people who were in my sleeper car. As we were just going for '1' beer I could not have imagined the party that followed!

The staff in the restaurant car were super efficient. That is, super efficient at continually bringing us bottles of Chang beer, even when we had not asked for them. We were not about to complain though. Once the food stopped being served the chef turned into a DJ and the tunes started to flow! Soon we were all dancing away, with more people from different carriages joining in. The waitresses changed clothes and really got into the party vibe. With chants of 'One More Tune' we managed to persuade our chef/DJ to continue playing and were served beer well into the morning.

elephantEveryone who was in the restaurant car enjoyed a good nights Chang-induced sleep that night. You can of course take the option of retiring to your bed once the train sets off, but that's not really entering into the spirit of it all!

As the train slowly rumbles north, you do get the opportunity to see parts of the real Thailand and what a poor country it really is in parts. When I was travelling it was soon after the flooding which had affected many areas and it was still possible to see the soaked towns and villages that the government had chosen to flood, to ensure that the floodwater did not hit major cities. So sad.

The next day, waking up on a train with a hangover is not great experience, but I was distracted by chatting to people in the carriage to find out what each was doing on their trip north. The staff kept on telling us 'Chiang Mai one hour' from about 8 am, until we eventually got there at half eleven-ish, about 3 hours later than scheduled.

If you are going to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, it is a dramatic change. Chiang Mai is friendly, peaceful, chilled. The minute you walk off the train into the station, there is a different atmosphere. A quick taxi ride later and you are in the old town where there are literally hundreds of guest houses to stay in. For something a little unusual stay in the upgraded rooms at the Parasol Inn where the decor depicts Chiang Mai attractions with views to a temple or the Sunday Walking Market. Alternatively The Garden Chiang Mai has live music in the garden restaurant on a Sunday night and a sing-song on a Tuesday.  A sophisticated mountain retreat outside of the centre (15km) is the Veranha High Resort.  If wanting to get further into the 'outback' of the area try staying at Cave Lodge in Pang Mapha where there are various activities, hill tribes and the impressive Tham Lot cave nearby.

monkWhilst in Chiang Mai take a walk around the old town and visit some temples. Go to the Buddha centre and sit and talk to a monk. Chill out in one of the many coffee shops and watch the world go by. In the evening go to the night market. Stay for the weekend and visit the atmospheric Saturday or Sunday walking street markets. Go to the rooftop Reggae bar for cheap beers or cocktails. Hire a motorbike and ride up to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple on the hills 15km outside Chiang Mai for the most amazing views.

The best reason to go to Chiang Mai is to organise a trek in the jungle. Whether it be a day trip or a 3 day trek, make sure you do it. I was limited on time so went for a one day trek which involved riding on an elephant, trekking through the jungle and swimming at a beautiful waterfall, white water rafting, bamboo rafting and then visiting a tribe village! We packed it all in, but it was all amazing and well worth it.

 If you have more time, everyone I met recommends to go further north to Chiang Rai and to Pai.  In the former do visit the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun - a modern unconventional and striking alepecian take on a hindu and buddhist temple with the rather confusing images of Spiderman and rocket ships and an anti-smoking sculpture.