We hung our hats: Airbnb is super popular in Thailand, and in my opinion it’s the best way to find places to stay. Agoda.com also has lots of affordable lodging options.
We ate: My favorite local place was Tong Tem Toh. You won’t see many other western people there, but their cured meats and other specialties of the northern Thailand are amazing. Cooking Love is also great and popular among tourists.
This link has several good restaurant options in Chiang Mai: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/chiang-mai/restaurants/a/poi-eat/357655
If you only visit one temple in northern Thailand, let it be Doi Inthanon. Drive through a beautiful forested national park to the top of the highest mountain in Thailand, where two grand temples sit on top of the mountain and often above the clouds. Watch your timing as the National Park and temple is a bit of a drive from Chiang Mai, and they close the gates to the temples around 5 or 6 pm.
PATTARA ELEPHANT SANCTUARY
The Elephant business in Thailand is a controversial industry, and a delicate one to talk about here. The Pattara Elephant Sanctuary was recommended by our local Thai producer as the most responsible elephant sanctuary with the best conditions for their elephants.
We checked it out and I was pleased with what I saw. The elephants had seemingly endless acres of land to roam around thorough and could eat anything they pleased. When you arrive to Pattara they tell stories about the many elephants they’ve rescued from being made to work in city streets, as well as their program for reintroducing elephants to the wild.
*Reservations must be made in advance.
RAILAY AND TONSAI
We hung our hats: There are tons of great options in Railay West. We’ve stayed at several hotels in that area, and recommend the Railay Garden View Resort
We ate: The grilled snapper from Railay Thai Cuisine is the one thing I miss most about Thailand. They also have Thai cooking classes, which are great for a rainy day! Just beware they usually need to be booked a day in advance.
There are a number of ways to get to Southern Thailand’s climbing destinations, but all of them involve boats. We flew from Chiang Mai back to Krabi and took a short taxi ride to Ao Nang, where boats leave for Railay and Tonsai every 20 minutes. (It’s only a 20-minute boat ride from Ao Nang.) Boats and ferries can also be arranged to Railay from Phuket. It’s a good idea to have light plastic ponchos that can cover you and your baggage in the event that you’ve got to take a boat trip during heavy rain!
The boats stop first in Tonsai, then around the point in Railay East, then to Railay West. It’s best to determine which side of Railay your hotel is on before the boat drops you off, or you’ll be dragging your luggage through town! If you got your trusty SIM card at the airport, call your hotel ahead of time so they can send someone down to the boat areas to help you carry your baggage back to wherever you’re staying.
The climbing in Thailand is probably the part I have to talk about least, as famous as it is! climbing in Railay West, Railay East, and Tonsai are all easily accessed by foot from anywhere in that area. Tonsai is home to harder grades, while many classic multi-pitch routes are on the Thaiwand - an incredible tower that looks over the ocean. Get an early start here as guides frequent the area with groups. Another area to avoid is the 1-2-3 Wall, which is rallied by both large guided groups of climbers and mosquitoes. The Escher World area is in the shade most of the day which can be nice in the hotter months, and there are some great cave routes in that area as well! Bring bug spray.
*As of 2018 guiding deep water soloing in Railay is mostly banned, although you could try to hire a boat for the day or kayak to different areas. But be careful - the rock sticks out below the waterline!