Bangkok is one of my favorite cities in the world and it’s also a great connection for exploring smaller experiences within Southeast Asia. That’s just what I did on my recent trip while making my way to Chiang Mai and Mandalay in Myanmar to learn more about age old handcrafts, handmade goods, the monks way of life, and local traditions. Of course this was done all while staying in style and eating our way through the delicious countries.
HANDCRAFTS FROM CHIANG MAI TO MANDALAY
Nicknamed the Rose of the North, Chiang Mai is known for many things. Because the city is the second oldest in the Thai kingdom, it provides an enormous amount of cultural history and serves as the crossroads between Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China. While making our way through the countryside, I experienced the vast culture unfold in front of my eyes. A few of my favorites are it’s beautiful temples, tasteful food and stunning landscapes just outside of the city.
Chiang Mai Market –
I toured one of the Chiang Mai Night Markets and it was out of this world delicious, so I wanted to make sure I got to experience another. This time around, we went to the Chiang Mai Street Food Tour. I spent the night indulging in mouthwatering local snacks and learning more about the culinary heritage. One local reminded me that many ingredients still used in Thai recipes today, such as lemongrass and galangal, originated from the north and were perfected in the Chiang Mai royal courts. Before I left, I bought a few local goods at the market to take home: a new hand stitched wallet and a hand stitched shirt were among them. I even had my business name embroidered on the wallet.
About an hour outside of Chiang Mai proper, we drove to the town of old Lamphun. Along the way we passed beautiful rice and farm fields and stopped off at the Kings Garden before eventually arriving. The town is located by the Ping River and still retains its old-world charm. Last time I was in Thailand I learned how to do indigo dying by hand. This time around, we visited a local hand woven fabric factory in the ancient town of Lamphun called Wat Phra That Hariphunchai. We visited the factory on Sunday which is typically the day off, so the town was a bit quieter which made for an even more authentic experience.
137 Pillars House
During my trip, I stayed at the luxurious 137 Pillars House hotel and enjoyed every minute of it. The rooms were immaculate-designed with high ceilings, private wine cellars, and large walk in closets. It was hotel heaven! My favorite part about the hotel was the pool which has a giant living plant wall towering above the back side. The hotel offers a variety of restaurants serving Asian favorites along with coffee and freshly baked breads. Lunch was one of the best I’ve had in this region.
Only a sixty minute flight from Chiang Mai, we made our way to Mandalay in Myanmar. You’ll need a visa if you’re going but luckily the process isn’t too difficult. Currently, Mandalay is the capital of Myanmar – they have had four in total.
The first thing we did was watch a face-washing ceremony with the monks of the Mahumani Buddha. Many people gathered as the sun rose to partake. The ceremony began around 5:00am. Once the drum is struck, the senior monk enters the sanctum to start the face washing process with clean towels that have been offered by devotees. He performs the task of washing the Buddha’s face along with helpers who are dressed in all white and headdresses. While witnessing this incredible tradition, I noticed that the monk payed very close attention to each detail on the Buddha-cleaning its teeth with a large brush and applying scented water to the face. It was an experience unlike any other I have seen along my travels and one I won’t soon forget.
After breakfast, we took a boat across the Ayeyarwaddy River to visit the quaint village of Mingun. On the way our guide painted our faces with thanatkha – it’s similar to a natural sunscreen or traditional Myanmar makeup locals wear made out of a tree (the scientific name is Lemonia Accidacima). Mingun is famous for its large unfinished stupa-Mingun Pahtodawgyi.
Fun fact: There is no city without a pagoda in Myanmar. We saw plenty of them when we were there. We made our way to Kuthodaw Pagoda, also known as the “world’s largest book” with 729 marble slabs of engraved Buddhist scriptures surrounding it. The front gate was comprised of beautiful colors of red and gold along with animal sculptings from Hindu mythology. The next day we visited Amarapura which is home to the longest teak footbridge in the world-U Bein’s Bridge. It stretches across Taungthaman Lake and is made of the remnants of a royal palace. I had fun chatting with locals carrying goods across to the other side.
It’s imminent that you pass through Bangkok and of course you’ll want to spend a few nights – the Bangkok rooftop bar scene is some of the best in the world and so are the Bangkok luxury hotels. Every time I visit, I try to stay in a different neighborhood or part of town. This time I chose Thonglor, a trendy neighborhood with great nightlight and hotspots for eating. I loved walking around the Ratchada Train Market – a more local experience. I weaved my way through street food stalls tasting pad thai and other local delicacies along the way. But the main reason I extended my stay in Bangkok on this trip was to check out two adorable hotels.
STAY BOUTIQUE IN BANGKOK:
Volve Hotel is 28 room design forward space in Thanglor offers a unique experience for all. The details on the design from hand-placed wood wall squares in the dining area to the lobby table which was created from the house of the owner that stood prior to the hotel being built, they’ve put a lot of effort into incorporating traditional and historical local items melding into the modern design that is the hotel.
Cabochon Hotel –
The Cobochon, an impeccably designed Bangkok Hotel, feels as though it’s been there forever. It feels like a step back in time and you would never know when you step inside that this building was actually built in 2012. Various sitting rooms on the first floor felt cozy – the natural color palette among walls full of books, the old-time playlist and rare vintage finds from Louis Vuitton trunks fans from the flapper era to adorning each corner and nook.
The attention to detail in this 13 Room Boutique hotel is perfection. We checked into Cabochon late. I grabbed a robe from the closet to hop in the shower and as I entered noticed a small tea light candle tucked under the sink in the bathroom giving off the beautiful ambient light I had asked into. And when I turned in for the night I had one of the best sleeps of the trip. And the rooftop pool was perfect for afternoon relaxation exploring the city.
Thailand is a place I have returned to over and over again yet never get tired of visiting. The country has so much to offer-food, culture, art which makes for an always colorful experience. And there are so many neighboring countries beckoning a visit all within arms reach. Have you thought about exploring more of Southeast Asia?