A Practical Guide to Visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand and Myanmar

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If you’re plotting your Thailand itinerary, I’m sure your plans include indulging in Thailand street food, visiting monasteries, and other Thailand must-sees. From night markets to small town visits there’s so much to experience here in the north of the country, especially if you plan to visit one of Thailand’s neighboring countries during your journey, like Myanmar.

Read onward to discover my practical tips on visiting Thailand and Myanmar plus some of my favorite sights in each place. I’ve also included a way for you to give back during your stay.  

How to Give Back in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai hosts free monk chats at temples around town, which is a fantastic cross cultural exchange and an enriching experience for monks and international visitors. Inspired to share some authentic moments of joy with locals, my friend Kristen and I attended the chat at Wat Chedi Luang where we taught the monks the Ha Ha Game. Curious about monk chats? Wanna see how the monks faired during our laughter challenge? Watch the video below.  

Chiang Mai Travel Tips

Once you arrive to Chiang Mai, there are endless things to do in town and farther astray.

Start the day with a swim at Huay Kaew Falls; it’s about a 15-minute easy hike from the Chiang Mai Zoo. By the afternoon, swing by Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai’s Old City for a monk chat and tour around the inspiring temple grounds. Just down the road, you’ll also find Wat Phra Singh, which houses a breathtaking golden pagoda. If you come to this part of town on a Sunday late afternoon, you’ll arrive just in time to catch the Sunday Street Market along Ratchadamnoen Road from 4pm until midnight. There’s nothing better than closing the day with an hour-long foot massage, a cold coconut, and a traditional northern Thai coconut curry noodle dish called Khao Soi. There are plenty of night markets in town. Some of my favorites include the Night Bazaar and the Student Night Market.

On your second day in town, wander beyond Chiang Mai to the historic town of Lamphun on the Ping River. The town retains much of its old-world charm, plus you’ll feel connected to the culture by stepping off the beaten path. While in Lamphun, start with a quick visit to Wat Phra That Hariphunchai before heading to the Institute of Hariphunchai to observe where hand-woven fabric is made.

There are many expats in Chiang Mai who — like myself — rent an apartment for a month or two and stay to explore the city long term. It can be hard to leave because it’s such a wonderful part of the country, but there are so many destinations close by that are easy and affordable to reach … including Myanmar.

Travel to Myanmar

Myanmar is a fascinating country, which unfortunately hasn’t received the best press because of the political situation. As a first time female traveler to Myanmar, though, I felt safe there. The people were very open and welcoming, the sights were inspiring, and getting to the country was easy. Flying from Chiang Mai to Mandalay via Bangkok Airways only took two hours.

While in Myanmar if you’d like to give back, you can donate rice to the Mahagandayon Monastery. Watch the experience here: 

There are many local shops where a large bag of rice (that feed roughly 400 people) will only cost you $32. Located in the Amarapura region, the Mahagandayon Monastery welcomes travelers to come watch a thousand monks engage in their daily lunch ritual. Not far from the monastery, you can also visit U-Bein Bridge, which spans Taungthaman Lake. It’s the longest teak footbridge in the world and a fantastic place to observe daily life in Myanmar.

During my journey in Myanmar, I woke up one morning at 4am to witness the Mahamuni Buddha morning face washing ceremony. Yes, I know early wake up calls can be grueling, but this was definitely worth it to experience one of the country’s important spiritual traditions. When you wake up early to go explore that leaves you the rest of the day to embark on other fascinating journeys like taking a cruise across the Ayeyarwady River to the quaint village of Mingun, visiting a gold leaf beating workshop, or driving to the top of Mandalay Hill for sunset.


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Useful Information on Your Trip to Thailand and Myanmar 

Thailand time zone

PST +15 hours; ET + 12 hours. If you’d like to compare time zones, I love the free International Time Date Meeting Calendar; I use it frequently to plan meetings and FaceTime calls with friends and family back home.

Thailand visa for US citizens

 Applying for a visa in advance is not necessary for US citizens because you’re granted a 30-day visa upon arrival. If you’d like to stay long term in Thailand, you can extend that visa for an additional 30 days for 1900 baht ($58) at the immigration office. You can also exit the country and visit other neighboring countries then get an additional 30 days when you return. However, the government limits visa entries via land borders to TWO per calendar year.

Myanmar visa for US citizens

To enter Myanmar, you’ll need to apply for a visa in advance to your arrival via the US Embassy website. There are also many visa service companies as well that can help guide you through the process, but I didn’t use one.

Thailand weather

Thailand enjoys very warm year-round temperatures. The average low during winter (December through March) is 59 degrees whereas the average high during the end of the year is 85. It can get chilly at night, so bring a jacket. During the rest of the year, temperatures hover around the upper 80s with high humidity levels, so prep your wardrobe for the heat.  

Quick packing tip

While you might be prepping your suitcase for Thailand’s hot tropical climate, remember to pack some conservative options for temple visits. Bare shoulders and shorts wont be allowed into sacred zones whereas a t-shirt and yoga pants should do the trick. If you’re wearing tank tops, remember to bring a shawl to cover your shoulders.  

Flying within Asia

My favorite airline that I’ve flown within Asia is Bangkok Airways, for good reason. When you book with Bangkok Airways, you’re automatically given access to its airport lounges, which offer comfortable space to relax as well as endless delicious food. I even saw a Thai pop star at the airport.

Where to Stay

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I honestly feel like such a goddess when I visit Thailand; there are SO many incredible hotels! Here are a few of my favorite places to stay. I’ll list a few options in Bangkok as well since you’ll likely have to connect through the city to get to Chiang Mai. I found it worthwhile during that stop over to spend a day or two there before heading north. 

 Volve Hotel Bangkok

A quaint boutique hotel with minimalistic design touches in Bangkok’s hippest areas, Thonglor.

Cabochon Hotel Bangkok

A blissful hideaway amid Bangkok’s happening streets with a divine rooftop pool and cozy common quarters. 

137 Pillars House Chiang Mai

The pinnacle of Thai luxury featuring opulent suites, an inspiring breakfast spread, and expansive balconies surrounded by jungle foliage.

If you’re staying long term in Thailand and are looking for a more cost-effective accommodation option, Airbnb has some incredible properties in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Get $40 off your first Airbnb stay of $75 or more here.

Here are also my favorite condos in Chiang Mai: One Plus Condo Suan Dok, D Condo Su Thep, Play Condominium (across from Maya shopping).

I hope this guide to Chiang Mai and Myanmar was helpful, please reach out to me if you need more travel recommendations! If you liked the feel good videos about doing kind deeds while traveling, make sure you check out my acts of kindness channel on YouTube called the Kind Effect. Hit that subscribe button and bell for notifications :).

I Lived at a Buddhist Center in Austria. Here's What I Learned.

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I sat cross-legged on the grass gazing out upon Austria’s verdant rolling landscape. An eager student of meditation, I was keen for my fundamentals class with Lama Thierry at Gomde Buddhist Center to begin. However, just as a gentle gong resounded, the roaring motor of an industrial-sized lawn mower broke my concentration. The mower’s conductor swung the steering wheel left to right, careening the machine through the meadow, spraying blades of grass in all directions as the engine screamed and the metal blades clacked.

I felt disturbed. Lama Thierry only smiled. “It’s the perfect metaphor,” he said, remaining completely at ease, amused by the lawn mower’s echoing hum. I wanted desperately to be on his level of zen, which is why I’d sought out this experience in the first place.    

For weeks, these fields had stayed silent. Of course the moment I actually tried to embrace my inner Buddha, the challenges of modern society became even more evident.

You lived with Buddhists? Say what?!

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Yup, that’s right. I lived at a Buddhist center for almost a month. What inspired that?

There are many reasons I’d love to give you for that choice. I felt burnt out after chasing success in my career for many years. Big city life finally wore me down. I was reevaluating my value system to gain a clearer sense of purpose. All of these things are true, however, the most true is this:  

I’ve been in pursuit of love my whole life, but feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness began creeping in as I came to see my inability to secure a great relationship as a failure. I got dumped in harsh ways twice over. Internet dates grew exhausting. There were plenty of things that hurt my feelings -- like the time a friend uninvited me from her bridal shower because single people weren’t allowed, ouch. The worst part, though, was feeling I’d lost myself. Where was the girl I used to be who traveled the world unencumbered on her own? She was gone. The former, more confidently independent version of myself had become a victim of her own expectations. I was part of the over 30 club and didn’t own a Kitchenaid mixer. Did that make me not enough?

I started seeing a therapist thinking it would be a quick fix to my disappointments … perhaps an hour session would work like a soul massage where you walk out after feeling refreshed. Nope. Instead, I ended up spending the better part of a year working through my most deep-seated issues and trauma that I didn’t even realize were holding me back from attracting the right kind of love for me. Through that process, I felt scraped to the bone. Meanwhile, no one knew about my quiet struggles, my depression, my loneliness, except me. What I needed more than a Kitchenaid appliance was a break. I guess going to a Buddhist center is an apropo way to mix things up when you’re out of alternatives. More than that, I kept coming back to the question of reality: is this “reality” we’ve imposed upon young women — that securing love is the ultimate measurement of their societal success — actually something that we must follow? I suspected not.

Take the first step and the path appears

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I’ve heard somewhere before that when you’re ready for a new life circumstance all the steps to lead you there magically appear. I don’t have empirical data to back this statement, neither do I know who actually said that, but from experience I can say that’s mostly true.

Somehow I stumbled upon WorkAway -- a volunteer work exchange platform -- and from a place of feeling dead inside, I started to feel alive again just scrolling through the site’s pages fantasizing about all the cool work exchange opportunities out there in the world. If you don’t know what WorkAway is, it’s a volunteer work exchange platform where you cohabitat with a host who provides you free room and board in exchange for a few hours of weekly work. If you saw the options on that site you’d freak out. Who wouldn’t be stoked to play with huskies in the Arctic Circle or work on a yacht sailing through Greece?

In my search, I landed on the page for Gomde Buddhist Center located in the north of Austria. What I read about the place spoke to me, but of course the first thing that came up was … I couldn’t possibly! But couldn’t I?

When I closed the laptop lid and went about my days in Los Angeles, I was unable to shake this deep feeling that I belonged at Gomde. I felt that from the chaos of Los Angeles, I was being spiritually called elsewhere to make peace with myself in a beautiful place. I can’t argue with intuition. Plus, Buddhist culture and learning about the Buddhism core beliefs had always peaked my interest, so I decided to apply just to see what would happen. When I found out my request got approved, I felt overwhelmed by excitement and dread. It’s a crazy thing that the stuff most aligned with our truest callings is also the stuff that scares us. I said yes and immediately thought, “Oh. Crap”.

Is Buddhism the answer to everything?

Riding a tractor with Buddhist nuns from Nepal .

Riding a tractor with Buddhist nuns from Nepal .

Yes, congratulations you’re done learning, growing, and exploring. You can die now. Just kidding. After living at Gomde and studying Buddhism in a couple other places, I don’t feel I can say whether it’s right for you. After all, only YOU can decide that for yourself. However, so many Buddhist philosophies have helped me a lot. And it continues to help me as I continue to get my confidence back about being alone.

There was so much I gained not just reading about Buddhism but also living amongst the community. As I observed, though, if you ask a Buddhist if they are Buddhist they’ll humbly shrug their shoulders. Coming from a place like Los Angeles where people are in competition to show each other who is the most spiritual, it was refreshing to meet people who were actually devoted to a spiritual practice with authentic humility.

Anyway, I loved my experience at Gomde so much that I ended up staying there for nearly a month, and I keep daydreaming about going back.

While I was there, I learned the most about Buddhist culture by making observations and asking everyone I could super prying questions … which they answered with honorable kindness and patience.

And they weren’t light questions either:

Are dead and paralyzed people considered sentient beings?

If good and bad are illusions of the mind, how does karma really exist if there isn’t anyone determining what good and bad is? If we are the ones who know good from bad, what about psychopaths who lack a sense of remorse?

If reality is an illusion - because everything we see is just a perception of the mind - how the heck do you maintain an awareness of that and not get depressed?

Yikes, right? Beyond my intensely curious questions, the center also organized basic trainings for me and fellow WorkAwayers. They were led by people like Lama Thierry, a spiritual teacher from Switzerland who at one point traded in his lifestyle as a punk to become a monk who spent several years in retreat before he started teaching. To say this guy was cool is an understatement.

I am STILL trying to unpack Buddhism. I went on to volunteer at another Buddhist center in London and have spent a lot of time in Thailand studying there as well. Meanwhile, I reflect upon what I learned at Gomde and share it below not because I think I’m now a Buddhist master, it’s honestly so complex I feel I’m only scraping the surface. Maybe I hope what I write intrigues you enough to either explore it further yourself, or hopefully it inspires you to go to Gomde as a WorkAwayer.

Without further adieu, here’s what I discovered so far about Buddhism. Oh and you might want to start with this basic video on Buddhist fundamentals just to clarify some things first.

Intention is Everything

Before coming to Gomde, I thought the people in California (where I’m from) were laid back … and then I lived with Buddhists and learned a whole new level of chill.

They have a way of looking at problems that changed my perspective about everything. One person at Gomde told me, if your original intent isn’t bad then the action itself isn’t bad either.

For example ...

I dropped and broke something in the kitchen and was told  … no problem.
I knocked over an entire thing of patio umbrellas and was told … no problem.
I burned the porridge during breakfast one morning then served it to the guests unknowingly and was told … no problem.

Never was I made out to be wrong for the accidents nor was I made out to be dumb for being clumsy (which I am). It makes sense: I didn’t intend to burn the porridge; I’m just not used to cooking large proportions, and I didn’t realize you have to use low heat and constantly stir it or else it chars. I didn’t taste the porridge before setting it out, so I was oblivious to the horrible flavor I’d created. Did I feel bad about burning it? Of course! If I’m cooking for people, I want to please them. So when I found out about my mistake, my inner critic was going to town.

I’ve held down jobs before led by angry bosses who’d go insane if I even misspelled a word in an email. So it was refreshing to be in the presence of people who comforted me when I made mistakes and celebrated me when I improved. The next time I made porridge it was a hit, but even if I burned it again it wouldn’t have been a problem.

Field trip with the Gomde community to local tourist attractions in austria.

Field trip with the Gomde community to local tourist attractions in austria.

Consider: if something someone does upsets you, was their intention to cause harm? If not, can you forgive their humanity?

Not All Buddhists are Squares

Before arriving to Gomde, I felt the doom of sobriety and lentils closing in on me. So the night before, I doubled down by eating my weight in meat, wine, and pastries.

When I arrived at Gomde, the chef showed me around the property then offered me a cappuccino. As we sat in the kitchen together he said, “if you drink any of the wine or beer in the fridge, we kindly ask that you please leave something in the donation box.” When I glanced over and spotted the well-stocked bar, my face must have looked shocked. To which the chef responded, “oh come on. We’re Buddhists not boring.”

That night, we had roast for dinner served with Austrian cheese-filled sausages. On another night, nuns visiting from Nepal made us pork dumplings. Not all stereotypes are true.

Consider: who are you judging based on what you think you might know about them that may not necessarily be true?

Nuns making fabulous dumplings by hand!

Nuns making fabulous dumplings by hand!

After Gomde, I did stay for a few days at another Buddhist center and their rules were a lot more on par with my expectation (no music, no meat, no booze). Which leads me to my next point ...

Not All Forms of Buddhist Practices Are The Same

My first day at Gomde — where they practice a Tibetan style of Buddhism — I sat silently in the shrine during meditation. Then suddenly, CLANG! Right in the middle of the practice, someone bashed together a pair of symbols while BANG someone pounded a life-sized drum. Then, people started blowing on conch shells and ringing bells. It was calamitous and I must have jumped three feet into the air above my bean bag seat cushion when the noise caught me by surprise. I’d practice Transcendental Meditation and Zen Buddhist meditation, but neither of those were like this.

I learned later that part of the intention behind the Tibetan Buddhist style meditation is to break our connection to things we might perceive as permanent or solid, ergo cutting through the silence with sound. Woah, cool right? In a larger context, this has helped me to understand that cliche phrase: the only constant is change.

Consider: Imagine what it would be like to break free from our steadfast grip on how things “just are” and adopt a mindset where you begin to see things as more flexible. Do you have to be who you were told you always were? Or could that change too like everything else?

The Root of Suffering

While at Gomde, I read a book called Love, Sadness, and Openness, the Buddhist Path of Joy by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. In it, he writes that much of our suffering is caused by being stuck in an endless cycle of hope and fear. We hope for the best in a future that is uncertain and feel afraid because of the marks the past has left upon us. Meanwhile, we remain discontent because we push away what we don’t want and pine for what we do want but don’t have.

“When our minds are confused by thoughts and drunk on emotions, the results of our actions are going to be painful for ourselves and for others,” Rinpoche writes.

Ultimately unless we can get a handle on our minds and learn to live more presently, we will always feel discontent. We will always be prisoners to our desires and fears, seeking one thing and escaping another.

Consider: how present are you right meow?

Breaking up with reality

Imagine this mind bender … During lunch one day at Gomde, an Austria Buddhist guy explained to me that technically reality is an illusion of our minds. Information enters our brains then the mind spits it back out through our eyeballs as vision. Let that sink in for a second.

Here’s what I think is helpful about seeing the world in this way:

If we can acknowledge that our minds play a role in what we see, then we can acknowledge that our minds also play a role in what we think, which inevitably affects what we experience. Not everything is as we think we see it.

Consider: If our thoughts and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are creations of the mind, are they true? If they are true, are they helpful to focus on? If not, do we have to focus on them?

Maybe that what we call reality isn’t real after all. If it isn’t then we don’t have to accept our current circumstances, we can change them by stepping little by little out of helplessness.

playing fellow volunteers at the buddhist center into doing a jump shot after we climbed to the top of a mountain near Gomde.

playing fellow volunteers at the buddhist center into doing a jump shot after we climbed to the top of a mountain near Gomde.

Two Last Thoughts

I’m going to put these last couple teachings down as honorable mentions. I learned so many things at Gomde — and continue to try to understand Buddhism — it would impossible to go into each thing in depth without writing a novel. What do you think of these other nuggets?

Even when we acknowledge now, it’s already gone.


Thoughts and emotions are just wisdom speaking to you. Notice what comes in without labeling it or taking action, then take time to choose what happens after this.

When you commit to something that benefits your being and aligns with your soul, it’s important to be selfish. Imagine: a doctor becomes a great doctor and saves other peoples’ lives because they initially committed himself or herself to studying medicine. Same goes with spirituality and personal growth. Taking time out for you is important, imagine the people you’ll impact?

You are already a Buddha.

Thinking back … which I know I shouldn’t

It’s funny to preach the importance of present mindedness in a blog post about the past. In reflection, though, I know I benefit from considering and sharing the lessons.

Ultimately, life is always kind of like this: we pursue stillness and create more noise, follow our bliss and end up unhappy, act out of love and end up hurt. I’d come to Gomde inspired to find answers and ended up with more questions. Do I feel better about being alone? Yes, and I’m still working on that. I still pine for the love of my life, but everyday I’m learning to let go of societal conditioning that says marriage has to happen right away or else I am not enough.

I’ll leave you with this final thought from Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche:

“We have to start thinking in a more meaningful way. Then we’ll automatically move in the right direction. Meaningful thinking means taking to heart that nothing lasts and nothing is as we perceive … By coming to understand the impermanent and illusory nature of everything, we slowly but surely set ourselves free.”  

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