What a Perfect Chiang Mai Day + Some of My CM Favorites

Since I’ve left home to live in Thailand and travel Southeast Asia 7 months ago (woooow time flies), there have been several days I’ve reflected on in appreciation and even a bit of incredulity because they were so incredibly blissful.


If you were to ask me what my perfect day looks like, there’s no way I’d be able to narrow down all the things I dream about making happen into just 24 hours. But when a day spent in the company of genuine people, with beautiful sights, adventures, laughter & meaningful conversation materializes -- I realize the elusive idea of perfection is actually attainable.

The other day, the first of this month actually, I had one of those perfect days. One of my high school best friends, Rainna, was here to visit for her very first trip outside of the States. I wanted to make sure she had an unforgettable time, so we went exploring, adventuring, and eating at my favorite spots for a best-of-Chiang Mai type experience.

The Larder Cafe French toast 

One particular day towards the end of her visit was especially remarkable. We got an early start to the day and sat down for a delicious breakfast of French toast topped with a medley of fresh fruits at the Larder Cafe, a Westerners’ favorite brunch restaurant in Chiang Mai’s trendy Nimman neighborhood.

You can’t visit Thailand without observing a few of its ubiquitous Buddhist wats (‘wat’ = Thai word for tempe) that date back to the 13 and 1400s, so after breakfast we headed to check out a couple of them. When we pulled up to Wat Jet Yod on my motorbike, we were greeted with a nasty glare and the grunt of an older Thai woman.

It took me a few moments to realize we made a major oversight by visiting a temple without dressing modestly (if we’re being honest, that’s an understatement. I happened to throw my shortest pair of daisy dukes that day, while Rainna was wearing a super short dress she picked up in the market -- Asian-style, meaning basically an oversized T-shirt. Our legs and shoulders were all types of exposed).

I admit, I don’t visit the temples often and it was quite a scorcher that day (I’m talking upper 90 degrees), so it was an honest mistake on my end, but one I felt really bad for, seeing as to how I’ve only lived here for months. We made sure to run back home and grab cover-ups for our next temple visit.

Wat Jet Yod

We set off for Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most famous temple perched triumphantly atop Suthep Mountain. Only about a 25 minute ride away, it’s just outside of the city proper, but there’s a world of difference in the feeling you get being elevated thousands of feet above it.

Riding the windy road up and up, around the mountain’s bends and curves, catching glimpses of the expansive Chiang Mai panorama below, gives me this freeing sensation I can’t quite put into words. To be able to so easily “escape,” to appreciate my temporary home from a different perspective, and to do so on my own time, is electrifying.

After observing and snapping photos of the intricately finished Wat, its golden Buddhas, and the slightly hazy views of the city below (thanks Burning Season), we descended and continued toward the Grand Canyon. It’s my favorite Chiang Mai gem and I love bringing anyone who’s visiting. Rainna’s the 3rd I’ve brought here and also the 3rd person I pushed encouraged to jump off the cliff into the deep emerald oasis.

Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon may be but a junior version of the real thing, but its expansiveness and enticing reservoir tends to catch everyone by surprise. It’s pretty spectacular. Rainna may or may not hate me for making her take that jump, but I mean, we’ve gotta do things we’re scared of every now and then to stay on our toes, right? #DoItForTheBucketList

Snapchat shots from the Canyon

Following the heart-racing thrill of cliff jumping, we kicked back and unwound at the spa for a much anticipated massage. Another thing I encourage all Thailand visitors to do is to get at least a couple of massages (or three or five, no judgment!) while here.

We enjoyed a two hour foot, hot oil body, and back/neck/head massage in a half sleep, dreamy daze. Aside from the fact that Thai massages can be a bit intense and uncomfortable at moments, the spa date was wonderfully blissful (and only $20!).

For dinner, I brought Rain to another favorite spot, The Cat House, a cute tucked away cafe in Old City (no cats here, don’t worry Dri). We worked up big appetites from our full day of exploring Chiang Mai essentials, and the Cat House’s quesadilla, Laap Isaan sandwich, and warm brownies with ice cream did not disappoint. It was our second delicious meal of the day for under $8.

We ended the evening linking up with a few of my girls, who every time I’m around, I feel beyond thankful to have crossed paths with. Chiang Mai isn’t exactly overflowing with people of color from Western regions (which comes as a surprise to no one, I’m sure), however, the ones I have become acquainted with here are integral reasons for why I love this city as much as I do.

There is so much positivity, solidarity, flavor, and straight black girl magic radiating when we’re together, whether we’re just hanging out, holding discussions dedicated to our specific privileges and struggles, or simply riding through the streets, giving natural-haired-black-biker-crew-in-Thailand vibes. I love that while we all have different backgrounds and passions, something in each of us drew us to Chiang Mai to either visit or live to pursue more freeing lifestyles. It’s really special to bond with black people who are just as excited to see other black people in a foreign land.

Finally, the evening ended back at the crib with a bit of handling business -- and one of my first big wins as a new digital nomad.

Choosing this life means accepting the fact that I’ll have to alter my schedule at times to the convenience of my client base, who is currently 12 hours behind Thailand’s time zone. The occasional Skype meetings at 11PM, maybe 2AM? If it helps me move closer towards my career goal of perpetual location independence, I’m happy to oblige.

This particular late evening call resulted in landing a contract for my biggest client yet since becoming a freelance web designer. Oh, the sweet feeling of success!

March 1 left me floating on cloud 9. From the morning mountain getaway, respects paid to the religious landmarks of my adopted city, canyon adventure, soothing spa massage, yummy meals, reminiscing with Rainna on all the foolery we got into during high school, quality time with my Chiang Mai friends, and inking a new client project, it was stunning to internalize that all of this happened in one day.

The best part about it? I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission for it. I didn’t have to request this Tuesday off weeks in advance, nor strategically plan it out to make sure everything was accomplished in specified blocks of time. We woke up and let it flow -- we did what we felt like doing.

And that’s what was so perfect about it.

For me, the idea of perfection can be shaped many ways. There’s not just one standard, nor one literal definition. Perfect means being wholeheartedly happy with your life along with all of its imperfections, being confident in where you are on your path to your personal success, and being appreciative of how much you’ve grown. It’s taking continual steps to be the person you want to become and putting yourself in a position that allows good things (and perfect days) to happen. It’s creating your own oasis in a noisy world.


So with all that being said,

What would a perfect day look like for you?

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Kristen Noelle

I consider myself a softly eccentric urbanista. I’m quiet by nature, and I’ve generally always had a mellow laid-back vibe. However, when it comes to my preferences for fun, my style, and my overall thought process, I get a bit more eccentric. I like stepping out of the box of normalcy -- but without forcing anything. I’m a thrill junkie and I live for things that get my adrenaline pumping, such as riding on top of party buses in New York City and hanging off of skyscrapers in Vegas. I spring for bold hues, colorful prints and patterns, and a relaxed look that gives effortless-chic. I like exploring new places and capturing exciting sites. I’m a creative, with a million different ideas running through my mind each day. Whether I’m designing waistbeads, imagining up new clothing concepts, envisioning my next business venture, or planning my next adventure abroad, I’m always thinking of how I can create something great. Being raised in the suburbs but not far from the city and constantly traveling, I developed a love for the best of worlds. The calm and the crazy. The easy-going and the always-buzzing. The soft and the eccentric.