Alexa Pham


If you are thinking of visiting the Rose of the North, or maybe you’ve already arrived but you’re not sure how to spend your time, let a local offer some tips!


Daughters Rising founder Alexa Pham, rarely gets a break, but when she does, she says, “I travel to eat and experience different cultures. So the perfect outing for me combines these two interests.” As an ex-pat who has lived and worked in Chiang Mai for over a decade now, she knows a thing or two about some of the best places to explore and satisfy a foodie’s cravings!  Here, Alexa offers her top tips for getting the best out of a short visit to her beautiful adopted home. Photo: DLC Photo

 What is the best way to get to Chiang Mai?

You can take the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. It’s a more eco-friendly way to travel, and you’ll get to see the stunning landscape that surrounds the city and wider region. The train might be more expensive than some flights, but if you book a sleeping car, it’s basically your hotel room and transportation in one. So I think it’s a good deal. Then you’ll arrive in the second biggest yet sleepy city in Thailand bright and early in the morning. 

Cost: 1700 THB for a 1st class sleeper.

wat pha lat

What is a good starting point to get an authentic feel of Chiang Mai?

I suggest starting the day with a peaceful outing to Wat Pha Lat. This unique forest temple features lovely Burmese-style architecture and art. It is absolutely gorgeous and one of my favorites in Northern Thailand.  A stream runs through the shady temple grounds, and a waterfall trickles down a sheet of rock where the trees open up for a beautiful view of the city below. You can drive there, or better yet, you can hike the ‘monks trail’.

Cost: Free!

By now, we must be getting hungry! What do you suggest?

Now that it’s getting to be lunchtime and you’ve worked up an appetite, you can eat your way across town! Or, just go straight to dessert! Why not?  Pop over to ‘Flips & Flips Home Made Donuts’ for a freshly baked bite of heaven. My personal favorites are Lemon Cheesecake, Coconut Nutella and Peanut Butter and Jelly. Yes, I can eat three doughnuts! Food is love after all! When I feel stressed, I tell myself, “Don’t worry Alexa, we can eat through this!” 

Cost: 48 THB per doughnut.

best donuts in Chiang Mai

What about visitors travelling further afield?

Cravings momentarily satisfied, a good place for your next food experience could be on your way to Chai Lai Orchid, whether as an overnight or day guest.

You have a choice. Take a taxi* from your guest house in the city or travel like a local and hail a yellow songthaew to Mae Wang. When a songthaew stops, just tell them the place you want to go to.

*If travelling to Chai Lai Orchid by taxi, we strongly suggest that you book your taxi through our resort. This is because we use a select group of trusted drivers who are familiar with the route and journey duration. They will not overcharge you, and all the money goes directly to the driver. 

If heading to Chai Lai Orchid by songthaew, you’ll need the following details:

Destination: Bankad – บ้านกาด Depart from: Opposite Chiang Mai Gate Market Hours: 9.00am – 19.00pm  Cost 30 THB

Where do the locals eat?

Ideally, arrive in Bankad for lunch and do the ‘Street Eats Tour’. We created this tour because we love meeting and supporting locals and connecting through food. It’s also more interesting to see what locals actually eat instead of eating from menus that have been adapted for tourists. This trip includes transportation from Bankad to Chai Lai Orchid so you save on a taxi. Visit local vendors and shops without English menus with the help of a guide so you can explore the best-kept secrets. Tell your local guide if you are an adventurous eater. Chances are they can find a food you have never encountered like blood soup or fried silk worm 😉

From Bankad, head to the Chai Lai Mountain View Cafe (about 30 minutes) overlooking the valley just in time for checking in and relaxing before Elephant Happy Hour. Then, just sit back and relax as you enjoy the elephants, the sunset over the mountains and dinner at Chai Lai. 

elephant hotelWhat is the best way to wake up at Chai Lai Orchid?

With an elephant of course! Mornings are so much better with elephants. The longer I live in Thailand, the more I am amazed by the elephants. It’s fascinating to learn about their different personalities and get to trust them. I recommend booking Elephant Room Service with the team at reception when you arrive. An elephant will come to your bungalow to wake you up (and demand bananas!).

Tip: This service is complimentary for all bookings made directly through our website. 

 After breakfast with the elephants, I recommend the Elephant Jungle Expedition. This adventure is not the cheapest day tour but it is the best value. This private trip is a hybrid of the Jungle Wisdom Survival Trek with the Elephant Caretaker half-day trip. So many guests have told us it’s their best day ever! Half of the day is spent caring for elephants, learning to communicate with them and swimming with them in the Mae Wang river.  In addition to hanging out with elephants, your guide will bring hiking. Walk beautiful trails to waterfalls tucked away in the forest. Nothing is more refreshing than plunging into a waterfall on a hot afternoon. Then you chill on a bamboo raft as you glide down the river. This trip ends at 16:00 and includes a free transfer back to Chiang Mai.

Cost 3500 THB per person.

There are so many eating places in Chiang Mai now. It can be daunting for a first-time visitor to know where to begin. Can you single out any particular restaurant for dinner?

Local food in Chiang Mai is quite different from other parts of Thailand because of the province’s links to the Lanna culture, so I would suggest eating Lanna food! 

I recommend dinner at the old cultural center. This might seem too touristy for some but the dining experience itself is authentic. A ‘khantoke’ meal is a northern Thai tradition that’s existed for centuries. You get plenty of food, all northern Thai (Lanna), plus plenty of entertainment. The Cultural Center features live traditional Thai music and beautiful ancient dance performances.

Tip: if you book dinner, the center will provide transportation to and from your hotel at no additional cost.

Cost: 500 THB dinner per person 

Thailand traditional dance

Look out for more Quintessential Chiang Mai tips from locals in upcoming articles.