I’ve heard about Chiang Mai many times from friends and family but as much as I could imagine a smaller city compared to Bangkok, I never wanted my trip to be rigid as per written in a travel guidebook. We gave ourselves slightly over a week in Chiang Mai to experience what the Airbnb offering is like outside the main town, and to enjoy the home to the fullest extent. We booked four different listing that has totally different environments and flew for our adventure after a week of planning.
What is Airbnb?
Airbnb is a website that caters online services for people who wants to rent out their own home or travel lodging and also those travelers looking for one. Started in San Francisco, founders of Airbnb stumbled upon the idea that they could actually rent out their space for visitors into their town and make some extra income at the same time. Each property is associated with a host via Airbnb, and you can have stay access to the most unique properties around the world – yachts, igloos, tree houses, tents, caravans, cabins, city apartments, penthouses and more. With the idea that Airbnb is mostly personal, travelers should not expect full-on service in each place but enjoy the privacy or company that comes with it. Travelers may choose to rent an entire place, or a room and stay under one roof with the homeowners.
We started out with a tree house just 1.5 hours drive away from the city. We thought of skipping the car rental this time so we emailed the hosts to help us book transport to their listings and coordinate with each other due to language barriers. They were all very accommodating and helped us sort out any kinks with the drivers. We reached our first stop on this trip and the host, Mr Lee welcomed us with a huge smile as he showed us around his property.
Chiang Mai Treehouse
A retired architect, Mr Lee built the treehouse as a family retreat surrounded by a small village within a teakwood forest. They then opened it for public in 2012 and since then have built 6-cottage treehouse and 2 family ones; each designed differently and built with love and care. Mr Lee encourages guests to stay in different ones each night so guests will have a taste of each house built by him. We first stayed in the Bamboo House, surrounded by bamboo shoots overlooking a small waterfall. There’s a private natural pool in the back and the house fits 3 people. It is great to wake up to the sound of running water and cooling weather that I definitely took the opportunity to catch some rest for once!
The next morning, Mr Lee’s staff showed us to our dream house – the Tamarind Tree House, one of the houses available within the compound (and also the highest!). The house was everything we dreamed about. The tree bark runs through the house, so you will get some insects or caterpillars within the house but they provided mosquito repellents inside. The purpose of this place is to provide you solitary with a killer view of the forest and cornfields. I can now strike ‘brushing-teeth-on-a-tree -house’ off my bucket list. There is a bunk bed for two, a toilet at the top floor, shower and another open toilet at the ground floor, a deck at the middle and swing at the bottom. You will have to transport your luggage or bags with a pulley from the top of the tree house so be sure to pack light if you’re planning to stay here.
We love Chiang Mai Tree House for the experience, and the lovely host. This is the closest to nature you can get, and definitely a different kind of retreat. There are books provided within each house that you may borrow throughout your duration of stay. Food is provided by the host with extra charges as you’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere. They even have bicycles for you to borrow to get to nature attractions within the area – waterfalls, bat caves, rivers and even a natural fish spa pond. There are no air-conditioning (not that you need any) and you are definitely going to be away from any technology so leave all your worldly things behind and just enjoy the opportunity to be one with nature when you are here.
Mr Lee arranged a cab for us on the day of our departure, we bid goodbye to the treehouses and headed to our next destination, a mere 30-minutes journey away from the main old town of Chiang Mai.
The Hut by Sabu-Sabu
Truth to be told, we were expecting to reach a resort but we were delighted to find out that Sabu-Sabu has only one specially designed bamboo hut for us. The hut was built within the housing compound owned by Virginia Bird and her daughter and together they run a natural body care producing company called Sabu-Sabu. They left us to our own, and quickly we realized that this is a gem to those seeking a hide-away from the bustle especially writers, artists and meditators.
The hut has been awarded with 2013 Chiang Mai Design Award for its great architecture, specially designed by Bambooroo and it has complete amenities you’d probably need within the hut. The open concept hut attracts a couple of bugs here and there but there are no huge complaints since we were close to nature. It was the rainy season in Chiang Mai and we were lucky to catch a glimpse of the rainbow over the paddy fields from our hut.
The host has equipped the hut with body care products from their range, and a fridge filled with drinks and snacks (with extra charges). A yoga mat is provided and massage and facial treatments are available at additional costs, arranged by the host. We had a lovely oil massage for an hour each and stayed in the whole time we were there, served each morning with lovely homemade breakfast included with the stay. The host does not provide other meals but they suggested that we order via Meals on Wheels, which was great as we got to try different meals from different restaurants in Chiang Mai without leaving the comfort of the hut.
On our last day, we left the hut with a range of the bodycare products by Sabu-Sabu, all available at their store within the compound. They are very affordable, and I have to admit that I went a little crazy seeing so many tiny things I could buy as souvenirs, all made from natural ingredients.
Viva Chiang Mai Villa
We left The Hut and took a cab (arranged by the previous host) for a 30-minute drive nearer into town. Just about 10-15 minutes songtao ride from Nimmanhaemin Road, Viva Chiang Mai villas is an offering of lush greenery homestay experience within the bustle of the city. The host has different rooms and houses available within his large land but we chose to stay in the luxury villa with a private swimming pool that accommodates three people comfortably. In fact, it was so big that we could bring our kids if we had any. There’s a large dining and living hall complete with a kitchen connected to another structure which would be the master bedroom. In between those would be an outdoor bathroom with a beautiful bathtub just beside a swimming pool.
We noticed that most houses in Chiang Mai have an open-air concept and they seem to love incorporating nature into their homes. This house however is a breath of fresh air compared to the other homes we’ve stayed in throughout our trip in Chiang Mai. It is slightly on the pricier side but you’ve got your own private pool, kitchen and total privacy from other guests. The host also offers yoga, meditation and Thai cooking class upon request. There are facilities such as a basic gym, patio, BBQ pit and a lush garden within the compound for you to utilize.
VIVA Homes was a great place for a break from being in the midst of nature. The house caretaker will help guests book a songtao or a cab if they want to head into the city, which is only 15-20 minutes away. Situated in a luxury residential area at Doi Suthep, this listing is definitely an oasis – a perfect balance of the city life and being close to nature. We were rejuvenated after some home-cooked meals, long baths and a few laps in the pool and headed straight to the west of Chiang Mai to meet some elephants.
Chai Lai Orchid Elephant Camp
My first impression of Chai Lai Orchid is that it looks slightly commercialized. Situated beside an elephant tour camp an hour away from the airport, facing a busy river where tourists go on their bamboo ride Chai Lai seems to always be packed with tour groups. After an hour of sitting down at their common area, you’ll even notice the amount of elephants that carries tourists from around the world. Don’t take it wrongly though, as my perception totally changed when I found out more about the history and background of this listing. We checked into our room, dropped our bags and decided to make friends at the common area.
With only 8 traditional and modern-style villas, Alexa, the owner rebuilt the place from an abandoned project about a-year-and-a-half ago and is running this place as a non-profit. She hired Burmese refugee workers and at–risk women to get them out of poverty. These girls are being taken care of very well by her, and she teaches them survival skills by working different tasks.
Our room was a western-style with the view of the river and elephant path. You get to wake up to the sound of elephants walking for their morning bath, in which you will to if you decide to go on the elephant ride in the morning.
Alexa would not allow her guests to ride with the metal chairs on as it hurts the elephants. Instead, it would be just you and the elephant, skin on skin. That was an amazing experience, to see how the elephants interact with us and how excited they were for their morning baths. This comes at an additional cost, as the tour operators own the elephants. They can’t stop the operations altogether and let the elephants roam free, however they can make sure that the elephants are treated properly and cared for and let guests have a hands-on experience with the elephants. As guest of Chai Lai, you may request to bathe the elephants at any time of the day through the host and she will try her best to assist you. We got to bathe the 1.5 year old elephant and she was such joy to play with. She was excited to be playing in the water and refused to get out after an hour, still inside the water playing with waves. We got to feed her some treats made out of sugarcane and this cute sneaky thing tried to steal extras from me with her trunk. This was happiness at its best.
They can also provide you transport upon request and direct you to other activities such as bamboo rafting or tubing on the Mea Wang river, hike to waterfalls and hilltribe villages, cooking classes and more. This place was the perfect ending to our journey and one of those that we’d like to visit again and stay longer. You can even book an elephant wedding at this place upon request!
Food is provided at the common area café at additional costs and you get a mixture of thai and western fare on the menu. Do note that you would have to request if you want spicy food as their menu is catered towards the western palate.
Why We Love Airbnb
We treat Airbnb homes like our second homes. This allows us to experience living like a local in different countries while staying at amazing places that could also be a dream house we’d never have. Unlike staying in hotels, most Airbnb places are personal homes so amenities are usually complete but mostly self-service are expected. You can cook, stay in, go out, wash clothes and interact with the hosts if you wish to. We love the fact that we made friends in each place we have stayed in, and they remain to be our best experiences up until this day. Airbnb works based on ratings and recommendations so it’s great that the host and guests have to ensure that they do not get negative feedback and maintain a win-win situation to both parties.
We hope you’ll find our Airbnb experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand to be helpful. Don’t forget to sign up to airbnb by clicking the photo below and receive RM81 off your next trip!