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After going from Vietnam to Thailand, we found ourselves in a predicament. We had just spent a week doing very off-the-beaten path experiences, and when we arrived to Thailand the notion of herds of tourists and typical spots seemed, well, simply wrong. 

Our itinerary in Chiang Mai and Bangkok was originally filled with the top temples, views, and excursions. Though I believe they should be seen, we decided to opt out. The only so-called tourist spot we walked in to was one of the bigger temples conveniently on the same block of our hotel in Chiang Mai.

So why did we trade tourist spots for coffee shops?

When we first did our research I thought visiting tourist spots where all there was to do.
In all honesty, I really didn’t think there was much else. My lack of research plus seeing everyone else’s photos made me think that this is what everyone does. I was wrong. And it wasn’t until good ol’ Instagram search results under the hashtag #chiangmai led me to some really unique coffee shops and hang outs. I really had no idea there was such an incredible art scene in Chiang Mai.

I suffer from serious FOMO.
I really do. Sometimes to the point of exhaustion. I often never draw a line and strive to see everything and do everything. FOMO is fear of missing out. I fear I won’t come back, so when in “you name it”, I do it all. At first I feared that if I didn’t see the temples, ruins, and other main sights, I would miss out. After spending a few hours in the local coffee shops and hanging out with locals, I totally forgot about our original itinerary.

It’s actually how I spend my time at home.
I think this is the biggest lie in travel: you must see the tourist sights when in another country. I think about how I spend my time home in San Francisco — you’d never find me in Fishermen’s Wharf or rarely in Union Square or places like Lombard Street. I am usually in coffee shops, hanging out, meeting people, and walking the neighborhoods. So why do I feel when I travel I have to do otherwise? In Chiang Mai Bangkok I did exactly what I would do in SF. I coffee hopped, walked the neighborhoods, talked to people — and it was brilliant. 

Looking back on our time, though I have just a few photos of the “sights” and a lot of coffee, what I took home was so much more memorable. I realized what an incredible, young generation thrives in Thailand around the art scene. I learned quickly how welcoming the Thai were. I appreciated the smaller, quieter moments in a coffee shop. Needless to say, I’ll be back again Thailand for more Thai Iced Teas and inspiring spaces.

Travel well, travel often.  

PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

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  1. Great advice- I like to try to get into a routine while traveling and live more like locals do. I used to feel like I needed to see everything and now I pick out just a few of my top sights and then spend the rest of the time wandering the streets or trying to blend into the local scene. I find it so much more rewarding and relaxing than going non-stop with the herd of tourists.


  2. I just wanted to say that I’ve followed this blog on and off for awhile and, in my opinion, your posts since Vietnam have been the best so far. The content and tone really showcases your epiphany about what travel can/should be, and how that’s not always going to fall in line with whatever spa treatment is offered at X high-end hotel, or where the tourists are endlessly snapping pictures without really seeing what’s in front of them. That said, I completely understand those types of posts are what pay the bills for a travel writer.

    I’m excited to see what comes next. Your recent content has given this blog an elevated sense of – that dirty word – authenticity. Keep it up.

    • Jessica Wright Reply

      Hi Andrew,

      I really appreciate these words, they truly mean a lot. Thank you for spending the time and sharing. The encouragement and support is everything. Looking forward to sharing more content like this.

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