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Doi Inthanon National Park

8 Things to do in Thailand in Between Dental Cleanings
An American couple take the money they would have spent on a dentist in the US and put it towards a vacation—and some dental work—in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Last Updated: May 5, 2017

The World's Wettest Festival

The time is Songkran, the world's largest water fight. This is Thailand's new year celebration, an annual festival that has left the streets sopping wet and bursting with a running, shrieking, dancing, mob littered with brightly colored shirts and water pistols, or—if you're unlucky—freezing-cold buckets of ice water. Love it or hate it, there's nothing quite like Songkran in Chiang Mai.

Beth* is a bartender from Hawaii, and Tina* is a piercer turned semi-pro athlete from San Francisco—and they both love Songkran. This is their fifth and third time in Thailand, respectively, and their second Songkran together. This is also Tina's second dental holiday, and Beth's fifth, in Chiang Mai. They have been coming here for multiple years because of a shared appreciation for rich Thai culture, delicious Thai food, and affordable, high-quality Thai dental work.

Songkran water festival
Thai teens enjoying Songkran. Image credit Florian Blümm

A Decade of Dental Work

“I like that he's no-nonsense,” explains Beth, who has been going to the same dentist in Chiang Mai for ten years. “He doesn't treat me like a naughty child, he doesn't talk down to me. If he finds something, he asks me if I want to take care of it right now, and then he just fixes it.”

This year it was only two cleanings, including a topical fluoride application, and a quick cavity filling between the both of them, totaling $50 (approximately $15 for each cleaning, $20 for the filling) and 1 hour. But over the years Beth has gotten teeth whitening, 3 wisdom teeth removed, and a root canal—all for under $300 USD total (3 wisdom teeth removal: $85, root canal: $36, teeth whitening: $136).

"I can also honestly say I spend less traveling to Thailand for two weeks and getting my cavities and extractions, etc, done then if I were to pay for two crowns in the USA. Pongsakorn is also extremely professional and his office is clean, and his staff is welcoming and friendly. They are not looking to sell you anything, just make your mouth a better place," Beth said, of her trusted dentist.

“The work she's gotten done here would have cost her over $20,000 at home,” Beth remarked of her friend, who is also vacationing with them this year and was off enjoying a motorbike ride to the Chiang Mai Erotic Garden at the time of our interview.

Beth and Tina's group is not so unusual. A recent analysis of over 392 medical travel related academic papers found that medical tourism tends to spread among social groups, as the majority of medical tourists rely on information from their friends and family, over the internet. “As [medical tourism] evolves word of mouth appears to be becoming more important, with the internet simply a means of checking, corroborating and booking,“ claimed another study. It appears that one good experience can start a domino effect of affordable care. The analysis also found that prices for common medical procedures can range from 1/3 to 1/12 the cost of the same treatment in the United States.

In this particular group, it started with a love connection

“I have a gentleman friend, and his wife is Thai. So he started getting his dental work done here, and he told me about it,” Beth explained. A decade later, another love connection endures with Beth and Tina. They are sharing their second biennial dental holiday in Thailand after 4 years of being together, and they plan on many more.

Couple at Thai Temple

Things to do in Chiang Mai

Excellent and affordable dental care is only one of many reasons to come to Chiang Mai. Known for its laid-back atmosphere and mountainous surroundings, the Northern capital and former seat of the Lanna kingdom has a lot to offer its visitors, especially those looking for a peaceful getaway. The following attractions are in no particular order, and make up our top 8 favorite things to do in and around Chiang Mai, Thailand.

1. Ladyboy Cabaret Show

The third-gender Kathoey, more commonly called "ladyboy", is an important part of Thai culture. It is very common to see ladyboys perform in drag-like cabaret shows all over Thailand, and the show in Chiang Mai has an exceptionally authentic, intimate, small-crowd feeling.

Ladyboy performing
Performer at a Ladyboy Cabaret Show, Chiang Mai. Image credit Florian Blümm

The show is every night at the Anusarn market off the night bazaar at 9:30pm. Price is 290 THB (approximately $8) and includes 1 drink and 1 snack. For more details, please see Till the Money Runs Out travel blog.

2. Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant

Waterfall at Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant
Table at Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant
Salad at Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant
Bar at Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant
Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant. Image credit Florian Blümm

The Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant is another Chiang Mai favorite that is well loved by locals but virtually unknown to tourists. It features gorgeous waterfalls and lagoon-like ponds as a backdrop to delicious traditional Thai food, all in a romantic but casual atmosphere. The restaurant has an authentic natural atmosphere many chains try to capture but do not succeed to the level that Khaomao-Khaofang has. Meals are high quality and generally priced around 200 THB ($8) or less.

3. Markets

Night market in Chiang Mai
Night market in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Walking Street. Image credit Florian Blümm

Markets are a must-do anywhere in Thailand, and in Chiang Mai you have several to choose among, from the artisanal charm of the Weekend Walking Streets, the more day-to-day authenticity of the Waroro or Flower Market, or even the Amulet market. Filled with street performers at night, and vendors selling such a wide variety in food, crafts, and goods, markets in Chiang Mai are a feast for the eyes, ears, and mouth, and a must-do for any visitor.

4. Wat Pha Lat Hike (Monk's trail)

Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai
Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai
Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai
Wat Pha Lat. Image credit Florian Blümm

The Wat Pha Lat is a rustic temple at the top of a jungled hill, offering the best view of the city. The temple can be approached by a rented songthaew (red shared taxi), but another popular option is to hike up the "Monk's Trail", so-called because the way is indicated by orange monk robes tied to trees, along the way. The hike is not especially difficult, requiring approximately 45 minutes of your time. There is also a waterfall nearby, making this a peaceful and gorgeous way to spend an afternoon. For directions on how to do this hike yourself, please see the Globotreks Blog.

mountain in thailand
Mountain outside of Chiang Mai. Image credit Florian Blümm

Things to do Around Chiang Mai

5. Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand, and because of that, offers you the best view of the lushly forested Chiang Mai area. The drive will take around 2-3 hours and can be done by rented scooter, car, or a chartered vehicle, such as a taxi or songthaew.

Doi Inthanon
View from Doi Inthanon. Image credit Florian Blümm

The drive to the national park will take you by villages, rice terraces, and gorgeous waterfalls. Clear and easy-to-follow specific directions on how to get to Doi Inthanon are provided by The Blond Travels travel blog.

6. Hang out (literally) at the Zombie Cafe

If you have a rented scooter or car, you can take it to Mae Rim, the site of one of Chiang Mai's best kept-secrets: the mysteriously-named Zombie Cafe. Despite the name, there's nothing dark or scary about this hidden gem, tucked away just outside of town.

Zombie Cafe
Locals enjoying Zombie Cafe. Image credit Florian Blümm

If it's a hot day you can order food and drinks from one of the many tables situated inside a lightly babbling brook, but be sure to take off your shoes and roll up your pants, or they will get wet! If dangling your toes is not your style, you can also dangle yourself by sitting in the netted nest hanging hanging overhead from the balcony. A quick search of Instagram posts at the cafe shows that this is a hot-spot very popular with young locals, and virtually unknown to tourists.

7. Sleep in a Tree House

If the hammock-like balcony of the Zombie Cafe has given you a taste for (literally) high cuisine but has only left you craving more, The Rabeang Pasak Tree House Resort is the place to go next. Rabeang Pasak is a family-owned treehouse resort, which started as a passion project for the owner / retired architect, and has been open for the public since 2012. Rabeang Pasak now features 6 cottage treehouse and 2 family treehouse to accommodate a wide variety of groups.

Perhaps because the Rabeang Pasak Tree House started as a gift for a man's family, it's quite clear from the gorgeous interiors that they were designed with a great deal of love and care. A stay at the resort is sure to inspire the imagination, satisfy any Swiss Family Robinson-like fantasy.

The resort is 70 kilometers from downtown and normally takes about 1.5 hrs by car, but they do offer a daily shuttle service.

  • 8. Relaxing Getaway at Tharnthong Lodge

    Approximately 50 kilometers (2 hours) outside of the city is a serene garden of eden known as the Tharnthong Lodge. If you've ever wanted to sleep in a rain forest without giving up too many creature comforts, this is the place for you.

    Hobbit House at Tharnthorn Lodge

    The Tharnthong Lodge features a restaurant and many unique cabins and hang out spots along a river, under a tree, or even high in a tree house, perfect for uninterrupted thought or simple relaxation.

    Tharnthong Lodge
    Hobbit House and grounds at Tharnthong Lodge. Image credit Florian Blümm

    Alternately, if you don't want to stay at a resort and just want to take a walk on the grounds or take selfies with the Hobbit House, you can stop at the restaurant on the grounds for a nice meal or quick snack.

    Bonus! Poy Sang Long festival!

    If you time your visit right you can see something truly special. Every year at the Wat Pa Pao temple, as a part of the Burmese / Northern Thai tradition, people will come from their villages to celebrate the Poy Sang Long festival. Poy Sang Long simulates the change The Buddha made from a prince to a monk. Similarly, young boys aged between 7 and 14 and spend a day dressed elaborately as little princes themselves, paraded around and carried on the shoulders of their family members, before shaving their heads and donning monk robes. After their day of royal celebration, they begin their monastic training, which will last approximately one week. This is an fun and colorful festival that will impress even the seasoned cultural traveler.

    Zombie Cafe
    Tomorrow a monk, today a little prince. Image credit Florian Blümm

    With so much beauty and culture to offer at such great prices, it's easy to see why so many travelers, and especially medical tourists, choose Chiang Mai as a destination for vacation, or site of dental travel. The next time you are looking at spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on dental work, ask yourself if you might prefer to save money while making happy memories with loved ones in a jungle paradise. If the answer is "yes", you might just end up in Chiang Mai!

    Disclosure: This post was not sponsored in any way. Pongsakorn Dental Clinic was selected by Well Traveled as an example of a high quality, low cost, dental facility in Chiang Mai, but in fact there are many more to choose from. To plan your own dental holiday, search Well Traveled for dental clinics in Chiang Mai. This post includes affiliate links to agoda, but affiliate relationships did not influence recommendations.

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