Natalie's become quite the Thailand expert. She recently cycled her way around Chiang Mai in the north of the country. She was very taken with the city, which is small enough to be charming but big enough to cater for comforts, so stayed on for a good look around.
She stayed at Manathai Village, a boutique hotel built in typical Northern Thai style. It's in the heart of Chiang Mai and surrounded by century old temples and ancient Thai architecture.
Many hotels have strived to emulate Western cultures, but it's Manathai's traditional feel that sets it apart. Rates are reasonable and it's a great place to base yourself as you indulge in hundreds of years of history and maybe do some good shopping.
Twenty-nine suites in four guest houses are clustered around courtyards and gardens surrounding a large pool. It all replicates the Thai Lana style of Chiang Mai, with arched roofs perfect for warmer climates. The main entrance is in the 100-year-old Main House.
Rooms are understated and elegant with polished teak floors, rattan furniture and cool, white curtains and bedspreads. Each room is different and all furnishings and fixtures are authentically local, many handmade and one-of-a-kind.
Guests are greeted with a cool drink on arrival and honeymooners receive a fruit basket, honeymoon cake and heart-shaped flower decorations.
Natalie set out with her Travel Indochina guide, Sai, to the famous Night Bazaar Markets, a 10 minute walk from the hotel and covering three blocks. It's one of the cheapest places to shop in Thailand and original Hill Tribe handicrafts are hard to resist.
It's noisy, colourful and very busy every night of the week. Huge arcades have multiple shops and stalls, restaurants, bars and entertainment. It's open until midnight and you will need at least a couple of hours to do it justice.
Apart from beautiful local handicrafts you can buy almost anything you can think of. Silk, jewellery, CDs and of course copies of high-priced items such as Rolex, Gucci, Dior, Chanel, Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton. Put your bargaining skills to the test, but remember, what you are buying is fake!
Save some time for a massage, particularly one for those aching feet. You will be ready to go again in no time.
A fun memory of your time in Chiang Mai is available at the Chaiya Photography Studio. You get to dress up in traditional northern Thai clothing, complete with hairdo and make-up and have your photograph taken looking quite regal. They will even airbrush it for you!
Chiang Mai, an hour's flight north of Bangkok.
Travel Indochina has four day Chiang Mai City Stay tours starting at $518 per person twin share. Accommodation, breakfast and lunch, transport, transfers and a local English-speaking guide are included. Valid for stays between April 1 and October 31, 2012. Conditions apply.
Manathai Village rooms start at $125 a night. Breakfast is included. Foot massage is $4 an hour.
Emirates has daily flights to Bangkok from Sydney. Connections are available to Chiang Mai. For an exclusive Getaway viewers' discount, log on to www.emirates.com/getaway.
Prices correct at November 26, 2011.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Level 10, 403 George Street
Ph: 1300 138 755
Fax: 02 9244 2233
Chaiya Photography Studio
104/1 Chaiya Studio
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai 50100
Ph: 081 602 3456
Visa: Australians may stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa.
Electricity: 220V with European plug of 2 circular metal pins or Japanese plug with 2 parallel flat blades.
Time zone: GMT +7 hours.
Currency: The baht.
Telephone code: +66.
It is recommended travellers see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended for areas you will be visiting. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au and www.welltogo.com.au.