Traveling from Chiang Mai is uncommon.

I’m always raving about what a great travel hub Chiang Mai is. Now Thai Lion Air has opened bookings for a new route to Chengdu in China using Boeing 737-800 aircraft for the three weekly flights. Thai Lion Air will fly to Chengdu on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday departing from Chiang Mai at 2300 and arriving in Chengdu at 0230. The return flight will depart Chengdu at 0420 and arrive in Chiang Mai at 0610. The non-stop flight takes two hours and thirty minutes. Return fare is 8,000 Baht. A fare check on Thai Lion Air’s website indicates most of the flights are already sold out, possibly due to them being assigned to tour operator allotments in Chengdu.

Sichuan Airlines also offers a direct service on the route from Chiang THB16,430, and a one stop service from Chiang Mai, using THAI Airways with a change of plane in Bangkok, offers a fare of THB13,658.

The trick will be to catch the deals on the few seats it has for sale out of Chiang Mai outside of tour operator allotments.

After a fascinating visit to Kunming, China’s tea capital, I left the no-nonsense efficiency of Chinese officialdom and boarded the daily shuttle ($300 return) back to Chiang Mai. The difference between cold, wet Kunming and warm, damp Thailand was due to more than weather. I shuffled up to the Immigration counter – pushing my tea-crammed shopping bags with my feet – then looked up to be greeted with a huge smile: “You were here in April,” said the beaming lady officer (who had wrapped a colorful sarong over her military uniform), “I remember you”. She flipped through my passport, then triumphantly exclaimed, “See? Here’s my stamp!” We chatted for a moment then she wai’d me on to the equally smiling and bowing customs inspectors, who waved me out into palm trees swaying in the monsoonal breeze. “Yes!” I thought, “that’s how I like to be greeted”.

Chiang Mai Airport
Chiang Mai Airport

The next morning, stiff from the China’s cold (they don’t use heating of any kind, it seems) and travel, I headed to my local hot springs, Doi Saket, to soak. I walked over to the bath house and the village housewife on duty that day greeted me with a huge, beaming smile, “Where you go? You not here!”. As I explain my absence and pay my 40 baht (deluxe rooms cost 80) I think to myself how nurturing these Thai smiles are. They relaxed me even before I slipped into my steaming mineral pool. I felt even more relaxed after the two-hour Thai massage that followed.

A quick commercial here on behalf of Thai massage for retirees: If you don’t have time for yoga, Thai massage is the next best thing.  Thai massage is uniquely suited to retirees’ needs because it’s about stretching. If there’s one thing that aging muscles appreciate, it’s being stretched by someone who knows how to do it, and Thai women are trained in massage from early childhood: they begin by massaging their grandmothers when they’re about seven years old. Thai grannies teach their granddaughters techniques that have been handed down for centuries. It’s an aspect of Thai culture that cuts across social boundaries and where you’re as likely to find sophisticated practitioners in villages as in the cities. So make a resolution to schedule two or three massages every week. Preferably after soaking in one of the country’s abundant hot springs.

Now, back to the point of this post: traveling from Chiang Mai is a great idea: the local airport is cosy and convenient and has direct flights to Kuala Lumpur , Yangon , Beijing, Wuhan, Mandalay, Chengdu, Kunming, Shanghai-Pudong, Tianjin , Changsha, Guangzhou, Nanning, Hong Kong, Seoul-Incheon, Luang Prabang, Chongqing, Jinan, Chengdu, Singapore, Macau, Taipei-Taiyuan. Better yet, if you’re patient you can get to most of these destinations for around $300 return.

Using Chiang Mai as your travel base, you’re never more than a few hours and a few hundred dollars from the most exotic places on earth. And if you’re planning to fly to Singapore, you can fly direct. Here’s what to expect.


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