Part of the fun, or rather, the point of slow travel is having the time to explore areas of a destination that you otherwise would have skipped. If I had just been traveling through Chiang Mai for a week or so, The Giant, a tree house coffee shop about 90 minutes outside the city, probably wouldn’t have made the cut on my travel itinerary. Despite the café’s uniqueness, the city’s Muay Thai fights, extravagant temples and bustling markets would have taken up most of my time. After spending the past four months exploring Chiang Mai, I am now looking for more adventurous locations to discover and The Giant was it.
Located about a 1 ½ hour drive east of Chiang Mai, The Giant tree house sits nestled within the jungle. Both a café and a home stay, The Giant is popular with those interested in getting out of the city and experiencing the jungle that lies so close to the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai. Joined by another couple, we headed into the mountains with coffee on our minds and a desire to discover something off the beaten track. Josh (my boyfriend) had devised a loop and we followed it through small villages, rice fields, mountain lined highways and unbelievably green scenery. As the open road started morphing into twisting mountain turns and pot holed pathways, both of the bikes started to struggle to make the ascend. In fact, after some slight smoking and a menacing smell, my friends decided to leave their bike on the side of the road and walk the rest of the way to reach the café. However, Josh took the duty of shuttling each of us on his bike to The Giant so we wouldn’t have to trek the whole way. Lesson of the trip, make sure your motorbike is at least 125 cc if you don’t want to find yourself stranded.
Greeted with a view of the mountains and valleys, we parked our bike and walked across the rope bridge to the tree house café. It was a little more crowded than we expected but almost all of the visitors seemed to be Thai, leading us to believe that the café is not well known with foreign tourists and backpackers. The menu included everything from juice, water and soda to milk tea, espresso and lattes, all ranging from 75 to 120 Baht. If you’re hungry and you don’t happen to be a vegan (like me) the café even has a small menu of food. The cakes, pizza, spaghetti and sausages range from 150 to 300 Baht per plate. If you are feeling a little daring, for 300 Baht, you can take a ride on their very own zip line from the café.
After having coffee at a table that could only be reached by ducking under a giant tree branch and crossing a bridge to get to the bathroom, we headed back down the mountain and stopped off for lunch at the Teen Tok Royal Project Development Center. The modern looking restaurant was set backed up to a small river, covered by jungle and lined with gardens. Although the staff didn’t speak much English (I somehow managed to order a piece of cake instead of the plate of rice I tried to ask for) they still were able to offer us an English menu with moderately priced Thai dishes.
As part of the loop back to Chiang Mai, we stopped off at Muang-on Cave. Legend has it that the caves were once used as refuge for Thais hiding from the invading Burmese army. Foreigners must pay a 30 Baht fee to enter the caves which can be reached by first climbing a serpent-lined stairway. Although the ticket taker at the top has flashlights for rent, they are unnecessary as the caves are quite well lit. The entrance initially looks horrifying for claustrophobics but be assured that the system opens up into huge caverns sporting shrines and Buddha statues. It doesn’t take very long to walk through before heading back up and out of the cave to descend back down to the parking lot. If you look carefully, you may even be lucky enough to spot wild monkeys hanging out in the road (we did!)
If you are living in Chiang Mai and scouting out new day trips to take on the weekends, this loop is one you should add to the list. The route has the full package of countryside scenery, natural wonders and quirky attractions that will give you a break from the city. I have included a map of the loop we did so that you can follow along too!
Location: Baan Pok village, Huaykaew, Mae On, Chiang Mai Province
Facebook: The Giant CM
Telephone: 053-317677/ 086-7762946