Chiang Mai was a welcome break from the crazy hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Although a relatively big city, it was a lot more relaxed than the insanity of traffic and people that populate the capital. Most of the sights are within the ancient city walls, which are surrounded by a moat. To the west there is a more commercial area with shops, and what I believe to be a hotspot for “digital nomads” these days. I didn’t spend time there, preferring to see what the old town, and local attractions had to offer.
I thoroughly this city and regretted not having longer as I didn’t get around to heading up to the striking golden Wat Phra That Doi Suthep right on the hill overlooking the city. All the more reason to go back though right?
Anywayyy, here’s my top 8 experiences from my time in Chiang Mai:
1. Temple Crawl (you know, like a bar crawl, but with temples):
On my first day I spent the whole afternoon wandering around the old town visiting temples and pagodas. There’s two key ones that are most notable in the city, Wat Phra Singh with it’s 14th Century temple, copper buddhas and ancient murals, plus, 15th Century Wat Chedi Luang which boasts and impressive, yet crumbling Chedi (basically a stupa housing a buddha) and has been reduced in height by 60m thanks to an 16th century earthquake.
Other Temples / Pagodas I visited were: Wat Chiang Man, Lam Chang Temple, Wat Pan Ping, Wat Umong Mahathera Chan, Wat Duang Dee, Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang, Wat Phantao, Wat Chang Taem, Wat Jedlin. They’re all really close by so you can just literally stumble into them everywhere. You might thing they’re all pretty similar but I enjoyed seeing the differences in the designs, use of gold plating and the number of stupas / temples within the buddhist site.
Be sure to wear sandals as you have to take your shoes off before entering, cover your shoulders and knees.
2. Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon Water Park
Not the actual Grand Canyon, but Chiang Mai’s very own which is home to an “It’s an knock-out” style inflatable waterpark with a zip line and the option to Kayak. If you’re looking for an adventurous, yet wet and wild day out, this is your gig. Had loads of fun climbing around here and taking funny go pro videos. Just a warning, make sure you land in the water properly when jumping off things as this is where I hurt my knee, ouch!
3. Elephant Rescue Park, nearby to Chiang Mai
I could talk about this forever, it was literally one of my favourite days. There are a lot of different Elephant sanctuaries / parks to visit; I chose the Elephant Rescue Park. After some research and speaking to a fellow traveller I really believed in what they were doing to re-home and care for the elephants who had come from negative background such as the circus. We spent a full day learning about this incredible mammal, cleaning, feeding, walking and engaging with my all time favourite animals. I would definitely recommend visiting this park or one similar, as long as you’re happy they’re looking after the animals well.
4. Doi Inathanon National Park
Here you can visit the highest point in Thailand. I took a day trip to the National Park which took us to some pagodas in the mountains, some beautiful, gushing waterfalls, visited some local villages and saw their local produce being made (including fresh coffee mmm), and then a short walk to the highest point where it got very chilly actually, I had to wear my jacket as it was about 12 degrees. If you do a tour you can just hang out on the bus in-between stops but I met one girl who took a motorbike to the top which is also an option – and I imagine would be pretty fun as the roads are decent but windy.
5. Chiang Mai Nightlife
Can’t visit Chiang Mai without a trip to the local bars and clubs. I spent time hanging out at the Rooftop Bar at my hostel before heading down to the bars just off Ratvithi Road. Here you can drink and dance at 48 Garage, Roots Rock Reggae, Fat Elvis and of course (the one I heard most about before I arrived), Zoe in Yellow. Be warned however, all these bars shut at midnight, so if you’re looking to continue the parttaaaaay, get yourself down the road to Spicy, (kinda sweaty and dancey).
6. Muay Thai Boxing
This isn’t a special Chiang Mai activity as you well know, but I did go whilst there. Very relaxed atmosphere you can turn up at any time, have drinks and watch the matches. The evening goes on for as long as the fights do, so between 9 – 11pm (ish) is what I experienced. Great atmosphere and plenty of tickets on the door if you fancy just showing up – on most nights of the week too.
7. Eat Khao soi
This Northern Thai meal is delicious. It’s kinda like coconut curried noodles with crispy noodles on the top and typically chicken. You don’t tend to find this abroad in Thai restaurants so it’s not to be missed whilst you’re in Northern Thailand that’s for sure (see meal on the right, left is Pad Thai).
8. Night Markets
There’s a daily night bazaar just south of the old town in Chiang Mai, and regular night markets in the old town too. Try local food, pick up new clothes and enjoy the buzzing and bustling atmosphere of travellers and locals buying and selling everything you can imagine. (This is where I got my beloved bandana hahah!)
9. Take a Songthaew
These big red trucks roam the streets taking locals and tourists to spots around the city for a small price, a bit like a local bus service. You can hire them privately too for a larger group if you’d like to use for a longer journey. Bumping around in the back of one is definitely a worthwhile Chiang Mai experience not to miss.
Where to stay?
Upon arrival I stayed at the “Lullaby Hostel”, near the bottom of the old town for one night, it was a great hostel with unbelievable mattresses and breakfast included but a little out of my price range for more than one day. After that I stayed at the more reasonably priced and very sociable “Hug Hostel Rooftop”, just outside of the North gate of the old town. With a quiet common area, food available and a bar you could be as sociable as you wanted without any pressure to talk to anyone (sometimes you just wanna be alone haha).
Do you have any Chiang Mai recommendations?