Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, sits in the valley of magnificently green hills, mountains and jungle which surround it in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is full of art, culture, markets, great food, and is the perfect destination for anyone wanting a fast tracked intro to Thailand and all it has to offer! Chiang Mai still has remnants of its original city built in 1926, inside a mote, and big stone walls. The mote remains, as does some of the walls inside which is now called the old town, which is where we set up home while we were in Chiang Mai. On arrival, the city seemed very up-market, clean, and organised, unlike the crazy, yet exciting streets of Bangkok. Chiang Mai even had traffic lights, which after a while in Thailand, we had nearly forgotten even existed! Quaint and well groomed streets with offsets of zillions of tiny alleyways, ready to be explored! We were excited.
Chiang Mai is famous for being home to nearly 300 Buddhist temples, which are still in use today by Buddhist monks. If food lovers like us, there is no shortage of places to eat, with delicious Thai food stalls every few metres as well as a number of “hipster” bars and cafes (super trendy) with western cuisines. We were also able to locate a number of Thai Boxing Gyms for Shaun to train at as well as some Yoga school’s not too far from where we were staying, so I could get my Yoga hit. Chiang Mai is very tourist friendly. It was also very easy to be sucked into the tourist traps of doing the regular “touristy” things, but we decided to just go with it. It was still worth it! Chiang Mai offers anything from visiting one of the hundreds of Buddhist temples, or hill tribes in the surrounding mountain areas, day markets, night markets, zoo night safari’s, cooking classes, flower farms, botanical gardens, reptile parks, elephant sanctuaries, hot springs, waterfalls, trekking, Thai massages, bars and clubs, as well as a zillion great places to eat. Chiang Mai offered such a world of exploring, we hardly knew where to begin!
Our Favourite Parts of Chiang Mai
What we most loved about Chiang Mai was the markets! Chiang Mai has both Saturday and Sunday walking street night markets which went for miles! The whole streets are blocked off and market stalls set up all the way along, so that you can walk and shop for miles until your feet hurt! Open from 4pm-midnight, Saturdays market is all the way down Wulai Road (around 1.5km of markets), and Sunday, the busier market is set up at down Ratchadamnoen Road (around 3km of markets) both near the old town. Aiming to travel lightly we were very restrained as we closed our eyes to the beautiful local handicrafts, and headed straight for the Thai street food! We must have each eaten from at least 5 different vendors each to make sure we got a taste of it all – And of course followed it with ice cream! So good!
Cost: Free or under 50 Baht/ $2 for yummy Thai street food!
Location: Saturday, Wulai Road or Sunday Ratchadamnoen Road
Opening Hours: 4pm- midnight
Chiang Mai Grand Canyon
Our favourite day out in Chiang Mai was our trip to Chiang Mai canyon – It is a perfect place to escape the heat of the city. Jus a half an hour out o f town, an old quarry has been filled with water for swimming, and cliff jumping for the brave. It is still not a regular touristy spot, still slightly unheard of so quite chilled for a day of relaxing without crowds. Highly recommended! See our post on Chiang Mai Grand Canyon for more details.
Cost: 5o Baht / $2
Location: chiang Mai Rock Quarry out past Hang Dong. See post on Chiang May Grand Canyon for more details.
Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm
Doi Suthep Temple
We put one day aside to visit temples, and we chose to visit Doi Suthep Temple, which is a drive up Doi Suthep mountain, then a climb of 300 steps to the top, where you will reach the highest view of the city. We made it to the top, and we were greeted by a beautiful view of smog! Is it however a beautiful Buddhist temple, built as a monastery with breathtaking architecture, statues, and shrines everywhere. Each guest is offered a lotus flower and candle, to give as an offering, as they say a prayer and light the candle.
Location: Doi Suthep mountain
Opening Hours: 6am – 6pm
Mae Sa Waterfall
We visited Mae Sa Waterfall as our last destination on Mae Sa Valley Road, which has a number of touristy spots to visit including orchid and butterfly farm, botanical gardens, then others we avoided due to treatment of animals including tiger kingdom, monkey school, elephant riding camps. If we had done it again, we would have skipped them all and just gone straight to the waterfalls and brought a picnic, as it was so beautiful there. The Mae Sa Waterfall is 10 levels of waterfalls cascading down the mountain. It is an easy but steep trek on a hot day, we only made it to level #7 before we ran out of time! It is also possible to swim under the waterfalls on a number of the levels in the natural cool fresh water.
Cost: 200 Baht/ $8
Location: Km7 on the Mae Rim – Saemoeng Road
Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm