Whether it’s the heat of the coast, the snow of the season, the hustle of the city or you’re returning to Chiang Mai because – like others – you have fallen in love with the place, we each have our own special reason for visiting Chiang Mai.
Here are six absolute musts that will ensure you get the most out of your holiday.
In Chiang Mai City
The second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai successfully marries its vibrant nightlife with a refreshingly quaint country feel. Chiang Mai is a firm favourite for Thai people from across Thailand. As a cool, refreshing retreat from it all, more and more expats and tourists are discovering why Chiang Mai is a holiday destination of choice.
Although there are so many things to do and see in the city, here are three things that you should squeeze in to your itinerary:
1. Explore Thai Temples
Chiang Mai has over 200 ancient temples, many of which are still in use by the monks. If you only have time for a quick pop in, we suggest one of these three temples:
- The oldest temple in Chiang Mai: Wat Chiang Man – built in 1296, was originally the king’s palace. Not the largest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man’s beautiful architecture and gardens has a more thoughtful and intimate feel, like a refreshing oasis in the bustling city surrounds.
- The most important temple in Chiang Mai: The Wat Phra Singh temple, which still houses and trains young boys and men to become monks, is considered the most important temple in the city. Built in 1345 this temple is ornate and skillfully built. You also get the opportunity to speak to some of the young monks about their lives and beliefs at this temple in a shaded meet-and-greet area outside the temple.
- The most famous temple: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (or just ‘Doi Suthep’ to the locals) is near the top of Mount Suthep to the north-west of Chiang Mai city. Built around 1383 its beautiful location and elevation are something you will not easily forget. It is a working monastery and you can browse through a host of souvenir shops and vendors close by.
Alternatively, if a quick visit of these historic temples just won’t do, it might be worth your while to take a guided temple tour. It’s always great finding out the history of each temple, and what each structure and building represents, and you are free to ask all the questions you’ve been dying to ask about the city. We like Gem Excursions or Viator.com to select your tour.
2. The (Secret) Local Market
The San Kamphaeng Saturday Night Market seems to be Chiang Mai’s best kept secret. Frequented only by locals, and a handful of discerning tourists, it is the place to come to if you want a taste of local life and local prices. This market is where the locals do their weekly shopping, so expect everything from clothes, food, toys, books, furniture to groceries and more, at bargain prices. Bustling with energy, great street food and lined with retailers and restaurants along the way, it is a smaller, less touristy version of the very well-known Sunday Night Market in the Old Town.
3. Take a Thai Cooking Class
A great way to spend a half or full day, a Thai cooking class is a must for food-lovers. Shop for fresh local produce at the market, while your friendly host explains the local uses and traditions of each unique ingredient. At the cooking school you will learn how to prepare a few favourite dishes of your choice, like Phad Thai or Green Curry. The best part of the day, however, is when you sit and eat your delicious cooking with fellow Thai food enthusiasts. We like BaanThai Cookery School for this, or you can check out Viator.com for current cooking class tours. Our tip: come hungry!
In the Chiang Mai Countryside
An easy half-hour drive outside of town brings you to the lush countryside of Chiang Mai. If you want a feel of the ‘real’ Thailand, you’ll find it here. Within moments the countryside changes and you are in Thailand’s sweet garden.
Here are three things to do in the Chiang Mai countryside:
4. Jungle Trekking and Climbing
For the adventurous holidaymaker there are a host of things to do in the countryside.
- For climbers, the user-friendly Crazy Horse crag a professional, safe climbing environment, with friendly and helpful people. Many people come to Chiang Mai just to climb Crazy Horse. You won’t be disappointed.
- For jungle trekkers, accessing walks is as simple as stepping out of your front door. More so if you’re lucky enough to stay in a resort situated in the countryside. Baanpong Lodge has a growing list of jungle treks added by the owners – keen jungle-trekkers themselves – as well as by avid trekkers, using the Wikiloc navigation app (search for Baanpong Lodge for walks in the forest).
5. Adventure Tours
Probably the best way to get the most out of your countryside experience.
- Go ziplining, river rafting and slide into cool waterfalls.
- Feed and wash elephants in the river, or visit a hilltribe market.
We like BN Adventure Tours for this – the tour guides are nature-lovers themselves, friendly and full of local know-how.
6. And… Exhale
If this all sounds like hard work, we recommend sipping something cool and wet next to the pool. Get a Thai massage or curl up with a good book. Affordable Luxury: For a more affordable and intimate setting, the effortless comfort of Baanpong Lodge has private chalets with a great poolside bar and restaurant on site, only 30 minutes from the city centre.