Chiang Mai is a city full of history, founded more than 800 years ago as the capital city of Lanna´s Kingdom… that´s why you will be able to please your eyes with architectonic jewels almost everywhere! Contrary to Bangkok, Chiang Mai is way more peaceful and relaxed even though its hundred of visitors.
Many tourists choose Chiang Mai as a connection with nature and their inner selves, so there´s a 10/10 chance you will see them practicing yoga and meditation in the parks.
Surrounded by some of Thailand´s highest mountains and natural reserves, Chiang Mai is one of the most popular cultural sites in the country: more than 300 budhist temples… meaning lots of places to visit!
Note: To be honest, locals are trying to squeeze Chiang Mai way too hard (Well… just like most cities in Southeast Asia) with tourist stands everywhere, trying to sell you the same tours one after the other! Non-stop! Tuk tuks everywhere you look at… and sadly, as in whole Thailand, prostitution is present as well. All of this just in a 10×10 blocks city!
The old town is still inside 1926 King Mengrai´s fortification! Tha Phae Gate is still the main and most famous entrance to Chiang Mai.
This is a great opportunity to try every Thai dish you want to, as you can walk around and come across with lots of restaurants and food stands! However, there are many western restaurants as well! Pizza, pasta, burgers… even hipster coffee shop´s with organic options!
What about Pai? A small villaje 130km away from Chiang Mai… I´m sure you will hear about this town during your stay. Remember about the connection with the nature? Meditation? If Chiang Mai gives you the possibility, then Pai is the true icon! For more check out Away we Stray with Cassy’s experience after a weekend there!
Oh! Don´t forget the cooking lessons while you visit Pai!
A good advice to tour around town is to rent a bicycle or a bike, but don´t hesitate to rent a car if you are willing to enjoy a day trip in the surroundings: Doi Inthanon National Park and Doi Suthep sacred mountain. MUST!
TIP! An amazing way to connect with nature is visiting an elephant reserve; we extra careful when choosing where to go, making sure that the place actually take care of them instead of just exploiting them for touristic purposes. An insight in this adventure and everything you need to know is in Away with Stray from Cassy.
What to do?
Old town & Wat Phra Singh
Chiang Mai´s old town is behind walls, were the most important temples, restaurants and Night Market take place!
MUST! Wat Chedi Luang is a city emblem, rises in the middle of the downtown… restored several times after years and years of wars, earthquakes and of course, rain: you will notice the difference between the stones, colors and textures.
There´s no entrance fee! Beautifully enveloped in colorful gardens and minor temples, some of them won´t allow women to enter… so pay attention!
It´s aspect is quite different from most temples, with its ancient looking but definitely well maintained.
Despite being in the center of the city, it´s a peaceful place to have a walk and admire its beauty. I suggest you visit the temples during the morning in order to avoid the suffocating midday/afternoon heat.
I know I have written it a hundred times: Always carry a bottle of water with you!
Wat Chiang Man is another cute temple to visit, the most ancient one! It´s near the Northern Gate, built around 1296 as the residence of King Mengrai during Chiang Mai´s rising. Some of the buddhas are 1500 years old and what about the elephants? Impressive!
Inside the walls there´s the most famous temple in town, you can´t skip it! Wat Phra Singh with its beautiful gardes, gigantic Buddha, hand crafted wooden decorations and its thousand colors make a mixture of feelings while visiting it.
If you are lucky enough you may witness a Buddhist ceremony and monks praying! If possible, try going in the night… the temple lights up! Lovely! Unfortunately you will need to be extra patient, as it´s always crowded!
Wat Lok Molee is another MUST! Placed outside the walls, just a couple of blocks away from the Northern Gate, so it´s easy to get to.
Its entrance is guarded by two elephant statues and some futuristic metallic trees, astonishing! To be honest, this temple is one of my favorites!
You may find it quite different from the rest, peaceful and almost without tourists… that´s why is ideal to take a lot of photos, relax… have a break by the shade!
Doi Suthep National Park
It´s 18km away from Chiang Mai aprox, with an anltitud of 1.000m! Entrance fee is 50 Baht and car parking 90 Baht. Once you get there, you will have tons of places to visit! Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple, Bhubing Palace, villages, waterfalls, trekking circuits, etc!
In this opportunity, we were 5 people so decided to rent a car for the day: always pay attention that you receive all car permits and papers. The way is steep, with curves and counter curves… but in good condition and seemed that everyone took it carefully enough.
To visit the temple you may take the 300 steps or pay 4 Euros and take the funicular: Be ready to enjoy a postcard view!
Girls, be properly dressed in order to avoid renting long skirts while you get there!
On the road you will find beautiful waterfalls, trekking circuits going through the hills… trees, flowers, green everywhere! Gorgeous!
Bhubing Palace entrance fee is 2,5 Euros, yet the only you can visit is its gardens and the wide variety of flowers.
Doi Inthanon National Park
This is one of the main National Parks in Thailand with Inthanon Hill being the highest peak in the country; located 90km from Chiang Mai, you can easily get there through the highway! Shouldn´t be a problem! It´s a 2hs journey up to the park. Renting a car for the day was 2000 Baht.
Entrance fee is 250 Baht, after passing though the toll you will get to the Office were you may geta map or (try) ask everything you need.
The peak isn´t that interesting beyong an observatory and a 20min trail called Ank Ka Luang. Nonetheless, 6km before I found two massive pagodas certainly caught my attention! They were surrounded by a beautiful garden with flowers.
It may be strange that this is where you may find the best views! There´s no panoramic views in the top!
Probably the main attraction of the park are its waterfalls, you will find them on your way down. You can visit them any time of the year, but between July and December it´s the best season!
Here is a list of the Park´s waterfalls and other attractions:
Wachirathan waterfall: It´s in km 21, accesible by car! Just like most of them! In my opinion, the prettiest one and most “photogenic”. The vertical drop is fairly high and noisy!
It´s recommended not to swin in it!
Mae Klang waterfall: Just before the Park´s entrance, you can get your tickets over there! Not that impressive as the one above, many locals choose to bath and relax here!
Siriphum waterfall: You can get to Sirphum taking the right road by the Visitors Centre. The viewpoint is a bit far away from the waterfall, however the view is worth it!
Gew Mae Pan: This is one of the Park´s highlight! Starts over the Two Pagodas at the top and lasts around 2hs… you will need a guide! Price is around 20 Bath, so go for it!
Get your tickets at the offices National Park HQs.
Borichinda cave: It´s in km nº 9! The most famous one in the National Park: formed off limestone and full of stalactite and stalagmite! The sun comes into one of the rooms creating a beautiful athmosphere!
Villages: Doi Inthanon is inhatibed by different ethnicities, just like Mon and Karen Tribes. You can take some time to go and visit them to appreciate their day-to-day and maybe get out for a bit from the regular touristic circle. Learn and understand.
Local market: Steps off the Visitors Centre and its another of the interesting points of Doi Inthanton, were you are able to buy handcrafts, organic fruits and veggies grown by the villagers around.
Of course there are things to do at night! When the sun comes down, little stands light up the streets! The offer is really diverse, from the usual Chinese souvenirs to real handcrafted products! All along the walls there are a bunch of bazaars, but my favourite ones were:
- Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (the most famous and biggest one) along Chan Khlan Rd.
- And… finally! The rocking star! Sunday Market Walking Street, without hesitation my #1! Given the logic of its name, opening times are Sundays only from evening even to early morning! It covers the walls from one side to the other, all along Ratchadamnoen street, which is closed to transit for the show!
Not only souvenirs and shopping, but also street food, juice shakes, live music and dance shows!
While visiting Thai´s northern lands, reserve a day for Chian Rai! A tiny city which holds one of the most famous and impressive temples of Thailand! The almighty Wat Rong Khun or … “the White Temple”, because it´s red… Nah! Just kidding!
There´s an infinite number of alternatives from the 2349835894 tourist stands over Chiang Mai, most of them includes the Golden Triangle (Thailand, Laos and Myanmar´s border). Of course, you can always get there by yourselves:
- From Arcade Bus Station there are regular coaches from and to Chiang Rai, from different companies with timetables. The journey takes about 3hs!
Reminder: Touts will approach, make sure you get your ticket and the ticket stand and not from them!
- Minivan? Why not share a Minivan ride with your friends? Just off Arcade Station there are plenty of services. Of course they are more expensive but faster and more confortable.
If you hire the day-tour at your hostel/hotel you have nothing to worry about! Just enjoy! If you decide to go by yourselves your highlights should be:
- The White Temple: Of course! The city´s emblem!
- Wat Phra Kaew Temple: Popular within locals.
- Buddha Caves.
- Hill Tribe Museum