Why Chiang Mai, Thailand?
Visit to a country is incomplete if you can’t get a taste of its culture – you may get the world’s most amazing beaches in Phuket, Koh Lanta or Koh Samui, may indulge in crazy and famous full moon parties in Koh Phag Ngan, or get the taste of night life and luxury shopping in Bangkok, but to experience the real taste of Thailand, you must come to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is a city with rich cultural heritage yet equipped with necessary modern infrastructure. The city is booming with numerous Buddhist temples, Craft Shops, amazing cafes, restaurants, hotels, boutiques and night markets.
SETTING CLEAR EXPECTATIONS
The city may appear to be be quite ordinary when you arrive at first and it might take a day or two to be able to feel its vibes – the pace of life is slow out here and you got to give it time to please you.
CHIANG MAI – THINGS TO DO LIST
It was difficult to identify the list of Best Things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand as I had to drop many of my favorites.
THE WATS Or BUDDHIST TEMPLES
The city is a place to hundreds of Wats which have an impressive architectural style – for a layman mostly all Wats appear to be somewhat similar but a pair of artistic eyes can spend hours appreciating the architectural details and creativity in each Wat. Among the most prominent ones are Wat Phra Singh, Wat Sri Suphan & Wat Chedi Luang. The best way is to take a walk around in the old city area & if walking isn’t your cup of tea, hiring a motor bike on rent is the second best option.
Other notable one is Doi Suthep which is one of the highest rated tourist spots and is about 18-20 kms from the old town. If you are staying in Chiang Mai for more than 2-3 days I would definitely recommend you going in that direction. The best way to reach there would be either by a red truck (a shared mode of transportation) or a motorbike. Though it would be a long ride but if you like to go at your own pace, stopping at places in between, and enjoying the ride with a friend or the partner, this would be best bet.
2. THE SUNDAY NIGHT MARKET
If you visit Chiang Mai and miss the Sunday Market, either you didn’t do your homework well or you are poor at planning, unless of course you hate shopping, crafts or crowd! OK, I must admit that I love it so much that even if you hate shopping, I would highly recommend you going there.
The Sunday Night Market starts at around 5:00 PM near Tha Phae gate and is a heaven for craft lovers and foodies – you get to see really high quality handicrafts at extremely reasonable prices when compared to the rest of Thailand. The boys may not have as many options to shop but girls for sure wouldn’t want to go home – beautiful bags, wallets, décor items, local clothing, wooden products, and many more things.
Do not hesitate to stop by a massage stand (there are many ad hoc in the market) to give some relief to your tired feet, or sit in a food court to enjoy some local cuisines, as the market is spread quite a bit and you might not enjoy everything at one go!
3. THE SATURDAY NIGHT MARKET
The Saturday Night Market is a smaller version of Sunday Night Market and is relatively less crowded. The market opens at around 5 PM on Wua Lai Road. Of course, you don’t get to see all the amazing products as you find in the Sunday Market but if you can’t manage to stay in Chiang Mai over a Sunday this would be a good alternative.
4. NORTHERN THAI FOOD
There are wide variety of choices in Northern Thai food, however, I am fan of few things in particular.
Khao Soi is an amazing soup-like Thai dish with a combination of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles. The vegetarian version is also available at some of the restaurants – Taste from Heaven is one such place! The other places that I loved were Kanjana and LemonGrass.
You may also want to Try Northern Style Green, Yellow or Red curry – you get a choice of vegetables or meat of your preference. I personally liked the Green Curry a lot!
You may also want to try Ice-cream (I tried one at the Central Festival) at a local creamery, Sticky Mango Rice at Fruitrday (a food chain) or on a small cart in front of Wat Phan On, or a Pad Thai at a Shop that comes up in front of Maya Shopping Mall every Friday.
These are just a few things to name but you have got a wide range of other options.
5. GET LOTS OF MASSAGES
Massages here are worth every penny and you shouldn’t miss a chance to get one whenever you are tired or have some spare time. Just for 5-10$ you can get amazing foot massages and if you don’t mind paying a little bit extra a whole new world of massages opens up for you. You go to any corner of the city and would find a number of massage parlours lined up.
You might feel like bargaining when you see others doing the same thing but when you see the hard work of those people, you feel they deserved every penny they asked for.
6. NIGHT MARKET
Okay, do not get confused with too many night markets. The other two night markets mentioned earlier happen on specific days and are the best-in-class craft markets in thailand. This night market, however, opens every night and provides you a good opportunity to buy local souvenirs and crafts if you cannot manage to visit Chiang mai over a weekend or if you have a lot of time to kill in the evenings. This is no where close to the other 2 markets but it certainly gives good glimpse of Chiang Mai night markets and crafts – everything here is a bit expensive when compared to other two markets.
7. PLOEN RUDEE INTERNATIONAL FOOD PARK
It’s situated on the night market road itself and is a place filled with amazing energy – live music, people dancing, amazing cuisines and drinks – what else would you want for a relaxing evening. Definitely worth a visit if you are in that area.
8. CHIC BOUTIQUES & CAFES ON NIMMAN ROAD
Old city is fun, but even heaven feels monotonous and boring after a while. Nimman Road is a good area to experience the other side of Chiang Mai – more modern and less touristy. The road boasts few of the best cafes of the city, some of the amazing night clubs and pubs, and some chic Boutiques.
The boutiques are owned by young designers who create beautiful products that have good blend of international fashion and local art. Even if you don’t need anything you would be tempted to get inside the shop and might end up buying one or the other products – be it handbags, wallets, paintings, backpacks, clothing or any other piece of art/craft.
You have plenty of food choices too – Salad Concept, Fruitrday, Guu Fusion Roti and Tea, Smoothie Blues are some of my favourites on this road and offer you a diverse variety of food options. Starbucks and Wawee Coffee are also there in case you want to sip a cup of coffee and finish some of your work. Besides hip cafes, the street even has some of the finest restobars and pubs in the town – Warmup café and Beer Lab, Beer Republic are excellent choices.
9. SHOPPING MALLS
Central Festival and Maya are two of the best shopping malls in the city. Though Central Festival is a bit on the outer skirts of the city, you can reach there easily by paying approximately 120 Bhats to a Tuktuk or about 30-50 Bhats to a Read truck.
The mall is very big and has everything that you might want – be it apparels, food/grocery market, electronics, food courts, or even some cosmetic therapy clinics. Even the area outside of the mall is beautiful and is often occupied with some temporary food/craft shops – mostly the local crowd, majority of which is school/college going girls and boys.
Maya is another gem of Nimman Road – it is not as big as central festival but is a good place for peaceful shopping – you would find some local brands too here. Rimping Food Market is situated in the basement which can meet all your daily needs if you wish to cook by yourselves or want to buy some fruits or snacks. This is also an ideal place to buy all the Thai spices, herbs, pickles, sauces and ready to cook food packages that you might want to carry home with you!
10. GRAND CANYON
Once you are tired of the city life, you might want to see something different. You might want to take off that shirt, jump into the water and relax as if you were sitting on the beach or maybe your beach wears are dying to taste the water of Chiang Mai.
Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai is the place you want to be heading towards. It is a water body about 24 kms from city and is quickly becoming popular among tourists but still not crowded yet. You can go there via a tuk-tuk – it would cost you approximately 400-500 Bhat including return fare. Make sure you agree with the driver on the wait time beforehand.
If you are an adventure enthusiast then you might want to go try cliff jumping here.
11. Baan Tawai Village
Unless you are a super huge fan of wooden craft, it may not be worth going here, but if you are, there are many reasons to visit this place. The entire village is a hub of wooden crafts and you can spot some beautiful and gigantic décor items from quite far while approaching the village. People often Buy the wooden items for home décor and get the local shipping companies to ship it to their place. There are plenty of courier guys around and even the shop from which you buy the product would be happy to help you.
Baan Tawai is approximately 8 kms from Grand Canyon – so you can plan on visiting both the places together.
Follow the blog, like my facebook page or Instagram page to get more regular updates about amazing travel destinations! My next 2 posts would be on Chiang Mai only – so be in touch if you wanna know more about Chiang Mai!