Chiang Mai presents a completely different site of Thailand – besides the vibrant Bangkok. It consists of the laid-back vibe, less harsh weather, more relaxed and very much affordable. Considered as the spiritual capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai is suitable for nature & culture seekers. There are plenty of things to do in Chiang Mai such as visiting the Buddist temples, joining in a traditional cooking class, hanging out with elephants in its natural habitats, exploring the Chiang Mai night market, or extending your adventure to Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son. More information coming below.
Hanging out the elephants at the Nature Park
Long ago, elephants in Thailand were one of the main transportation means carrying people and major goods (especially wood). In the modern world when machines and technology have been developed, elephants are mostly abused in the tourism industry as people have found it thrilling and exciting to ride an elephant. However, it should be avoided at all costs and Chiang Mai did many things for it. One of the most famous elephant sanctuaries in Thailand is Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park – an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Northern Thailand where you can volunteer and visit to help. You are here to observe the rescued elephants living in their chosen herd and learn about their individual histories. Also, you can join them while they bath in the river or feed them with natural food.
A full-day experience the place is worthwhile; the profit from selling tours like this will go toward maintaining the ground, the natural environment for the elephants and providing for them.
Hitting the Chiang Mai markets
Chiang Mai outdoor bazaars are a great place to explore the amazing street food in Northern Thailand itinerary. The biggest and busiest one is the Sunday walking street opened from Tha Pae Gate to Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Every Sunday night the center of the Old City is closed to traffic; and food vendors, craftspeople and artists take over with their unique and bargain-priced street markets. It is a very great place to bring some souvenirs home.
Foot massage is also pretty cheap with a few bucks.
Also, taking in a local Muay Thai boxing fight is interesting. It is worldwide known that Muay Thai is a part of local culture.
Here is the paradise of Pad Thai (fried noodles with meat/prawn), gai yang (grilled chicken), kanom jin (rice noodles with curry), Khao Soi (the coconut and curry-flavored soup filled with yellow egg noodles and chicken) and a lot more of mouth-watering dishes.
Other famous night markets are one in the Chang Khlan Road which is opened every night, a lovely small Somphet Market on Moon Muang Road.
Visiting the gorgeous Chiang Mai temples
Like Big Ben in London, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the symbol of Chiang Mai. You can reach this temple by hiking up the mountain with flat roads or hiring a motorbike which is preferable for natural sightseeing. Among the favorite temples, Doi Suthep is the most reachable with very close distance to the town center – 12km and located on the Suthep Mountain.
After the flat road, you will encounter the steep staircase leading to the main visiting area also the core of this temple. It is quite tiring but worth the effort. You will find a statue of the white elephant shrine that (as legend has it) carried the Buddha relic to its resting place on the temple grounds.
On clear sky day, you are able to have a panoramic view of the entire city.
Spending a day in Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon – the highest peak of the whole Thailand is a good spot for you to get away from the humid heat. The park covers a land area of nearly 50,000 hectares and is a home of several trails, hill tribe villages, waterfalls (Sriphum is the most outstanding) and the two Royal Temples & its gardens. The gardens surround the temples are so beautiful with stunning foxgloves and plenty of butterflies.
The best way to travel to this national park is by hiring a driver as the road is winding and steep in some specific corners. The car drive takes only one and a half hours from the Chiang Mai downtown; thus it would maximize your time in this awesome park.
Joining a traditional cooking class
No doubt that Thai food is famous for its various flavors: spicy, sour and sweet with different kinds of herbs. It would be a miss if you are into the local food but not learning a hands-on experience of Thai cuisine.
A lot of cooking classes are held in the local houses in the countryside in which travelers emerge into its traditional vibe, and are able to see a typical Thai kitchen. Some recommended classes are Benny’s home cooking school; in which you pick up the organic ingredients from their own garden and go to the local wet market to see how the local people bargain; May Kaidee’s cooking school or Thai Farm organic cooking school…
All classes have options for vegetarians and vegans as well; just make sure you book it in advance and inform the staff.
Extending your adventure to Chiang Rai & Mae Hong Son
Chiang Rai is famous with the Lanna Kingdom, the Golden Triangle & unique White Temples and Blackhouse. Meanwhile, the Mae Hong Son Loop is a comprehensive way to discover one of Thailand’s most authentic provinces. Discovering these are would require more time which I believe 7-10 days are fair enough.
Suggested Thailand tours including Chiang Mai
- Classic Thailand 7 Days
- Jungles And Tribes – Northern Thailand 7 Days
- Bangkok To Chiang Mai 4 Days
- Golden Triangle Tour 3 Days
In conclusion, things to do in Chiang Mai makes your experiences in Thailand more diversifying with the above evidence. Start to plan your Thailand tours 2020 at any moment, but be careful of the smoky (burning) season which is around early March to mid-April. Farmers burn the rice straw and corn stalks left over from the previous harvests in preparation for the next planting. This causes tremedous air pollution, the hazes are everywhere!
Daniel Nguyen – Travel Specialist