Before traveling to Chiang Mai, I had heard from so many people (and read on so many blogs), that I would fall in love with the place. It was one of those situations where you feel like people were just over-exaggerating, but made me anxious to add it to my travel itinerary.
Well friends, the rumors and the blogs were true—I fell in love with Chiang Mai.
Thailand is a country with rich culture, and many of these cultural aspects are common throughout the country. But each city has its own charm, its own uniqueness; and these differences are what make traveling around Thailand so intriguing.
The unique vibe that I felt in Chiang Mai can only be described as magical. From the rolling green mountains that border the area, to the enchanted feel within the Old-City Walls—Chiang Mai is at the top of my “must-see” travel destinations.
Although I only spent four days in this marvelous place, I was able to fill my time with a multitude of experiences ranging from cultural to adventurous.
Here is a breakdown of things to do in Chiang Mai:
I was fortunate enough to have arrived in Chiang Mai on Sunday evening, and after a day of traveling my appetite was ready to be satiated.
The Sunday Night Market held within the Old City Walls was a field-day for a market-food lover like me. Food stands were set up throughout multiple parts of the market, tucked into the temples that lined the main street. Bouncing around to the different food locations, you also pass by vendors selling anything and everything you can imagine for those inexpensive Thai prices.
Right outside the walls, you can find talented craftsmen and women making clothes, giving massages, and hand-crafting other trinkets right in front of your eyes.
My favorite thing I tried at this market—deep fried banana! This dessert is a must try, as is a visit to this market!
There are tons of elephant sanctuaries to choose from in Chiang Mai. Most are ethical and do not engage in elephant riding, chaining up the elephants, or using harmful picks on them…but please do some research on these practices before choosing a sanctuary to visit.
My hostel recommended the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary. The half-day trip includes pick-up/drop-off at your accommodation, feeding the elephants, mud-bathing them, and ends with an activity to make your own Thai-noodle lunch—all for 1,600 Baht ($52 USD).
The elephants at this sanctuary have been rescued from logging/riding camps, and they aren’t chained up or controlled with sharp picks. Our tour guide provided us with loads of information about the elephants and made us feel comfortable getting up close and personal with these tranquil creatures.
This sanctuary also features a swimming pool where we got to rinse off and hang out with the other attendees before lunch.
The hospitality and range of activities included in this tour makes Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary a top recommendation on my list!
Although Chiang Mai is a relatively peaceful city, it is not short of adventures. And with the jungles and rivers surrounding its geography, I chose to try white water rafting for the first time.
My hostel recommended and booked me a tour with Khampan Rafting, which includes pick-up/drop-off at your accommodation, a 16-km rafting expedition, a hike to a waterfall that you can legitimately slide down, and a delicious Pad-Thai lunch—all for 1,800 Baht ($59 USD).
The Songteaw truck ride to the river is filled with windy roads and scenic views into the lush Chiang Mai jungles. The employees are informative, helpful, but most of all hospitable; and had my raft group laughing the entire time. There was a calm point in the river where they allowed us to float in our life vests for some distance…and let me tell you there is nothing like floating down a cool river on your back watching the trees and clouds pass by.
The tour finishes off with a hike through the jungle to find a waterfall that you can slide down on your back, plunging you into a cool basin.
If you’re looking to experience Chiang Mai’s nature and get a little rush of adrenaline while you’re at it—Khampan Rafting is the place to go!
Among the many temples located in Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep is probably the most popular.
Situated at the highest point in Pui National Park, panoramic views of Chiang Mai are available along with the charming architecture of the Wat (temple).
Getting to and from Doi Suthep can be arranged via Songteaw or Tuk Tuk—ranging from 500-800 Baht ($17-$26 USD), but I opted to grab a motorbike taxi for a thrilling ride up the windy roads and stunning views of Pui National Park—for around 400 Baht roundtrip ($13 USD).
The entrance fee was only 20 Baht ($0.65 USD), which is extremely inexpensive compared to the 200 Baht fee that most popular temples in Bangkok charge.
Although this temple is bustling with tourists, I was still able to give my offering and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere associated with this Buddhist site. The area around the temple is lined with vendors where you can purchase traditional Thai food and gifts before you leave.
Rain accompanied my entire visit—but rain or shine, Doi Suthep is an alluring landmark to see in Chiang Mai!
Thai food includes a variety of distinctive dishes and bold flavors that you can only learn to truly appreciate after having taken a Thai cooking class—and Chiang Mai is loaded with them.
My hostel recommended the Thai Cottage Home Cookery School, which was nestled right around the corner from my accommodation.
The half-day evening course includes pick-up/drop-off at your accommodation (which for me involved the cooking instructor walking over to get me), a tour through the market to learn about the foods used for Thai cooking, and 5-course meal, and a PDF cookbook—all for 700 Baht ($23 USD).
We were able to choose our meals from a list; and I chose to cook “Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup”, “Pad Thai”, “Green Curry” (and green curry paste), “Mango Sticky Rice”—and they even popped in “Spring Rolls” for everyone to make for an appetizer.
The school was small and homey, with the owner’s family all pitching in to help where needed. Seeing all the work that goes into making Thai food, and the passion from the instructor gave me a whole new appreciation for this cuisine.
If you’re looking for a hospitable, fun experience—Thai Cottage Home Cookery School should be on your list!
Brick House Hostel is rated Chiang Mai’s first 5-star Hostel, and I was absolutely satisfied with my experience at this accommodation.
Just a 10-minute walk to the Old-City Walls, the location and atmosphere combine to make an incredible offering for the low booking price—around 250 Baht ($8 USD) per night.
The rooms and facilities are modern and clean, and the layout of the hostel makes it easy to commune with the guests. The saltwater pool is situated right in the middle (featuring a volley ball net and tanning deck), there’s a chill lounge area (featuring a library and bean bag sacks), and a bar located right on-site (featuring a pool table, Chang-lined beer pong table, and tons of board games). There’s also a mini gym, which was the main attraction for a fitness-goer like me, and quite rare to find in hostels.
The staff welcomed me by name and was accommodating in recommending and booking my tours (Maerim Elephant Sanctuary; Khampan White Water Rafting), toured the hostel-stayers through the Sunday Night Market, and played pool/watched futball with everyone in the common room.
Brick House Hostel has it all—definitely book a stay here when visiting Chiang Mai!
If you’re looking for a Thai-style, relaxed atmosphere—Cody Guesthouse is the place for you!
Located right inside the Old-City Walls and constructed like a true backpacker hostel, this accommodation is for those looking for a cultural versus a luxurious stay. Outdoor showers, simple bunkbed rooms, and a communal area with hammocks and plastic chairs gives this hostel a true Thai feel.
The staff makes you feel like part of the family, inviting you into their conversations and giving genuine recommendations around town (Thai Cottage Home Cookery School).
For only 80 Baht ($3 USD) a night, Cody Guesthouse is at the top of the list for cheap and traditional!