Chiang Mai needs no introduction. This city in the mountainous terrains of Northern Thailand is a welcome break from the more popular and crowded streets of Bangkok and Pattaya. While there are a lot of things to do here, if your time is limited in Chiang Mai, here are the top 5 things you must do.
Hike to Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep is a sacred mountain that stands ever-present in the city of Chiang Mai. From near everywhere in the city you can see the famous temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, that stands atop the mountain. This temple is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in all of Thailand. Begin your journey at the base of the mountain for a hike. The Monk’s Trail will lead you on an hour long trek up the mountain to a secluded temple called Wat Pha Lat. Not only is this a beautiful temple hidden in the jungle, but along the way you will get to see many plants, flowers, bugs, lizards, birds and possibly even a snake. Once you reach Wat Pha Lat temple you can take a quick walk to the main road in order to flag down a red truck (a public means of transportation where you hop on and off for just 20 baht).
From there you should journey all the way up to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Walk around the complex, take pictures, say some prayers and soak up the views of the city. After the temple I recommend taking a red truck down to one of the mountain’s waterfalls. There you can cool off and relax with a bite to eat or something to drink.Once you’re beat, ride a red truck once more to the base of the mountain and then order a Grab car to take you to your next destination.
Food and Culture at a Day Market
A trip to Thailand would be incomplete on an empty stomach – you should make an effort to sample the countries many delicious dishes, snacks, and fruit. To get the most bang for your buck, while also saving on time, visit a day market. There you’ll get to enjoy many cooked-to-order meals and some great-tasting fruits. Try truly exotic fruits like durian, jackfruit, dragon fruit, mangosteen and rambutan. For food, I recommend gaprao (a stir-fried Thai basil rice dish) and kuay teaw (an amazing noodle soup). In addition to the food, you’ll get to see lots of Thai people and view how many of them do their daily shopping.
Pamper Yourself with a Massage
With all the walking you’ll be doing and all the heat you’ll be taking in, you’ll deserve to take a load off and relax at a spa. Thailand is famous for the quality of their massages and for their ridiculously cheap prices. At a typical massage shop you’ll pay around $6.50 for an hour long massage. Mid-range shops might cost you $20 an hour. And if you really want to splurge and go to a high-end spa, then you’ll likely pay out $39 – all much cheaper than you’d find back home. Thai massages are deep tissue. I find them great, but they can be painful. Don’t be afraid to ask for the masseuse to go lighter. Oil massages are very relaxing and pain-free. Herbal compress massages are also very relaxing and pain-free, other than the heat of the steamed herbs. They also smell really good.
Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
With modernization and the spread of civilization, elephants are losing more and more of their natural habitat. This sad reality is heightened by the fact that these large mammals are very expensive to care for. An ethical compromise has been made that takes care of these lovely animals while not bankrupting their owners, that is the invention of the elephant sanctuary for tourist purposes. At these sanctuaries elephants are not ridden, they do not perform shows, they are not caged or chained, and they are not hit/prodded with a hook. Instead they roam freely while visitors get to watch and interact with them. Visiting an elephant sanctuary will give you the opportunity to meet these gentle giants up close, which is an amazing experience. Additionally, the visit will take you away from the city and give you a glimpse into Chiang Mai’s wild surroundings.
Explore the Old City
Chiang Mai’s “Old City” is a historic district protected on all sides by a moat. Over the years the Old City has blossomed into a community that has traces of the old intertwined with the new. If you explore on foot and allow yourself to get lost (don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe), then you’ll be bound to find unvisited temples, delicious food, interesting sites, chill cafes, and plenty of wonderful souvenirs. This exploration could take up the bulk of your day if you allowed it, and you wouldn’t be disappointed. This is the single best way to take in what Chiang Mai has to offer culturally.
If you are looking for more tips on what to do in Chiang Mai, check out this great blog post I found: Things To Do In Chiang Mai | Presented by Panumart Tattoo.