Chiang Mai is the ideal destination in Thailand if you want to travel slow and be surrounded by nature’s beauty, as it’s located right in the mountainous range of northern Thailand.
I made it to Chiang Mai after traveling around Bangkok and Krabi, and this charming city is truly a contrast to both. It’s a less chaotic city – much quieter and smaller – with a more authentic and relaxed vibe than the others. Not to mention that it’s also even more inexpensive than Bangkok and the Southern Islands, which I didn’t think could even be possible.
There really is a little bit of something in this area for everyone to enjoy, and a little bit of something in this area that makes it easy for anyone to fall in love with it. If you’re not much of a trekker or nature dweller, there’s tons of leisurely wandering to do which IMO – makes this the perfect spot to end your Thailand travels.
Do read on and bookmark these spots and things to do, see and eat if you’re headed to Thailand one of these days.
I’d recommend booking your stay in Old City, located right in the South East of Chiang Mai. This is the ideal location, as it’s easily accessible to pretty much anywhere around Chiang Mai.
You can get 10% off your stay by using my Booking.com link here.
TO DO & SEE
Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants and other small animals located in the Mae Taeng area. Asian Elephants are an endangered species, with the population estimated to be currently at an alarmingly low level at 30,000 in the entire world. 20% of that population is believed to be in the Chiang Mai province.
Elephant Nature Park works to create a safe haven for these animals who have been rescued from abuse, tourism, logging industries, etc.
Being so darn close to these babies got the inner child in me squealing. Elephant Nature Park is a must visit when you’re in Chiang Mai. A day visit to the park first consists of a quick lesson on these animals and their anatomy, in order to ensure that all visitors have a solid understanding of why riding these animals is so harmful to their bodies. You also get to meet some of the families, feed them bananas, and even bathe with them.
If interacting with elephants have always been something you wanted to tick off your bucketlist, elephant sanctuaries are a must. It really is upsetting that there are still travelers wanting to ride elephants, unaware of the ethical issues related to it. A lot of tourists are just simply uninformed that riding elephants is harmful to their bodies. Despite their size, their spines were not meant to handle the weight of humans on their backs.
Aside from creating a safe space for elephants, Elephant Nature Park also works to increase awareness and promote sustainable elephant-friendly tourism.
If you want to visit an elephant sanctuary, I’d specifically recommend Elephant Nature Park because from my own research, it is the most credible elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I’ll admit that it is a bit on the pricier side but personally, it was well worth the money because it gave me a chance to interact with these sweet creatures and I was able to learn a lot from the knowledgable staff members. Plus, knowing that my money is going towards a good deed made my heart feel warm.
There aren’t many feelings that trumps that one.
Doi Inthanon Park
Doi Inthanon Park is one of the major highlights of Chiang Mai. This is where you’ll find the highest point in Thailand. Luckily, I went on a rainy day so there weren’t many tourists.
But because of the rain, the major hiking trail was closed. I was initially bummed out for a bit, but the majestic Cloud Forest made up for it. It does get a bit chilly up in the mountains so be sure to dress accordingly!
This is also where you can find the King and Queen pagodas.
If you enjoy trekking and being surrounded by the mountains and neature, you’re going to love Chiang Mai as much as I did. There are tons of tour packages available in Chiang Mai that includes jungle trekking in the Mae Tang district.
My day consisted of jungle trekking, chasing waterfalls, feeding and washing elephants, and ended the day with bamboo rafting. And yes – I did spend another day with elephants. Where else can I do this twice in one week?
In case you didn’t know, you can always find great deals for these tours once you arrive to the city so don’t make the mistake of trying to book one online in advance.
Rent a Bike
You can rent a bike pretty much anywhere in Chiang Mai for 50 BAHT, which is roughly $1.50. That’s a price that is so unheard of anywhere in the States. I’ll admit that the roads can be pretty hectic and I first struggled with biking on the left side of the road. But if I can get used to it, so can you. It really isn’t as dangerous as people assume. Just be aware of your surroundings and play it safe.
Wander Around Nimmanhaemin Road
This is an area where you can find an eclectic collection of cafes, boutiques and restaurants – if you’re keen for the more modern, hip spots. I enjoyed a meal at Rustic & Blue (keep scrolling down for more of this, under “To Eat”) and winded down at Libarista – a cutesy library cafe. I would highly recommend both spots to grub and get caffeinated.
Take a Yoga Class
I had the best yoga experience at Wild Rose Yoga. One class is affordably priced at 250 BAHT, which is a little over 7 bucks. I can’t say that the classes are for beginners – it was actually pretty advanced. But I enjoyed the instructor’s way of leading the class and although it was challenging, it was simultaneously relaxing and I felt so insanely good after a nice long sweat session. I’ve taken a couple of yoga classes in the States, and this was truly an inimitable experience.
You can check out their calendar here to view the class schedule. I can’t recommend it enough.
Rustic & Blue
You can find this hip AF vegan-friendly restaurant on Nimmanhaemin Road, as mentioned above. After being in Asia for so long, I couldn’t help but to crave the kind of food that I would eat on a usual basis back in the States – wholesome smoothie bowls, savory salads, etc. I didn’t expect to eat this vegetarian meal in Thailand, but I was so glad that this was even an option.
It’s a pretty westernized spot, so the price is a lot higher in terms of the country’s standards – and compared to the other local restaurants populating Chiang Mai. Nevertheless, the meal is still a lot more affordable if you compare it to the States.
I had the Acai Bowl and it was filled to the brim with everything that I could possibly ask for – goji berries, granola, fresh dragon fruit, papayas, etc. The Rosy Egg Benefit was also extremely colorful and bomb dot com. I asked for mushrooms instead of bacon and although the meal was meatless, it was devoured within seconds.
I can’t forget to mention the interior of the cozy space made me feel like I teleported back home for a second.
RUSTIC & BLUE
Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 7,
Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai,
Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
The markets here are surely something you absolutely cannot miss in Chiang Mai. There are so many markets to check out – The Night Bazaar, The Weekend Market, Saturday Market, Sunday Market. And yes… These are all different markets.
The markets are insanely large and hectic, and you can pretty much find anything you need here. I guess I could’ve put this under the “To Do & See ” list, but to be quite honest the only purchases I made at these markets was the food. Zero shame.
The street food is always affordable in Thailand, so I was willing to try everything I wanted. Maybe I’m a little biased because I’ve always been a huge fan of thai food, but anything from the markets is truly so good – it’s a bit concerning for how little you pay for it. I think it’s safe to say that I ate at the markets pretty much every night.
My favorite things to eat/drink at the markets in no particular order:
- Fresh fruit and fruit juice
- Som Tum (green papaya salad)
- Khao Soi – A must have when in Northern Thailand. It’s a Burmese-influenced dish, that’s basically made up of curry noodles. This was my favorite dish in Thailand period.
- Yam Naem Khao Thot
- Curry thai sausages
- Fresh noodle spring rolls
- Mango & sticky rice
- Coconut ice cream – Make sure you ask for peanuts on top.
- Ancient ice cream – Not exactly sure why it’s called “ancient ice cream” but I dun currrrr. The taro flavor was incredibly good for only 10 BAHT. (Roughly 30 cents.)
Chiang Mai isn’t exactly ritzy or the most glamorous place to visit, but it’s beautiful in its own ways. As the last leg of my Thailand trip, I truly made an effort to soak everything in and immerse in the moment. The people, the culture, the food… Everything about Thailand uplifted me in ways that’s difficult to translate into words. Chiang Mai is one part of Thailand you cannot miss.
It’s been almost a month since I’ve been back, but I’m still kind of on a high.
Thanks for reading.