If you are planning a vacation to Thailand, your trip isn’t complete unless you visit Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is just another small town, no doubt, but there is something charming and mystical about this town in Northern Thailand. One of the oldest of this country, Chiang Mai will encapsulate you with amazing landscapes, beautiful temples and the charm of the old city which even today is alive and kicking. If you are planning your first trip to Chiang Mai, this post is a good starting point to make your list of things to do while you are there!
In Thailand, a city’s prosperity is based on the number of temples and going by that factor, Chiang Mai is very prosperous 🙂
Chiang Mai Trip Details
Chiang Mai is the first-ever place where we stayed in a hostel. Here is the short version.
Travel: Krabi to Chiang Mai.
Hotel: Green Sleep Hostel <3
No: of Days: 3
Places covered: Chiang Mai temples, Chiang Rai temples, the Golden Triangle, and ziplining (Eagle Track)
Cost: ₹44,000 for two people (excluding flights from and to Chiang Mai).
Local Transport: Uber, Songthaew, Cycle, Walk
Things to do: Temples of Chiang Mai
Have no second thoughts on where to stay in Chiang Mai. Old City has to be it. And once you land and check in to your hotel, you can walk to almost all the temples within the old city. Some of the temples that we visited are listed below while there are much more than you can cover.
Wat Phra Singh
One of the most famous and beautiful looking temples in Chiang Mai, this is a temple not to be missed. Take a walk around the lovely temple.
Wat Chedi Luang
This was my favourite as it still looks so good even after so many decades of existence and damage. After landing in Chiang Mai, we first visited this temple and we were so awestruck by this temple that we completely lost track of time.
Wat Sri Suphan
I was looking forward to seeing this temple as this was the only Silver temple in Chiang Mai. They have a neon display of lights every Thursday which was the main reason why we wanted to visit.
Unfortunately, we knew of the Thursday logic only after reaching there. Still worth a visit!
P.S: Notice the Ganesha statue there? 🙂
This was a very interesting temple in Chiang Mai, away from the old city. Wat Umong takes you back in time for sure. Don’t worry as it is not claustrophobic. The locals mentioned that there is an underground tunnel which can be explored.
The tall trees have nice quotes and there are a lot of small statues in the garden which made this place more interesting.
Wat Doi Suthep
Situated on top of the 8th largest mountain in Thailand, it takes at least an hour to go up from the city. This is the most crowded temple in Chiang Mai and it makes sense to visit this temple early in the day to skip the crowds and enjoy the surroundings in peace.
Built in the 1300s, reaching the Doi Suthep involves climbing 309 steps, with the nagas on the sides for company.
This mountain also gives you a full view of the city (that’s my cover photo for this post). We noticed a lot of cyclists going up the curved roads too.
Meditation Retreat in Wat Palad
This was a surprise offbeat place that our driver took us too and this place was so cute, to say the least. Wat Palad (also spelt as Wat Pha Lat) is near Doi Suthep and I’d like to call this a jungle temple that most people don’t know and in some sense a temple that’s best not known to many. Some places are best left untouched, don’t you think? 🙂
Let me try arousing your interest further 😉 This gem hidden amongst trees is absolutely enchanting and has a meditation retreat whose location is just perfect. On the one side, we have this temple, enshrining elephants and dragons, the worldly and unworldly side-by-side. On the other side, we have streams poured out of the hills, with a large rock waterfall overlooking the Chiang Mai skyline.
The area around Wat Palad has small bridges and pathways with statues of Buddha, dragons, worshipers, candle holders and stone carvings all over the place. Absolutely out of the world, don’t you think?
Doi Inthanon National Park
If your Thailand itinerary includes Chiang Mai, then you should not miss this park. Home to the highest point of Thailand, Doi Inthanon has two beautiful temples, two beautiful waterfalls and the view.
This is again quite a drive from the city. Leave first thing in the morning to visit this beauty and fall in love with Thailand. I will be writing an exclusive post about this place soon 🙂
Things to do: Food in Chiang Mai
You will be surprised to find a number of restaurants in this small town which serves really yummy vegetarian and vegan food. My favourite was an Italian restaurant in the Old City called La Fontana while my husband’s favourite was Piccola Roma Palace (this was only because Angelina Jolie was here..yea :-/ !!) which is a little away from the Old City.
Yummy pumpkin soup, tender coconuts, Thai yellow curry with sticky rice, Pad Thai and great desserts to choose from. Close to the Piccola Roma, you can walk to this famous bar called Rasta Cafe. Sip a beer, enjoy a Bob Marley ambience and then head out to eat as they do not serve food.
Things to do: Shopping in Chiang Mai
There are weekend markets in most Asian countries where you will find a number of small shops on the streets. The Anusarn Market (close to Rasta Bar and Piccola Roma) is the most famous market to head to in Chiang Mai. As we had very less time on our hands, we could only visit this night market.
It’s a really huge market (quite big, but nowhere close to Chatuchak Market in Bangkok) between two roads and you can find anything and everything under this roof. Mua Thai, gifts, lights, food, drinks – anything. This is where we spent a lot of our time and had super fun! Other than the regular shopping, you can also stitch dresses and suits and you can find many shops as you walk around exploring the city.
Bor Sang Village
Sometimes called Bo Sang Village, this is a must go, when you visit Chiang Mai. You will experience art and creativity first hand. Right from small to giant size umbrellas, this place will make you fall in love. As you enter, the first building is the shopping area and as you walk to the back, you can find artists creating the umbrella from scratch to the beautiful looking ones that you wish you could take home. I went crazy in this place as I wanted to take everything back home 😀
Things to do: Spa in Chiang Mai
How can we stay in Thailand without getting those Thai massages? There are many in Chiang Mai too but there was one spa that really caught our eye. Lila Thai Massage is an Ex-Inmate Employment and Skill Development Center which helps and supports women. These are women who were prisoners and are given a chance to live their corrected life. The spa was well maintained and so was their service.
Things to do: Other places/activities in Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai, like any other South East Asian city, there are tons of things that can be done during your stay. Our eyes were completely on ziplining so there are two operators who run the ziplines. We chose Eagle Track, they were cheaper and we were mighty happy with what we got.
You can visit elephant camps – not the ones where the elephants are abused or are made tools to earn tourism money. There are camps where you can actually take care of these beautiful creatures. Go ahead, give them a bath, feed them and be satisfied that you are in an environment where the elephants are treated right.
You can visit Pai (we finally did in 2019, read Things to do in Pai in 3 days), Chiang Rai, Long Neck Karen Village, the Golden Triangle in a single day or two days depending on your schedule.
Have a lot of time and want to learn something new, go for those cooking classes, cycle around the city, white water raft if you are an adrenaline junkie, trek through the forests and enjoy this serene beauty.