We knew Chiang Mai was special from the minute we stepped off the plane. This is a beautiful city in Northern Thailand, surrounded by nature and wildlife and filled with spectacular culture. It’s no wonder it has become such a hub for digital nomads and rapidly gaining popularity as a tourist destination. Below are our top 10 reasons why we think you’ll love this city too:
1: The Markets
Chiang Mai has some of the best markets we’ve seen in Southeast Asia. While there are markets throughout the day, the night markets are most significant. The Kalare Night Bazaar is open daily from noon to midnight. You will find a variety of local crafts, street food, massages and more. This is located outside the Old City.
The massive Jhaban Market runs each Sunday from 4 p.m.- 12 a.m. right in the center of the Old City. This market was packed with crowds but was our favorite. With such low prices it is hard to stop shopping and eating!
2: The Temples
With over 300 temples in Chiang Mai and the surrounding area it can be overwhelming knowing which to visit. Although the popular temples including Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang are noteworthy, some of our favorites were the smaller temples that we would stumble upon on our walks around the city. Each temple is intricate and special in it’s own way and respected by everyone. You will never run out of new temples to explore in this city.
3: The Massages
Maybe the real reason we were relaxed the entire time we were in Chiang Mai was due to the endless massages we got. Around every corner you will find a new spot to get a massage– you’ll even find them in the street markets! Unlike a massage you would find elsewhere, a Thai massage keeps you in a robe or loose clothing and moves your body around in ways you weren’t sure you could move. You may be in a room with many other people (and sometimes animals as well) but you’ll be so relaxed and rejuvenated, you won’t even care! Most massages we had cost us about $5- $7 USD.
4: The Food
We couldn’t get enough of the food in Northern Thailand. In Chiang Mai you’ll find some Indian influences blended with traditional Thai cuisine. There is certainly something for everyone and the prices are unbeatable. While there is plenty of street food to be had (and some of our favorite dishes were from street vendors), be sure choose the street food vendors with the lines of local customers. Those are the vendors that will have the freshest food that hasn’t been sitting out all day (and if it is popular with the locals that means you can typically trust it is good.) Some of our favorite staples are: green curry, khao soi and sai oua (sausage). Be sure to treat yourself to plenty of fresh fruit smoothies and sticky rice with mango as well!
5: The Parks
One thing I was not expecting to find in a busy city in Thailand was the beauty of the parks. Suan Buak Haad Park is located in Old City and is a stunning area to spend an afternoon. We were lucky to visit Chiang Mai in February after the Suan Buak Haad Park flower festival to see the beautiful displays around the park. There are some outstanding gardens within Doi Inthanon National Park that are worth noting as well.
6: The History
Dating back to 1296, the history of this city is mind-blowing. Chiang Mai used to be the capital of the Lan Na kingdom and is to this day the largest city in Northern Thailand.
Within the city the Buddhist culture is everywhere and shapes the culture. You’ll have the chance to learn more about Buddhism and monks the Monk Chats program. We learned so much from talking to a few monks and not only have a new found respect for monks but a better understanding of the Buddhist culture that dates back to the 3rd century B.C. in Thailand.
You’ll find history everywhere within the templates but specifically at Wat Chedi Luang. This temple was build between the 14th and 15th century and used to house the Emerald Buddha (but was moved to Bangkok in 1475).
Leaving the city you will find history within the hill tribe villages, including the Karen, which we were able to visit on our trip to Doi Inthanon National Park.
7: Elephant Nature Park
Please do elephants a favor and do not ride them. The best way to visit elephants in Thailand is to spend time at an elephant preserve. Our recommendation is the Elephant Nature Park. We spent a day here feeding and cleaning the elephants and it was one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had. This park is a rescue and rehabilitation center. They provide full day tours, or, if you’d like to spend more time you can volunteer for multiple days.
8: The Atmosphere
There is something about this city. We felt like the weight of the world was lifted off our shoulders the entire time we were in Chiang Mai. The atmosphere is relaxed, beautiful and so enjoyable. The backdrop of mountains in the city mixed with the beautiful cafes and gardens is the best setting to indulge in food, drinks, massages and shopping. This makes it hard to leave this city.
9: Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon is the highest point of Thailand, located outside Chiang Mai. We chose a full-day tour with Bon Voyage Thailand and had a great experience. There are multiple waterfalls including the Sirithan and Wachirathan, stunning pagodas build to honor the king and queen, a shrine with the kings remains, hill tribe villages and more.
10: The Accommodations
We stayed at the Cozy Inn guesthouse in Old City. It is simple, clean, has everything you need and at a very good price (about $20 USD a night). We would recommend finding a guesthouse within the Old City walls if you are only staying for a few days. Everything is walkable and most tours will pick you up from anywhere in Old City without an issue.
We hope you’ll love Chiang Mai as much as we do. If you are planning a trip or looking for more information please feel free to send us a message or comment.
Emilie & Chris