Sawasdee Ka travelers! Most of the people who travel to Thailand make a beeline for its islands and beaches. It is no hearsay that the heavenly beauty of Thailand is captivated by its stunning shoreline. But, we cannot deny the rustic charm Chiang Mai boosts. The mountainous city is a storehouse of ancient temples, historic sites, and natural wonders. If you love exploring you are sure to fall in love with this city. The food here is to die for and a visit to the city is worth it if you are planning on spending a week or two in Thailand. If you are still confused whether you should visit the city or not, read below for a preview of things you can indulge in when here.
1. A tour of Chiang Mai ancient temples
The huge part of the charm of Chiang Mai is its intricately carved temples. Your first day in the city would most likely be spent exploring the historic temple that has long attracted travelers and devotees.
Wat Doi Suthep is situated on a mountainous terrain surrounded by lush greenery. The 300 steps staircase might seem a bit of a challenge but the view from the top is worth the effort. There are elevators for those who prefer it. The 360-degree panoramic view calls for some killer shots so do not forget to carry your camera with you.
Wat Suan Dok with its 48 m tall bell-shaped stupa is another one of the fine temples you must pay a visit. Wat Chedi Luang is a historic and majestic Lunna architectural styled Buddhist temple that is counted among one of the most ancient temples in the city. A visit to the temples is not only a treat for the eyes but also you get to learn so much about Buddhist and Thai culture.
2. Enjoy Thai Khantoke Dinner & Cultural shows
Khantoke is a pedestal tray used as a dining table by Lanna people. Several restaurants in Chiang Mai like Khum Khantoke, Cultural Centre Khantoke, Khantoke Palace, offer a fine Lanna-style dining experience. You are welcomed by servers and staff dressed in traditional Lanna costumes.
The restaurants are decorated in old Lanna style and serves delicious and authentic northern Thai cuisines. They usually serve 7-8 menus on Khantoke and you are entertained with cultural shows while you enjoy your dinner. Most of these restaurants are situated in Chiang Mai downtown, a place easily accessible by public transports.
3. Relax your sense with a traditional Thai massage
A day full of sightseeing and tours can be tiring. A traditional Thai style massage would hence be a welcoming change. Thai massage practices date about 2000 years back and were developed by monks. Everywhere in Thailand will you find massage centers and spas.
Tourist places like Chiang Mai have an abundance of such centers to cater to all of its tourists. An hour or more spent here having your muscles pulled, kneaded, pushed and relaxed will revive your energy and make you feel so much better. Indulging in a Thai massage after all the flight and bus journeys will be a great way to start your vacation.
4. Hiking and Camping at Doi Suthep Pui National Park
If you love a bit of adventure and thrill then a hike up in the Doi Pui Peak Nature Trail is worth it. If you are not an outdoorsy person the trail is so beautiful it is worth pushing your limits.
You have to take a songthaew to reach the base of the trail. You can catch one easily anywhere in Chiang Mai. There are several Songthaew outside Chiang Mai University that take about 30 baht per person to take you up to the trail head.
There are several beautiful viewpoints on your way to the trailhead. The first being the ever famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep followed by Bhubing Palace. You can take a small detour to visit a hill tribe village called Doi Pui Hmong. The tribal village has a small market area with several small shops. It is a great place to grab a snack before heading up the trail. It’s about a 30 minutes walk from the gate to the peak.
The trail is peaceful and a breath of fresh air after the traffic and chaotic city. The view of the city is amazing and you can also camp for the night at Doi Pui
5. Experience Ziplining
One of the best activities to indulge in Chiang Mai is to explore its lush jungles like Tarzan. Adventure lovers will simply not be able to reset this opportunity. And, for those of you who are not so adventures, there is no better place than Chiang Mai to try something new.
Ziplining is safe, you would have an instructor guiding you, and a harness to support your body. The birds-eye view from the top and of course the adrenaline rush just adds on to the whole experience. Several zip lining companies in Chiang Mai organize zip lining tours with transfer services, lunch, and also insurance. Flight of the Gibbon is one of the most trusted operators in Asia. You can look-up companies online.
6. Kayaking and rafting in Mae Wang River
Mae Wang is situated in the heart of Chiang Mai. Every corner and turn of the river has new adventures up in its sleeves. Kayaking and river rafting are two of the most popular water sports practiced here. You will pass by elephant sanctuaries on your way. It is about 45 minutes from Chiang Mai to Mae Wang Valley. Several tour operators offer packages that include practice sessions and guides.
7. A trip to Doi Inthanon National Park
If you are up for a challenge then a visit to Doi Inthanon National must be in your ‘To Do’ list. The park has the highest summit in the whole of Thailand, several beautiful waterfalls, two chedis, remote villages, and a peaceful camping site.
The park is popularly known as the “Roof of Thailand”. The journey to the park might not be easy as you would have to switch between a couple of songthaews. The distance between the various attractions is also quite big so you might need a car or a bike. A wiser option will be to book a tour operator who can take care of pick-up and drop.
The sunrise is breathtaking from the summit. The seasonal Siamese sakura flowers bloom from late January to early February. The park has several eateries and camping sites and bungalows for you to halt.
The park has two popular Chedis, Naphamethanidon and Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon. Sunset from the two Chedis is a popular site to behold. The park is a popular site for birdwatching. Especially in the late winter season from February to April when the migration happens. Mae Klang Luang Village is located about 5km east of the village headquarters. The village is a great place to observe Thai rural life and also has cafes and restaurants to serve you well.
The famous Ang ka Luang Nature Trail is slightly on the opposite side of the summit. The trail is covered with dense forests on both sides. If you have ever been a fan of Robert Frost’s poetry, you might find reciting some to yourself here.
8. Dine at a cruise on Ping River
River Ping, one of the main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, is just as beautiful as the main river. A dinner cruise on the river is a fine way of spending a romantic evening with your special someone.
You get to enjoy a large variety of delicious food and drinks while on an enchanting boat ride. There are several cruise operators in Chiang Mai, you can look them up online or have your Thailand Tour Operator book one for you.
9. Chiang Mai Night safari
One of the most exciting trips you can undertake in Chiang Mai. The World’s third nocturnal zoo is divided into different zones. You can hike in the Jaguar Trail. Get on a tramp and travel through the Savanna Safari Zone and Predator Prowl Zone.
The zoo has a large collection of nocturnal animals which is about 400 in number. You get to see the animals up-close living in their natural surroundings. The idyllic Swan Lake is another major attraction in the area. A range of animals like the white tiger, capybaras, clouded leopards, Jaguars, crocodiles, lions, rhinoceroses, and zebras.
10. Explore the history Wiang Kum Kam & Wat Chiang Rai
The ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam was abandoned about 700 years back. The city still has temple ruins and relics of the bygone age.
You get to hop on a horse-carriage and ride through the city discovering its relics, marveling at the architectural excellence of its ancient temples like Wat Kan Thom, Wat Phraya Meng Rai, Koo Paa Dom, Wat Chedi Liam. You can learn about Chiang Mai’s history at the City Arts and Cultural Center.
11. Shop at street markets
Shopping in a foreign destination is always fun. Chiang Mai street markets are not just filled with all sorts of diverse and trendy things but is also a great place to enjoy some local street cuisine. From fresh fruits, trendy clothes, hand-made trinkets, handicrafts, and more. There might be only a few things that you’ll fail to find here.
The Sunday Market at the Tha Pae Gate to Ratchadamnoen Road is one of the most popular street markets in Chiang Mai. Musicians and Artists performing on the streets add on to the whole atmosphere. Ratchadamnoen Road has a range of restaurants and food stalls selling everything and anything from Chinese noodles to Sushi.
Chiang Mai is also popular for its Night Markets. The Night Bazaar starts at around 6:00 in the evening and continues till midnight. Make sure you have your haggling game up when shopping in the market.
12. Explore Mae Ngat Dam
Mae Ngat Dam in the Mae Ngat Valley is another scenic place in Chiang Mai. The dam is only about an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai. The dam seems like a completely different world immersed in complete tranquility. The sound of chirping birds happens to be the only sound you might hear.
The dam is a great place to spend the weekend or if you are on a tight schedule then a day. The dam is about 30 years old and has interesting legends about it related to spirits. If you love a mystery then surely this is a place for you.
You can stop at the Blue Temple on your way to the dam. The lake has floating bungalows for you to stay for the night. The floating bungalows are distributed in groups. Each group has a floating restaurant that serves you with fine Thai meals. The dam is still not well known among tourists and hence it is a lot quieter than most other tourist attractions in the city.
13. Experience Jungle Trekking
Chaing Mai has several exciting jungle trails for adventure lovers. Jungle trekking is a must if you are a wildlife lover. Out of all the trekking trails one of the most mesmerizing one happens to be from Muang Kurti to Huay Kukap Trek. Jungle trekking lets you not just feel closer to nature but you also get glimpses of hill tribes and their charismatic culture.
14. Street Food
The street foods in the whole of Thailand is amazing. Some of the best places to enjoy street food in Chiang Mai are Chang Phueak Gate, Warorot Market, and Chiang Mai University road. When visiting Chiang Mai make sure you savour the taste of the delicious street foods.
15. Have Khao Soi
One of the most delicious food Chiang Mai has to offer. It is a smoky curry made of coconut and noodle soup. Spicy food lovers will love this dish. The use of spices like turmeric and cardamom give it an Indian flavour. The soup is garnished with fresh cilantro and crunchy noodles. You will be served the dish with red onion, pickles, and lime wedges. It is made with meat, mostly chicken but, it can also be prepared for vegetarians and vegans.
16. Learn to cook Thai style
Chiang Mai has several half-day cooking classes designed especially for tourists. On your visit to Thailand, you are sure to fall in love with its exquisite cuisine. If you want to savor the flavors of Thai food and take it back home with you then you can join one of these cooking classes. You can look for these classes online. The professional chefs taking these classes teach you the basics of Thai cooking and also one or two signature Thai dishes. The size of the class is usually small and hence the chief can pay attention to all of its pupils. You get to enjoy the food you have cooked later after the class with your fellow class members.
17. Visit Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm
The orchid is located in the Mae Rim District and is another major tourist attraction. If you love knowing more about the plant you can pay for this place at the visit.
The butterfly farm with its beautiful and colorful butterflies teaches you a lot of the insect’s life cycle. You can grab a meal in the dining area after you finish your sightseeing. It is served buffet-style with coffee and desserts.
18. Grab a Coffee at the Cat Cafe
A unique cafe concept that has gained popularity in Asia immensely. There are a couple of cat cafes in Thailand, the Catmosphere in Huay Kaew Road, Chiang Mai being the most popular among tourists.
It is a great place to enjoy a carefree time. You can grab a cafe latte or cappuccino or read a magazine or a book while a cat peacefully sleeps in your lap. If you are a cat lover you certainly cannot miss this place.
The cafe has several cute cats and is extremely particular about hygiene. Before entering the cafe you would have to take your shoes off, flip on slippers, watch your hands and then enter. The interior is all about cats with paintings and drawings on the walls. There are several playthings that cats keep themselves entertained with.
19. Visit the Grand Canyon Water Park
The park was built in a limestone quarry left abandoned for years. In 2016 the park was opened for visitors and has slides and inflatable obstacle courses. You can also indulge in ziplining and wakeboarding. The entry fees are about 450 Baht and an additional 150 Baht for locker and keys.
20. Take part in The Loy Krathong Festival
A popular Thai festival that is claimed to be the most beautiful. The festival is celebrated with a lot of pomp in Chiang Mai. Krathong in Thai means Banana trunk or decorated Banana trunk. Loy means floating picturesque. Together it means The Festival of Floating Banana Trunks.
The festival takes starts two days before the full moon and lasts for three days until the day of the full moon. It usually falls on November. People gather around lakes, canals, and rivers and pay respect to the water goddess by releasing rafts decorated with lotus and candles. If you are planning a visit to Thailand in November it’ll be great if you do so during Loy Krathong Festival.