C onsidered one of the top destinations to visit in SouthEast Asia, people flock to Chiang Mai for it’s affordable prices, sight seeing, food options, and location. Located in the mountainous area of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has a lot of opportunities to explore. There are plenty of places to see inside and outside of the city’s moat. You have options for tour packages, or you can rent a motorbike for less than $5 a day and roam around yourself like we did. We have put together a list of what to do in Chiang Mai.
Motorbiking Nearby Mountains
We highly recommend getting out of the city and taking a cruise on a motorbike through the mountains. Whether you are doing the Mae Hong Son motorbiking loop through Pai or not, you should at least explore around Chiang Mai for a day. We ended up checking out the mountains two different days and it was probably the most memorable part of our stay in Chiang Mai. We liked feeling removed from everyone and the cool breeze on the windy roads of the mountains through the jungle. We also stopped at random coffee shops tucked away in the hills that served up some of the best cups of joe we’ve had in Asia. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the view from time to time, it’s pretty stunning up there!
Doi Suthep Temple
You can see Chiang Mai’s most popular temple by tour or on your own via motorbike. If we haven’t said it enough, we love renting a motorbike and seeing things ourselves, so we tied Doi Suthep with a day of exploring the mountains as mentioned above. The temple is situated high in the mountains overlooking the city. It’s only $1 to get in, and women if you are wearing shorts and tank tops because it’s hot, you will have to rent a sarong and cover up. You will walk up hundreds of stairs to reach the top where you will be welcomed by grand, intricate design of the temple. Take some time to check out all the ornate buildings of the temple and sneak a peek at the view before coming back down. We made one of our “Walk With Us” series at Doi Suthep, be sure to check it out below!
Silver Temple (Wat Sri Suphan)
It took us some trial and error to find this temple nestled away in the city. Mostly, because we had the wrong directions to start with. Don’t be fooled by the wrong silver temple across the street like we did either! We arrived at a temple seeing a silver building with a red roof thinking this must be it since there is some silver! After we spent a long time taking photos in the heat, we realized there’s a sign directing us across the street for the correct temple, Wat Sri Suphan. Oops! The silver temple is gorgeous and worth checking out, even if only from the outside. Unfortunately, women cannot go inside, so send a guy in to take pictures for you to see! We filmed another one of our “Walk With Us” series here so make sure you check it out!
Chiang Mai is full of temples all walking distance apart. You can walk around the city and peek in at ones that call out your name like we did. There are some temples that don’t allow women to enter or won’t let you in wearing a tank top and shorts. The weather was too hot in May for us to wear more clothes, so for the temples with more strict rules we admired from the outside. Temples like Doi Suthep and Wat Chedi Luang have free monk chats with foreigners certain times of the day where the monks like to practice their English. Foreigners are encouraged to come ask any questions they have on Buddhism or even just talk about your life. We missed this opportunity this time, but it gives us something to look forward to on our next visit!
Sunday Walking Street Market
Every Sunday night on Rachadamnoen Road fills up with vendors selling handmade gifts, clothing, homemade beauty products, thai souvenirs, and tons of street food options. We felt like this was the best market Chiang Mai had to offer. The food stalls looked and tasted delicious. We could’ve ate our way through that entire market. It gets a bit overwhelming with the crowds, but you can easily take a break at any of the restaurants or cafes lined up on the street as well. If you’re feeling really fancy you can also get a massage along the way.
We were a bit disappointed with Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar. We felt like the Sunday Walking Street Market had a better selection of things to buy. The streets are lined up with vendor carts and there are also big pavilions full of vendors. The Night Bazaar had more of a selection for art lovers. We found ourselves mesmerized by the charcoal painters in one of the pavilions. We stopped and talked to a friendly artist who remakes famous photographer Steve McCurry’s photographs. He even has a photo with the McCurry hanging up in his stall. Walk around and you will find more painters and artisans making their hand crafted goods. In the pavilion with the artists you could see the quality was better, even on the little purses. The rest of the vendors were selling the same old tourist merchandise.
Thai Cooking Class
There are many options for cooking classes in Chiang Mai with many different course options. We chose Asia Scenic Cooking School’s evening class. There are also full day options or early afternoon options. We spent the evening in a smaller, intimate class with a total of 6 people. We were walked to a local market and was explained very quickly what some of the ingredients were used in Thai dishes. We each chose a few courses and started cooking. The class was at a pretty fast pace, so we will find out if we retained any of the information once we have a kitchen to cook in! You also get to go home with a nice, color cookbook with all the recipes inside. The night was fun, and it makes it even better if you are with a fun group of people like we were. Our cooking instructor also had a sassy, funny attitude that made the night even more entertaining.
Food of Chiang Mai
We read rave reviews about the food available in Chiang Mai. We also got to indulge in some western dishes too from Mexican to Italian! Our favorite western meal would have to be the pizza at By Hand Pizza Cafe. They take pride in hand making their crust and using only the finest, local ingredients to make homemade sauce, and local homemade cheese. They are only open for dinner. Another must try dish in Chiang Mai is Khao Soi Soup, a local curry noodle soup served with a chicken leg. This is a local dish to Northern Thailand and is pretty darn tasty!
Scattered and tucked away in the mountains are a handful of beautiful waterfalls to check out. Two of the most popular and noteworthy would be the cascading Mae Sa Waterfalls and the Sticky Bua Tong Waterfalls. You can cool off and swim at Mae Sa and at Bua Tong gets the “sticky” in it’s name because you can literally climb the waterfall and not slip. We did not get to see the falls on this trip, mostly because of the time of year we visited. We were disappointed in places like Pai and Koh Chang where we tried to see the falls because they were pretty much dried up at the beginning of rainy season (April-May). Again, another reason to come back!
Why We Chose Not To See:
Who isn’t jealous when they see someone snuggling up with a friendly looking tiger? In Chiang Mai, tourists flock to the famous Tiger Temple to get up close and personal with tigers and get their photos taken. But if you know the sad truth behind this, then it should make you reconsider whether or not your photo with a tiger is more valuable than their lives. The tigers are sedated with drugs, chained, and often mutilated so they cannot harm a tourist. If you really love animals you should reconsider supporting this kind of treatment to them. Don’t just take our word for it, check out this article from Global Post on the treatment of the tigers.
Karen Hill TribeWe are really intrigued with local tribes that still carry out ancient traditions, and at first we were really excited to see the Karen Hill Tribe people aka the Long Neck people. We did a bit of research before committing and saw a lot of reviews referring to the villages as “human zoos”. We dug a little deeper and learned that these Burmese refugees are in a tough position. They do not have much of an option to return to Burma due to their unknown fate. If they stay in Thailand they can wear the rings on their neck and remain a tourism attraction, but they have no rights and are owned by people profiting off of them. If the Karen people were given rights in Thailand, they could have jobs and would no longer wear the rings on their necks. But that would hurt tourism in Mae Hong Son if there were no Long Neck people. So instead of receiving REAL help, the Karen are just stuck in the better of a bad situation staying in Thailand. To learn more read this great article by the Brooklyn Monk who explains the situation and had actual interviews and interaction with the Karen people. Long story short, we didn’t feel right about going to see the Karen Hill Tribes.
Elephants may be large and mighty, but they are not meant to have people riding on their backs. This actually harms the elephants and can leave them with giant cysts on their backs that can get infected and make them very ill. Not only that, but the way they train the elephants is cruel and heartbreaking. We learned a lot about this during the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia. Elephant riding should be avoided and we hope that people will be responsible and do their own research before booking such tour. It was hard to find a tour in Chiang Mai that didn’t include elephant rides. We do not want to support that type of business so we did the touristy things we wanted to see on our own. One booking agent offered for us walk along the elephants, but not ride…great, but we are still giving our money to people who are making money off of elephant riding. Check out this article explains how the elephants are mistreated and a whole slew of other reasons why you shouldn’t ride elephants.
What we loved most about Chiang Mai would have to be the geographical location of the city. We could be in the mountains in a 10-20 minute drive, all while having the luxuries and amenities of a city nearby. We could see ourselves enjoying living here for a few months like many expats who make Chiang Mai their home. If you haven’t noticed, we loved the mountains the most. There was something about riding on the windy roads surrounded by jungle that was peaceful and exhilarating at the same time.
Visiting Chiang Mai during April? Then you may want to check out the Songkran Festival that takes place every year!
*Please remember all photos on this website are copyrighted and property of Bobo&ChiChi. Please do not use them without our permission. If you want to use one of them please contact us to ask first because we’d be absolutely flattered and would love to share. Thanks!
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