Chiang Mai is the second biggest city of Thailand with almost 200 000 people and is the main stop for anyone willing to visit the north of Thailand. Surrounded by the Doi Suthep moutains, it is a beautiful and relax city.
What to visit in Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai has many temples (or “wat” in Thai) to visit.
You can first start with Wat Pan Tao, located within the old city on Phra Pokklao road. This temple is entirely made with teck wood which makes it beautiful and different from other temples. Few meters away on the same street, you will see Wat Chedi Luang. Build next to a cheddi with lanna style from 1441, it used to hold the famous Emerald Buddha (today in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok) in 1475. You can also meet monks here between 1pm to 6pm from Monday to Friday. Within 5 to 10 min walking distance, reach Wat Phra Singh on Singharat Road, the most visited temple in Chiang Mai. Take a little walk around to see its lanna style and enjoy its nice garden. Outside the old city, visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The entrance to the temple will cost you 30B. It offers an impressive view on Chiang Mai but don’t be afraid to climb the 306 steps surrounded by 2 Nagas to get on the top!
Chiang Mai has many markets (talat in Thai). The most famous one is the Sunday Market located on the “Sunday walking street” next to the Tha Pae Gate within the old city. It happends – guess when?- every sunday evening from 6pm til 11pm. It is especially amazing for its street food – really cheap!
But if you are not there on a Sunday, you will then visit the Saturday Market! Happening on the saturday evenings from 5pm til 11pm, it is located on the south outside the old city. This market offers more local crafts (I found it less touristic than the Sunday Market) as well as food.
If you are looking for local markets, you can as well visit Talat Warorot (open from 6am to 5pm) or the flower market, Talat Tonlamyai (open 24 hours)
What to do in Chiang Mai?
Do Elephant trekking or even better… training!
Chiang Mai is famous for elephant riding! You will find in front of guesthouses many leaflets offering you basically all the same thing! You can find a 1 day trekking tour including several activities plus 1 hour elephant riding (about 1,000B) or you can join as well a 1 day elephant training (which is much funnier!). Every leaflefts will sell it for 2,400B but with a big smile and some bargain skills, you will be able to get it for 2,000B.
We choose to spend our day with elephants at Woody’s Elephant Training. I definitely recommand this place to anyone. We had an awesome day training, washing and swimming with elephants. You could see that they were well cared and the team was wonderful. So if you are looking for spending one day with elephants, just don’t hesitate and go to Woody’s Elephant Training. They offer as well 2 days elephant training tours as well as trekking tours if you are interested to do so. (Please visit their website for more information)
Located next to the mountains (Doi Suthep), Chiang Mai offers many outdoors activities such as trekking, rafting, mountain biking, climbing etc. Check in any travel agency which activities fit the best to your budget!
Go visit around – Samoeng
Chiang Mai is famous as the starting point for visitng the North of Thailand. Main destinations consist of the Golden Triangle with Chiang Rai, Pai and Mae Hong Son. Having only one week in the North, we decided not to go so far away and only visited the small village of Pang Term in the Samoeng district, 75km away from Chiang Mai. There, we stayed at Mindful Farmers. Mindful Farmers offers cheap stay for 200B per night including accomodation and food (only vegetarian). There, you will learn how to make grown and cook your own vegetables with Noriko (Japan) and how to become more mindful through meditation with his husband Chinnaworn, a Thai former buddhist monk. During our stay, we got lucky as a Yoga teacher was staying in the same time than us. She gave us classes every morning at 5am. It was a really interesting experience as the first time for my friend and I to practice yoga and meditation. If you are willing to try, don’t hesitate to visit this lovely farm! You can easily get there by taking a yellow songtaew (bus with benches on the sides) for 100B per person. The ride will take you 2 to 4 hours.
Get a Thai massage and try Fish Spa
Why am I recommanding you to do so in Chiang Mai? Well because it is much cheaper there compare to Bangkok or the south of Thailand. Thai massage is usually available at 200B for 1 hour in every places but you can find some offering it at 150B or even 120B in the Sunday Walking Street at the entrance of one temple, in the direction of the Tha Pae gate. The same applies to fish spa – instead of paying 150B for 15min in Bangkok just pay 40B here! It worths the try!
See Muay Thai matches (Thai Boxing)
There are two boxing stadiums in Chiang Mai and you won’t miss them! If you stay around the old city, you will have every day and sometimes several times a day a guy distributing leaflets to promote its stadium! Both offer tickets at 400B and 600B (VIP) but again, you can bargain! We obtained our ticket at the Thapae Boxing Stadium for only 300B. Again, it is much cheaper in Bangkok where tickets start at 1000B at Lumphini Boxing Stadium.
Where to stay?
As a low budget traveller, I will definitely recommand you to stay at Daret’s House (or Daret’s Guesthouse, I have seen the two different names!). If you are looking for a simple and clean room with its own bathroom (hot water and towels provided), cheap and well-located, Daret’s House is the perfect place for you! Rates start at 170B for a single bed room and double bed rooms are available for 220B. Located next to the Tha Phae Gate, it is close to any attractions (only 2 min walking from the Sunday Market!) and has a really nice restaurant offering great and cheap food (Pad Thai and Fried Rice for 40B). Staff is also really nice and if you need any assistance for booking tours, just ask for Kit. He has been really useful with us and offered us great price (300B for a Muay Thai ticket instead of 400B). So if you are looking for the perfect low budget place, Daret’s House is the place for you!
How to get there?
Chiang Mai can be reach easily:
- By bus from Bangkok and any other destinations as Sukhotha,
- By overnight train from Bangkok (12h) – a lower bed will cost you 881B,
- By plane with Thai Airways, Air Asia and Nok Airways.