We spent an entire month in Chiang Mai and loved the charming, down-to-earth feel of this city. We experienced the Lantern Festival right at the beginning of this trip which made us fall in love with Chiang Mai right away. Here’s a generalized guide of what to do!
Sorry for the lack of photos in this post! This was before I decided the direction of where I was taking this blog. I’ll be posting much more photos in future posts!
Where to Stay:
Most people stay in the Old City area. It’s a great place to stay if you’re a first-time visitor to Chiang Mai. Most of the must-see temples are within Old City and are easily walkable from one to another. It’s also close distance to the Night Bazaar and weekend night markets. If you’re on a budget, Chiang Mai is a backpacker haven and there are plenty of budget-friendly hostels. Another popular area to stay is the Nimman area, which can be described as having a ‘large digital nomad co-working culture.’ It has a more upscale vibe and holds boutiques, more modern infrastructure and a very large shopping complex called “MAYA” mall.
C.A.M.P Library Cafe
If you’re looking for a great co-working space, “C.A.M.P” Library Cafe located on 5th floor of MAYA Mall is an amazing place to get some work done! They’ll give you a code for two hours of high-speed internet if you spend a minimum of 50 THB on food or drink. AIS, which is the telephone company I was with, sponsors this cafe – so if you’ve got a SIM card with them, the internet is free to use.
If you’re planning to stay for more than 30 days, then you can rent a fully-furnished apartment for only $300-$600 CAD a month! We didn’t know you could do this until we met other travellers who had saved a LOT of money on accommodations this way. A friend of ours suggested walking around in the neighbourhood that you like and walking through these apartments to ask if there are any available rental units. Another traveller suggested joining a Chiang Mai Facebook group for more tips like these!
What to Do/See:
1. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
There are several sanctuaries in Chiang Mai. Just make sure to choose an organization that has ethical treatment towards the elephants. We visited “Elephant Jungle Sanctuary” where the fees from visits go towards rescuing, feeding and providing care to these gentle animals! You can book this tour online, through your hostel or any of the tour agencies all over the city. It usually includes pickup at your hostel and lunch.
2. Temple Run
Visit all the incredible temples throughout the city. Read my blog post on “The Top 10 Must-See Temples in Northern Thailand” as a reference! Please be aware there is a dress code: shoulders and knees covered. We didn’t book any tours and visited all of these locations ourselves.
3. Visit The Night Bazaar
This takes places every night from 6pm – 12am. It’s located between Tha Phae and Sridonchai Road. It’s mostly consisted of vendors selling clothing, handicrafts and souvenirs. Don’t forget to bargain!!!
4. Drink Thai Iced Tea
I put this on the list because I kid you not, Alex and I drank this every single day that we were in Thailand. You can’t get Thai Iced Tea like this anywhere else.
5. Eat Banana-Nutella Roti
Oh, the buttery, oily, fried good-ness that is this dessert. It’s basically butter-soaked dough pan fried with banana in more butter and oil, then topped with Nutella and condensed milk! You’ll find stalls of them everywhere! Our favourite one is located at the Chang Phueak Market since he always makes them extra crispy!
6. Visit the Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets
This market is the largest in Chiang Mai and is an extension of the Night Bazaar. It has hundreds of vendor stalls, including food stalls with THE best noodle soups, seafood, desserts and more. You can also get 1-hour massages for really cheap (150 THB, $6 CAD).
7. Take A Cooking Class
We didn’t end up taking a class, which we regret but we heard through our friends that “Asia Scenic” was an amazing experience with a hilarious instructor, and delicious food made from ingredients straight from their backyard!
8. Visit Pai For A Few Days
It’s a 3-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai and is a lovely break from the city as it’s surrounded by greenery and mountains! Read my Pai Guide here.
9. Visit Chiang Rai
Also a 3-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai – go for at least one night to visit the Blue Temple early in the morning and the famous White Temple in the late afternoon.
10. Take Part in the Yi Peng & Loy Krathong Festivals
If you’re lucky enough to visit in the month of November, you can be part of this amazing celebration. Do your research as the event dates change every year according to the lunar calendar! You can read my blog post it here.
Old City and surrounding area is so walkable. If we needed a car for farther distances, we used an app called “Grab,” an Uber-like app that’s very easy/cheap to use. There are also tuk-tuks and red trucks called a “songthaew” all over the city. These red trucks don’t follow a particular route, but go where the passenger wants to go. They’re everywhere, so just flag them down!
Even though the trucks advertise 30 THB/per person, be sure to negotiate and confirm the price before getting in the truck. This is because the driver can increase the fare depending on peak times and distance to your destination. This is the same for tuk-tuks as well. You can also rent a motorbike for 200 THB/day, but I’d only recommend this method of transportation in Chiang Mai if you’re an experienced motorbike driver in Southeast Asia.
Khao Moo Chang Phueak
I don’t have many specific food suggestions, because we ate mostly at local food stalls that ranged anywhere from 40-50 THB ($1-2 CAD). We ate a LOT of noodle soups. Try a bowl of “Khao Soi”, a Thai version of a curry/coconut milk noodle soup which originated in Northern Thailand. Make sure to check out the busiest and most famous food stall in CM called “Khao Moo Chang Phueak.” Delicious stewed pork leg over rice served by a lovely lady recognizable for her cowboy hat. It became even more famous after Anthony Bourdain visited this stall many years ago.