Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is a historic old city with a vibrant culture and nightlife located in the northern region of Thailand. With hip new restaurants, cafes, and museums, you can fill up your days with exciting activities. The city is separated into an old square and the new region – each offering unique features and exciting things to do! Stay for a while and give yourself time to check out the beautiful Buddhist temples, old city wall, new creative museums, and booming nightlife. If not feeling the busy city, it is easy to escape to the mountainous region, landscaped rice fields, or even a hidden canyon. Keep reading for my list of top picks on what to do in and around the bustling city of Chiang Mai!
What to Do
1. Plaza Square (Old Town)
If you want to get a sense of what the city of Chiang Mai was like hundreds of years ago, take a walk through the old town. Enclosed by the old city walls, you can learn the rich history of the ancient Asian civilizations from the north.
Some of the most popular and interesting sites are hidden within the old town square. Temples, museums, and restaurants and all uniquely placed within the city walls.
Once you step out of the old town, you will notice quite a difference in structure and landmarks. The new city has popular tourist places like McDonalds and shopping centers. Therefore, the new city is much busier and you may want to get around by motor vehicle as the busy streets can be quite dangerous – In Asia, pedestrians do not have any rights, so don’t be expecting crosswalks, pedestrian lights, or any motorized vehicles to be stopping for you! Unlike the new regions, the old square is much quieter, safer for walking around, and offers quaint little markets and coffee shops.
2. Thai Cooking Class
A great way to spend a day is to attend a traditional Thai cooking class. Not only will this keep you busy but will allow you to take something valuable back home to apply to your own cuisine! You will see brochures everywhere that offer half day or full day Thai cooking classes, but I would suggest attending the ‘Thai Farm Cooking School’. I recommend this school because you will get the most for what you pay to attend. With hotel pickup, a stop at a local market, and a great secluded location with beautiful views of the natural landscape, you will be a happy camper the entire day!
3. SkyKick MuayThai Gym
Learn a new sport! Muay Thai is the national sport in Thailand. There are live fighting rinks around any city, especially Bangkok and Chiang Mai to go watch a live fight. After seeing it for yourself, you may want to experience what it would be like in the ring! I recommend checking out SkyKick Muay Thai Gym right in the heart of Chiang Mai to learn some moves and get a great workout in!
4. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Beautiful old Buddhist temple located on top of a mountain about a half an hour drive out of the city of Chiang Mai. You can pay about 50 Baht to take a songthaew or rent a scooter for a more scenic ride. Try a new local restaurant as there are plenty of stops on the way and around the area. Remember to cover completely, ankles and shoulders, to abide by the religious customs. Once in the temple, there is a breathtaking viewpoint overlooking the city. Stay awhile and soak in the calming and peaceful atmosphere.
5. Grand Canyon
It may be hard to escape the heat in the northern regions of Thailand in comparison to the south where the ocean and beaches await swimming, snorkeling, and countless water activities. Well, have no fear as there is a magical place only a half an hour from Chiang Mai which is known as the Grand Canyon. This giant floating waterpark is situated in the middle of a freshwater canyon! A full day can be spent here with canoe and kayak rentals, the waterpark, and even a tasty restaurant up top. Not to mention, there is also cliff jumping into the canyon for all you adrenaline junkies!
6. Maerim Elephant Sanctuary
Many people go to Thailand with their minds set on seeing elephants. Asian elephant species live all over parts of Southeast Asia. Although, for many years, problems have grown that has caused these beautiful creatures to be added to the endangered species list. This is mainly due to human impact involving ivory poaching and tourism activities. For years, elephants all around Asia have been seen as a form of earning tourists money and have been mistreated through trekking camps, riding tours, and the circus. The torture needs to stop and we need to do what we can to protect this magnificent species – traveling through Asia and riding on the back of an elephant is no longer acceptable and should not be tolerated. That being said, there are efforts being made to protect the elephants with the introduction of sanctuaries. Sanctuaries allow tourists to still see elephants without bringing any harm to them – but do your research ahead of time and be aware of ‘fake’ sanctuaries that still mistreat the elephants by using bullhooks and other torturous weapons to make them behave. If it is on your bucket list to spend the day in awe of seeing one of the most magical creatures on our earth, I highly recommend going on a conservation tour at Maerim Elephant Sanctuary, just a half an hour ride out of Chiang Mai.
Check out my other blog for more on the sanctuary here!
7. Night Markets
Thailand is known for countless night markets – booming with handcrafted goods & traditional cuisine, all at a fair price! Walking around night markets are a great way to stalk up on souvenirs, fill your belly, and get a feel for the local culture. The city of Chiang Mai is no different, with numerous night markets to choose from.
If looking for some lovely handcrafted souvenirs to take home for your family or some beautifully designed pieces for yourself, I would highly recommend checking out the ‘Night Bazaar’. This one kilometer stretch of vendors is open every single night from sundown until about midnight!
Other great options are the Saturday and Sunday night markets. Bring plenty of change as you may want to try a sample of every exotic dish you walk by. They sell everything from Tom Yum soup to deep fried bananas to fried seasoned crickets!
Chiang Mai has an amazing nightlife. Any night of the week, there is always something going on, which makes it great for passersby traveling through on any day! Whether you are in the mood to sit down and vibe to some local music or to dance like nobody’s watching, there is a place for any mood! After living in Chiang Mai for some time, I got a feel for the best places in the city. If you are more into a low key night, sitting with a drink in hand, listening to some talented local artists, I would suggest checking out ‘Roots, Rock, & Reggae’ bar downtown that has live music each night. If you’re more in the mood to turn up, I would recommend heading down to ‘Zoe in Yellow’ – this place is always a party! Or have the best of both worlds, as the two places are on the same strip and include numerous other bars and clubs in a whole walking area, so you can just pop into each and decide where to stay!