Chiang Mai was the third stop in our Thailand trip and we were not disappointed! After navigating the craziness of Bangkok and laying on a few beaches in the south, Chiang Mai was the perfect end to an adventurous vacation.
A little bit about Chiang Mai- it is the main city in northern Thailand with many surrounding nature sights and Buddhist temples (Wats). It is evident that Chiang Mai is fairly new to the tourism industry, making it more authentic than the previous places we visited. Another plus is that prices are even cheaper here. And by cheaper, I mean that a meal is $0.80 instead of $1…
The seemingly endless miles of street markets were my personal favorite part of visiting Chiang Mai. There was not only awesome food, but also quality handmade items ranging from woodwork, carved soap, essential oils, and literally anything else you can think of. There was a market every night that we were there and there were also performers from local schools and dance studios. All of the food pics are grouped at the bottom of this post…
The elephant reserve was hands down my favorite part of the Thailand trip and something that I was looking forward to for months beforehand. There are tons of elephant reserves in northern Thailand, so you want to find one that is truly ethical in all ways (many are harmful to elephants). We did many hours of research to find the best one and it is proven that Elephant Nature Park is the way to go, as they truly care for animals that cannot care for themselves.
Many of the animal attendants were from the surrounding native tribes and we could see work elephants on farms on the drive over- this is still considered a farming custom rather than the modern view that it is abusive to the animal. Throughout the day, we fed some of the elderly elephants who needed special diets, bathed the elephants that could not move as easily, and mingled between the herds. We quickly found our favorites.
I thought it would be difficult to beat the elephant experience, but we easily found other ways of being adventurous- one of which renting a motor bike. Side story- before the trip, I told my mom that we have to rent a motor bike and she flat-out refused because it would be too dangerous. Once we got to Bangkok, I immediately crossed that idea out of my head because I saw first-hand how disorganized traffic was. Upon arrival in Chiang Mai, mom was looking on her phone for a bit and I found out that she was actually researching motor bike rentals!! So she drove and I grabbed on for dear life.
Our main destination for the motor bike ride was the Mae Sa Waterfalls in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, about 40 minutes outside the city. There were several levels of waterfalls and we admired the views as we hiked up each one. We then had a picnic lunch on the rocks at our favorite level. This was my favorite meal of the trip because of the random assortment from food vendors and the awesome view.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple in the mountain, was another fun morning excursion. The only trouble was the 40 minute ride in a Songthaew, a red pickup truck which hold up to 10 passengers in the back. I have never been so carsick because the uphill drive had many unfiltered exhaust fumes and brake smells and you could not see the windy road in front of you. I needed some rice at the top… Other than that, the Wat itself was magnificent with a majestic staircase leading up to the main grounds. There is usually an amazing view at the top, but it was quite cloudy that day.
Our last and final main stop on our Thailand trip was Wat Chedi Luang, a temple dating all the way back to the 14th century! The large stone platform looked rather eery at night, but monks kept the grounds well-maintained and had peaceful meditations planted on the property. At another Wat we had the pleasure of participating in a monk chat program, where Buddhist monks who were learning English in college could practice and tourists could learn about Buddhism and the monk lifestyle. We learned so much about the religion and wished we learned more about it beforehand!
I expected Chiang Mai to be the least exciting of our three stops in Thailand, purely because there are not as many “must-see” sights. I can now confidently say that the combination of endless street markets, cute elephants, and adrenaline-pumping motor bike rides bumped Chiang Mai to the top of my list. Although the city is starting to climb up the tourism ladder, we saw the most authentic Thai culture here and that proved to be very rewarding. Also, the food here was absolutely incredible…
What to Visit Chiang Mai?
- Save most of your souvenir shopping for Chiang Mai. We easily found very cheap and handmade presents for friends and family in the many miles of street markets. Prices are also more visibly marked, so not as much bargaining goes on here.
- Read up on Buddhism before the trip because your temple experience will be more fulfilling with background on culture and customs- you also do not want to offend anyone with your dress code or pointing your feet!
- Reserve spots with Elephant Nature Park several months in advance, as spots fill up quickly.
- Along with that, DO NOT ride an elephant at any reserve- the discipline process to domesticate them is grueling.
- Rent a motor bike if you dare, but please wear a helmet!!