Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city after the capital Bangkok, although Chiang Mai is often referred to as the capital of the north. Chiang Mai is an ancient city set in Thailand’s mountainous northern region. It was founded back in 1296 when it was capital of the independent Lann Kingdom until 1558. Chiang Mai doesn’t have a typical urban city feel to it, as it is surrounded by misty mountains, rainforests and hill tribes.
Chiang Mai is a cultural hub in Thailand and offers travellers a whole range of things to see and do with ancient temples, cooking classes, yoga retreats, trekking trails as well as having plenty of nightlife and shopping, it really does have something to meet everyone’s tastes. Chiang Mai is a relatively small city and has a very calm and relaxed atmosphere, there is a modern city which has grown around many parts of the ancient city and today both new and old merge seamlessly together.
We took an internal flight from Bangkok up to Chiang Mai and couldn’t believe the difference between the two cities. We absolutely fell in love with Bangkok, but we also loved how peaceful Chiang Mai was, they are a complete contrast from one another. We spent 3 nights in Chiang Mai and had the best time, Chiang Mai is definitely somewhere we would love to go back and visit.
Sights & Activities
Bai Orchard Garden & Butterfly Farm
Bai Orchard Garden and Butterfly Farm are on the outskirts of the city, there are a variety of Thai orchids that are grown there. There is also a butterfly enclosure which you can walk through too, this is a good place to visit if you’re heading out to the mountains or outskirts of Chiang Mai to the Mae Rim district. The garden also has a small restaurant and gift shop so is quite a nice spot to grab a bite to eat.
We really enjoyed stopping here however I wouldn’t come massively out of your way unless you’re a keen orchid enthusiast, I would recommend that if your backpacking south east Asia and Singapore is on your to do list then visit Singapore’s National Orchard Garden which is out of this world and has the best orchids you will ever see!
Entrance Fee: 500 THB
If you fancy being out in nature then what better way than to go Bamboo Rafting?! There are several areas to try bamboo rafting but Mae Wang district is a popular choice as it is just outside of Chiang Mai. The area has mountains and forests you can admire while gliding down the river, and there is a variety of tours and packages available. If you do go rafting make sure to wear light clothing and expect to get wet as the water gets through the gaps in the bamboo raft, also take a waterproof bag and cover for your phone and camera too.
Chiang Mai Night Markets
Chiang Mai is famous for its night markets and bazaars and there are several large ones all over the city and on weekends even more pop up! The markets are a great and unique shopping experience with a diverse range of handicrafts available to purchase as well as your usual tourist souvenirs, and lots of other items. You can also grab street food and drinks while you shop and sample some northern Thai delicacies. The most popular and well known market in the city is the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar which runs every single night and is huge and a bit like a maze. Other markets to also check out are;
- Sunday Walking Street (every Sunday night)
- Wualai Walking Street (Saturday market)
- Warorot Market (open daily)
- Ton Lamyai Market (open daily)
Chiang Mai Temples
Chiang Mai is an ancient city and is steeped in history and culture, it is known as the city of temples and has over 300 Buddhist temples dotted all over the city. The temples are a huge part of Thai life and culture and no trip to Thailand would be complete without a trip to a temple or two. I would recommend pinning some on your map to go in search of, head to Chiang Mais Old Town, or there are plenty of temple and city tours you can book onto if you wanted a guide to explain all the information to you. I love temples in south east Asia and always love just stumbling across them and wandering into them, I love all the decor and the shrines and always find them really calming places to spend some time in.
Doi Pui Tribal Village
Doi Pui is a Hmong tribal village and is situated in the Doi Suthep national park and close by to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. The traditional village offers a glimpse into their way of life. In the village, you can view the houses that they live in and witness their simple way of living and learn about their culture. The village is beautiful and has lots of beautiful plants and flowers, and of course fresh mountain air.
The village like most of Thailand’s hill tribes of the north used to cultivate opium poppies for a living until the royal sustainable projects arrived and transformed the entire village to agricultural farms.
The village today makes a living from farming and selling souvenirs to tourists, and there is a small museum in the village too, which showcases their way of life. If you have any questions the locals are friendly and happy to answer best they can. I really would suggest visiting this village after visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple as it’s only a few minutes out of the way. We really loved meeting the locals and wandering through their beautiful village and landscape.
Muay Thai also is known as Thai Boxing is a combat sport and is the national sport and cultural martial art of Thailand. Muay Thai has been around for hundreds of years and was developed for close combat. It uses the entire body as a weapon. When visiting Thailand attending a Muay Thai fight is an absolute must, the atmosphere is incredible! We went to a Muay Thai fight in Chiang Mai as Bangkok seemed to have much larger stadiums and tickets were more expensive, and many of the competitors appeared to be from other parts of the world.
We wanted to attend somewhere with a more intimate and traditional feel and Chiang Mai offered that, we asked the hotel for Muay Thai suggestions and they recommended Thaphae Boxing Stadium. We went and tickets were approximately £12 per person however they can vary depending on the day of the week and the match. The stadium is small enough to feel intimate but also big enough with a selection of bars and restaurants and easy enough to get a front row seat. We also had the opportunity to meet with some of the fighters. It’s a great night out and there are plenty like this stadium around Chiang Mai, ask your accommodation where they would suggest, and if you want to have a go yourself then there also plenty of training academies to book into as well.
Three Kings Monument
The Three Kings Monument is an important statue in Chiang Mai and shows the three founders of Chiang Mai – King Mengrai, King Ramkamhaeng and King Ngam Muang. It was created back in 1984 and is situated outside the Chiang Mai Cultural Center and marks the centre point of the old administrative quarter of Chiang Mai in the ancient part of the city.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of Thailands most sacred temples and in an incredible location set up in the mountains overlooking Chiang Mai, and is part of the national park there. The temple is absolutely stunning and covered in lots of intricate details and gold. The architecture is typically northern Thai and can be reached by climbing the 306 steps. The temple dates back to the 14th century and is a major landmark in Chiang Mai and is popular with tourists, you can choose to visit the temple or for anyone wanting to learn more about Buddhist practices or meditation you can enrol on one of the meditation and mindfulness programs.
When visiting Chiang Mai this should be top of your agenda of places to visit, try and go as early as you can to avoid the crowds, and take something a little warmer to wear with you as the mountain air means its much cooler up at the temple, make sure to wear temple clothing attire too. There are several places to eat and drink nearby the temple so you can grab breakfast or lunch easy enough. We really loved visiting this temple and always recommend it to anyone I know visiting Chiang Mai.
Make sure to visit Doi Pui tribal village too as it is situated in the Doi Suthep national park and close by to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple.
Transport & Getting Around
Chiang Mai is a small city so most places can be reached by foot or bicycle. There isn’t a huge choice of public transport there are a few buses but most people tend to hop in tuk tuks, taxis or shared taxis which are in red trucks called rót daang. I would recommend exploring the city by foot as this is the best way to get around and you stumble across the cities hidden gems.
3 Day Itinerary
- Get up early and head to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Doi Suthep–Pui National Park, Doi Pui Tribal Village and bamboo rafting. If you have time when you get back to Chiang Mai wander the old town and explore some of the cities many temples. After a day sightseeing hit the Chiang Mai night market for dinner and shopping.
- Head to Chiang Rai for the day, it’s a few hours away and something I really would like to do on my next visit to Chiang Rai. If you don’t fancy it then explore more of Chiang Mais temples and jungles and waterfalls surrounding the city. In the evening check out Muay Thai and have some dinner and drinks.
- Research and find a reputable elephant sanctuary for rescued elephants, ensure to not ride on any elephants and check out the website and reviews beforehand to make sure you’re not supporting anywhere that is abusing these animals. I made this mistake in the past and still feel awful about it, and now always research before I visit any so-called animal sanctuaries.
Many of the sights in Chiang Mai are outside and exposed so make sure to wear light and comfortable clothing, but also clothing that covers your shoulders and knees as many of the sights are temples so dress modestly.
There are still elephants available for tourist rides in Chiang Mai, please avoid this at all costs! The elephants have to endure a process called Phajaan also known as the crush, where they take baby elephants and brutally torture them for days and weeks at a time to break the elephant’s spirit so that they can be controlled by humans.
It’s a really traumatic practice and unfortunately until tourists realise what actually happens to make these elephants allow people to ride on them the practice will continue. I personally have ridden on elephants in the past before I knew what they went through, and now personally I would never ride on one again as it’s truly heartbreaking what they must undergo.
- Language: Thai
- Currency: Thai Baht
- Exchange Rate
- Laws & Customs
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- Visa Requirement
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