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Another of my favorite cities in South East Asia, in addition to Bali, is Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a mountainous city in the north of Thailand. The reason why it’s one of my favorites is because there’s just so much to see and do! Also, if you compare the city to the rest of Thailand, Chiang Mai is even more green and lustrous.
Chiang Mai takes an hour to get to on a plane from Bangkok and is popular with natives and tourists alike. It is on the typical backpacker trail around Thailand, therefore I decided to venture out there on my own Thailand trip to see what all the fuss was about.
I now completely understand the hype! Chiang Mai has so much going for it and, because the city is quite spread out, it’s easy to get lost in its charm and charisma. It’s even more fun to explore if you’re a history fan, as the Old City walls date back to 1296. There are also an abundance of temples. In America, there is a Starbucks on every corner. In Chiang Mai, there is a temple on every corner! A lot of the temples are very visually pleasing with traditional Wat architecture and make for a breath-taking photo (or two!)
The area surrounding the Old City walls is one of the most popular spots to stay for tourists, with cafes, shops and restaurants aplenty. It’s fun to just start walking when you’re in the centre of Chiang Mai – there are so many main streets to explore, along with cute little back streets. It takes around a 30-40 minute walk to get to the pretty Ping River embankment from Tha Phae Gate; however, you can stop off at Chinatown along the way and pick up some unique souvenirs for your loved ones back home.
As well as being down by the river, visiting Buak Hard Public Park makes for a rather pleasant afternoon. If you hop on a tuk tuk then you can get there within 10-15 minutes from Tha Phae Gate. The park greenery engulfs a few little lakes – and it’s all very beautiful and picturesque! Many locals, and visitors, tend to grab their picnic blankets, some food and drink, and spend a day lounging around on the grass in the glorious Chiang Mai sunshine. There is even some outdoor gym equipment in one area of the park if you’re guilt-tripping for lazing around and feel like doing a bit of a workout!
Furthermore, if you fancy sampling some of the famous backpacker nightlife in the city, then head to the area of bars on the corner of Th Ratchaphakhinai and Th Ratwithi. There’s a great little place called Zoe in Yellow, with an outdoor seating area and dancefloor, and its vibes and electric atmosphere make for a very interesting night! Also, it’s extremely rare to be able to buy Prosecco in a backpacker bar, but Zoe in Yellow have got this covered – such a treat!
In America, there is a Starbucks on every corner. In Chiang Mai, there is a temple on every corner!KD
If it doesn’t feel like all of Chiang Mai’s 150,000 population comes out at night in this bar area, then it sure will when you visit the city’s famous Sunday Walking Street Market. Local traders will be setting up their stalls from 5pm and sell their goods well into night. You can find everything you could ever want here – from candles to paintings to clothing! Chiang Mai truly comes alive every Sunday during this market and it’s not to be missed!
Another activity that’s not to be missed whilst visiting Chiang Mai is a trip to an elephant camp. Chiang Mai is renowned throughout the whole of South East Asia for its natural elephant experiences. The elephant camps in this part of Thailand treat their elephants well, contrary to what you may hear. They are extremely well cared for, and you can only ride the elephants bareback for a very short amount of time, if you wish to ride one. I was lucky enough to visit Mae Rim Elephant camp during my time in Chiang Mai and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! I had the most memorable morning bathing, feeding, bareback riding (and even mucking out) two elephants in their natural environment.
If you have time left after all of these activities, you can head up to Pai for a few days. Pai is a village nestled in the mountains and takes around three hours in the car to get to from Chiang Mai. For me, it’s a must see, as it’s one of the most gorgeous places I have ever laid eyes on! But if you’ve run out of time – don’t stress – there is plenty of action in Chiang Mai to keep you occupied!
Whether you decide to spend just a weekend there, or a few days, or even two weeks – I say, soak up the sunshine and the noteworthy nature of Chiang Mai while you can! You won’t regret it.