Chances are you’ve probably never heard of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I think that’s a shame. I’ll go ahead and spill the beans and say that of the three Thai cities I visited, Chiang Mai was my favorite. Is it my favorite city on earth? No, not by any means. But it is somewhere that I’m not done exploring.
Whenever I got the inside scoop on Thailand, people never failed to mention that I should visit this small city, just a little over an hours flight northwest of Bangkok. However, whenever I mentioned to people I would be visiting Chiang Mai, they’d ask me, with the most confused face, where it was.
If you ask me, Chiang Mai is the cultural epicenter of Thailand and probably one of the few authentic cities left. While there are tourists everywhere, I saw the least amount here and it didn’t bother me like it did everywhere else. It was a slower pace than Bangkok, less smelly (I hate to harp on this but Bangkok has a distinct odor), and I can see why anyone would love to call it home. Now let’s get to the good stuff.
What I Did
During my first evening in Chiang Mai I decided to throw my bags in my room and immediately head out. What’s new? I knew of the Night Market taking place on Sundays and luckily, it was Sunday! I looked up where it should be on my map, saw it was a mile away, and attempted to head toward it. Once I realized I was going in the wrong direction, I abruptly made a U-turn around a corner and ended up on a street where dozens and dozens of vendors were setting up. The sun was just going down and that’s when I realized – the night market was right on the other side of my block! Jackpot! After passing a couple vendors I started checking in to see what things were running. Come to find out, I got gipped, tricked, hustled, and bamboozled out of every baht in Bangkok. And that was with me negotiating to the point that I felt bad for the sellers! Apparently everything in Chiang Mai is half the price that it is in Bangkok, and you can still negotiate it lower. Save yourself the trouble and do all of your shopping in Chiang Mai. There’s a wider selection and so many more authentic, hand crafted pieces for yourself and that would make excellent souvenirs.
I roamed the market for hours because it seemed to span several large blocks and was all too easy to get lost among the crowd. I spent a chunk of time searching for vendors who originally offered super low prices on things I was interested in purchasing. I don’t let a deal get away from me. After tracking down the vendors, getting lost several times, and deciding my suitcase would just have to burst en route to the next city, I settled down for a bite to eat along the strip.
Like everywhere else, I walked. I walked when I didn’t have anything to do and I walked when I did have plans but had a little spare time. Because I was barely sleeping (by barely I mean not at all) I’d be up bright and early, usually moseying to breakfast around 7:30am. After having several cups of tea and my faithful Emergen-C with breakfast, I’d set out of the restaurant of my hotel and pick a direction to walk. Everyday I’d go in a different direction and walk as far as I could before turning back and taking a weird route to my hotel.
What I noticed during my walks is that Chiang Mai is the city of temples. The day before I arrived I literally decided not to be a “temple hopper” once I got to Chiang Mai. Damnit if I didn’t stumble upon about three new temples a day. In addition to temples, Chiang Mai is also known for its cooking schools and massages. While you can find a massage anywhere in Thailand, something tells me that they really know what they’re doing in Chiang Mai. Not only are they more affordable, but they take their time and you get a real bang for your buck. The serene environment adds to the effect. So, the day after I spent my day at a cooking school in the middle of nowhere, I opted for a massage prior to heading off to the airport to visit my next Thai city.
Where I Stayed
I don’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel, but this was my birthday treat to myself. A very affordable treat, but a treat none the less. I opted for a boutique hotel for five days and four nights in the Old City that was walkable to pretty much everywhere, and just a 15 minute ride to the airport. Do you know what it felt like getting into a luxury cab from the airport to my hotel for just 160 baht? No, you probably don’t. Can you fathom what it felt like not being cheated and scammed out of your not-so-hard-earned money? I mean, I guess you can’t relate to that either. But it felt so good! Funnily enough, I researched the cost of living in Chiang Mai prior to coming…for personal reasons…and I couldn’t have imagined how good it’d feel to know that at any moment, you could break out into a “throw it in the bag” shopping spree and still not break the bank. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t a Queen. And you still can’t…
Should You Go?
I heard from a well experienced, frequent traveler or three that Chiang Mai was one of their favorite cities. Maybe they meant in all of Thailand versus the world. That must be it. I knew not to get my hopes too high but I was hoping to fall in love with this city. The only thing that puts it on my favorites list is the fact that it was more my speed than the other two I visited. Please, please, please don’t be wooed by Bangkok. It really isn’t all that. Chiang Mai will definitely get a repeat visit from me because there are at least three things that I didn’t get to do and would like to specifically do there.
One thing I will always regret is not taking the time to meditate in the many temples I frequented. I meditate every single day, but for some reason during my entire trip I just couldn’t take the time to do so. I was either always super tired or just didn’t feel like it. Being in that head space should’ve been ample motivation to sit down and quiet my mind. This was one of the few cities that I should’ve taken advantage of the energy and peacefulness. So, should you go? Hell yeah. If you’re visiting Thailand GO TO CHIANG MAI! Do all of your shopping. Get a massage three times a day. Stuff your face with local food. And most importantly, just chill out. Have a damn blast, why don’t ya?