For some reason when I mention Thailand to people, their minds automatically think of the metropolis Bangkok or the sunny beaches of Phuket and neighboring islands. A staggering amount of people have never even heard of the second largest city after Bangkok, in northern Thailand, called Chiang Mai.
I like to think of Chiang Mai as a cultural epicenter. It’s where one goes to relax after visiting fast paced Bangkok and it’s where you soak up as much culture as possible before venturing off to uber touristy Phuket. Naturally, since so few people have heard of Chiang Mai, I figured I’d take it upon myself to help you out with what to do there. I’ve compiled my top five list of things to do in Chiang Mai.
1. Go to the Night Bazaar
I couldn’t have been happier when I found out this market is held on Sunday’s. That’s relevant because I happened to be arriving on a Sunday! I decided to walk around the area of my hotel in the Old City and would you believe I walked right into the night market? It was still daylight and dozens upon dozens, eventually hundreds, of vendors were setting up for what would come to be one of the best markets I’ve ever visited. There were food, clothing, and small goods vendors surrounded by massage parlors and restaurants that are in business whether or not the Bazaar is going on.
TIP: I’d previously visited Bangkok and did some shopping. Literally everything I purchased in Bangkok was available in Chiang Mai for a fraction of the price. I was always able to negotiate even lower! Save your money elsewhere and just do your shopping in Chiang Mai. You’ll get a better selection that includes authentic, traditional pieces. Thank me later.
2. Take a Cooking Class
I hate to cook, but I absolutely love to eat. If you’re like me, cooking needs to be a spectacle if I’m going to really enjoy it. Playing chef for a day was one of my favorite memories during my stay in Chiang Mai. Making authentic and traditional Thai cuisine completely from scratch is no easy feat, but luckily all of my food was edible and delicious.
TIP: While you should definitely search around and check out the menu’s of different cooking schools, I highly recommend Pantawan Cooking School. They have a different daily menu, unlike most schools, so you have the option of booking on the day that you feel you’d most enjoy the meal. You’re picked up, taken to the local market to learn about different foods and seeing what ingredients you’ll be using, and dropped back off at your residence of choice after class is over.
3. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
You can’t visit Thailand without having a date with several elephants. I happened to have a date with four, but in Phuket. Had I visited a sanctuary in Chiang Mai, I would have had the pick of dozens. My four in Phuket were just fine, however when I visit Chiang Mai again, it’s first on my itinerary to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary specifically. I chose them because once I learned that it is harmful to elephants to ride them, I wanted to visit a place that shared my beliefs. Instead of putting the elephants to work, the visitors were, and we loved every second of it. I prepared their food and fed them, gave them a mud bath, and showered with them. This was all prior to me cooking yet another authentic Thai meal for lunch before saying goodbye to my new gigantic friends and heading home.
TIP: As of late, several Elephant attractions have added “sanctuary” to their name in hopes of attracting more customers. I can only recommend and give my honest opinion about Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Before choosing a place I hope you strongly consider a “no ride” location. The backs of elephants are NOT similar to a camel or horse. They are not meant to be ridden. It can cause long term, harmful damage.
4. Take a Boxing Class
One thing I was looking forward to in Chiang Mai was taking a boxing class. It was the one thing I didn’t get to do in Thailand. Muay Thai has recently become more and more popular in the US and while I’ve always been interested in taking it up, I figured Thailand would be he perfect place. I found the gym and trainer I wanted, but I simply didn’t have enough time. I’m adding it to my “Things to do Next Time” list along with EJS.
5. Temple Hop
For some reason this was something I vowed not to do, especially after my time in Bangkok. I figured all temples look the same and it’d be a waste of time seeing one after the other. Well, I had no choice in Chiang Mai. Literally everyday, during my daily walks, I’d spot at least three new temples that I hadn’t seen the day before. They were gorgeous and vibrant, and a few were graced by the presence of large Buddha’s, if not an abundance of small ones. Often times I’d find myself hesitant when entering due the them being empty, but the explorer in me couldn’t help it. Not only were they majestic, but peaceful and serene as well. I was glad I got a temple overdose there because temples were pretty much nonexistent in the other cities I visited. Could Chiang Mai be the land of the temple?
TIP: If you’re going to visit temples try to go appropriately dressed (clothing that at least comes to the knees and no shoulder action). I visited a temple that had super chic cover ups but you won’t always be so lucky. Remember, you should be barefoot upon entering as well!
Even with Thailand now in mourning of their beloved King, it’s still a top tourist destination with unmatched sights. If the landscape doesn’t pull you in, the fact that your dollar goes super far should!