Guys, I LOVE Chiang Mai, I really really do. I’ve been trying to convince myself to go back to school so that I have an excuse to move there and attend Chiang Mai University.
There are so many reasons to love Chiang Mai but for me the number one reason is because it reminds me a little bit of home (as much as Thailand can I suppose). It’s such an extreme difference being in Northern Thailand in Chiang Mai for holiday and living in Southern Thailand. Life on Koh Samui is absolutely nothing like life in Chiang Mai. They both have great things to offer but also are so different to each other. In this post i’ll go into the a little bit of detail about my experiences there and what I found to be good while I was there. There is quite a bit more to say but i’ll try to keep this relatively brief!
Getting to Chiang Mai
We took the night bus up from Koh Samui to Bangkok where we arrived at about 6am. My boyfriend Ae is from Bangkok so we spent the day at his family’s house just catching up with them and did little bit of cycling around the neighborhood before getting back on another night bus that night up to Chiang Mai. We rode with Sombat Tour up to Chiang Mai and I kid you not, it was the coldest I’ve been in over a year. I don’t know what temperature they turn the AC on to, but my nipples were hard enough to cut diamonds and I’m pretty sure my lips turned blue. Ok, I’m being a little dramatic but I was just not ready for that aircon after living in Koh Samui for so long.
When we arrived to Chiang Mai in the morning we thought we’d step out of the bus to warm air and feel great but once again, it was cold! I am from MICHIGAN in the United States of America which if you know anything about Michigan you know it’s cold most of year (extremely cold), and I was shivering in Chiang Mai. Thankfully it warmed up throughout the day but just a tip for anyone visiting around December- January, bring warm clothes!
Another note about getting to Chiang Mai- you can get there a few different ways including by air plane. For us the bus made the most sense because of the budget we were on. From Southern Thailand it is about a 24 hour total bus journey up to Chiang Mai. You can also take a train from Surat Thai, rent a car and drive there yourself, or as I mentioned before you can fly in from various locations.
From the moment we got off the bus and took a Song Taew to the area of our hotel, I knew I was already in love. Chiang Mai is just so……cute! I hate to use that word but it really just is. It is so artsy and calm and quaint and cute! I felt like I was back in Michigan in a lot of ways.
I won’t bore you all with the whole step by step of what did in our days in Chiang Mai but I have put together below some recommendations, must sees, and other tips!
Where to stay
We stayed in Old City for our time in Chiang Mai which in my opinion was a great choice because there was a lot to do and see there, it was really great fun. I get the impression that Old City is the main area that draws in tourism. With that being said though it didn’t seem to be all that crowded or touristy. We went over Christmas time which is supposed to be a very busy time in Chiang Mai but for me it was not all that busy.
We stayed at a place called Greenhouse Backpacker in old town and I could not have been more pleased with the place we decided to stay. Greenhouse Backpacker is a hostel but it does have private rooms as well. The hostel bedrooms have a maximum of four beds in each room so they are not too crowded. My boyfriend and I got a private room and my friend stayed in the dorm room. The beds are comfortable, clean, and each room is uniquely decorated. They’ve all got what I call the “Chiang Mai Feel.” The style and decor in there is unbeatable, and it’s also really hard to describe. As I said before it’s the artistic, maybe a bit hippy, a bit hipster, and a bit traditional Northern Thai style all combined in one.
Anyway, Greenhouse Backpacker was even more amazing because of the person who worked there named Opal. Opal was the funniest, nicest, most all around awesome person to meet in Chiang Mai. She was super accommodating and made our stay there really enjoyable because of her hilarious jokes. She also gave us so many tips on cheap places to eat, good temples to visit, the popular bar to go to at night, and the cheap places to rent bicycles. So I highly recommend giving the Green House Backpacker a visit, and tell Opal I say hi!
Ride in a tuk tuk! Come on, be a typical tourist and just do it! It is actually really fun and chances are it’s probably something you cannot do at home. We were lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai over Christmas so our Tuk Tuk was extra special and all dressed up like Santa Clause.
Tuk Tuks are cheap, relatively safe, and a good experience. They are not great for super long distances but for short distances they are totally fine! I would say for about a 15 minute journey you can expect to pay somewhere around 100 baht in Chiang Mai. Split that with a few friends, and it’s practically nothing! Chances are your tuk tuk drive will also be super fun to talk to and have lots of good recommendations for you.
Tuk tuks are awesome but my favorite way to get around in Chiang Mai is by bicycle! It’s a great way to see parts of the city that you probably would not otherwise get to see. Also, there are bike rental shops everywhere so it is not hard to find one that suits you. The type of bike you should rent will be based on where in the city you plan to go. If you’re not doing any mountain or hill riding you can just rent a cruiser and take a tour around the city. Typically the cost of renting one for 24 hours is only 50 baht. Unbeatable really! It’s a great form of exercise, it’s fun, and the roads in Chiang Mai are cyclist friendly as they have so many people there doing it!
Another way to get around Chiang Mai is by catching a Song Taew which we did a lot of as well. Song Taews are the pick up trucks with benches put in the back for people to sit on. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and adventurous you will get to stand at the back and hang on for dear life. If you’ve been around Thailand before i’m sure you’ve encountered Song Taews, they are a very popular way to get around. In Chiang Mai they are also super cheap at about 40 baht per person pretty much anywhere you want to go in the city (within reason).
My last recommendation of a way to get around in Chiang Mai is to rent a motorbike. Unless you have an international license, it’s not the smartest idea in Chiang Mai. There are a lot of police to stop people riding to check for the proper licensing. If you don’t have it, prepare to pay! It’s just so much easier not to go through that hassle. If you do take the risk and rent a motorbike, ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET. Not only because you’ll get a big fine if you’re caught without one, but also because you’re head/brain/and life are way more important than your hairstyle and how cool you look. Ok, my public service announcement for the day is finished. 🙂
My top 5 things to do in Chiang Mai
Shop at the Night Bazaar
The night Bazaar is the famous night market in Chiang Mai and lucky for all it’s patrons it is open every night! The Night Bazaar is super fun, full of people, and full of great things to buy. I haven’t been to a market quite like this one yet in Thailand as it has things from pretty much every culture you can imagine. For any jewelry fans out there, this is also a great place to purchase jewelry. I think between Chiang Mai and Pai I bought probably 6 different rings and even more earrings (my boyfriend thinks I shop too much but that’s just not possible).
Another great thing about the Night Bazaar is that it’s not only a great place for shopping, but like most markets in Thailand it’s full of great food. The food in the north part of Thailand is so flavorful, inventive, and of course, spicy. If you are not used to spicy food, make sure when you are traveling in Thailand you ask for your food not spicy or say “Mai Phet Kha,”kind of like saying the phrase “My Pet,”but for a female you add “Kha”on the end and for a male you add “Krap”on the end to be polite. “Mai Phet” in Thai means not spicy. My experiences with food in Thailand have been that if you go far North or far South you need to be prepared for that famous Thai spice that you hear about. If you stay in the middle area of the country the food is not automatically burn your lips off sort of spicy.
Sorry to get off subject a bit, but I recommend visiting the Night Bazaar to pick up some great things to bring back to your friends and family or just to help remember your trip. It is also a great place for a nice relaxed night out.
Visit Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep is a must see for Chiang Mai and i’m sure if you’ve done any researching on Chiang Mai you’ve probably already come across this name before. It is a mountain in the city about 15 kilometers outside of the center of the city. It’s a must see for several reason, one being the breathtaking Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep which is the temple up on the mountain. There are a few ways to get there but I will give you the insider tip on the cheapest and best way to do it. Before taking my trip up there I did a bit of research on the cheapest way to do it because I am nothing if not frugal when traveling. My friends and I ended up renting motor bikes just for the trip up there (150 per motorbike rented). For us, this was the easiest way to go about it as it allowed us time to stop at the different areas we wanted to see and we could create our own schedule. The other option if you’re not super comfortable on a motorbike is to take a taxi or a songtaew (a truck with seats in the back) up the mountain, this one though is a bit more pricey at around 600 baht per person for the round trip. The nice part about doing that way though is that you don’t have to worry about figuring out where you’re going or driving up there yourself. If you’re super fit and up for a challenge you can get there by mountain bike- as I mentioned before you can rent them almost anywhere. I do not know exactly how long this takes but riding a motorbike all the way up to to the temple took about 30 minutes. The bike ride up there looked quite challenging but I image it is was super satisfying getting to the top and it was clearly a great form of exercise. I’m planning to get the courage built up and do it on my next trip to Chiang Mai.
Once you do get to the temple though you’ve got some stairs to climb before you finally reach the beauty. It’s full of amazing Buddhist relics and history, and there is quite a bit to see there. Also, the view from up there is unbeatable. It really put into perspective for me just how big Chiang Mai actually is.
There is a cost to get into the temple which was around 20 baht at the time I went, so not much at all especially for what you are getting when you go there. Although the temple is a major tourism spot and from what I gathered is often full of people, it is still almost impossible not to feel at peace while you are there.
Eat Khao Soi (ข้าวซอย)
If you’re a lover of food, or eat food just to sustain life I urge you try Khao Soi, you will not regret it. It is something like the North’s version of the noodle soup that see everywhere in Thailand. I’m kind of horrible at describing flavours so i’ll try my best here- Khao Soi is rich, creamy, slightly spicy, and just all around delicious. You can get it the classic way with chicken, or just vegetables like I did. Based on the reviews from my friends and from my experience, it is delicious either way. I really couldn’t even tell you all of the ingreidents that it includes but to name a few – boiled noodles, fried noodles, coconut milk, some sort of stock, curry, lime, and the list goes on and on. It’s simply amazing! You have to get it when you’re in the north because that is where is originates from so it will be the best there. Also, I’ve discovered that it’s nearly impossible to find anywhere else.
Sorry guys, wish I could upload a picture of deliciousness but I was literally too excited every time I ate it that I forgot take a picture. You can google it though to see what i’m talking about.
Get a massage at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution
This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, prisoners giving massages. Well to be more accurate, they are female prisoners who are almost finished with their prison sentences and are preparing to transition into the massage industry when they are released. The massages are really good, really cheap (180 baht per hour!), and more importantly they are helping to make a difference in the life of people looking for a second chance. They are professional, and make their customers feel completely comfortable.
I would highly recommend this if you love relaxation and massage and are looking for an affordable massage coupled with a unique experience. Not only will you leave relaxed and feeling good but you can also go back and tell all your friends that you’ve been massaged by a prisoner. That makes a good opening line for a story.
While there you can also purchase handmade products that some of the ladies have made during their time and the money for this goes back to into the program that is helping out the prisoners to sharpen their skills. This massage parlor is a great idea for helping women to have a better and more structured life when they are released.
If you are interested in having a massage though I would recommend booking before you go so that you are guaranteed a spot, this is quite a popular stop in Chiang Mai.
Lounge around in Suan Buak Had Park
On a lovely day we decided to take a ride over the Suan Buak Had Park and I’m really glad that we did. I am huge fan of parks and I always felt like I needed a park visit while living in Koh Samui. It was really nice to see a beautiful, green, well kept park that so many people were enjoying. The park is quite small (it takes about 5 minutes to ride a bicycle around the whole park) but has a lot of different things going on so there is no way to get bored there. There is plenty of room to just lounge around and read a good book or relax and talk with friends. If you’re worried about sitting on the grass, no need worry anymore, you can rent a bamboo mat to sit on for only 10 baht. If you get hungry or thirsty just take a quick walk around the park and you’ll find refreshment carts to satisfy your needs. I had to have some coconut ice cream while I was there, I couldn’t resist it. At only 25 baht per cone though, it is hard to turn that down. Not only is the park filled with ice cream but it’s also filled with people doing physical activity. Yoga classes, acro partner yoga, and slack lining seemed to be the most popular things going on when I was there. From what I gathered, yoga happens quite frequently in the park. It’s not hard to see why, it is a peaceful and tranquil place, and although there are quite a few people there, it is a quiet place as well. If you’re not too into yoga you can try your hand at one of the permanent exercise machines they’ve got around the park. Or, if you’re like me you can just do a couple laps around on your bicycle and then lay down and eat some ice cream. Either way, this a great little place that’s worth a visit for a peaceful afternoon.
As I said before, I love Chiang Mai, and I highly highly recommend it as a must see when you are visiting Thailand. I’ve barely scratched the surface in this post of all the things to do, all the places to see, and all the wonderful details about the city. The food is unbeatable, the people are super friendly, the night life is buzzing, and the city makes you feel a little bit magical somehow. If anyone is interested in more recommendations of things to do or places to go please get in touch me with I am happy to recommend more.
Thanks for reading!