Visiting Chiang Mai Thailand The Best Things To Do and See
Chiang Mai is one seriously beautiful historic city in Northern Thailand and is recognized as the country’s cultural capital. It’s a stark contrast to the bustling capital of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is one of the few places you are able to experience both historical and modern Thai culture while taking a little breather from the go-go-go aspect of a big city. It has just about everything; good food at every corner shop you pass, lush green mountains that surround the outer city, unique and beautiful temples, and welcoming people. You’ll find Chiang Mai to be a city that you can spend a few days or a few weeksin and still have something to explore, here are a few things we loved doing here!
Visit The One Of The MANY temples In Chiang Mai
Picking what historic temples to visit in such a short time is hard. Good thing we chose the best ones out for you. Check out our post of The Top 8 Temples To See in Chiang Mai.
Chat With A Monk
The life of a monk has always been very interesting to me, I’ve always imagined them to be how like they are in the movies; silent and super peaceful. While in southeast Asia we’ve noticed that’s not really the case. It’s so bizarre to see them in their iconic saffron robes buying candy at the market or taking buses. So if you’re like us and are curious about the life of a monk; what they can or cannot do, their stance on popular world issues, or really any other question that pops in your head. They are very open to answering anything you have to ask. There are currently five temples that offer monk chats in Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Luang being the most popular. You can also check out the Monk Chat Office.
Take a Thai Cooking Class
If you want to take a part of Thailand home with you that isn’t a souvenir, take a Thai cuisine class! There are fairly a large amount of classes offered throughout the city, but our fav is Secret Thai cooking school. You’re able to go from picking out the veggies for the day to whipping up amazing dishes! It’s fun for everyone including kids and you’ll be able to make an awesome memory.
Get A Massage From A Prison Inmate
Yes, you can do just that! But this isn’t what you’re picturing in your head. A big burly woman named Olga who murdered her husband isn’t going to be the one giving you your rub down! Most of these women are in for minor crimes and are given the opportunity to learn marketable skills (such as massage therapy), they are even allowed to save their wages and tips for when they are released. When/If you go please be respectful; these women are trying to make a better life for themselves, so please refrain from taking pictures. Dignity Network is an excellent program supporting these woman so go check it out!
Watch a Muay Thai Boxing Match
If you’re in Thailand you really can’t NOT go see a Muay Thai match. There’s a couple arenas in the city but the one we chose was Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium. Entry is 600 baht per person for general seating, there are tickets selling for more for “VIP” seating but in my opinion it’s really not worth the money. The gym itself is really small and the VIP seats are no closer than if you are sitting in the stands.
We were stoked to go see a good fight between two pros, unfortunately that’s not the case here. 5 out of the 6 fights we watched were kids under the age of 16, which mostly consisted of them throwing soft blows to pass the time of the rounds. It was particularly sad and very slow. Reading reviews of the arenas in the area they all seem to have the same issue as well. If you wanna experience a Muay Thai match at least once in your life, by all means go. But if you don’t wanna watch little kids fight all night then I would say skip this one.
Visit An Elephant Sanctuary
One of the most popular things to do when in Thailand is to see the elephants. Everyone wants to be able to look and interact with these huge animals up close, however you must be careful when choosing a place to go. Almost all of the sanctuaries advertise that they are humane and treat the elephants with care, that is sometimes just not the case. After tourists leave these “sanctuaries” those in charge will mistreat and chain up these poor animals.
The two best sanctuaries sanctuaries in Chiang Mai are Elephant Nature Park and Toto Elephant Sanctuary. Elephant Nature Park is a facility that acts as a retirement home for rescued elephants. They are eventually returned to their natural habitat and they are never fenced in. It is a more popular one so if you do decide to visit, book your tour in advance.
Toto Elephant Sanctuary is a lesser known sanctuary but it still takes great care of its elephants; I believe they have currently 3 or 4 in their care. During the tour you are able to hike with, bathe, and even give these elephants a little snack.
There are a few things to look for when researching a sanctuary to visit. Riding elephants should NEVER be an option, as the elephants used for this are almost never properly taken care of. They spend their lives in captivity and are subjected to torture. Their health is put on the back burner for the sake of tourism and they are often chained up after a days worth of rides. It’s true elephants were once used in war and used to transport heavy items, they have since evolved and are not made to carry such weight on their backs.
The second red flag is if the elephants are forced to do unnatural behaviors such as dancing or painting. There is a cruel conditioning to get these animals to do these behaviors. Most elephants rescued from places like this show signs of post traumatic stress disorder because they are so broken and fearful of getting hurt. Always do research before going to a sanctuary, even if you do think that you’re going to an ethical place and end up seeing something that isn’t, SAY SOMETHING. Tell management of what you saw and write a review so others can decide if they want to support it.
Shop Your Heart Away At One Of The Many Markets
Chiang Mai has literally a TON of different markets scattered all around the city. I love love LOVE to shop the markets everywhere we go because its so fun to see all the random stuff the vendors sell. You can pretty much find anything you need when roaming around; from shoes, clothes, or souvenirs. Since there’s so many markets popping up every year, here are a couple of our favs. We ranked them from our most to least favorite.
This market is my favorite. It is very much a local market and the pants/shirts/shoes sold here are very cheap and more of a variety than what we usually would see at the more touristy markets. It’s a more fun and lively one as well because it’s filled with mainly university students.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
As the most popular market in Chiang Mai, the night bazaar brings hordes of vendors selling quirky souvenirs and clothes for you to fill up your suitcase with. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, you probably will. Men custom suits are extremely cheap to find here.
Bor Sang Market (Umbrella Village)
This market is most well known for the big colorful handmade umbrellas. It’s a little outside Chiang Mai, but totally worth going to if you love color and a pretty unique market.
Another local market, Warorot has very cheap clothes and home goods. It’s open during the day so you can stop by if you’re nearby when sight seeing.
Getting to Chiang Mai from Luang Prabang
Zach and I came from Laos, our last stop being Luang Prabang to Thailand. There are flights connecting these two cities, but we like to travel cheaply and love to see everything overland so bus travel has become our bff. Booking tickets is super easy, we used the site 12go.asia, which we use very often to book tickets around southeast Asia. It’s an awesome site that easily lets you pick your destination and time of departure, and has options of even trains and even flights. Now, like I just said, we are very seasoned bus travelers and we have been on some really nice overnight bus rides with brand new buses that had beds. So we thought hey no problem. If you are thinking of taking this route, DON’T just fly! This ride was in an old bus and was basically the bus ride from hell. So save yourself 23 hours, spend the extra money and just fly.