Surrounded by tranquil countryside Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand. Bursting with history, glittering temples, shopping, night life and fantastic food – it’s easy to spend a long time exploring this city.
FINDING YOUR WAY
The Old City is the heart of Chiang Mai, framed by an ancient wall and moat, where you can explore Lanna style temples and enjoy some of Northern Thailand’s famous cuisine. Outside of the walls Chiang Mai is a modern metropolis. The riverside area has its own pace with restaurants and a selection of 5* hotels lining the banks. To the north, Doi Suthep overlooks the city with one of Thailand’s most sacred temples perched on the top.
Wat Chedi Luang
Within the walls of the Old City, pictures just don’t do it justice. Wat Chedi Luang is incredibly atmospheric with a towering Lanna-style chedi built in 1441. Part of the top of the chedi was destroyed either in the invasion of the Burmese or an earthquake in the 16th century. The chedi was saved as part of a UNESCO project in the 90s. The Emerald Buddha was once housed here but has since moved to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. You can now view a replica which was given as a gift from the King to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the chedi.
Wat Phan Tao
A beautiful teak temple set in a green garden. Elegant golden Buddha under a Bodhi tree.
Wat Phra Singh
Wihan Lai Kham is a beautiful red and gold chapel which houses Phra Singh (known as the Lion Buddha). There is a large golden chedi.
Wat Lok Moli
Just outside of the old city and therefore often not visited.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
One of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples and perched at top of Doi Suthep (Doi means mountain in Thai), it’s a 306 step climb to the gleaming golden temple. Origins dating back to 1382.
Saturday Walking Street
Don’t miss this pop up market full of great street food, souvenirs and clothes. There is such a great buzz when this market is held and it’s an absolute joy to wonder around the stalls. I recommend starting your journey on an empty stomach so you can sample all the delicious snacks. The market takes over Th Wualai, running southwest from Pratu Chiang Mai at the southern entrance to the old city.
Sunday Night Market
This market extends all the way from Tha Pae Gate through Ratchadamnoen Road.
This permanent market takes place every night just to the west outside the Old City. It’s a hectic and popular tourist destination, selling the usual suspects like fake handbags, electronics, and tatty souvenirs. Generally it lacks the enjoyable atmosphere of the Saturday and Sunday markets in the Old City.
Chaing Mai’s oldest market, which is packed with all sorts of things from household goods to souvenirs and food. This is a permanent market just north of the Night Bazaar, close to the river.
FOOD & DRINK
Food is very regional in Thailand and Chiang Mai has a selection of dishes its renowned for. The most fun place to sample a variety of dishes is at the night markets and around Chang Puak Gate.
Soft and crispy noodles combined with a mild yellow coconut curry soup, served with spring onions and cabbage. Chicken, pork or beef – some places add seafood too.
Sai Oua (Northern Thai sausage)
Spicy and herby grilled pork sausage. You’ll see these in huge coils at the street stalls all over the city.
Sticky rice which traditionally accompanies meals in these parts rather than steamed rice.
Khao Kha Moo
Stewed pork leg served over a bed of white rice. Most famous place for this dish is from the Lady with the hat at Chang Phuak night market.
Places To Eat
The city is filled with cute cafes, bars and restaurants. These are some of my favourites…
- Miranda’s Cafe
- Hot Chilli
- Cafe de Thaan Aoan
- Riverside Bar and Restaurant
- Look out for places offering Khan Tok – Lanna dining experience
LEARN SOMETHING NEW
There are plenty of classes on offer around Chiang Mai. I picked Sammy’s farm cooking school which was set in the countryside. When you arrive at the market you mark what you would like to cook during the class and then you buy the ingredients. It’s good to go with someone else so you can make different dishes to share. Read more about Thai cuisine here.
If you’re interested in Buddhism, stay at International Buddhism Center, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep on a meditation retreat. Read more here.
I stayed inside the Old City, on the outskirts and in a new development. My preference is definitely the Old City. It’s so pretty and there is so much to explore. The Hug Hostel is in the north of Old City with friendly staff and clean dorm rooms. The Cafe/ Bar has a good choice of food and is a good place to meet people.
Flights from London are all via Bangkok. From Chiang Mai you can combine culture and beach by flying directly down to Phuket or Krabi. Read about Thailand’s Islands and Beaches here.
Chiang Mai International airport is only a 10 minute drive to Chiang Mai old city.
15 – 20 minutes drive from bus station to old city depending on traffic.
Chiang Mai is the perfect base for exploring Northern Thailand. Pai and Chiang Rai are only three hours away by bus. Travel can also be arranged to cross the boarder in Laos by bus or slow boat.
Some people will attempt the crossing to Myanmar. There are sometimes issues with this boarder so you’re better off spending the money on a flight to Yangon or Mandalay.
Visited November 2016