I’m very fond of Chiang-Mai. It’s often hailed as the cultural capital of Thailand and it’s where backpackers go to bathe elephants, hike waterfalls, do yoga, find themselves etc etc. but actually it’s wholly unpretentious and there’s so much more to it than that.
There are almost two worlds for foreigners in Chiang Mai: the digital nomads/expat scene, and the backpacker scene. Here are my favourites from both.
10 Wonderful Things to Do in Chiang Mai
1. Set off a Lantern at the Loi Kratong Lantern Festival
I cannot recommend this enough. It’s so beautiful and mesmerizing seeing hundreds of lanterns rising into the sky. Street—vendors everywhere will be selling laterns during the festival. Small ones (like in the picture) go for 60 baht, and large ones (3x as large) 90 baht. Loi Kratong follows the lunar calendar and is on the 23rd of November in 2018.
2. Stay in a Jungle Tree House
(Check out Ruhucung ‘l’ier’ house Resin 1)
Tree Houses go for about 60 usd/night with breakfast and you can choose which tree house you want (of the ones still free). I wanted the tallest tree house just because, but here’s a useful tip: The taller the treehouse, the smaller it is inside. I.e. If you want a spacious room/house, then pick a low one. Ifyou want views or height for fun, then know you’ll have to make do with a pretty small room. In our
Jackfruit treehouse, the room had about 1 .5 square meters of indoor space apart from the double bed, but we had an outside balcony with awesome view. There was a toilet right up at the top by our balcony (I know right? How?) and at the bottom of the tree with the shower. Here are some of the other treehouses and cabins you can choose from:
About 500m from the Treehouses there’s a great viewpoint with beautiful sunset views. There’s a nice picnic table there so you could come prepared with a bottle of wine and a picnic to watch the sunset.
A word of warning: food options once out there are very limited. You either have to sign up for their meals (dinner was great, 600 baht/person), bring your own, or go to the one village eatery at the turn just before the treehouse resort. That village eatery is cheap and decent. Main dishes go for about 150 baht. The included breakfast at the treehouse resort was fairly basic, some ham, eggs, and toast. But you get to enjoy it in a treehouse overlooking a stream:
3. Hike to the highest point of Thailand
Doi Inthanon National Park is a thing of beauty. The hike or walk is a gentle one and
can be done with any decent shoes. It takes just over an hour with photo stops, is relatively ﬂat, and is beautiful the whole way. During high season expect to share the trail with a lot of people though.
4. Zip—line through the Jungle Canopy
We did it with Dragon Flight but I’ve heard equally great things about the Gibbon
Experience. You zip—line between a number of “stations” high up in the canopy, which changes up between zip—line, abseil, drops, and stair climbs. It’s a lot of fun and you pop in and out of the jungle canopy with great views. We felt 100% safe and looked after with our guides, who were a laugh and clearly really enjoyed their job. If you’re daring (and let the guide know) then they can change up your zip—line harness for you so you can ‘ﬂy’ in different positions eg. superman pose.
5. Bathing and Feeding Elephants
There are a lot of providers of Elephant experiences in Chiang Mai. As a general rule I recommend going with ones that don’t include elephant rides, but other experiences with the elephants such as feeding, bathing, playing etc.
We arrived to the elephant camp by boat and the elephants were already in the water having a play. It was just the two of us, our guide, and 2 adult elephants with a baby elephant. We washed them in the river and splashed around with them, then fed them bananas and sugarcane. Our experience didn’t feel very commercialised at all, the elephants seemed to have a lot of fun frolicking, and once we had ﬁnished feeding and playing, the elephants crossed the river again and walked back into the jungle where they live with their tamers.
6. Bamboo River Rafting and White Water Rafting
Bamboo River Rafting: This was very cool. We were on a very long bamboo raft steered with a single punting pole and drifted down a very beautiful and peaceful section of river. We passed a few village settlements along the way, but most of the journey was through forest sections. Again it was just the two of us and our guide throughout. There was no need to wear any smelly lifevests or helmets. so we were just in our swimsuits..
White Water Rafting: A bit more action packed than bamboo rafting! We had to wear life vests and helmets as it gets bumpy down white water bits and does bounce of rocks from time to time. We went down with two large inﬂatable boats and tried to race the another boat. (We lost, we got stuck on some rocks…) Really great fun, though it never gets crazy and is deﬁnitely on the gentler scale of white water rafting.
7. Thai Cooking Class
Thai Cooking classes are signiﬁcantly cheaper in Chiang Mai than anywhere else I’ve seen in Thailand (particularly Phuket). There are a number of providers but they all seem to be similar in experience and price. Usually you’ll start early with a trip to the market with the chef who shops the ingredients locally with you. Then back at the cooking school you’ll have your own cooking station and cook 4—5 dishes folllowing the chef’s demonstration. You can pick which dishes you want to learn from a short menu, and it’ll usually include all the most popular Thai dishes such as Pad Thai, Red/Green/Yellow Curry, Fried Morning glory, Laarb, and Mango Sticky rice. You’ll eat what you cook (which is more than a meal for one!) and often get a small cookbook to take home with you. I highly recommend doing a thai cooking class!
8. Walk up the Sticky Waterfalls (Bua Thong Waterfalls)
I didn’t understand why it was called sticky waterfalls till I stepped onto it. Water runs down the side of this mountain on a limestone bed. It’s incredibly grippy, so you can literally walk up the waterfall, through the water. There are rops you help you along, but it’s safe and a lot of fun!
9. Mae Sa Waterfall Hike
This was my favourite hike we did in northern Thailand. We did it with a guide that took us there and back from Chiang Mai, but you could easily do this yourself. There’s no risk of getting lost as the path is pretty clear. We did a 2 hour return hike which was easy but varied: some dirt paths, some river crossings, some wooden plank paths, some rock paths etc. Once at the waterfall our guide unpacked our
delicious pad thai lunch wrapped in banana leaves. There’s a little cheeky monkey that lives at the waterfall that likes to steal food from tourists — it’s cute and friendly. You can swim at the waterfall, so bring a swimsuit and towel!
10. Driftcarting, Bungee lumping, and Zorbing
This is a bit out of town (maybe 40min?) but just around the corner from Tita Gallery Cafe which I talk about and recommend below. So combine the trip with a stop there!
It was my ﬁrst time driftcarting, and I shared a car with Kurt (thank goodness) but it was great fun! You can get single seater cars or double— seater cars (at 800/1000 baht respectively at time of writing). The track is large enough for you to get a few good drifts in each round and wide enough to race with your friends.
11. Get a Massage (obviously)
OK, I promised 10 things to do but gave you 11 because this one is a given. But you’ll deﬁnitely be wanting one after all the action above. Massages in Chiang Mai tend to be about 100 baht cheaper per hour on average than Phuket and Bangkok, and just as good if not better. I’ve listed my favourite massage parlous in Chiang Mai right at the bottom of this post, but you can skip right to it here.
The Best 3 Temples to Visit in Chiang Mai
1. Doi Suthep
This is the most famous and popular temple in chiang mai, but with good reason. The views from the top are incredible. You can see the whole city and surrounding mountains and country side. Remember to bring something to cover up modestly once you enter temple grounds.
The road up to doi suthep is winding and a lot of fun to do on a motorbike. Kurt took me on a nice adrenaline—fuelled ride up to the top which I won’t forget any time soon.
2. Doi Pha Lat
Most people visit Doi Suthep but few go to Doi Pha Lat, which is deﬁnitely the better of the two in my opinion. I’d never even heard of it on my ﬁrst visit to Chiang Mai until a friend took me there recently. Get dropped off at the beginning of the short hike (shouldn’t cost more than 80 baht in an Uber from most parts of Chiang Mai). From there it’s a 20 minute uphill hike till you come out in the clearing at the top of the waterfall.
3. Wat Umong
Once you’ve seen a few temples in South East Asia you can start to get a bit bored of them, because let’s be honest, they’re often much of a likeness. But Wat Umong is different enough that I felt like I did the very ﬁrst time I saw an ancient temple. It’s exciting and different:
This 14th century temple consists of a series of underground carved tunnels with several hidden alcoves each with a Buddha altar. All the altars are actively worshipped at and kept lit with oil lamps. Thais still come here to pray, and you’ll come across more than a few as you explore the tunnels. There’s something quite
charming and authentic about Wat Umong that you don’t ﬁnd in many touristy temples anymore. Any visit to Chiang Mai isn’t complete without a visit here.
What to Eat and Drink in Chiang Mai: Top Recommendations
Best Breakfast and Brunch Spots in Chiang Mai
Rustic & Blue Farm Shop
Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 7, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200
When you’re in this place you almost don’t feel like you’re in Thailand. The menu will feel familiar to somewhere in the states with portions equally large and hearty.
Seescape Gallery Cafe
[22/1 Nimmanhemin, Muang, Chiang Mai, 50200,
This one is both an art gallery (hence “seescape”) and simultaneously a really great brunch spot! Each dish looks like a work of art and tastes wonderful.
Best Coffee Shops in Chiang Mai
Tita Gallery, Chiang Mai
68 Mu 6 Tambon Rim Tai, Amphoe Mae Rim, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50180
Ristr8to, Nimman Chiang Mai
They had to open a second location wthin Nimman they were so popular. This place does arguably the best coffee in Asia (and I believe they ‘ve won awards along those lines). If you’re a coffee afficionado you’ll find what you need here.
This cafe does everything coconut! Particularly
coconut ice cream in every shape and form,
including the form of a bunny cone (69 baht
[Siri Mangakalaiarn Rd Lane 7, Nimman, Chiang Mai]
The place to go for dessert extravaganza.
Shaved ice is done to perfection here. The
Matcha and Creme brulee ﬂavour was to die
[Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 9, Tambon Su Thep,
Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai
Cheap and cheerful restaurant serving all the Thai dishes you could want to have at great prices in a clean environment.
Accomodation: Top Boutique Hotels and Hostels in Chiang Mai
Art Mai Gallery Hotel
Nimman, Chiang Mai
(Check out Art Mai Gallery llolel.)
I love this place. It’s super stylish and arty with an incredible rooftop infinity pool.
Each floor here pays tribute to a different era of art, and the rooms are furnished accordingly. The experience here is that of a 5-star hotel at a fraction of the prices. The downstairs restaurant (called Jarid Thai Food and Fine Wine) is wonderful and reasonably priced with mains from about 200 baht.
Our room came with a nice easel and artists chair that we played around with, when I asked Kurt to “draw me like one of your french girls”.
It’s extremely well located, right in the heart of Nimman (the trendy and laid back part of town, brimming with latte art). If you’re in Chiang Mai to just enjoy the scene you’ll likely never have to go further than walking distance from the hotel. It’s also a stone’s throw from our favourite massage parlours.
S* Trips The Poshtel
(Check out S”Trips The Poshtel)
Best balance of budget and comfort!
The comﬁest dorm beds I’ve ever slept in. It
calls itself a posh hostel, which is quite
accurate. It’s trendy, clean, and very well
equipped. I met the coolest people here. The
backpackers here weren’t grimey and dirty like
they often are at Hostels, but all fun, adult, and
clean. There breakfast is tasty and always
includes a Thai and western option. The
common areas are nice and functional. Nice
clean towels and basic toilettries provided.
Baiyoke Chiao Hotel
(Check out Baiyoke Chiao Hotel)
This is a hotel as well as serviced apartments. Each “room” is self—containing with living room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. It’s designed and priced for medium—long stays and is perfectly located in Nimman. The cafe downstairs called Dude cafe does mainly Thai food along with coffees at decent prices (on the spicier side). Added bonus is that the massage parlour in the lobby here is cheap and amazing. More on this below.
[See Hotel YaYee]
This hotel deserves to be on the recommended list almost purely for how great their rooftop bar is. Super trendy, well priced particularly at happy hour, and with great sunset views over Chiang Mai.
Best Massage Parlours in Chiang Mai
Before I go any further I’ll point out the obvious that people have different preferences when it comes to massages. I like a strong and precise dry massage. I say ‘dry’ because as soon as oils or creams are involved, the massage often turns into a soft moisturising session rather than a massage. The masseuse tends to glide over your skin with the oils without being able to apply much pressure, as you can when
the skin is ‘dry’.
I’ve tried both traditional dry massages and aromatic/coconut oil massages at these massage parlours below, and they were great
[Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 3, Chiang Mai]
This one is two doors down from Art Mai Gallery Hotel and pretty great. Their 90min
mixed Thai + Aromatherapy massage knocks you out and you’re reborn, it costs 600 baht for the 90min. They of course also have normal less extravagant massages from 200 baht/hr+.
[Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 3, Chiang Mai]
I’ve had Thai Massage, Back 81 Neck, and Foot massages here and they were all wonderful. Massages here are priced between 200—300 baht/hour. I particularly recommend the foot massages here.
Tiny Massage Parlour inside the Baiyoke Chaio hotel
lobby with no name
This place is actually my favourite. It’s tiny, only has capacity for about 3—4 people at once, but it where I had my BEST massages in Thailand. I like a good strong and precise massage. The Traditional Thai massage here is incredible. The lady who runs the place is super friendly and hyper, be warned.
I’ll be in and out of Chiang Mai some more I’m sure and I’ll add my favourites to this as I go!
Best Massage Parlours in Chiang Mai
Before I go any further I’ll point out the obvious that people have different preferences when it comes to massages. I like a strong and precise dry massage. I say ‘dry’ because as soon as oils or creams are involved, the massage often turns into a soft moisturising session rather than a massage. The masseuse tends to glide over your skin with the oils without being able to apply much pressure, as you can when the skin is ‘dry’.
I’ve tried both traditional dry massages and aromatic/coconut oil massages at these massage parlours below, and they were great on every occasion:
Lantana Massage, Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 3, Chiang Mai
This one is two doors down from Art Mai Gallery Hotel and pretty great. Their 90min mixed Thai + Aromatherapy massage knocks you out and you’re reborn, it costs 600 baht for the 90min. They of course also have normal less extravagant massages from 200 baht/hr+.
Daravelee Massage, Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 3, Chiang Mai
I’ve had Thai Massage, Back & Neck, and Foot massages here and they were all wonderful. Massages here are priced between 200-300 baht/hour. I particularly recommend the foot massages here.
Tiny Massage Parlour inside the Baiyoke Chaio hotel lobby with no name, Nimman, Chiang Mai
This place is actually my favourite. It’s tiny, only has capacity for about 3-4 people at once, but it where I had my BEST massages in Thailand. I like a good strong and precise massage. The Traditional Thai massage here is incredible. The lady who runs the place is super friendly and hyper, be warned.