Arriving in Chiang Mai, David and I were excited to embark on a new city. Phuket was not exactly what we were expecting but we knew several people have fallen in love with Thailand, and we were still in search of that charm.
We found it in Chiang Mai! This city doesn’t disappoint, with a temple on every corner, similar to Holland Michigan. These religious sites were just adorned with a bit more gold and had a sprinklings of monks in their courtyards.
The city itself is hidden among beautiful passage ways that lead to great coffee shops, multiple street food venders and delightful peeks into local life. We spent a lot of time just walking around while appreciating the clouds the rainy season brought to protected us from the sun.
If you are going to Chiang Mai give yourself at least four days to take it all in. Here is our ‘must do’ list for the city that’s surrounded by a moat and proudly holds the title of Thailands cultural center.
6am – Wot Chedi Luang
Wake up early and head to see monks walking around the temple/streets collecting food for their breakfast. Feel free to watch, and if you like participate! They are happy with any donations.
7am -Walk the streets
Enjoy what you stumble upon in your journey and grab a bite to eat.
9am – Return to Wot Cheri Luang
Pay a small entrance fee before entering. Take time to walk around several temples on site. Don’t miss monk chats that take place on the north side on the temple. An amazing opportunity to ask about their daily life. David and I spent an hour speaking to a young monk who is working towards being a religious teacher at the local school. (See our post on talking with him here)
Noon – Lunch
Most places have traditional curry dishes. We recommend trying a red curry or a green (more spicy)
3pm – Time for a Thai message!
Get them as often as you would like! With an hour long message starting at $3, you can’t beat it. Warning- ask for a gentle message similar to asking for food more mild then you would back home, it is spicy! The food and the massage. David and I wincing as they found new knots to work out.
5pm – Walk the perimeter of the ancient walls
The walls and moat of the original 1 square mile city remain from over 700 years ago! See the dozens of temples along the edges, and poke into the city when you get hungry for a local bite.
10am – Rent a car and head to Bua Thong (Sticky Waterfall)
It is located about an hour outside of Chiang Mai and offers a great spot to cool off in the heat and humidity. The falls are made of limestone which gets “sticky” when it is wet. This makes is easy to climb, so we did again and again. It is a simple down hill hike that leads you to a pool the waterfall flows through. We grabbed a rope and started climbing. It was amazing! There where young kids and grandparents enjoying the hike up together. Bring a picnic or enjoy food at one on the two small cafes located near the top of the falls.
1pm – Make your way to Elephant Poo Poo Park
About a 45 minute drive from the falls. This park shows you how to make paper out of… you guessed it… elephant poo. Don’t underestimate this place! For $3 you are given a tour of the labor intensive process of making each sheet of paper. I was excited to get to take part in each step, what a way to reuse what others don’t want. At the end of the touring Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park – you can make your own cards out of the paper or purchase something they have made from the gift shop. Don’t miss the sweet cafe tucked next to the shop. They make an amazing Thai tea (hold the poo please).
4pm – Wat Phra Doi Suthep
Another 45 minute trip in the car will get you to this gorgeous temple on top of a large hill. Take the time to hike up the 200+ stairs that our lined with dragons on the hand rails! Once arriving to the top, stop to enjoy the view well the sun is still out. Slowly walk along the edges of the temple before walking in, there is so much detail at every angel you will need awhile to take it all in. Enter the temple and repeat. Stick around because evening chants start at 6pm. On your way out take another look at the city below as lights start to fill the sky.
7pm – Street Food
Drive back into Chiang Mai and find street food – it is everywhere! A local dish that we enjoyed was kôw soy a soup based curry made with chicken and coconut milk.
8am – Elephant Nature Park
This is an all day affair and you need to do it! There are several parks to choose from. We choose this one for a few reasons; they are all rescued elephants, you do not ride them, and the mahouts (elephant trainers) do not use bullhooks (a hook that is attached to a long stick used in training). Elephant Nature Park is the only one that fulfilled all three concerns I had. Do your research and find one that feels right to you. (Read detailed post on our visit here)
6pm – Post Elephant Refresh
You will be dropped back off at your hotel. You may want to take time to freshen up before heading out. Elephants are cute, but they are sloppy eaters.
7pm – Dinner at The Whole Earth
My favorite dinning spot in Chiang Mai! The gardens are gorgeous and the restaurant is a quaint building built with ancient Thailand architecture in mind.
8am- Thai Cooking Class
We loved our class taught by Thai Farm Cooking. They pick you up right from your hotel and start the day off at a market. Here you discuss Thai spices before heading to their farm to start the cooking class. Come hungry because you will be cooking 5 dishes! (Read post on us attending this class here)
4pm- Night Bazaar
You’ll be dropped off back at your hotel after your class. Next hit the streets, you will be wanting to walk off a bit of the delicious food. Work your way towards the night bazaar. The market is full or souvenirs and street food, of course!
9pm – You did it!
Arrive back at your hotel and crash! You just had a full four days!
- Try coconut sticky rice
- Eat coconut ice-cream from a street vendor. They serve it with rice on the bottom and your bowl is a young coconut.
- Enjoy roti from a street vendor. It looks similar to a crepe and is served with Nutella, bananas, strawberries. (Please note that the last three tips are all dessert related…I may be disclosing my diet to soon…)
- Drink Thai ice tea, pink milk, or fresh milk to stay cool. They are all loaded with sugar but are perfect when you are walking around town.
- Use songtaew for transportation. They are red open air trucks and they are everywhere. If you would like them to drive you to sticky falls or/and Wat Phra Doi Suthep you can hire them for the day. This will typically cost $30-40 dollars.
- I had read online “don’t ask how much the ride is when you are going around town. This will make you look like a foreigner. It is always 20 baht for around town rides”. This was not true, especially at night. If you ask them to leave a busy market before they have additional riders, they will do it, but for an up-charge. They also seemed to have higher rates at night. You’re safest to just check. To give you some perspective 20 baht is 57 cents, so cheap!
- The Sunday Market. This only happens on Sunday night and it is packed! The vendors have more local crafts then you will see at the night bazaar, some really cute things! Street food is good, we found pot stickers here – yum! If you are claustrophobic this may be a good one to skip.
- Fah Lanna is the best place to get a message in Chiang Mai. They have a few locations around town. They are well trained and their facilities are very clean. A bit more expensive with messages starting around $20 but the experience is worth it! They also do complimentary pick up and drop off at the airport. David and I booked a service right before we jetted off to Bangkok, it was perfect!