The northern capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and lush countryside. Often dubbed the ‘Rose of the North’ the city is less populous than Bangkok, but no less exciting. Sporting a vibrant metropolitan community of artists and expats, as well as beautiful rural countryside, this is one place in Thailand you won’t want to miss!
5. Zoe in Yellow
What better way to experience a city then to hit up the night life?? Chiang Mai has a great range of bars and nightclubs to pick from. One of the best being Zoe in Yellow. Packed with travellers, locals and lots of cheesy pop music this bar might not be the most refined but boy is it fun! Spanning over two buildings (one is a bar with seating, the other a nightclub) with beer garden that also edges onto many surrounding bars (in case you get bored), drinks here a reasonably priced, and table service is good.
But if Zoe in Yellow doesn’t really sound like your thing, there are plenty of other drinking spots in Chiang Mai to pull up a stool. Popular ones include: The Playhouse Bar, Boys Blue Bar, Players Music Bar, and the Hollywood Bar… to name on a few!
4. Lantern Festival
I have it on good authority that Chiang Mai is the BEST place to be when Thailand celebrates Loi Krathong (or the Floating Decoration festival), as it also happens to coincide with a northern Thai festival, Yi Peng, which is celebrated by launching thousands of floating lanterns made from materials such as rice paper into the air. Around November every year, these two festivals combine transforming the northern capital into a truly breathtaking place of floating air lanterns, floating water lanterns and other light displays covering every inch of the city. Just make sure you book your accommodation well in advance otherwise you’ll miss out!
3. Chiang Mai’s Sunday Night Markets at Tha Pae Gate
This may be a little controversial but hey, I’m going to say it: Chiang Mai’s sunday night markets are HANDS DOWN the best markets in Thailand, hell maybe in all of South East Asia. Spread over roughly 1 km of the old city, this market boasts not only some of the best food in town but the best wares too. Artists from all over the city and beyond bring their artworks and handicrafts here to sell, you can buy just about any type of clothing you need – from quirky to practical, and forget those mass produced souvenirs because here you’ll find something a little more unique. Be amused by the street entertainers, puppeteers, Thai dancers and bands who are dotted all around the market. And the food, the FOOD is to die for. But don’t ask me, ask the locals who flock here to eat too. And if you’re a bit sore from all that shopping and walking around there are plenty of massage stalls throughout the marketplace to sit down and get a quick foot or leg massage. The markets are open every Sunday night from 4pm-midnight.
2. Trekking to Hill Tribe Villages
Want to get away from all the other drunken backpackers, or those tourists dining in fancy restaurants? Well put on your hiking shoes, strap on your backpacks and take a trekking tour to discover the real northern Thailand. Doing a trek into the mountains around Chiang Mai is one of the true ways to appreciate the beautiful people of this region, as well as the surrounding rainforest. Most tour companies in Chiang Mai offer trekking expeditions and many of these range from 2 to 3 day hikes, where you will have a local Karen guide and stay in remote Karen villages, before bamboo rafting back to Chiang Mai. The great thing about these treks is that all of villages are self sufficient and don’t rely on the tourists that come every now and then, and so you get a real experience – no flushing toilets, no double bed, just a Karen village. Just beware that these are trekking tours and you will need to be able to walk for 3-4 hours per day. Also, many of these tours do include Elephant riding, so please consider your need to ride an elephant before doing so, as many are severely miss treated.
1. Elephant Nature Park
There is definitely not a shortage of places to visit elephants in Thailand. Tourist shops all over Chiang Mai advertise ways to ride or watch them in a show. However, if you want to interact with well cared for elephants in an ethical way when you visit Chiang Mai, this is definitely the place to do it. Elephant Nature Park was founded by Lek Chailert who grew up in one of the surrounding hill tribes. After spending her youth among elephants she made it her life’s mission to rescue abused working elephants from all over Thailand, and to improve the conditions of those still in tourist camps. Unfortunately many captive elephants in Thailand are abused and forced to do unnatural things like paint pictures or perform tricks for tourists.
At Elephant Nature Park the elephants are free to roam around the park, which is situated in a tranquil valley about an hours drive from Chiang Mai. Here tourists can visit for 1 or 2 days, feed the elephants, interact with them and most important of all – observe them being just elephants. If you’re keen for a bit more action, then you can also volunteer for a week at the park and help to prepare food, clean enclosures, make mud-pits and even bathe the elephants. The park also contains a rescue centre for stray dogs. For more information about the Elephant Nature Park and how you can help to improve the conditions for captive elephants in Thailand visit their website: www.elephantnaturepark.org/
Have you been to Chiang Mai? Let us know your top 5 things to do in the comments below.