Unlike its bigger sister Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a more relaxed city with picturesque architecture, beautiful scenery and amazing food. Located in the Northern mountains of Thailand, this Asian city is divided in two distinctive areas: the old city, which is an extraordinarily preserved area with traditional night markets, local street vendors and stunning temples, and the countryside, where you’ll find your perfect trek in lush nature or even bathe with elephants in a sanctuary. Easily accessible from Bangkok by bus, here’s how you’ll get the most out of Chiang Mai.
This might seem quite obvious, but the best way to visit Chiang Mai’s old city is by walking. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the weekend, visit Wualai Walking Street market (Saturday) where plenty of handcrafted items and locally-made products are showcased. While you’re there, visit the famous Sunday Walking street where you can find most of your souvenirs, perfectly crafted by Northern Thai people. Also interested in seeing temples? By walking around the city gates, you’ll be able to see three of the most important temples for Northern Buddhists ; Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man. Wear your most comfortable shoes and drink lots of water to fully enjoy your day!
CHIANG MAI’S STREET FOOD
Chiang Mai is internationally known to be a food paradise and culinary hub. You’ll see, your taste buds will definitely thank us later! The best thing about street food is that, not only it is cheap (1-3$USD), but sizes are smaller than your standard meal therefore, you can try many different dishes. The top things you should try are the Khao Soi (local northern dish), green papaya salad, fried chicken with sticky rice and of course, the classic Pad Thai. The most popular spots to get the best street food are at the Saturday/Sunday night markets, Chang Puak and Chiang Mai Gate and Nimmanhaemin road.
TRAVEL LIKE A LOCAL
Tired of walking around the city? Or maybe you want to visit Chiang Mai’s countryside? The best way (and cheapest way!) is to travel like a local. Hop on board a songthaew (red van) or a tuk-tuk to travel in and out of the city. Songthaews should cost you around 1$USD to ride within the old city and you can also negotiate the price with the driver if you want to visit the countryside for the day. Tuk-Tuks will cost you around 2-5$USD per ride. If you feel comfortable and prefer to have more flexibility, you can also rent a scooter and helmet anywhere within the old city for 5-7$USD per day.
Spending the day with elephants is a once in a lifetime experience. Unfortunately, not all centres care and protect their elephants. The sanctuary shouldn’t offer elephant riding, painting or elephant shows. A reputable sanctuary should be a rehabilitation and rescue center as well. Here are two sanctuaries you should look into to make your experience more memorable : Elephant Nature Park and Patara Elephant Farm
Massage parlors are located everywhere within the old city. Indulge yourself in a simple face and foot massage or a traditional Thai massage or reflexology, which is the local speciality. If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, why not try getting a massage from a female prison inmate or a blind massage?
If you love the north of Thailand and looking for a place to travel next, make sure to visit the small city of Pai just a short bus ride away. Busbud has expanded to Southeast Asia and offers many routes in the region!
Looking for more travel tips in the region? Take a look at The Extensive Guide to Bus Travel in Southeast Asia.