Nestled in the quiet North of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a welcome break from the madness of Bangkok. Despite lacking a beach, Chiang Mai is extremely popular due to it’s culture and laid back atmosphere.
Chiang Mai has so much to do at both daytime and nighttime, and is often referred to as the Adventure Capital of Thailand. During the day you can explore the many cultural sights and treat yourself to a massage. At night you can enjoy not only Thai food but international food such as Mexican and English. Chiang Mai has many bars too including ex-pat bars and local bars. There is something for everyone.
If you do decide to venture north or study for a TEFL certification, you won’t want to miss these five things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I guarantee that you will not leave disappointed!
1) Visit the night markets
Chiang Mai has countless night markets that are perfect for scoring souvenirs or eating some delicious Thai street food. The night markets are lively and you are guaranteed to see some unusual sights. My favorite is the Weekend Night Market on Walking Street. The whole of Wualai Road is pedestrianized so shoppers can peruse the scores of stalls without worrying about the scooters that buzz past everywhere in this city! The market sells handmade handicrafts, backpacker fashion and even delicate silver jewelry. If all of the walking tires you out, you can even get a relaxing foot massage for less than 100 Thai baht (about $3 USD)! Remember to visit the market on an empty stomach as you’re sure to be tempted by the delicious smells wafting from the many street food stalls. Personally I can recommend the fried quails eggs (a Thai specialty) and surprisingly good sushi, even this far from the ocean!
2) Eat Khao Soi
Khao Soi is the most delicious Thai food there is, and it’s only available in Northern Thailand (well, you can get it elsewhere but it’s never as delicious…). Khao Soi is a delicious red, coconut based soup with rice or egg noodles. It’s generally not too spicy so most people can enjoy its creamy and flavorful taste. What makes Khao Soi my favorite Thai food is the delicious fried noodles on top! The best ones I found were at the many family-run restaurants down the small side streets of Chiang Mai.
3) Go on a temple tour
If you like temples, Chiang Mai is your place! It’s home to over 300 Buddhist temples, and at almost very corner you turn will unveil a temple more beautiful than the one before. My favorite is Wat Chedi Luang. Built in the 14th Century, it’s one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai. The main structure collapsed after an earthquake in the 16th century and it was recently renovated. This temple is different from the other temples in Chiang Mai because rather than being bright and colorful, it is made out of stone ruins and appears imposing and atmospheric. I dare you not to feel anything when you see this grand temple.
4) Get a Thai massage from a prisoner
A massage from a prisoner sounds like a pretty stupid thing to do, especially a Thai massage which is famed for being brutal and quite painful. At Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute you can get a massage from a convict for a very low price. The women who work there are very kind and sweet and are studying massage to better themselves and to aid rehabilitation into society after their sentence. After the massage you will feel good inside and out!
5) Visit Wat Pra Doi Suthep
This is the temple to end all temples. Try and visit on a sunny day to see the sun reflect off the golden spire of this sacred place. To reach the temple you first have an arduous climb up a 306-step staircase, flanked by decorative serpents at each side. Keep an eye out for cute children dressed in traditional hill tribe costume! Once you get to the top you will be rewarded not only with a magnificent Thai temple, but a 360-degree view of Chiang Mai. Wat Pra Doi Suthep is a very busy temple but it is easy to find a quiet corner to people watch or practice meditation. Located 15 km (9 miles) from the main city it’s a great place to go for a half-day trip, via taxi or motorbike.
All of the above can easily be experienced during a short two or three day visit to Chiang Mai. Who knows, you may want to stay longer in this vast yet friendly city. There really is something for everyone here.
Words by Stephanie Ralay.
Photos courtesy of Flickr Commons.