Situated in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has a relaxed and laid back atmosphere, and is the perfect spot to relax and spend a few days, especially if you’re coming from bustling Bangkok. Here you will feel in a more authentic Thai setting; the city with its day and night markets are wonderful places to spend the day. Get a foot massage to relax from a full day of walking at any of the parlors situated throughout the city. Try the Jungle Flight (zip-lining) through the jungle, go bamboo rafting, or go on a mountain trek and kidnap a pig for lunch (more on that later…).
Chiang Mai is accessible by air, train, or bus. The easiest and most affordable way from Bangkok is with an overnight bus (the journey can take between 9 to 12 hours depending on the service bus chosen). Once outside the bus station, affordable Tuk-Tuks can take you anywhere into the city.
In recent years Chiang Mai has become home to a huge expat community coming from all over the world. So if you’re planning on making Chiang Mai your long term home, you’re sure to encounter many other travelers, some of which may have been set here for years. And why not? Chiang Mai has it all, in addition to its markets, temples, and beautiful nature, the city also has a bustling nightlife and outdoor adventures galore to keep you busy for many many weeks.
EXPLORING THE CITY
Chiang Mai is full of colorful temples to visit, each more colorful than the last. During the day make sure to visit one of the food markets for some local food.
If exploring markets and getting lost through them is for you (it is definitely for me!), Chiang Mai is your place. There are different markets throughoutthe city, with its most popular being on Saturday (called the “Saturday Market”…admit it, you would’ve never guessed), on Sunday (the “Sunday Market”), and the every day Night Bazaar.
The one I enjoyed the most is the Night Bazaar, which is a 1KM long stretch of vendors on Thanon Chang Khlan, one of the main streets in the city. Make sure to check the many side-streets which make this market bigger than the one stretch of road I mentioned. During the day this street is still filled with shops and tourists, but it’s at night that this area really comes alive. Arrive a bit before the evening as vendors prepare their kiosks for the late night bustle.
The Saturday Market, or Wui Lai Market as it is known by locals, is located by the Chiang Mai Gate on Wui Lai Road, and it stretches for about 1KM.
The Sunday Market starts at the Tha Phae Gate and continues on Ratchadamnoen road, and it is also about 1KM in length.
Both the Saturday and Sunday Markets are open on their respective days from about 4PM until midnight. Some of these markets can get very crowded and it might not be a pleasant experience if you’re sort of claustrophobic, also watch your belongings for pickpockets at all times.
JUNGLE FLIGHT (ZIP-LINE)
This was my first time zip-lining anywhere, and having done many since that first time I gotta say that Chiang Mai has some of the most remarkable views for zip-lining. This is a good 3 hour activity that includes some hiking, sky bridges and forest walks and of course, zip lining. Lunch may be included if you booked with your hostel (ask prior to booking).
Our group was full of beginner zip-liners, myself included, many of them from different regions of China. Now I do not want to reap on anyone but GOD Chinese girls get scared EASILY!!! I stopped counting the number of times either one of them had to be “rescued” by one of the guides as they got stuck in the middle of the line…even the 8-year-old who was part of the group was not impressed…and the screaming…CHRIST THE SCREAMING!!! One of them even had to be pushed to jump from the base. At least they made sure to scare all monkeys away.
Those who know me know that I’m a sucker for outdoor activities (except at home…at home I’m really more of a Netflix & Chill guy). I really enjoy trekking and hiking, the hardest the hike the better.
Wherever your trek takes you, make sure to pray to the weather gods for a not-so-humid-and-not-too-hot-but-no-shitty-rain-either kind of day. Already that Thailand is one of the hottest places on the planet, the mere thought of having to trek through the jungle in intense heat may deter some, but believe me that it is worth it!
The hostel where I stayed, Chiang-Mai International Youth Hostel, offered a 2-day-1-night trek which included bamboo rafting, an elephant ride and spending the night with some local tribes.
The trek was pretty amazing, taking us through green forests, rice fields jungles and falls. We even had the chance to swim by those falls on our second day (better than the sweat shower we had been taking until then so far). The weather was extremely hot which made for a pretty challenging trek, but the whole group still managed to make it in one piece.
The bamboo rafting was pretty cool, and while I took no pictures of it (I’m one of those people that normally falls in the water…) I certainly recommend it. The elephant ride itself was different, as I did this activity before I learned about the “training” that some elephants must go through in order to get them used to this sort of work…and believe me some of it is quite horrifying. Had I known and informed myself more on what it takes for an elephant to be tamed so that they can carry people, I would have certainly passed on this.
I had hesitated before adding this to my post, but if people can read this as a flag before booking an elephant ride, inform themselves more, and actually change their mind and discourage this industry, then it is a win.
Spending the night with a local tribe was certainly the highlight of these two days. It was an awesome experience to see how people in this area live. They are cut out from most civilization with little resources, and yet they lead a happy live without any of the stresses of everyday western life.
The fact that our night fell on December 31st was also an added bonus, as were greeted with an awesome buffet and cold cans of Chang Beer 🙂 And this is where shit started getting crazy…
Remember when I mentioned that you could kidnap a pig to have for lunch? Well…our guide graciously offered us to have some pig for New Year’s dinner. Hey, it was New Year’s eve and we were NOT going to not have pig for New Year’s dinner right??? So we all chipped in to buy the food.
Our guide left and 20 minutes later he came back with a black bag, and we thought: “great!, that’s a lot of pig!!!”. But it wasn’t until he asked who wanted to “do the honors” that we realized that the pig was still alive in that bag! That and the fact that the moment the guide started talking the pig FREAKED OUT and wouldn’t stop moving, like it knew what was coming!!!
The way I see it, the pig was on its way to its own New Year’s Eve party, when all of a sudden out of nowhere a Thai guide comes out of the bushes, puts a bag over its head and kidnaps it!!! The rest is history if you look at the photos 😉
WHAT I MISSED
ELEPHANT SANCTUARY: My time in Thailand was also the first time I had been to Asia, and even though I loved it I wish I had known more about these places rather than booking an elephant ride. If you want to get up close and personal with an elephant THIS is the way to do it people! You get to play and care for elephants all day long, and these places go a long way in raising awareness about elephant welfare all around the world.
THAI BOXING: This was also something on my list which unfortunately did not get a check-mark. Due to a lack of time in Chiang Mai I was unable to attend a Thai Box match, even though I had heard that there were some any other day. Unfortunately for me the prices for these in Phuket, my next destination, were exorbitantly expensive (I was on a crunch budget). You know what they say about there always being a next time…
WHERE I STAYED
Chiang-Mai International Youth Hostel: This is a good hostel located in the outskirts of the city center (15-20 minutes walk) which makes it a nice quiet place to stay. It has a good tour operator with a huge range of activities at its disposal, all detailed in its website. The rooms are also clean(ish) and big by Thai standards. Overall, not a bad deal for the price.
Due to a lack of time I missed out much of Chiang Mai. Provide me with some of your recommendations in the comments section, and help me plan my next visit to this beautiful city.