Chiang Mai: 8 Awesome Things To Do In Thailand’s Northern Capital

Escape the crazy pace of Bangkok and head north to the charming city of Chiang Mai. The laid-back pace of life here seems at odds with the throngs of tourists visiting the city, yet it somehow manages to retain an air of calm not found in the capital. While this is a perfect place to relax, there is plenty of things to see and do in this idyllic corner of Thailand. From exploring medieval temples to getting close to the largest land animals in Asia, there is something for everyone in Chiang Mai.

1.       Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep 

While undoubtedly touristy, this 14th century temple and its grounds hold special meaning to Thai people. Legend has it that it was built on a spot “chosen” by a Buddha relic and the place is indeed pretty extraordinary. Nestled on top one of the hills forming Doi Suthep mountain, the temple overlooks Chiang Mai and neighbouring areas from over 1000 metres. Those who brave the winding mountain roads and a 309 step climb to the top are rewarded with a shimmering golden chedi, holy shrines and spectacular views. Read about how I hiked to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep here!

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

2.       Experience the Sunday Market (Walking Street)

Every Sunday evening, Rachadamnoen Road and the surrounding streets and courtyards are transformed into one of Thailand’s biggest and most popular markets. Start at Tha Pae Gate and make your way through the street and past stalls selling authentic locally-handcrafted items and souvenirs. Temple grounds turn into spacious food courts selling freshly cooked traditional dishes and entertainment is provided by musicians, dancers and painters lining the length of the street. It’s loud and busy but the atmosphere is well worth fighting your way through the crowd for!

Sunday Market crafts
Sunday Market crafts

3.       Volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park

A chance to interact with these majestic creatures is one of the highlights for many visitors to Northern Thailand. However, picking a responsible operator from the dozens that have set up shop around Chiang Mai is a stressful task – many travellers I’ve met report of mistreatment of the animals in many of the “sanctuaries”. Elephant Nature Park is different – the rescue and rehabilitation centre aims to provide a refuge for endangered species as well as educate visitors. You can volunteer by feeding and bathing the elephants or just watch on from the sidelines. Most importantly, there is no riding involved. Bear in mind, trips can be sold out weeks in advance so book early!

Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park

4.       Get lost in the Old City

Built over 700 years ago, Chiang Mai (meaning New Walled City) has played a prominent part in Thai history, serving as a capital of the Lanna kingdom for several centuries. One of the best ways to explore the square-shaped old town is getting lost among its streets, stumbling upon impressive temples such as Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh or small restaurants serving up delicious local food. Despite Chiang Mai’s popularity with travellers, you are somehow never more than a few minutes away from a quiet back alley with not a tourist in sight while the moat surrounding the city never lets you stray too far.

Three Kings Monument
Three Kings Monument

5.       Explore Chiang Mai by Bike

One of the most rewarding ways to explore Chiang Mai and the surrounding area is by good old-fashioned bicycle. While renting a scooter is a popular way of getting around, there is something relaxing about pedalling down narrow alleyways, stopping off to admire beautiful architecture and relaxing with a fresh fruit smoothie. Alternatively, explore Chiang Mai’s eclectic food scene on a tour taking in some of the city’s best culinary hotspots or head out of the city for more challenging rides exploring the surrounding countryside. Read about my cycling escapades here or check out Grasshopper Adventures’ bike tours in the area.

Grasshopper Adventures tour
Grasshopper Adventures tour

6.       Get your adventure on

Those after experiences to get the heart rate going will be well catered for in Chiang Mai. Multi-day treks in the mountains, ziplining and abseiling adventures and exhilarating mountain bike routes are just some of the options for thrill-seekers. Whitewater rafting and kayaking will appeal to watersports aficionados while the Grand Canyon is a popular spot for cliff jumping, on the site of an abandoned soil mine. Motorcross and ATV 4 wheel off-roading will provide a fix for petrolheads. Just don’t forget to relax after all that excitement!

Source: www.touchchiangmai.com
Source: www.touchchiangmai.com

7.       Shop till you drop at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

Open every day of the year, the Night Bazaar is more similar to the sort of street markets you will find in various touristy parts of Bangkok, with designer clothes, accessories and souvenirs on offer. It springs up along Thanon Chang Khlan, east of Tha Pae gate from early evening and over the years has, like the Sunday Market, expanded to the side streets. The bazaar has a number of offshoots, including the Kalare Night Bazaar with its impressive handicrafts section and an extensive food court. Grab a pad thai, a Thai iced tea and watch dancers perform traditional routines on stage or just wander along the main street, taking in the sounds and aromas of the market.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

8.       Work up an appetite at a Thai Cooking School

Ask any local and they will tell you that Northern Thai cuisine is the best in the land and Chiang Mai is a perfect place to try your hand at making some of the tasty dishes yourself. There are a number of schools in the area but I would recommend Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School. Sammy picks you up from your hotel and takes you to a local market to select fresh ingredients before whisking you to his beautiful farm home in the countryside. You will learn how to make staples such as Pad Thai, Thai Green Curry and Mango Sticky Rice before relaxing in the hammocks to digest the huge portions you will devour. Even if, like me, you are terrible at cooking, you will whip up amazing meals in no time thanks to Sammy and his wife. Bon Appetite!

Sammy's Organic Thai Cooking School
Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School

What do you think? Have I missed anything out? What were your top things to do in Chiang Mai? Let me know!

 

 

4 thoughts on “Chiang Mai: 8 Awesome Things To Do In Thailand’s Northern Capital

  1. Eva Jung says:

    This is very nice. I like your Doi Suthep and Sunday Market pictures! 🙂 Even though we both wrote about things to do in Chiang Mai, but it’s very different. Very interesting to compare with my 6 things to do in Chiang Mai. 🙂 Nice work!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thank you! Chiang Mai is such an amazing place and i’m glad that people appreciate how much there is to do there! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. David says:

    Interesting, when I think of laid back and relaxation in Thailand, I immediately think of a beach down south but nice to know you can find that here too. You’ve given me even more reasons to visit Chiang Mai one day.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      David, thanks for the comment. There is literally something for everyone in Chiang Mai. You definitely won’t be disappointed when you visit!

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