Our last stop in Thailand was to visit Chiang Mai. What a great city! We’ve said it before about other places in Thailand, but we’ll say it again – we wish we had more time. There are just so many great things to see and do in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is that great compromise – big enough to have plenty of amenities and attractions, but still small enough to be walkable and not too busy. We stayed for 5 nights, and could have easily spent more time. Best of all, despite it being a very popular spot for tourists and expats, prices for pretty much everything are lower here than what we saw almost anywhere else in Thailand.
A big attraction in Chiang Mai are the Buddhist temples (or “wats” in Thai); the city has approximately 300 of them. On our first day, we explored some of the better known ones, such as Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, and the famous Wat Chedi Luang. Almost any street you walk down will lead to or past a temple. While each has it’s own character, we’ll admit it – it’s possible to get a little “templed out”. We paced ourselves.
One of the most famous temples is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which sits high on a hill overlooking the city. Most people do the sensible thing, and take a taxi or a tuk tuk up the hill. But we’re admittedly not always sensible. Wanting to stretch our legs a bit, we decided to hike the ‘Monk’s Path’ up the hill. While it started off easily enough, the path soon became ever steeper as the temperatures became ever hotter. Unfortunately, most of the hike is through the forest, so there weren’t even nice views to enjoy on the way up.
We’re glad we got the exercise, and we enjoyed having the trail pretty much to ourselves, but we’d only recommend it to others if they’re physically fit and really want the exercise like we did. Once at the top, we checked out the beautiful temple grounds with the other thousand or so tourists up there and took some snaps of the hazy, but panoramic, view of Chiang Mai below. We decided to take a taxi back down.
The Street Markets
The weekend is the best time to be in Chiang Mai. Every Saturday and Sunday, there is a walking street market from the mid/late afternoon into the evening. Several streets in the core of the old city become pedestrian only, and are lined with food stalls, souvenir and clothing retailers, and open air spas offering foot and thai massages starting at only ~C$3.
We changed our plans coming from Sukhothai to arrive in the city earlier on the Sunday, just to see the Sunday market. By 6pm, it was so packed with people that it was pretty difficult to move, so we’re glad we went early!
Just to the east of the old town are the daily Day and Night markets. While the Day Market is mainly geared towards locals, it’s worth checking out because there are some good deals to be had. In contrast, the Night Market is geared towards tourists and is a great place to pick up souvenirs (but you need to haggle as prices are pretty inflated!). There is a also a great food stall area near the Night Market that we wish we’d found earlier.
One of the things we love about Thailand is the food. Our favourite dish was a traditional dish in Chiang Mai called Khao Soi. It is a meat soup, usually made with pork but sometimes chicken, in a flavourful curried broth with noodles, vegetables, and some crispy fried egg noodles on top. It was fantastic! We tried it at Khao Soi Khun Yai, a lunch-only spot near the north gate of the old city, and reputed to be one of the best Khao Soi’s around. It was good, but we actually had our best bowls (twice!) at a street vendor just north of the city walls.
Trevor loves to cook, so we signed up for a Thai Cooking Class with Basil Cookery School. Over 4-5 hours, we toured a local fresh food market, then cooked (and ate) 6 dishes each. For anyone visiting Chiang Mai, we highly recommend it. In fact, the pad thai Trevor cooked in the class was the best pad thai we had in Thailand. Not to brag or anything…
As anyone reading this blog knows, Christine loves animals. In Cairns, she held a koala, fed some wallabies and saw many kangeroos. We cruised with crocodiles in Darwin. In Thailand, she wanted to see some elephants. There has been a lot of controversy in recent years over elephant “sanctuaries”. Stories of abuse, cruel training methods, and the negative impact on the animals associated with being ridden by humans are very serious concerns. However, several more ethical options have arisen in recent years. Companies such as Elephant Nature Park and Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (the one we booked with) rescue elephants, and offer tourists the opportunity to feed and bathe the huge creatures. Riding is not allowed. We’re surprised how many tour companies still promote elephant experiences where the elephants are not as well cared for.
It was a fun experience. The elephant camp is about a 90 minute drive from Chiang Mai, and we were in a group of about 20 for a half-day tour. We met a group of 5 elephants, including a 6-month old baby (aww!). We fed them bananas then had the chance to help bathe them in a (muddy) water pool and mud bath. It was fun, but to be honest we could have been happy with just feeding them and watching them play in the water together. Splashing around a muddy pool of water that the elephants also relieve themselves in, wasn’t high on our list of to-dos. We found the half day was plenty of time, as the company also offers full-day and multi-day tours.
Muay Thai Boxing
For something a little different, we checked out one of the Muay Thai boxing stadiums. There are three in Chiang Mai, and for 400 TBH (about C$16 each) we thought it would be fun. A similar experience in Bangkok or Phuket runs 2000TBH and up, so Chiang Mai is definitely the place to do it.
We showed up at the Thaphae stadium near the east gate at 9pm in time for the fights to start, and it went on for about 2.5 hours. The weirdest part was the age of the boxers in the undercard fights. They looked like kids! It had a “hunger games” sort of vibe to it. It built up to the main bout, which involved more experienced (and more adult) fighters. We’d heard that the fights are all faked, but it looked realistic to us. Except that the boxer in the red corner won all 6 bouts. But that’s just coincidence, right? I wish we’d made some bets!
The fights are clearly put on for tourists, made obvious by the fact that all announcements were in English only. But what do we care? It was entertaining, and a different way to spend an evening.
When Can We Come Back?
We loved Thailand. The people were friendly, the culture was fascinating, the food was fantastic, the weather was awesome every single day, and the scenery was amazing. Christine is already planning our next trip, at least in her head. Despite spending 4 weeks here, there are so many places and things we still want to see and places we know we’ll want to return to. As much as we’re looking forward to continuing our trip, we’re both a bit disappointed to leave.