Tucked into the northern part of the country of Thailand, is the beautiful city of Chaing Mai. While it’s still the second largest city in the country, it’s a small Gem in comparison to Bangkok. Known for it’s beautiful temples and quaint old town, it surely is a must see on your next visit to Thailand.
While concierge and tour guides alike, will take you to the iconic landmarks and city must-sees, there are a few extras that must be on your to-do list in Chiang Mai:
Elephant Nature Park
One of the only places in the world where elephants live in their natural habitat, Northern Thailand is home to over 3,000 elephants. Unfortunately with the large population of elephants, comes the exploitation and mistreatment of these majestic creatures. But luckily, there’s a wonderful place called Elephant Nature Park which is a conservation sanctuary that rescues elephants from lumber farms, circus’, and riding camps. At the sanctuary, visitors can feed, bathe and take a stroll with dozens of elephants. You’ll notice they’re happy and fun to be around, as they are treated very well. Important note, this camp sells out months in advanced - so as soon as you request those PTO days and book your flight - book Elephant Nature Park! In addition to the day adventure, they also have an overnight camping option as well.
2) Thai Massages Every Day (Or at least every other)
As someone living in Manhattan, my jaw drops when hearing that an hour massage only costs $5! Initially thinking it was a joke or a scam, I quickly learned - this in fact was a reality and became one of my favorite things about Thailand. The art of Thai Massages uses reflexology and pressure points to work into every limb of the body. Located on every street corner ( think of Starbucks) are these quaint parlors that treat you like a King or Queen once you open the door. Make sure, to notify the masseuse of your pain threshold and your sensitivity or problem areas.
3) Khao Soi
Already having Thai food on the top of my list for favorite cuisines, I was surprised to learn that there was a Thai dish I had not yet tried. And you know what, it ended up being my new favorite! It’s called Khao Soi, which is a traditional staple in Northern Thailand. Now I want you to imagine, the best Penang curry you’ve ever had, add in a slow cooked chicken thigh, egg noodles, crispy wontons and a myriad of chili flakes, lime juice, and spices. Yep, that’s Khao Soi. If I had to recommend one spot in particular to get yourself Khao Soi, make sure you try the dish at Khao Soi Nimman.
4) Zip Line
Get your Adrenaline rush as you zip line miles over beautiful jungles and white water rivers. Located an hour outside of the main city, you’ll find courses that will take you into the midst of trees and over some extreme heights. Be forewarned - this is not for the faint hearted or those afraid of heights. Some great companies to look into booking at Eagle Track & Flying Squirrels.
5) Visit the Locals of the Mae Hong Son Village
Hands down, one of the most eye opening and culturally immersive places I’ve had the honor to visit. Located a couple hours from the city center of Chiang Mai, in the jungle, lives a group of native Burmese women who have sought out refuge in Thailand. Most iconically known as the ‘long neck village’ to visitors and tourist alike, they wear brass rings around their neck that continuously build as they get older. As most of these women starting wearing the rings at a young age, they see this as a sign of beauty and cultural acceptance amongst their people. As they joke it was started centuries ago, under the ideology that it prevented tiger bites around their neck, they’ve kept their custom and embrace the rings with each upcoming generation.
6) Temple Hop
On your journey throughout Asia, you’ll find yourself jumping from temple to temple to marvel at the beautiful architecture, extreme detailing, and unique religious teachings. While a few are located inside the old city’s wall, I highly recommend visiting the temples located outside of Chiang Mai. My favorite in particular were the White & Blue Temples. I will preface, they are quite a way outside of the city - but, this is a fun way to make an excursion out of your trip! While visiting the temples, you could make a stop at the Karen Hill Tribe (Noted Above), and even make your way to the Mekong Delta and see the waters where the three countries of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet.
7) Take a Cooking Class
One of my favorite experiences on my trip to Chiang Mai, was the five course cooking class. I don’t think I can say enough how much I love Thai food, so the option to learn to cook all my favorite dishes (including my new favorite Khao Soi) was not an opportunity I was going to pass up. I booked with Siam Rice Cooking School, and it was phenomenal. The class included a market tour, a five course cooking class, eating all of our creations (it wasn’t a sampling or group tasting), and transportation. It was only $23 usd!! What I loved most about the class, was you had a long list of different dishes you could could, and they did not have to match up with your fellow classmates. It was a complete individual experience with so much guided help. On that day I decided to make: Spicy Basil Soup, Pad See Ew, Khao Soi (duh), and the iconic Mango Sticky Rice.
*Want to note, Mango Sticky Rice should probably get its own bullet point, but it’s going to get an honorable mention here. You’ve been forewarned, that you’ll be naming your new chins from your Thai food adventures: mango, sticky, and rice.
8) Sticky Waterfalls
Speaking of sticky… something fun to stick your toes into, is the sticky waterfalls, also known as the Bua Thong. Here at these natural reserve park, you’ll find various paths all leading you up (or down) a waterfall with a dandy rope in hand. While the name of the waterfall get’s name from the ease of walking on the stones, I can assure you they’re not sticky in a sense that they will be leaving gunk on your feet. Instead they feel like smoother concrete that allows your foot to naturally grip the rocks making them easier to walk on. *Just a reminder, incase you have any open wounds or recent cuts on your body, make sure to properly bandage (preferably liquid) or cover them before getting in the water.
9) Be Blessed By A Monk
While I’m traveling, I try and learn as much as I can about the people, their culture, and their religion. In Thailand, there’s a majority Buddhist population. One of the standard practices for Buddhist is to be blessed by Monks. What’s wonderful, is that tourist and not practicing Buddhist can also receive this blessing. And I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of any positive blessings or vibes that come my way. In addition to the blessing, tourist also have the option to attend Monk Chats at different temples around the city. This gives the Monks a way to practice their English, and the tourist to understand a little bit more about the teachings of Buddha.
10) Bamboo Raft Down In Mae Wang
Picture: Stanley Chen
Have you ever seen the Jungle Book river scene or rode on the jungle cruise ride at Disney World? Welp, at the age of 26, somewhere outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, I was lucky enough to get a real-life mixture of the two. We rode out on a river raft completely made out of eight sticks of bamboo through light rapids. Throughout the journey we saw elephants playing in the water a foot away from our raft, floating bungalows with local families having an early dinner, and even some fun tree swings just waiting to be sat in. During our ride, my friends and I decided that when the raft was over calm tides, it was the perfect time to do some yoga- because why not! Overall it was such a memorable experience and one I would highly recommend.