Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail (see more in Part I of my guide to Chiang Mai)
In case you missed it, here’s Part I of my guide to the Best things to do in Chiang Mai.
For Part 2, I have even more things to recommend so sit tight, because there’s five more places to visit on this list!
4. WAT DOI SUTHEP TEMPLE
Wat Doi Suthep temple is arguably one of the most famous temples in the Chiang Mai area. Funnily enough, it is also one of the few temples not in Old Town. To get there, you need to drive for about an hour. The roads a little brutal for those susceptible to getting motion sickness (me!) but you will get there eventually and it will be worth it.
We visited Wat Doi Suthep on a day tour which started off with a trip to a nearby tribal village. There are six main tribal groups in Chiang Mai – the Karen, the Hmong, the Yao, the Akha, the List and the Lahu. We visited the Hmong (also known as the Meo tribe) who are originally from Yunan in China. Lots of tribal groups now participate in one of the many Royal Projects around Thailand, an initiative set up by the Royal Family to help look after Thailand’s poorest people and the country’s resources. You can purchase lots of their agricultural products and handicrafts from their market.
Wat Doi Suthep temple is right near the tribal village. To get to the temple, there are 304 steps. This sounds like hard work but it really is just 10 minutes worth of steps. Alternatively, there’s a funicular railway to get you up and down as well. The temple sits on the top of Suthep mountain (hence the name) and the pagoda in the centre supposedly contains relics of Buddha – hence its fame. Heaps of tourists and buddhist pilgrims visit for religious activities. From the temple, you can also see Chiang Mai city on a clear day and the view here is really quite beautiful. If you visit at 6pm, you can also watch the monks chant. Allocate about half a day to get to and from and visit the temple and do make sure you are dressed appropriately when entering the temple! For females, this means covering your knees and shoulders.
5. OLD CITY CHIANGMAI
Of course, no trip to Chiang Mai is without a visit to Old City – the centre of Chiang Mai. Much like Old Town Dubrovnik, Old City Chiang Mai is a completely walled in area filled with temples, shops and markets. If you love visiting and learning about temples, then google the ‘Old Town Temples Walking Tour’ to see all the main sights. We were originally going to do the walking tour but were caught up discovering all these night markets we didn’t know about that we didn’t have enough time for it. If you love food, then you have to try one of the many street food stalls and restaurants. A tip for temple visitors: females need to cover up their shoulders and knees and dress conservatively in order to gain entry. Me being not a religious or informed person did not pack many options for this which made temple visiting difficult though you can rent appropriate clothing at most places.
Also, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, tourists can participate in monk chats at Wat Doc Suthep temple. This is an great cultural opportunity to learn more about Thailand’s culture and religions, whilst the monks practise their English.
6. NIGHT MARKETS FOR FOOD AND SHOPPING
Ok, this is one of my favourite parts of Chiang Mai but also the thing I have the least photos of because I was too busy having fun here.
We randomly stumbled upon Ploen Ruedee Night Market during one of our first nights in Chiang Mai. Ploen Ruedee is not mentioned too much online but it ended up being one of our favourite places to eat dinner. It’s basically a food truck park filled with a variety of different international cuisines and we loved it because there were just so many options in the one area and everything was delicious and ridiculously cheap. It’s open every day except for Sunday, from 5:30pm to midnight. We ate here five out of six nights in Chiang Mai as we were craving everything all of a sudden. From memory, some of the places we ate at included:
- The Italian Job – they do a really, really good carbonara. We came back multiple times because our Italian cravings were just too strong and also tried the pesto, ravioli and tomato & basil. The owner is originally from Rome but has lived in Thailand for 20 years, working first as a doctor in Asia before retiring and starting his own food truck business. I swear the pasta here is $3-5AUD per plate.
- The Burger Box – you can get amazing cheeseburgers and chicken burgers (amongst other things) here for anywhere from $2-3 per burger. Absolutely delicious too, I really could not get over how cheap food trucks were here.
- Rebel – owned by a guy from Philadelphia who moved here to be with his wife who is from Thailand. According to Tom (because I didn’t have any), they make an amazing German sausage hotdog and the sausages here are massive.
- Coco Mango – Mango sticky rice is a Thai specialty and here you can get it for 60 baht ($2~).
- Yummy Curry – for Japanese rice dish cravings, the guidon was a hearty option for about $3. Sadly I was full after eating this that I couldn’t try anything else that night.
- For Mexican, there’s a place there that makes really yummy vegan burrito bowls. I can’t remember the name of it though but it is on the right side from when you walk in.
- Shake Place – Makes an amazing pineapple shake that tastes just like a pineapple slurpee. For the more adventurous, they also do things like durian and avocado shakes. It’s right at the entrance on the left.
- Some other places that looked yummy but did not try include a truck that sold massive seafood platters, a sushi truck which I held off from trying because I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense to me either. How could I not eat sushi?
- Tom also tried a place where you can sample a little pot of crickets and worms for 20 baht. If that’s your kind of thing, go for it. I couldn’t dare watch haha.
Now, EVEN BETTER than this amazing food truck park is the surrounding stalls on the streets near by! It’s on Wichayanon Road just outside Ploen Ruedee Night Market and according to Google Maps it is the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Anyway this was on every night and is massive and the perfect place to pick up some gifts for your friends. What’s more, if you look behind the stalls that line the road, you’ll see shopping centre like buildings filled with even more stalls. There could have been a thousand stalls in this area, it was completely insane. My tip is to just explore what you can because after a while, it starts getting quite repetitive, though we did find some different sellers pop up on each night. I don’t know what this Saturday Market I missed out on was like, but this Night Bazaar was really intense that I don’t think I’d ever need to visit another market after visiting this one haha.
PS. I didn’t grow up in Asia or visit Asia much when I was younger, so night markets in Asia are completely new to me and hence my excitement for them is like, uncontainable.
7. ETHICAL ELEPHANT SANCTUARIES
I have no interest in animals in tourism or entertainment but when I first heard about sanctuaries for elephants, I was intrigued so we booked a half day visit on a whim. We visited one of these sanctuaries in Chiang Mai to see what they are like. After seeing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat in Namibia, meeting them up close didn’t feel right as I know elephants to be free creatures in the wild. In a perfect world, elephants would indeed be roaming in the wild, only to be seen from afar on safaris. But elephants bred into captivity are difficult to return to the wild as they cannot survive on their own, so when animals are rescued from captivity, they’re better looked after in places like elephant sanctuaries instead.
The elephant sanctuary I visited felt a little commercial, as elephants have to stay put for tourist activities like feeding and bathing. In Namibia we watched elephants in the wild and there was no way anyone would go anywhere near an elephant, as it might end up quite disastrous. So when we were able to approach these elephants in Chiang Mai, it didn’t feel right at first as it felt like as if these elephants had been trained to be like this around humans, so the sanctuaries could entertain guests and make money from it. But I guess it’s the fact that they’ve been trained to be like this in their prior life which makes them different to wild animals. This was something I didn’t get my head around until after. I was just so confused why these elephants wouldn’t attack me and didn’t make the connection until after I left the sanctuary.
Whilst these elephants’ lives are still a little restricted by schedule, the sanctuary at least is a much better place for elephants to be in compared to circuses and riding camps. When you realise that these elephants have had a tough history and cannot just go back into the wild, then it kind of makes much more sense why a sanctuary is a good alternative. The existence of a sanctuary with paid entry packages also helps fund elephant care as elephants are very expensive animals to look after so if you want to visit elephants and learn more about these magical creatures, do visit one of the many elephant sanctuaries to support their work. The commercialisation of the visits may feel a little cringey (they did to me) but I think deep down, they’re doing the best that they can for these creatures. After all, they need to somehow make money to care for the animals here.
Two popular sanctuaries in Chiang Mai:
- Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (the one I visited, they do a half day option which we chose)
- Elephant Nature Park (we tried to book this one but it was booked out)
I would recommend some shoes you are willing to get elephant poo, mud and water on. AKA old shoes or waterproof shoes :)
8. GET A MASSAGE
Tom just loves massages so we made sure to add a couple on our list There are so many wellness spas in Chiang Mai and after reading too many reviews, Tom booked us in to Fah Lannah Spa and Green Bamboo. Both places offer treatments at really reasonable prices (something like $20-50 per hour) which makes spas such a popular place to visit for western tourists. At Fah Lannah, I chose the royalty package. This was a scrub/wrap/massage combo which included a traditional Thai massage which I did not know much about but now know that it is extremely intense and includes crazy body contorting postures (oh the horror haha, though the rest of the massage was fine). By the time we hit up Green Bamboo I decided I didn’t like massages anymore (haha!) so ended up getting a facial. There are a heap of other popular places you can visit too, you could easily have a massage every day at a different place.
I hope you guys enjoyed my guide to Chiang Mai and find it helpful when you visit!