Oh how I loved Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai easily made it in my top three favourite destinations of 2016 for its laid back, creative vibes and a city full of culture, history and natural beauty. Although most travel websites and forums recommend about 3-4 nights in Chiang Mai, we decided to spend 6 nights here to make sure we had the time to explore all that this northern Thai city had to offer. 6 nights in Chiang Mai is easily fillable and if I were to plan the trip again, I definitely would have tacked on one more day to visit the famous Saturday Night Market as Saturday happened to be the only day we weren’t in Chiang Mai! Never mind, we still had an amazing time here and loved every bit of it. Compared to tourist-priced Phuket, food in Chiang Mai is ridiculously cheap. Meals cost about $1-3 Aussie dollars and even if you eat ridiculous amounts of food like Tom, still don’t expect to pay more than $7-8 per person, including drinks. Transport here is also easy and cheap. The songthaew costs 20THB (80 Aussie cents) for anywhere in the city. If you feel like walking, Old City Chiang Mai is the perfect place to do it with something to look at or eat around every corner.
Where to stay:
We originally were looking to stay in Old City Chiang Mai but ended up booking a hotel just outside the walls of Old City, at a place called De Chai The Colonial hotel, as the places in Old City cost a lot more. When we arrived, we realised that we had actually made the perfect choice! The attractions in Chiang Mai aren’t just limited to within the walls of Old City, there was actually a lot of action happening on the east side of Old City, along Tha Phae Road, by the name of night markets and a LOT of them. We were so stoked! The room we booked at De Chai was massive (seriously) and the staff there so sweet. It was Tom’s birthday during our stay and so I enquired before arriving about how we could organise a surprise. They said they would be happy to bring him cake. Little did I know they meant an entire massive cake delivered to our hotel room! Such a sweet gesture that made our stay even more wonderful.
What to do in Chiang Mai:
Chiang Mai makes for the perfect place to base yourself in to explore Northern Thailand. The city is full of things to do and an hours drive can get you to a heap of different gorgeous day trip locations. For those visiting Chiang Mai, here’s my list of the best things to do in Chiang Mai!
1. VISIT CHIANG MAI’S GRAND CANYON
The Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai (also known as the Red Mud Quarry) is one of the more lesser known attractions however recently, it has been gaining much more popularity which has seen the commercialisation of the area (both good and bad) with the addition of fences everywhere, regulated cliff jumping and other activities, as well as a new Water Park. For an modest entrance fee of 50 BHT ($2 AUD) you can enter the Grand Canyon park area. The best time to visit I would say is definitely in the late afternoon so that you can catch the sun turn the quarry into a gorgeous golden glow. If you don’t feel like participating in any of the water activities they have here, then an hour or two is enough to check the place out, take some photos and have a drink or ice-cream at the cafe. That’s how long we spent there. However, that’s because we had no idea there was a water park until we got there! It looks pretty epic so if you want to check that out, I would recommend you spend probably 3 hours there. We arranged a taxi to take us there but if you have any skills in motorbike riding, you can easily drive yourself there for much cheaper. It’s about 20 minutes from Old Town Chiang Mai.
2. VISIT CHIANG MAI’S WAROROT MARKET FOR FRESH FOOD & FLOWERS
There are heaps of markets on the east side of Tha Phae Gate. If you are wanting to pick up some fresh fruit, veggies or flowers, then Warorot Market and its nearby surrounds is the place to go. Visit during the day as I’m pretty sure it closes in the evenings (don’t worry there are a zillion other markets to visit in the evenings, which I’ll mention in Part 2 of this post!). There is so much tropical produce on offer (pineapples, mangoes, dragonfruit, durian, jackfruit) and the best thing is that you can also purchase these in pre-sliced ready-to-eat packs, handy if you are travelling. The flower market along Praisanee Rd is also well worth a visit. I’ve never seen so many orchid flowers in one spot and watching vans come and go unloading hundreds of bunches of flowers is such a sight to see. If you’re staying for a while in Chiang Mai, why not pick up some fresh flowers for your hotel room? Don’t forget to also check out all the food stalls that set up along the road during lunch time. Street food in Chiang Mai is delicious and so, so cheap. $1AUD can get you 6 dumpings.. what?!
3. VISIT DOI INTHANON NATIONAL PARK (MUST DO: KEW MAE PAN NATURE TRAIL)
Before arriving in Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon National Park was an absolute must do on my list. However, I couldn’t find much information on the park online so I didn’t really look too much into exactly where I wanted to go there. Most people visit the national park on a group day tour and this is also how we visited the park. We went to a travel agency near our hotel who showed us two tours they ran. The first one that she pulled out for us was the brochure of a typical day tour that included the main sights and then she pulled out another brochure (‘but this one starts very early!’) that was the day tour + the Kew Mae Pan nature trail which she said was very beautiful but also very cold + the tour starts at something like 7am. 7am for a holiday is way too early but we were so sold when she said it was so very beautiful whilst pointing at all these pictures on the brochure. They were the pictures I had seen of Doi Inthanon online but I had no idea it was taken from Kew Mae Pan’s trail which is not often on a typical day tour itinerary (probably because not everyone wants to walk 2 hours on a day tour that typically involves hop-on/hop-off sights) but I SO recommend it. I would be happy not seeing anything else in Doi Inthanon if I could just do the Kew Mae Pan nature trail because the rest of the tour wasn’t so interesting for me.
Kew Mae Pan nature trail was by far the best part of Doi Inthanon for me because I loved having two hours just wandering through the forest and mountains taking in some of the best sights of Doi Inthanon. Before visiting, the travel agent had me believe that it was going to be pretty cold there (weather forecast was 13 degrees top) and the trail was lots of walking so I went to the markets in Chiang Mai to buy myself a pair of odd looking pleated pants as I hadn’t brought anything warm with me. The park didn’t turn out to be all that cold at all as the sun was shining and the trail wasn’t hard at all either. It was super easy and not one you will get puffed out on too easily as there are about 30 stops and sights to see along the way. The mountains really just keep on rolling and clouds often drift below you when on this trail. So breathtaking. All the pictures above are from Kew Mae Pan nature trail except for the last two (highest point in Thailand + the Wachirathan waterfall).
Other places we visited on our tour included the highest point in Thailand (a novelty stopover if you visit yourself), a couple of waterfalls including Wachirathan waterfall (last image), the King & Queen pagodas and a place for lunch.
If you do visit Doi Inthanon National Park and want to join a group day tour, make sure it includes Kew Mae Pan as I feel like this is the highlight of any trip to Doi Inthanon. Even better, hire a private driver for a day and have you take you to the places you want to visit. If I were to do this again, I would definitely go for this option! Doi Inthanon National Park takes about 1.5-2 hours driver from the city centre and all the major sights can be seen in one day.
I had so much fun putting this post together. Stay tuned for part #2 coming soon!