Must See and Do in Chiang Mai
Some of these photos were taken by Kyle Stockman Photography
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This is my fifth time back in Chiang Mai, I think? But my first time living here as an adult and able to explore the city fully. I’ve talked about how popular Chiang Mai is to tourists and expats. The cost of living is cheap, it’s easy going, and there are lots to do. I mean tons of stuff. There are so many things I haven’t done yet, and hope to do. Whether you are visiting as a tourist, or to move here I recommend 10 things you must do here in Chiang Mai.
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I’m the ultimate foodie, so anything that involves food, you can find me there! I also enjoy venturing to new places and getting lost. I think the best days are the ones that are unplanned and don’t go as expected. Chiang Mai is the perfect place to experience an array of different activities. From the nightlife to the cultural activities there are tons of things you can do here.
VISIT A NIGHT MARKET
Okay so, there are hundreds of night markets in Chiang Mai. Each night market usually includes street food, handicrafts, clothes, and just about anything and everything between. So which one should you visit? Well, that’s entirely up to you, honestly. I personally don’t enjoy big crowds because it gives me anxiety. However, I do like to make my way out to the smaller local markets near our house to grab some dinner. There are 3 must-see markets located in Chiang Mai if you’ve never been to one before! It can be a little overwhelming but it’s a great experience.
Sunday Night Market
The biggest one in Chiang Mai is the Sunday night walking street market. It’s so huge, and I think I finally know my way around it a little now. It’s near the moat, center of the Chiang Mai, in the old city which makes it extremely popular for tourists.
If this is your first time here, I highly recommend this market as you’ll get a feel for what the markets are like. Beware of the crowds, and try to get there early. Don’t forget that you can bargain with vendors, talk them down if you truly think that the price is too high. A simple phrase to ask ‘How much’ something is, just ask ‘key baht’, they’ll either assume you’re a foreigner and tell you in English the price, or they’ll answer in Thai. Most of the time they’re used to selling to foreigners so need not worry about that!
I’ve read and heard that bargaining is almost like a sport here in Thailand.
The market begins at Tha Phae Gate and down to Ratchadamnoen Road, the market is open every Sunday from 4 pm-midnight.
Another popular for tourists is the night market. Unlike the authentic local feel of the Sunday market, the night bazaar features many imitation designer brands. There are fewer handicrafts and more merchandise like items for purchase. Located at Chang Khlan Road, vendors start setting up shops on the sidewalks late in the afternoon. Don’t forget to bargain for your items! Depending on the item you can ask for a lower price. Most items like I mentioned are for clothing items, silks, handbags, watches and more.
The night bazaar is open every single night of the week. I suggest getting there somewhat early, however, the hottest part of the day is usually around 5-6. Don’t forget your bug spray!
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One of my favorite markets! A must visit for a local authentic feel of Thai life. Here you’ll find the market inside full of food vendors. My favorite foods are the daily prepared foods that include desserts and curry dishes. (Massaman is my favorite). A popular stall cooks ‘Moo Thxd’or fried pork. Eat this with some sticky rice and it’s so good! Aside from the delicious food, you can buy almost anything here from beauty items, bags, household goods to handicrafts. They have it all.
The market is near Ping River and opens early in the morning, and closes later in the evening. This is a popular venue for Thai’s to shop so it’s almost always busy. Your best bet is to park somewhere near a coffee shop or business and walk over. On your way in don’t forget to stop by the flower market. They have an abundant amount of fresh flowers, daily, and are incredibly inexpensive. Everything here is pretty inexpensive so you won’t necessarily need to bargain.
VISIT A WAT
You can’t visit Thailand and not visit a Wat (Temple)! It’s a MUST do. The best part is there are thousands here in Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Probably the most popular for tourism is Doi Suthep. Built in the 19th Buddhist Century the structure of the temple is marked by seven-headed serpent statues that line the stairs to the temple. The views from the top are phenomenal. It’s quite the experience to observe the Lanna architecture and Buddhist relics around Doi Suthep. You have to option to walk up the stairs to the temple or take an electric lift. When we went we chose to take the lift up to the temple and walked the stairs out on our way out.
Doi Suthep is located in Tambon Suthep, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai Province which is 14 kilometers away from the middle of Chiang Mai.
Wat Lok Molli
Wat Dab Pai
VISIT THE MOUNTAINS
I think the best experience is renting a motorbike to ride around the mountains. Cruise around the curves and roads of a mountain and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The elephant valley where my step-dad works is located on the mountain. The first time we went we took the long scenic route and it was gorgeous. The best part is it’s free(ish), if you’re renting a motorbike you’ll be spending some money but it’s fairly inexpensive. You never know what you’ll find in the mountains. You can end up stopping at a little coffee shop, or find yourself at a man-made lake. I suggest not planning for a day like this, and just going!
I’ve been up to the mountains many of times, and every time the view of the mountains just takes my breath away. The views are absolutely amazing, and if you can make it out on an overcast day, where it’s not too hot, it’s so magical. Even if it does end up raining, usually the rain surpasses in no time.
EAT LOCAL STREET FOOD
I always see other bloggers talk about their favorite places to eat in Chiang Mai. Personally, the BEST food is the local street food. You can’t get any more local than that. Generally, they’ll cook the food right in front of you with a giant wok right over a propane tank. If you order noodles, they boil the noodles right in front of you and serve them scorching hot. There is street food, literally, everywhere in Chiang Mai. It won’t be hard to come by. Of course, there are good restaurants, but you just can’t beat the price of street food and the authenticity.
You can order your food to go, but if you want to eat like a local you’ll find set up tables and plastic chairs nearby. Eating hot ass Phad Thai, on the side of the street outside with the mosquitoes don’t get much more local than that.
Some favorites you should order Phad Thai, Noodle Soup, Roti (Traditional Indian Dessert), Som Tum (Papaya Salad), Mangoes & Sticky Rice, Fried Chicken, Fried Pork. Just about anything is good!
VISIT AN ELEPHANT
Of course, a must do is to visit an elephant! Our trip in 2014 we rode our first elephant which took us into the river where we bathed her and played with the elephant. It was the most magical experience! If you know me elephants are my favorite animals in the entire universe. To my luck, my step-dad works at an elephant camp! There are many elephant camps in Chiang Mai, and everyone has their opinions on what is okay and not okay for elephant riding. The mahouts, elephant handlers, have a very special bond with their elephants.
Maetaman Elephant Camp
I’ve had the most magical experiences with visiting the elephants at Elephant EcoValley in Maetaman. I spoke about it briefly in a previous post. The past few months the elephant camp, and my step-dad, have been working on opening up Elephant Eco-Valley a no riding elephant experience. Right inside EcoValley is the Elephant Culture Museum- the first one of it’s kind.
Essentially it is made from those who are interested in a non-riding experience. There’s a deck where you’ll view 6 elephants, incredibly, close to you. There are exhibits about the Elephants, information about the Hill Tribe, a museum, elephant artifacts of an elephant who lived to be 69. There are several different experiences you can choose from at EcoValley.
There’s also a waterfall, herbal treatment center for the elephants, and elephant dung recycling. All of this is located in a valley a few minutes from the actual camp. I highly, highly recommend this experience. I had the most amazing and magical experience when I got to see it before it is opened. It opens in about two weeks, so the first part of November.
ART IN PARADISE
I’m not much of a museum person, but this place is pretty freaking cool. It’s an interactive art museum right inside Chiang Mai. It’s near the night bazaar so it would be a fun day for both. It is 200B for Thai’s and 400B for foreigners. It was well worth the money, but I will say you may want to bring a group of people. Kyle and I went just ourselves and some of the photos needed more than 2 persons to do.
Pretty much all the paintings are illusions, painted on the wall and floors. It’s interactive so they have marked spots for you to stand to take the photos. I’m amazed by how creative some people were. We probably spent only about an hour going through the whole museum, but again there were just 2 of us. The only pitfall of the museum is the crowds. We went on a Friday afternoon and had to wait for a large crowd to sift through so we could enjoy the art, and take our photos. Overall it’s a really neat place to visit for a group of people.
Visit a Coffee Shop
Even if you don’t like coffee, I recommend visiting a cafe here in Chiang Mai. There’s coffee, teas, and lots of baked goodies. There are thousands in the city, all offering cute decor and most free wifi. Coffee is pretty cheap here in Thailand and will make you question every buying a $10 iced coffee in the future. Most coffee drinks will range anywhere from 20-80 baht depending on where you go. You cannot beat the price of a cheap coffee!
Walk around the Old City Moat
Surrounding the old city is the moat in the center of Chiang Mai. You’ll notice the old brick structures that surround the moat, that have been around for years and years. Inside the old city are the brick monuments that represent the course of 700 hundred years of history. The walls were restored in the 80’s, and represent the history surrounding Chiang Mai.
Take a walk around the moat, keep in mind it will probably be hot so wear clothes accordingly. I made the mistake of wear jeans and a cotton t-shirt and oh boy it was a long day. Around the moat, there’s many hostels, coffee shops, and local restaurants.
Visit the Hill Tribe
There’s a lot of controversies that surround the idea of visiting the Hill tribes, also known as the Karen Village. They’re the woman who wears the big rings around their necks, elbows, and knees. So here’s a fun little history lesson about the Hill Tribe people. They actually don’t speak Thai and are originally from Burma. They fled Burma where they would have faced harsher living conditions, to live in the mountains of Chiang Mai.
There are villages spread out amongst the mountains, so there is not one single village in the city. While the Karen people may understand some Thai words, keep in mind it is not their native tongue. They choose to live the way they do because it’s deeply rooted in their heritage and traditions. Each tribe is different, but most want to live higher in altitude and choose to wear the rings on their bodies.
Whether or not we agree or disagree with visiting a hill tribe village, it’s a great way to experience another culture. To see the way they live, and make money. Like I said this is deeply rooted in their heritage, they may wear the rings around their bodies due to their culture or simply because it’s a sign of beauty to their people.
To actually visit them, see the children, see the huts, see how they wash their clothes. It’s truly eye-opening, and makes you second guess your life and to not take anything for granted.
It truly amazes me visiting the village. Although we can’t speak to them, I make sure to always look them in the eyes and nod giving them a smile. I don’t want them to feel like I’m more than them, but that we are both humans and I am just a mere visitor to their ways of life. So if you’re not an open-minded person this may not be a place to visit if you’re simply wanting some cool pictures with them. Take some time to just take in the culture.
Bo Sang Umbrella Village
Located in Sankamphaeng the Umbrella village is a neat place to visit on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. They have handicrafts, silks, silvers, wooden utensils, handmade furniture, and of course hand-painted umbrellas. There is also the best noodle shop in town right inside Bo Sang.
It’s halfway through the middle of the village, and the sign says ‘Food Centre’. They make the best chicken noodle soup, Quay Thew Gai, in town. Of course, there are other dishes, but my family will literally order 10 bags at a time. No shame. Kao Soi is also a dish you have to try in Northern Thailand.
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