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Planning a trip to Thailand? If you think a dizzying array of shopping centres and temples within the bustling capital of Bangkok is all the country can offer, you couldn’t be more wrong. Not only does the Land of Smiles boast a multitude of tropical paradise islands like Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui, but it also has sister cities that can hold its own when it comes to sights to see and things to do.
One of such cities is Chiang Mai. While definitely not as well-trodden and sophisticated as the megalopolis that is Bangkok, don’t underestimate this small city. Did you know that Chiang Mai was voted as one of the top small cities in the world by both Monocle and Condé Nast Traveller? So if you’re wondering what there is to do in Chiang Mai, here’s a breakdown for you, depending on your personality.
Even if you’ve seen the temples in Bangkok, a chance to witness them in Chiang Mai should not be missed. Temples like Doi Suthep, famous for its mountaintop views; Wat Chedi Luang, one of the grandest monuments in the city; Wat Phra Singh, a 700-year-old religious site; Wat Chiang Mai, known for its gleaming gold chedi and charming gardens; and Wat Umong, with its underground tunnels and lush gardens, are just a few that should be on your list.
Love walking outdoors? Then a day in Doi Inthanon will be just the thing for you. The Doi Inthanon National Park is not only the highest point in Chiang Mai, but it is home to some of the country’s most exquisite flora and fauna. You can swim in one of the many waterfalls, walk through the trails snapping photos of plants and animals, explore the Twin Pagodas at the top of the park, and even pay a visit to a local tribe in the area.
Foodies will love to hear that Chiang Mai has its own local delicacies that can hold their own against other regional cuisines of Thailand. Dishes like the famed khao soi (egg noodle curry), sai oua (grilled herb sausage), nam prik ong or nume (red or green chilli dip), and tam khanun (young jackfruit salad) are but a few dishes that are best eaten in this city. Sign up for a food tour where guides will bring you to the best places to try some local cuisine, or wander around the food streets yourself and figure out what you want to eat. You can also opt to join a cooking class for a hands-on experience on how to make some popular dishes. The best part of a cooking class? Eating your creations afterwards!
Does breezing through the canopy of Thailand’s lush forests or paddling through the white water rapids of the Mae Taeng River sound appealing to you? If so, then adrenaline junkies have more than enough activities to keep you occupied. Visit the Doi Saket forest and traverse the many zipline platforms, descend rock formations, scale bridges, and more for a guaranteed action-packed adventure. Another thrilling option is white water rafting around 10 kilometres down the river, passing by local villages and elephant camps. Not a bad way to spend the day!
There’s no shame in admitting you travel for the ‘gram! And if you’re looking for some of the most picturesque photo spots in the area, go on a day trip to Chiang Rai and marvel at the grand and colourful White Temple, Blue Temple, and Black House. Pro tip: Go early and make sure to bring a friend or hire a local driver to take you so you don’t have to worry about the logistics or getting lost. Plus, you’ll also have someone to take the photos!
One of Thailand’s most revered and iconic creations, the elephant is also one of the most humane creatures on the planet. Not only are they smart, but they can even feel emotions like grief, compassion, and kindness. Spend a day at an elephant conservation camp and learn about these intelligent creatures as you feed them, pet them, play with them, and even help give them a loving bath in the river.
Looking for souvenirs to take home with you? Or maybe a stroll around some shopping streets is your kind of jam? Whichever the case, Chiang Mai is home to many a market to help you find whatever you’re looking for. Whether it’s souvenirs, clothes, artisan creations, street food, or colourful crafts, the night market scene in this city is endless. Visit the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, the Wualai Walking Street (on weekends only), Tha Phae Walking Street, Warorot Market, Kalare Market, and Anusarn Market for some out of this world shopping. And yes, those are just a few out of many markets you can visit!