Getting to Chiang Mai from Bangkok is a fairly easy affair. Flight options are plentiful, and relatively cheap. There are a bunch of local airlines you can use to travel including Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways (pricier options), as well as Thai Lion Air, Nok Air, Air Asia and Thai Air Asia (budget airlines), amongst any others I might have failed to mention. I actually chose Lion Air as it was the cheapest option, with the best flight time options – It cost us about €30.00 per person to travel with them (one way flight). We opted for an early afternoon flight, so as to enjoy Bangkok in the morning, making it to Chiang Mai by early evening, giving us ample time to find our lodging, and do some light exploring of the city by nightfall.
Chiang Mai aka “the Rose of the North” is just a fantastic city. Known as Thailand’s Northern capital, this place has a laid back, relaxed vibe, which was such a welcome treat after the hectic hustle and bustle of chaotic Bangkok! It’s just the perfect place to wander leisurely around, enjoying the numerous temples (aka. Wats) of the city (and boy are there temples!!! Over 200!!! That’s right, if you’re into temples, you’re in for a real treat!!), and getting your taste buds ready for the best and most delicious variety of culinary choices available in Thailand! The best place to stay, in my opinion of course, is within the old city. If you look at a map of Chiang Mai, you can basically see a square at the centre of the city – that square is actually a wall which surrounds and encloses ancient Chiang Mai. Staying within this part is ideal because it’s relatively quiet, everything is within walking distance, and if you stay close to the Phae Gate (as we did), you’ll be very close to the fabulous and very fun night bazaar, a fantastic way to spend any evening in Chiang Mai! A sprawling city has now grown around the old centre, but if you drive just an hour or so outwards you’re soon to find yourself within the lush, vibrant green countryside of Northern Thailand.
Ok – so first things first, this is where we stayed – The BlueBird Eco Village. There are tons, and I mean TONS, of lodging options in Chiang Mai, ranging from luxurious spa resorts to budget hostels catering for backpackers, sleeping 10 beds in a dorm. The BlueBird Eco Village was a happy find for me. It’s a tiny “village-like” area within a garden on a residential street, with a few wooden huts catering for solo travellers as well as couples like ourselves. The setting was basic, but clean. Privacy was not the best as basically anyone could actually peep in on you from the street while you’re showering (or taking a dump :/), but I loved the place. It was so quiet and peaceful! The hostess, Bo, was very sweet and accommodating and easily reachable via texting, and the location of the place (although slightly difficult to find at first) was great! Only about a 15 minute walk for the Night Bazaar and a couple of the main Wats on my “to see” list! Lodging was also cheap, costing us about €23.00 a night. So it’s up to you to see what you want when travelling to Chiang Mai really; if you want a fancier option, there are loads of places to stay in, although the bill won’t be cheap, on the other hand, if you’re looking for something more authentically Thai (with a more basic setting, and price tag), visit a place like the BlueBird Eco Village. 🙂 Oh, there’s a cute little landlord who’s just the friendliest guy ever (check out the photo below!) ❤
On to the fun part. What to do when in Chiang Mai??! The list is endless!! There’s so much stuff to do and see around the North of Thailand that you could spend a whole month just travelling around the area! We only had four days, so I had to filter it down, making a list of the most important places I wanted to visit, and here it is!
Wats, Wats and Wats!!! – This place is just overflowing with ancient Buddhist temples dating back to when the city was originally founded in 1296! As I already mentioned, there are over 200 temples around the city. I’m just going to go through the ones I visited, but if you want to see more, just google Chiang Mai and get searching!
- Wat Chiang Man – This temple is situated in the north-east section of the ancient walled city and was the first Wat to be built in Chiang Mai. At the back of the temple is a beautiful Chedi (or Stupa), with an elephant-flanked stucco base and a gilded upper level. Housed within the temples of the Wat Chiang Man are two very rare Buddhas – the marble Phra Sila Buddha and the tiny crystal Phra Sae Tang Khamani Buddha, which is said to have been crafted for the king of Lopburi in around 200 AD. If you have to visit just one Wat when in Chiang Mai, make it this one!
- Wat Chedi Luang – The original home of the Emerald Buddha, which is now housed in Bangkok in the Wat Phra Kaew. There is a huge, albeit ruined, chedi at the back of the temple. This was possibly the largest structure in ancient Chiang Mai but the top of the chedi was destroyed, so only the remains of the complete structure are what’s left. The structure itself is still very impressive though! Restoration of the chedi is still taking place but, the restorers stopped short of finishing the spire, as apparently, nobody could agree what it looked like. So they left it as is! In the main Wat, you can find a revered standing Buddha statue, known as Phra Chao Attarot , flanked by two disciples. In the Library Temple behind the main Chedi, you will also find two (creepily) lifelike statues of venerated monks associated with the temple. There are more chapels and statues in teak pavilions at the back of the compound, including a huge reclining Buddha and a fat seated Buddha.
- Wat Phan Tao – Standing right next to the Wat Chedi Luang, this temple is one of the most atmospheric of Chiang Mai. This teak structure is impressive, with a large prayer hall supported by 28 huge teak pillars enshrining a beautiful gold sitting Buddha image. There’s a lovely cherry blossom and orchid garden outside the temple where you can see the monks wandering around and praying. It’s a very serene and peaceful place.
- Wat Phra Sing – A classic example of Northern Thai architecture, the Wat Phra Singh houses the Phra Singh Buddha, a highly revered statue. This Wat is found on the western side of the old walled city and is a very important building since it is a learning centre for young boys and men studying to become Buddhist monks. If you visit you’ll see a bunch of young boys dressed in their orange monk robes. They’re very cute, so you have to control yourself and not fawn over them. They are monks in learning, so they must be treated with respect.
- Wat Phra Doi Suthep – OK, so if there is one Wat you must visit when you’re in Chaing Mai, it’s this one!!!! Overlooking the city from its mountainous seat, this temple is a spectacular array of gold! It’s located 15km away from Chiang Mai – you can easily get there by tuk-tuk, taxi or by means of a private tour. Originally built as a Buddhist monastery in 1383, it is still fully functional today.
It is said that the monastery was built to enshrine a piece of bone, said to be from the shoulder of the Buddha himself. The bone shard was brought by a wandering monk from Sukhothai and it broke into two pieces at the base of the mountain, with one piece being enshrined at another temple, Wat Suan Dok. The second fragment (the piece at Doi Suthep) was mounted onto a sacred white elephant who wandered the jungle until it died, thus determining the spot where the monastery was founded.
Upon arrival you are have two options, you can either climb up the 306 step staircase, flanked by the gorgeous mosaic naga (serpent protectors) all the way to the top, thus earning to right to worship at the Dio Suthep, or else, you can choose to take it easy by using a lift which climbs up the side of the mountain for you (for about 20B)! As soon as you reach the top you’ll find a gorgeous golden spire which decorates the centre of the mountain top temple. The walls around the spire form a mini enclave and are richly decorated with historical murals and shrines. Here you will also find a beautiful copy of the Emerald Buddha statue on display (once again, you’ll find the original in Bangkok). There’s a shrine to the white elephant outside the enclave and a large viewing terrace where you’ll get to see the best views (weather permitting). There’s also a collection of the world’s largest gongs near the terrace – you CAN ACTUALLY STRIKE THEMMM!!! DO IT!!! It’s so cool!!! (OK I’m a child, deal with it!) 😀 😀 This place is just amazing. There are numerous shrines and little chapels to visit around the compound, and a bunch of very cool souvenir relics you can buy from the temple itself! I bought a couple of pretty little bells to take home with me – locals and foreign worshippers also choose to buy the bells and leave them there, as an offering… It’s up to you! I though they were too pretty to leave behind, so I took them home with me, their ringing reminds me of my happy times in Chiang Mai. ❤
Ok so that’s it for the Wats we visited during our stay in Chiang Mai. There are more, loads more, you can visit, but as I said before, we had to be selective in our choices as we only had a few days in the area. Now, onto some other fun places we visited!
- Doi Inthanon – The highest mountain in Thailand peaks at 2565m above sea level and is surrounded by a 1000km sq. national park. You can book a local tour of the area from Chiang Mai – the tour usually consists of a visit to the national park, visiting a couple of beautiful waterfalls along the way, then taking you all the way up to the highest point of the mountain.
After reaching the highest peak, you can then find two chedis standing adjacent to each other. One is called the Naphamethinidon, meaning “by the strength of the land and air”, and the other, Naphaphonphumisiri, meaning “being the strength of the air and the grace of the land”. The former is dedicated to the King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1987, and the latter to the Queen Sirikit in 1992. There’s a gorgeous botanical garden surrounding the chedis. It’s an absolutely beautiful place to visit and just wander around. Plus you’ll get to see some lovely scenes on the way up!
If you do choose to take a tour to the Doi Inthanon, you’ll probably also get to visit some of the endemic people’s villages where you’ll get a chance to purchase some local handicrafts (they have some gorgeous textiles) and get to taste great coffee (locally picked and produced) and delicious fresh and dried fruit! Contributing to the locals by means of making these small purchases really helps their little villages. So if you’re looking for some fantastic, authentic Thai souvenirs, keep these people in mind!
- Elephant Nature Park – If you’re an animal lover, this IS the place to visit! It’s an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre and houses not only the beautiful elephants, but also water buffalo, dogs and cats, and many other little critters who need love and attention! Riding elephants is not OK… It’s very harmful to the elephant and whilst I’m not going to go into a full on lecture on why you shouldn’t ride elephants, I will say this… If you love them, don’t ride them. Visit a sanctuary like this one instead! You can feed the elephants, bathe them in the river, and learn about them and their lives, all whilst interacting with them in such a beautiful and intimate way. These gorgeous creatures are truly marvels and just standing next to them is an awesome experience. There were elephants who had been rehabilitated from circuses, street shows and logging companies, as well as victims of land mine accidents at the sanctuary. All have their own history and personality. They’re such beautiful creatures, you can’t not love them!
Check out the Elephant Nature Park website for more information about the place. It’s amazing! This was definitely one of my best life experiences. I made friends with the lovely creatures, fed them some watermelon and corn, helped give them a bath and nearly got trampled by a baby elephant! What more could you ask for?!!! Perfection. ❤ I would highly suggest booking your trip in advance (they’re always fully booked so the earlier the better!!) – I did so online, but there’s also an office in Chiang Mai you can make your booking at. There are various experiences you can purchase, see which one best suits you and go for it! You won’t be disappointed, of that I’m sure.
- Markets and Night Bazaar – If you like markets, make sure to visit the night bazaar which is found just outside the western part of old town Chiang Mai! It’s a great way to end the day with lots of amazing eateries around the area, ample shopping options for you to peruse, and some very cool cocktail bars to visit! The food market is also a fantastic way to eat some great dishes (not just Thai) without breaking the bank! We ate here every night of our stay, sampling various foods from different stalls. All were delicious and all ridiculously cheap. There’s a comfy seating area (with hay bale seating – very cute) where you can enjoy your dinner and a nice bucket of sangria, before continuing your exploration of the market stalls. I just loved the chocolate bananas and strawberries as a dessert. DELICIOUS!
That about does it for my experience of Chiang Mai. There are so many things to do in this beautiful city, I’ve literally just grazed the top of the list of what you can do! Now, onwards with our Thai adventure, moving deeper into the country, flying southwards to Krabi to start a new experience – Khao Sok National Park!!! ❤ Keep an eye on the blog and press the ‘follow’ button to make sure you don’t miss out 😉 Make sure you like and share the post if you enjoyed the read (or just the pictures!!).