Snuggled within the ancient walls of the old city, it’s hard to believe that Chiang Mai is the second largest metropolis in Thailand. In the far north of the country, near Laos and Myanmar borders, Chiang Mai is a cool oasis in summer but even in the humid, rainy season offers a relaxing holiday destination.
Beyond the elephant camps, Hill Tribe villages and docile tigers, you can spend a month in this city without getting bored. Here are six of my best Chiang Mai experiences.
1. Noodles: There’s so much more to this food group than Pad Thai. You’ll find the regional specialty Khao Soi (curry noodles) on the menu from breakfast through to dinner. I’m of fan of ‘big noodles’ of wide, luscious rice noodles ‘massaged’ with soy and other sauces, served with stir fried tofu and vegetables.
2. Markets: Chiang Mai’s markets are legendary. From the local produce markets that pop up everywhere to the massive Warorot markets, locals and tourists alike love them. Without a doubt, the sprawling Sunday Walking Market on Ratchadamnon Road is the best – great food, interesting wares and lots of happy Thai people enjoying their weekend ritual.
3. Wander through the back sois (lanes). Off the major streets lie dozens of meandering laneways. Observe local life and stop for a drink or meal at one of the many unnassuming cafes (like Natures Way and Peppermint café, open all day with free wife, fresh food and friendly service).
4. Hire a driver. We were driven in a spotless modern taxi for the day for a mere 1500 baht (~ Au$50, shared between three). If you want to do something other than Hill Tribes, elephants, rafting or zip lining – do your own research first and make a wish list. Our driver was a little resistant to our plans at first (so remember to negotiate itinerary as well as price before sealing the deal) but we managed to get him off the track for a swim in a waterfall and lunch at a health spa out of the city.
5. Follow the monks. Take an early morning walk to watch the sunrise glint off the wats, monks walking the streets to collect offerings or to just sit in the grounds of a temple and listen to the chanting. My favourite pre-breakfast walks includes the river, being the only farang at the San Pakoy market and catching the sunrise at Wat Chedi Luang.
6. Relax. As a massage slut from way back, I was in my element sampling the full spectrum from foot massages at the walking markets, to cheapies and luxurious spas.
Coffee – an espresso to rival any in Melbourne.
Massage – go for broke and book a package, you won’t regret it.
Map/tips – you’ll never get bored with a Nancy Chandler map (but remember to check the website for updates)
Vegan/vegetarian visiting Chiang Mai – read my top tips.