Chiang Mai is a really fun city to explore! It’s full of expats who have found a home there, and I recommend staying at least 5 days. It’s a good place to rest if you are traveling a lot, because there is delicious, healthy food, and great yoga classes. In this post, I’ll cover food, what to do, where to stay, and how to get around. My 10 days in Chiang Mai cost about $350.
Let’s talk about food! Sooo many yummy options here, oh my! I’d been traveling the southern and central Thailand up until this, and was disappointed in the healthy food offerings (lots of delicious street food of course). So it was a huge relief to be here. Salad Concept is a really fun restaurant where you can make custom salads and salad wraps. They have SO many different topping and dressing choices. Creamy sesame was my favorite. Goodsouls Kitchen had really delicious food (including smoothie bowls) and baked goods. The night markets here are abundant, and have tons of good things to try. If you haven’t already, now is a good time to try mango sticky rice. Khao Soi is the traditional dish of Chiang Mai. It’s a soup dish with noodles and meat, and is quite spicy. A Kitchen is a darling local place I highly recommend. Definitely try the pineapple curry!! And any time you are in Thailand, go for a 7-Eleven meal! 7-Eleven’s are literally on every corner in all of Thailand. I liked to go for the refrigerated grilled cheese (which they toast for you on the spot!), a ice cold coke, and a chocolate chip banana muffin! This costs about $2.
What to do
Yoga. My two favorite places to do yoga were Chiang Mai Holistic and Heart Space. Chiang Mai Holistic is a very nice place, with great classes and some free community offerings. They also have delicious protein shakes for after your workout. I loved the peanut butter one. There is also a free yoga class every morning in the park. I believe it’s at 9am, but you can find out on the Chiang Mai Community facebook page.
Heart Space was my favorite thing about Chiang Mai. They describe themselves as a community space for people to come together, open, and heal through meditation, song, ceremony, and whatever else the heart desires! And I have to say, it lived up to this description! I had been traveling for about 4 months at this point, and was still really struggling with depression and loneliness, and Heart Space was a place I felt so much peace and calm. I want to as many ceremonies as I possibly could. I had many dancing, eye gazing, chakra opening, cacao drinking, crying, laughing evenings spent here. The woman who runs the show is a true gem! I hope this place will be around for a long time.
Sticky waterfall. Now this is really cool! It’s a pretty big waterfall cascading over limestone rocks which have a stickiness to them that allows you to easily climb up and move around. There are some slippery areas, so do be careful. I spent a couple hours here with a friend I met in the area, and it was a blast exploring at our own pace. But you can also do this tour through any local company or airbnb.
Bars. North Gate Jazz Co-Op is a really fun and popular jazz spot with great energy in the main square. Warm Up Cafe is outside the square a bit, and pretty much only locals go there so it’s a cool experience. And Zoe in Yellow is a main dance club in an area of clubs and bars that was quite fun.
Hike. I hiked Monk’s trail to Wat Pha La and that was nice. But I more enjoyed the hike along the Huay Keaw Waterfalls. It was great to take a dip every time you got hot along the way, and you can walk for a long time up the mountain. I did these hikes in one day by taking a Grab taxi from one starting point to another. But be careful hiking here! I was almost bitten by a poisonous viper along the trail. (for real people)
Doi Suthep. This is a really lovely temple at the top of a mountain right outside Chiang Mai. I highly recommend going in the evening because the temple takes on a whole new aura at night. It’s peaceful and calm, and maybe even a bit mysterious or eerie. The breeze blows and the tiny bells all over the temple ring beautifully. You can see the whole city from up there. You can do a meditative walk around the inner path at the temple. You meditate while walking around it 3 times. I really enjoyed that.
Sunday Night Market. This is the best market I’ve been to in all of SE Asia. It’s the best because it has so many different hand crafted items from local artisans. As opposed to all the same cheap stuff at every market stall that you usually see. I wanted to buy everything I saw! So many cute and unique things. I ended up purchasing a really cute and inexpensive cross-body bag, which unfortunately was stolen from me later (See blog post: How my Purse Was Stolen in Cambodia). And the fried sweet potato balls are a must try! Soooo good.
Thai Grand Canyon. I did not go to the Grand Canyon because I found out about it too late. But it looks like TONS of fun, and I wish I had! Definitely check it out.
Chiang Mai is kind of walkable. It’s better once you are inside the old city square. But it still takes about 30-40 minutes to walk from one end to another. There’s a lot of traffic on the outskirts, and crossing the street to get into the old city is a pain.
Grab is very useful there for taxis or motorbike taxis. There are also these red pickup trucks that drive all around town and take tourists to main attractions. I found them to be a bit tricky to use. But you just kind of walk up to them…while they are driving…and ask if they are going where you need to go and how much it costs. They are called songthaews.
Where to Stay
I stayed in the Nimman area which is just outside the old city to the Northwest. This was a nice area for food, and not too far of a walk to the old city. I would recommend staying here, or within the square of the old city. Anywhere you stay, you’re bound to find adorable murals as you explore, like the one on the left!
Chiang Mai is a great place to explore, and absolutely worth a spot on your Thailand itinerary. You can also get to Pai from here which I’ve heard wonderful things about. Just beware, you take a 3 hour minivan ride there on very curvy roads. Even the strongest stomachs get motion sickness on this one!