10 Things Not to Miss on Your Trip to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is near and dear to our hearts. Not only is this the area of Thailand where our artisans live and produce all of your lovely Lotus and Luna products, but Chiang Mai itself is an incredible city. Chiang Mai has an awesome atmosphere, where traditional Thai culture combines with Western digital nomad culture to create a special vibe that most visitors remember long after leaving.
Chiang Mai is the perfect mix of city and nature. Unlike Bangkok, where skyscrapers and highways stretch for miles, Chiang Mai is a relatively small city surrounded by beautiful green jungles, hiking trails, and waterfalls galore. Don’t get us wrong, Chiang Mai can feel hectic at times. Rush hour traffic is no joke and crossing the street without getting hit by a motorbike can feel like a serious challenge at times. But despite this, we absolutely love Chiang Mai and consider it a must see if you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia.
Because there is so much to do and see, we put together a list of all of our favorite things not to miss on your trip to Chiang Mai.
1. Sunday Walking Street
The Sunday Walking Street is miles of artisans, performers, and street food vendors. It’s a bit crowded and overwhelming during the tourist season, but super fun and definitely something not to miss. We recommend going between 6 PM and 9 PM. Come hungry and ready to buy souvenirs! If you’re not in Chiang Mai on a Sunday, try the Night Bazaar, which is a smaller version of this and goes on every night. For a more “local” shopping experience, check out Worawat Market. In particular, the Hmong handicrafts. All of the bright, intricately embroidered flower items that you see are made by a hill tribe called the Hmong. Be sure to check out their crafts-- they are beautiful!
2. Sticky Falls
The Sticky Falls are about an hour and twenty minutes outside of the Old City, but SO worth the drive. They are called the “Sticky Falls” because the waterfall has a porous, non-slip surface caused by a buildup of limestone-- perfect for climbing and hanging out!
This is one of the most serene, relaxing experiences you can have in Chiang Mai. You can hire a Songthaew (red truck) to take you here from the Old City. It shouldn't cost more than 1500 baht round trip. Make sure you have the truck wait for you while you swim because getting a ride back will be difficult if you don’t. I had friends who took an Uber to the Sticky Falls (Uber and Grab are great resources to use in Chiang Mai under most circumstances) and then had to hitchhike back because there were no Ubers in the area to take them back to the Old City. It worked out in the end-- but taking a Songthaew will save you a headache.
Visiting elephants in Thailand is something you truly can’t miss! You will come across a few different companies that offer elephant riding and elephant painting. However, it is very important NOT to support companies who provide these “services”, which result in the abuse and mistreatment of elephants. Instead, visit an Elephant Nature Park or Sanctuary. These elephants are treated with love and respect and are usually rescued from companies that offer riding and performances.
At Elephant Nature Park, they let you feed the elephants, bathe them in the river, and enjoy watching them in their open-range habitat. This is one of the pricier activities to do in Chiang Mai, but the memories are truly priceless and your money will go towards the rescue and rehabilitation of mistreated elephants around Thailand. Plus, having the opportunity to be up close to these incredible creatures is truly humbling and so worth the splurge!
4. Zoe in Yellow
This is the go-to place to party. No doubt you will hear about Zoe in Yellow during your stay in Chiang Mai, especially if you stay in a hostel. It’s a good place to start the night and meet people. When Zoe in Yellow closes, the party moves to Spicy. It’s crazy and very backpackery, but a ton of fun!
For a slightly more chill, Thai nightlife experience, we'd recommend Warm Up Cafe.
Nimman is the cool, dare I say, hipster, part of town. It’s the place to go for coffee or a nice brunch. There are lots of trendy shops and Western food in the area. While it doesn’t feel super Thai, it’s a neat, up-and-coming area definitely worth checking out. It’s outside of the Old City, so you'll need to take a Songthaew or Grab.
Here you’ll find coffee shops full of people typing away on laptops because Chiang Mai is one of the largest digital nomad hubs in the world. Because of this, if you wander around enough, you’ll stumble across lots of cute, quirky coffee shops, most of which have quality coffee and fast WiFi. Even if you’re a coffee snob, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that Chiang Mai has delicious coffee. Try a cup of socially responsible and sustainably grown coffee at Akha Ama!
6. Monk Chat
Monks are a huge part of Thai culture as Thailand is approximately 93% Buddhist. If you’re interested in learning more about Theravada Buddhism, Thailand is the perfect place to do it! There are lots of meditation retreats to choose from and even “Monk Chats” where you can sit down and ask a monk whatever questions you have. It’s humbling to see that while they may have a very pious lifestyle, they’re ordinary people too!
7. Take a Cooking Class
There are tons of cooking schools to choose from. Almost all of them will pick you up at your hotel or hostel and drive you to the school. Some will also take you to a market so you can see where the produce comes from. We highly recommend taking a cooking class so you know how to prepare your favorite dishes for yourself once your back home and missing Thai food. You can take a half-day or a full-day cooking class. We’d say a half-day is plenty! You will still eat enough during your half-day cooking class to make you want to skip eating the rest of the day! And maybe the next day too.
Be sure to try Khao Soi while in Chiang Mai. This dish originated in Northern Thailand and it’s not something you’ll likely find in Bangkok or down South. Khao Soi is a soupy curry dish topped with deep-fried crispy egg noodles. Trust us, you won't want to miss it!
8. Get a Massage
Or get a dozen massages! With prices as low as $6-$10, why not?! You will pay Western prices if you go to a fancy spa, but if you’re not picky about where you go, getting a massage in Chiang Mai is a total steal.
If you decide to get a traditional Thai massage (and we totally recommend you do!) don't forget to bring your sense of humor and prepare to laugh as small, seemingly gentle women wrestle you into pretzel positions and crawl all over you. Like we said-- it’s an experience not to be missed.
Between the cheap food and cheap massages, having a treat yo’ self mentality here is easy-- trust us! ;)
There are so many delicious places to eat in Chiang Mai, it’s impossible to recommend just one. But the reason we recommend Free Bird Cafe is because they are socially and environmentally responsible. They have a 100% vegan menu and a commitment to sustainability (no plastic straws, disposable utensils, or styrofoam boxes, woohoo!) They also have a mission to provide opportunities for displaced peoples that have slipped through the cracks of society. The founder, Lisa Nesser, has been running this cafe in conjunction with her organization Thai Freedom House since 2005. She is a truly remarkable woman with an inspirational vision. Don’t miss the opportunity to have a great meal in support of an amazing cause if you’re in the area. The cafe is conveniently located in the Old City.
10. Visit Doi Suthep Temple
The locals say you haven’t been to Chiang Mai if you haven’t been here! After Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is regarded as one of the most important and holy temples in Thailand. While commonly referred to as “Doi Suthep” this is actually the name of the mountain it is on, not the name of the temple itself.
Pro tip: In Thai, “doi” means mountain and “wat” means temple.
To get to this temple, you will need to take a Songthaew. It’s a windy journey up but worth it, we promise!
If you have time, visit Wat Pha Lat. It is halfway up Doi Suthep. While it is not nearly as famous, this understated temple in the forest is a refreshing change from the ornate temples you will get used to seeing in Chiang Mai. You can also hike here on a trail called the “monk trail”; a beautiful forty five minute hike marked by orange monk robes tied to trees.
We hope this list of our favorite spots in Chiang Mai was helpful and maybe even inspires you to add it to your bucket list if you haven't been!
Thanks for reading! Use code CHIANGMAI at checkout for 15% off your next order. Did we miss your favorite spot? Let us know in the comments section below!