Whoever travels to the northern part of Thailand, most certainly will stay in Chiang Mai. And this is no mistake, as this city and its surrounding has so much to offer. From elephant sanctuaries to waterfalls, beautiful rainforest, temples and markets. And because there is so much to do, we here sum up our top picks:
Take a mud bath with an Elephant
There are basically two kind of elephant parks in Thailand. Those where you can ride on the elephants and they force them to do tricks for the tourists. And then there are sanctuaries where they rescue elephants from miserable working conditions and let them behave in their natural way.
We’ve been to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp and absolutely loved it there. With 55pp it was one of our more expensive tours but as the money is used for the elephants and to support the local community, we gladly spent it.
At the sanctuary we were first dressed in traditional Karen cloths before we went to feed the elephants with bananas and water melons. This was already a lot of fun, but then we took them to the mud pool and provided them with a mud massage. And after that we washed them clean in a little pool. It was an absolute incredible experience. And to top it all they also had the most playful baby elephant you can imagine.
Drive the Mae Sae / Samoeng Loop with a motorbike
Before we go into the details of this fantastic trip, we recommend that you only do it when you got your international driving license for motorbikes and are wearing a helmet. The police insist on it and fines you if you are missing one of the two. You also need to know that the entire trip is about 100km long and takes about 7 hours. Ok, after this is agreed, we present you with the individual stops:
- Mae Sa Waterfall (100 THB): A beautiful waterfall with ten cascades. The hike up is about 1.5km and you can actually swim in the top cascade. We read that you can also swim on the lowest level but didn’t see a possibility for it and were glad we had been swimming on the top level.
- Queen Sirkit Botanic Garden (100 THB): This garden offers one of the best canopies walks we had done so far. You walk high up in the trees and enjoy a marvelous view into the valley. There are so many things to explore that you could spend the entire day there, but we limited ourselves to the banana alley and the Thai orchid garden.
- Samoeng Forest Lookout: Since you left Mae Sa you are driving through the pristine Samoeng Forest. It is kind of the highlight of this trip and when you reach the lookout you can enjoy a stunning view over the forest.
- Mae Sap Cave: Because we didn’t have our international driving license, we lost a lot of time with the police and therefore had to skip the caves. But from what we read you should bring a torch as there are no lights in there.
- Doi Suthep: This temple high above Chiang Mai is the last stop on your trip. There is a massive 17m high golden Buddha sitting there and the view over the city is impressive. Driving up there on a narrow road felt like driving through a fairy tale forest and it saved us the 300 steps you normally walk up there.
Go temple hunting in the old town
There are so many temples to explore in the old town, that we had to be selective. We put together a round course that can easily be walked within a few hours.
- Wat Chiang Man: The oldest temple in Chiang Mai and home to a spectacular stupa surrounded by elephants.
- City Art and Cultural Centre: A great place to learn how the Lana Kingdom became northern Thailand.
- Three Kings Monument: A nice statue of three kings from the Lana Kingdom but not a must see.
- Wat Phantao: This temple consists of a beautiful golden mount and a buddha statue behind a little creek. When we were there the monks were attaching strings with little flags to the mount – it looked perfect.
- Wat Chedi Luang: This one is more a ruin than a temple but the snake statues alone are worth to include it in your walk.
- Wat Phra Singh: Probably the most beautiful golden buddha statue you can imagine and overall the most beautiful temple we had visited in Chiang Mai.
Eat your way through the Saturday Night Market
If you are into Thai food, and you should be to truly enjoy Thailand, then this is your place. While there are mostly souvenirs along the main road, there are countless food possibilities in the side streets. And if you can only pick two, then we recommend you enjoy Khao Soi and Roti for dessert.
You can either shop on the Saturday Night Market, the Sunday Night Market, the night bazar or in one of the shopping centers. On the markets and the bazar you find more the souvenir kind of cloths and articles. And if you are looking more for H&M and brands than you will for sure find them at the Central Festival Shopping mall. And if you are looking for boutique shops then the Think Park is your place.
As Chiang Mai is also a backpacker Mecca, there is a huge crowd that likes to party. We don’t party a lot but on Friday and especially Saturday night we made an exception. We met a Dutch couple at “Zoe in Yellow” and partied with them until door closing at 12pm. And as we were still in the party mood we continued to “Spicy”. Zoe was a lot of fun, as it consists of an entire party area with an aircon indoor dancefloor, an outdoor dancefloor, an outdoor drinking area, etc. Spicy would have been fun, but was totally overcrowded.