Chiang Mai is the most cultural and famous city in northern Thailand and was the former capital of the Kingdom of Lanna. Its cultural significance is given to the fact that is located along the Ping River, a major trading route.
The first time we visited Chinag Mai was in April last year and we arrived on the last day of Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year which falls in mid-April. Chiangmai is one of the most popular locations to visit exactly during this time due to the entertainment it provides. Songkran consists of both religious activities, parades, beauty competition as well as a citywide water fight. Although it may seem incredibly fun, you have to watch out. The water is usually dirty and often when in contact with eyes and mouth can lead to serious and dangerous diseases, so PLEASE WATCH OUT. Having said that, let’s move on to my top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai.
Visit Wat Chedi Luang
Located in the historic center of Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Leung is a stunning Buddhist temple that is made up of three temples: Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin. Already from the entrance that takes you to Wat Chedi Leung you will see an incredible temple fully decorated with what seems to be gold ornaments.
Started in the 14th Century but only completed in the mid-15th century, Wat Chedi Leung used to be the highest building with 82 meters high and had a base of 54 meters diameter, however the upper 30 meters part collapsed due to an earthquake in 1545.
Visit Wat Kuan Kama and Eat Khao Soi
We tried several different Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, but Khao Soi Khun Yai is by far the best one yet. Khao Soi Khun Yai (which is open from 10am to 2pm) makes only this dish and a few other noodle in soup dishes and is extremely popular for it, it is located next to a temple and may be quite hard to find.
- Tell a Tuk Tuk to drive you to Wat Kuan Kama (precisely you should try to get off on the right wall of Wat Kuan Kama)
- Once you get there, walk straight until you reach the end of the wall, past a blue street sign saying “Sri Poom Rd Soi 8” and look for an orange sign with Thai writing on it
- Khao Soi Khun Yai is where the orange sign is on the left sign (you’ll have to enter a white gate). At the end of the road behind me (in the picture above).
Khao Soi is a delicious dish composed of yellow egg noodles in a curry creamy sauce with vegetables and a choice of beef, chicken or pork. I tried both the beef and chicken ones and they were both to die for at a ridiculous price of 30/35 BAHT. The taste is slightly spicy but with a sweet edge to it. The beef one was my favorite with tender beef pieces, thick noodles and an outstanding soup.
Take a Cooking Class
While your stay in Chiang Mai, you have to make sure you have at least half a day or a full day free to learn some Thai Cooking. Personally I attended two Thai Cooking School, the first one was a full day at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School where we first did a food carving activity and then we cooked about 4 dishes. We first watched the chef cook in an air conditioned room and then went outside to our own cooking stand and cooked. It was a great experience but definitely not nearly as AMAZING as our day spent at the Thai Secret Cooking School, located at a beautiful farm.
We only spent half a day learning to cook, but it was seriously worth it. For almost half the price, Mae (the instructor and owner) comes and picks you up at the hotel in the morning. After you hop on the Tuk Tuk (where you can pick the dishes you want to cook) you will go visit the local market that is close the farm and will learn about all the special vegetables and fruits that Thailand is known for with the help of Mae. Mae and her family have a great hospitality and she is personally an incredible woman that will not fail to make you laugh.
Once we arrived at the house, we saw their beautifully arranged Thai cooking school and were so happy with the whole experience. Once you reach the house, you will be given an apron, pick a hat and pick your own herbs and vegetables in their farm (a truly fun experience). You are now ready to cook!
We started by cooking Pad Thai, Pad Kra Pao (Thai basil with minced pork), Tom Kha Soup or Tom Yum Soup, green and red curry paste from scratch and then cooked the green and red curry; yummy-yummy. Since we only did half day we had no time to make desserts, however those who spent the entire day had the chance to continue cooking in the afternoon and also spent a lovely day in the farm. The best thing about this experience other than Mae and the lovely day at the farm, is that you get a personalized Thai recipe book with your picture on it, no other place will give you such a treatment.
So if you ever end up going to Chiang Mai make sure you go to THAI SECRET COOKING SCHOOL, you will NOT regret it!
Take a Walk along the Chiang Mai Gate
Take a walk around the Chiang Mai Gate, which is the starting point for Old City tours. Along the main gate at night there are also quite a few street food stands with yummy local dishes.
Visit the Chiang Mai Night Safari
Do take a night off and visit the night safari, a lovely activity for both adults and kids. Here you will have a chance to see the tiger show, a water show and then you will be able to go on a train that will allow you to see all the animals at a close distance. When we visited, a deer and a giraffe came really close and we were able to see them from a very close distance. Overall, it was a very fun night.
Buy souvenirs at Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
The night bazaar is a must see, make sure you visit and buy souvenirs, also remember to bargain the price down! You will find fruits, many “funny” t-shirts, cute tank tops, other local style clothing as well as small wooden and other souvenirs.
Take an Adventurous Day Trip
We booked the Panda Tour (1300 BAHT per person) and had a fun day further out Chiang Mai. We got picked up from the hotel and drove north to the elephant camp, where we had lunch and hopped on the elephants back for a little tour around the camp. After we left the elephant camp we also went to the orchid and butterfly farm and then visited the “Tung La Kom” village where we saw probably the highest tree I’ve ever seen, that still provides honey to the villagers.
We also took a walk through the beautiful jungle and enjoyed the nature that led us to a stunning waterfall where we swam and relaxed for a while. We then drove to a bamboo rafting camp and had a rafting experience along the Mae Tang River. Bring mosquito repellant, there are lots of mosquitoes and we also saw a few scorpions, nothing dangerous though.
Enjoy a Traditional Khantoke Dinner and Show
A great pride of the Lanna (Northern Thai) culture is the Khantoke dinner. It consists of a dinner seated on traditional floor seating served on a round serving tray with small dishes of different traditional Lanna delicacies.
We went to the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center for the Khentoke dinner and we were very pleased with it. The dishes included friend chicken, pork curry, fried pork skins, vegetables and white sticky rice.
While you eat you will enjoy a traditional Lanna dance routines, sword fight and walked through a love story. After the dinner you will be taken outside to a small “barn” where the show continues with more dances and music.
Take a Tuk Tuk to Tiger Kingdom
Tiger Kingdom is located in Rim Tai, Mae Rim (about 45-60 minutes from city center).We took a tuk tuk that took us there and also waited to bring us back for a total of 400 BAHT. Very organized place but also very crowded. Tiger Kingdom is known for their beautiful small tigers, however, there are usually long cues to wait for (expect at least 2-3 hours wait). Unfortunately when we went, we only had a few hours available and could not wait the long cues to see the smallest tiger so we were happy enough to spend some time with the middle size tigers. We did have a really great time and hired a photographer to take pictures of us with the beautiful tigers.
Eat Mango and Sticky Rice
Although I thought it was extremely weird at first, the pairing of mango and sticky rice is simply delicious, by far my favorite dessert EVER. You will find many stands that sell it for around 45/50 BAHT, so forget about silly diets and eat this after every Thai meal!
- Bodhi Serene Boutique Hotel
Beautiful rooms with a great pool, lovely breakfast buffet and great hospitality.
- Raming Lodge Hotel & Spa
Very reasonable price, great location (2 min walk from night bazaar) room was quite big but with a few cockroaches traveling in and since there are lots of bars downstairs it can be quite loud.
- Imperial Mae Ping
Great location, big room and lovely staff.