We arrived in Chiang Mai at about 10pm. It was dark, and extremely quiet. Considering we’d just spent three days in Bangkok, it felt like we’d just landed in another world. Like with most places we went on our trip to Thailand, I didn’t really know much about Chiang Mai, to be honest the only reason why we went was to go to the Elephant Nature Park.
After checking into our hotel, we headed out to find some food. Considering Chiang Mai is a city, we didn’t have much luck. Everything was closed by about 10.30pm and the only thing we stumbled across were some strange massage parlors and every animal under the sun. From dogs to cats to giant rats, our little hunt for food was one of the strangest hours in Thailand we’d encountered so far. The only sort of life around at that time was the sound of a little moped every so often chugging down the street.
Having had no luck, we ended up leaving Seven Eleven with some Tokyo style bananas and the world’s most spiciest Tom Yum soup.
Whilst in Chiang Mai we stayed at a hotel called 99 The Herritage. Set just inside the old city walls it was so gorgeous and central it was perfect. After a long sleep, we woke up the following day and went to explore the city. It was so hard to believe we were in the same place we wandered around the night before because there were cars and people flying around everywhere. There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai so it’s physically impossible to see them all in just a few days. They do however make the place look really beautiful.
The first place we set off to find was the river and what a big mistake that was. It’s brown and horrible so I really wouldn’t bother! However walking all that way was a great way to see lots of the city. Chiang Mai is really well known for it’s arts and crafts, so there are tons of galleries owned by local artists and little boutiques with handcrafted jewellery and ornaments. It took us hours to just walk across town because we were going in pretty much every shop!
As we headed back we checked out a few of the temples and sat down for a drink to refuel. A row of restaurants along the main road very quickly became our new favourite spot. Home to the famous ‘Writers Club’, the collection of three or four restaurants and wine bars are the perfect place to sit with a beer and watch the crazy world go by.
One of the funniest experiences we had in Thailand was probably the Thai massage we got in Chiang Mai. Being a sucker for a good massage, Andy was desperate for a foot massage, so after a day of shopping and exploring we decided to have a massage at the U Chiang Mai Hotel. For two hour foot massages it cost us £10 each, which was apparently rather expensive in Chiang Mai! However for that we ended up having pretty much a full body massage.
If you’ve had a Thai massage before you’ll know they’re pretty intense, so being Thai massage virgins we were rather surprised to start being stretched and pounded within an inch of our lives during a simple ‘foot massage’. For the duration of the massage we were fully clothed but we left feeling pretty violated, it was hilarious! If you’ve not had a Thai massage before, don’t leave Thailand without one!
Food and Drink
When it come to eating in Chiang Mai you really are spoiled for choice. Wether you’re looking for something cheap or an all out expensive meal, the food here is great!
Some of our foodie highlights of the city would have to be a place called Hot Chilli and a little ramen place in the square behind it. On two completely different ends of the spectrum, Hot Chilli is a pricey Thai restaurant with the most amazing fruit cocktails (it’s the place with all the bird cages outside it and flowery swings!) and the ramen place is a little Japanese takeaway shop that lets you eat your food on the picnic benches in the square! It sounds random, but it was too good to leave out of this Chiang Mai city guide.
When I call Hot Chilli expensive, I think our whole meal, including four cocktails (which were actually inside a fruit) cost us about £40, which in Chiang Mai is pretty pricey. Our picnic bench ramen cost us all of about £7 for two dishes, two sides and drinks! Funny enough, it was actually one our favourite meals the whole time we were there. And before you ask, no we didn’t get food poisoning, in fact we didn’t get food poisoning at all whilst in Thailand.
The food in the little wine bars I mentioned earlier was also great, in fact I don’t think we had a bad meal there. All selling pretty much the same food, they’re great for a traditional green thai curry but also the perfect place to go if you’re not into Thai food at all.
When it comes to coffee shops, Chiang Mai is full of them. A day in Chiang Mai wouldn’t be complete without a little coffee break! Whilst we were there we also fell in love with a little juice bar called Fruiturday which is the best pit stop location if you’re looking for a drink to cool you down from the heat.
As I said at the beginning, one of the main reasons we went to Chiang Mai was to see the elephants. There are tons of elephant parks around Chiang Mai, places you can ride them, places you can bath them and places you can trek with them. Unfortunately the majority of people who participate in elephant tourism in Thailand are completely unaware of how badly they are treated.
Which is why we decided to visit a place called The Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center located in the heart of the jungle. Being one of the most famous elephant parks in the country, we were thrilled to have the privilege to stay overnight and spend two days learning about all things elephants.
I won’t go into much more detail about it here, it was so incredible I could talk about it for days. In fact, I’m actually in the process of writing a dedicated post about our unforgettable time there so keep an eye out for that.
Sunday Night Walking Market
When we arrived back from the jungle we headed straight out to the famous Chiang Mai Sunday Night Walking Market. We made sure our time in Chiang Mai fell over a Sunday specifically for this market and we were not disappointed. It’s the most amazing market I’ve ever seen. People travel from all over Thailand to visit this market so as you can imagine it’s extremely busy, a total contrast from the first night we arrived!
The bazaar stretches for about 1km along the main road of the city and is dubbed as a showcase of the art and craftsmanship of the Northern Thai people. They are not wrong, there’s even a whole side street dedicated to local artists where you’ll find the most amazing array of paintings.
By the end of our time in Chiang Mai, we were pretty disappointed to be leaving. Which is funny considering how unamused we were the night we arrived! Looking back on our time in Thailand overall, this was definitely one of our favourite places, which some people may be surprised to hear considering we visited the beach areas as well. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world I’d rather watch the rain fall than back at the Writers Cafe, watching the world go by.