The Essential Chiang Mai Experiences

There’s a reason why all travelers sing praise to Chiang Mai. It’s the perfect tourist destination.

It’s a place that invites you to dig into Thailand’s rich and textured history by exploring its many wats and temples. There’s Old Town, the bustling city center, that’s a maze of streets and a bee hive of activity. Then there’s the food, it’s the best in Thailand. That’s not an exaggeration.

Below is my essential list of Chiang Mai experiences you must try.

 

Explore The Many Temples & Wats

It's not an overstatement to say that Chiang Mai is overflowing with ancient Buddhist Temples. After all this is a city that's over 700 years old. Each successive king left their mark by building everlasting temples. The result? Chiang Mai has over 300 temples and wats. 

You're guaranteed to come across several temples on each road you cross. These temples range from large and ornate to small and humble, yet each has it's own undeniable beauty.  If there is one temple not to be missed it has to Wat Chedi Luang (pictured above). Built sometime between 1385 and 1402, it is marked by a massive damaged chedi (pagoda). 

See Chiang Mai From Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep is the most famous temple in Chiang Mai. This temple is perched high on Mount Suthep. Its grounds are beautiful, and from the mountaintop visitors get stunning panoramic views of Chiang Mai.  Be warned, this is a very popular attraction and it's always congested with tourists.

Chat With A Monk

While visiting wats in Chiang Mai, I was surprised to learn about "Monk Chats". You get to have a round table discussion with monks in training and their teachers. The discussions are unstructured and you can ask what you please.

This is a very unique cultural experience and a great way to understand how the monks live their lives. Two popular places to do these chats are Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Suan Dok.

The Food In The Night Markets

My fondest memories in Chiang Mai are of the food I sampled in its night markets. To be honest, I didn't keep track of which stall or location I ate from. There were so many. It's enough to say that the selection of food was exhilarating and I took full advantage of the situation. You'll find vendors selling noodles, seafood, curries, pastries and of course local delicacies that I wasn't brave enough to try. 

Take A Cooking Class

Taking a cooking class is a fun and popular activity. From Pad Thai to Red Curry there are lots of dishes you can learn to cook. The best thing about the classes, you get to eat the food you prepared. 

Zipline In The Jungle

Ziplining in a lush canopied forest is simply a once in a lifetime experience. Chiang Mai has several zipline operators, but without a doubt "Flight Of The Gibbon" is the best. Their course is well designed and has different zip lines, rope bridges and abseils. As you zip between platforms, you'll be treated to spectacular views. This is an activity that everyone in the family is sure to enjoy. 

Visit An Elephant Camp

Visiting an elephant camp can be a great experience. You'll get to care for the elephants, learn about them, bond with them, feed them and bathe them. Just be careful when picking a camp, there's a lot of abuse that happens with these animals.  Some camps have them work continuously, with the elephants being overfed by tourists and ridden and bathed countless times.  

Wiang Khum Kham

Located next to the Ping River, is the recently excavated ruins of Wiang Khum Kham. This ancient city's history dates back to 8th century. While the ruins are not spectacular, visitors will be treated to interesting archaeological sites and Buddhist sculptures. This is the perfect site for people to take their time exploring either by foot or by bike.

Hike In Doi Inthanon

Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand and is a two hour drive from Chiang Mai. You'll probably want to visit as part of a tour group. These tours usually have itineraries that cover the white Karen tribe, two famous waterfalls, the King and Queen Twin Chedis, the Inthanon Royal Garden and small trek through the forest.

The natural scenery that you'll see will be worth the effort of the visit.