Things To Do In Chiang Mai

After my visit to Phuket in January, I decided to bypass Bangkok and fly straight back to my favourite part of Thailand: The North. During the first part of my trip last year, before I flew home for Christmas, I spent almost three weeks exploring Chiang Mai and loved it so much that I was eager to go back just a few weeks later. The first time around, I had only planned to spend 4 or 5 nights there but as soon as I arrived, I realised that there was just so much to see and do, it very quickly became my favourite destination of the trip. In total, I must have spent over a month there and I loved every day.

Whilst most people I met moved on quiet fast, travelling so slowly meant I had time to see the place properly, between exciting day trips, exploring the city, eating absolutely everything and even taking a few days to work remotely with a banana smoothie by my side. Throw in a couple of hungover days spent monging out in the common area with my new friends and you've got yourself the ultimate backpacking destination right there. Here are some of my highlights:

Sunset at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep 
I didn't get around to visiting this famous temple the first time I was there so when one of my friends suggested that we get a group together and split a car up to see it, I was ready to go within seconds! Nine of us clambered into a red truck and drove 45 minutes up a twisty road into the mountains. We grabbed a smoothie (priorities) and made a start on the 300 steps up to the top; making it there just in time for the most incredible sunset. After the sun had gone down over the city, we wandered into the temple complex where we saw the famous golden pagoda and listened as monks prayed outside of it.

A Food Tour
The food is one of the things I loved best about Chiang Mai and whilst I liked to stick to my favourite cheap, street eats, a food tour; which I did with A Chefs Tour was the perfect way to get to know some of Chiang Mai's more hidden spots. They carted us around town in a private song-thaw (similar to a tuk tuk) showing us all sorts of local dishes that I would never have thought to try otherwise. One of my favourite new finds was the lady in the cowboy hat (that's how the locals know her) who serves slow cooked, succulent pork with rice and half a ducks egg. I also loved the deep fried sweet potato balls which we found in a local food market outside of the main town - I had had sweet potato balls the night before on the main tourist street and they weren't even half as nice! These guys know where all the best food is and having a local guide to explain to origins and correct ways to eat the food made the whole thing so authentic. Four hours later, I went to bed absolutely stuffed! 

Partying At ZOE In Yellow
Zoe turned out to be my favourite partying spot in all of Southeast Asia. We didn't go every single night but lets just say we went more often than not. It wasn't quite a club, more a bar that spilled out onto the streets, add in crazy strobe lights and some intense electric dance music and that's Zoes in a nutshell. It actually closed very early so from there most people would go on to Spicy, which was a proper club that stayed open later and just so happened to be in the same direction as my hostel. Don't forget to grab a pad Thai from just outside the bar, I may have been drunk when I ate it but I'm pretty sure the stand outside Zoes was the cheapest and best pad thai that I ate in Thailand!

Taking a Cooking Class 
With food involved, of course I chose to do the full day cooking class over just the morning session. I opted to do my class with Asia Scenic; it was rated number 3 on Trip advisor and I can 100% recommend them to you as well. They were a very reasonable 1,200 baht for a full day plus going with them meant that I had the option to do my class at a small farm outside of the main town rather than at the busy head office right in the middle of it. 

 I'm a big city girl but even I appreciated being away from the hustle and bustle and cooking in a serene, open space. The whole day was a great experience - we cooked and ate 7 different dishes - from spring rolls for starters to mango and sticky rice for dessert - and even got an hour in the middle to wander around the grounds - or take a nap, you know, whatever you want. The dropped me back to my hostel at the end of the day, totally stuffed!

Yi Peng / Loy Kratong: The Lantern Festival
I timed my first trip to Chiang Mai specifically around the annual lantern festival which happens every November and it was just a magical time to be there. With different events happening through the week, the incredible atmosphere can be felt all over the city. 

The hostel that I spent the majority of my time at, Stamps Backpackers, organised things each night so we could all get involved and experience the festival together. The festival is all about giving thanks to the goddess of water so on the first night, we made our own kratongs, (which are little flower float things) lit their candles and sent the on their way along the river (before heading to Zoes of course). 

The next evening, we got in another red truck and made our way to the Mae Jo university which is where the main event happens. There we bought paper lanterns, wrote our hopes and dreams on them and sent them up into the sky. It was pretty amazing but actually it was the night afterwards which was the most memorable for me. A few of us headed back to the river and sat on the banks as hundreds of people let off more lanterns from the bridge. It was an absolute health and safety disaster with alot of them flying strait into the trees and crashing down in flames all around us but what an incredible experience. I would count it as one of my favourite nights ever. 

Chiang Rai Day Trip
Chiang Rai is three hours away from Chiang Mai and is home to some of the regions most interesting and recognisable temples; specifically the white temple. It is a very long day, leaving at 7am and not getting back until around 10 that evening but it was worth it to see the famous temple. As well as the white temples, the tour included lunch and then on to two more temples and a stop off at a traditional long neck village. 

A Few Days In Pai
If there is one thing that you must do when you're in the north of Thailand, it's visit Pai. This little hippy town is three hours away, up in the mountains and the journey itself is an experience with 762 twists and turns in the road,  it was the craziest drive I've every been on but I loved every minute of it.

Apart from that, Pai is an incredible place surrounded by big open roads, beautiful waterfalls and hot springs - it's perfect if you want to rent a bike although still so much fun if you don't. Apart from all the natural beauty, it's home to my favourite street food market in Thailand and is absolutely avocado heaven; like you wouldn't believe. Honestly, you guys know how much I love my avo, I've never seen anything like it before. 
Again, the few days that I planned to stay turned into 6 nights because I wanted to stay for a new jungle party event which has taken the area by storm. I went to one of the first ever Electric Valley nights; a rave in the middle of nowhere; but they are happening every few weeks now as they are so popular. 

Eat Everything
 As well as all of these things, I have spent many a day just wandering around the city hoping from temple to cafe and back again - there are so many of both through the city that you can actually do this day after day and still not see them all. The food scene in Chiang Mai is utterly amazing and incredibly cheap so obviously I took full advantage of that on a daily basis. It's not unusual to find a freshly cooked meal for 35 baht, that's less than a pound. My favourite was a plate of garlic chicken with rice and a fried egg. 

 I'd recommend trying the local dishes such as Khao Soi, which is a curry noodle dish and mango with sweet sticky rice whilst you're here, it's the best you'll find in the country believe me.

Visit An Elephant Sanctuary
This is a really popular thing to do in northern Thailand and you'll find a whole array of different tour companies to book through. A lot of people booked up the day before but I actually booked online a couple of months in advance because I'd heard so much about The Elephant Nature Park beforehand and spaces on their tours fill up months in advance.

All of their elephants have been rescued from abusive pasts and it was super sad to hear some of their stories, especially when you could see how they have been affected but here the elephants have much better lives and are free to wander around as they please.

I did the whole day trip again and between walking around the ground with a guide to meet some of them, we spent the morning feeding them fruit and the afternoon washing them in the river. All in all, its quite an expensive day trip at 2500 baht but a big buffet lunch was also included as were transfers too and from my hostel so it was well worth doing!
And that brings an end to my incredible month in Chiang Mai - I hope I've inspired you to visit if you ever get the chance! 

*Thanks to A Chefs Tour for hosting me on the food tour


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