Pearls of Wisdom
Yeoh Siew Hoon’s top picks for Chiang Mai
There are over 200 temples in and around Chiang Mai dating back to 1296, when the city was founded.
You may think it small or provincial, but Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is a place that surprises. Home to one of the loveliest Shangri-La hotels within the family, it’s full of secret nuggets for the intrepid traveller to discover. Here’s my pick of top 10 things to do here.
1. Drink coffee
Chiang Mai is said to be Melbourne’s cousin city due to its affinity for coffee. You will find cafes peppered throughout the city and even in little village sois. Don’t bother with chain coffee shops because it won’t leave you enough time to try the quirky, cosy indie cafes. Nimmanhaemin Road, the most fashionable street in town, is a great place to start as it has plenty of choice.
2. Play Tarzan (or Jane)
Even those fearful of heights tend to tough it out and zip the line to experience stunning views and the adrenalin rush of swinging from tree to tree. Do your research and go with a reputable operator with good reviews, even if they cost more. It is important that you feel safe to fully enjoy the experience.
3. Get a massage
Thai massages are famous the world over, so what would a trip to Thailand be without one? Chiang Mai, just like in other parts of Thailand, has massage parlours everywhere you turn. Prices are reasonable (Bt250 for an hour of Thai massage) if you don’t need a fancy branded spa with New Age music and aromatherapy.
4. Visit a temple
There are over 200 temples in and around Chiang Mai dating back to 1296, when the city was founded. Step inside to admire their carvings, hand-painted murals and original buildings, which have been impeccably maintained over the years. The temples are still in use today and form an important part of Thai lives, the most famous of which is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, built in 1383 near the top of Mount Suthep to the northwest of the city.
5. Indulge in good food (and forget the diet)
There is too much to say about the abundance of good food in Chiang Mai. If you’ve not been as far up north in Thailand, you may not have tried some of the dishes peculiar to this region, such as Khao soi (curry noodles), hang lay (Burmese-inspired curry), sai ua (northern-style sausages) and kaeb moo (crispy pork rind).
6. Leave town
If you travel just 30 minutes away from Chiang Mai’s town, you will find yourself in beautiful environs of rice fields against mountain backdrops. Just a little further out are hot springs and waterfalls. Mountain restaurant Mon Cham serves good, yet cheap local cuisine. Better still are the stunning views from the 1,400-metre-high mountain ridge in the Nong Hoi Royal Project in the Mae Rim district, which are simply not to be missed.
7. Go street marketing
It may be surprising that one of the top street markets in TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Street Markets in Thailand is Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street Market at Tha Pae Gate. Third and tenth place finishers are also in Chiang Mai – the Saturday Night Market on Wua Lai Road and the Anusarn Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road.
8. Explore Nimmanhaemin Road
Nimmanhaemin Road is a buzzing Chiang Mai district with bars, pubs, cafes, art galleries, restaurants and quirky shops. The one-kilometre-long strip is extended by 17 sois branching off the main road. This street was recently made famous by Chinese blockbuster Lost in Thailand, bringing in throngs of camera-toting tourists during peak season.
9. Imbibe the (artistic) vibe
Chiang Mai has made a name for itself as a creative city, quietly home to budding artists and writers from around the world and to some great art galleries. Start at the Chiang Mai University Art Museum on Nimmanhaemin Road, which showcases work by students, lecturers and visiting artists. For art and entertainment, try the 2nd Floor Gallery & Café, a small gallery that doubles as a bar with live music on Saturdays. Sangdee Gallery on Sirimangkalajarn Soi 5 also complements its art displays with live music nights on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
10. Be a mahout
There are several elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai that teach visitors about how to care for the animals. Be a mahout for a day, bathe and feed elephants, and learn to appreciate these creatures through new eyes. Be sure to choose a reputable camp as many commercially minded ones may not have the elephants’ best interests at heart.
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Just got back from Chiang Mai. Of course we stayed in the beautiful Shangri-La Hotel!
I hadn't read your recommendations until after having stayed in Chiang Mai and, to my surprise, we covered practically everyone of your tips! We visited the artsy cafes and the incredible temples; we had excellent massages and even did a caretaker course with elephants.
Great inspiration and great recommendations!