I just started this 3-month Southeast Asian journey and now on my 2nd week. Like many travelers I met say, “travelers gets stuck in Chiang Mai.” And I have to agree, I want to live here already. So much things to do and cafés to see and travelers to meet. The list here are the things I always do or should I say, the fun things I do… plus you don’t need much money to do each. I’ll give you the prices too. Let’s start my top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai:
1. Drop the map, bike around the old city and try to get lost. This is my fave thing to do. I’m not really good at looking at the map so on my first day, I said f*ck it, I’ll just ride around and get lost. By doing this I get to see chic cafés, untouristy temples and stop as necessary. Sometimes I would find myself stoping at a second-hand bookstore or at Thapae Gate or a cute café. Or buying fruits in a market. Or find the cheapest smoothie along the way. Many bike rentals around. Bike Rental Fee: 45-60Baht for 24hours use.
2. Find a cute café and read a book. Don’t turn on your wifi and just enjoy you cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy each sip and do read a book in between. Slowdown is the key here. There are hundreds of cute cafés to choose from. Pair this with number 1. There is a café that supports local farmers and Akha tribe (Akha Ama Coffee), a café for film photographers (UNG) and many more. Also, they serve freshly ground coffee and rally cheapo. Hot cappuccino usually starts at 35Baht ($1) and can go up to 60Baht ($2). Add 5-10Baht for iced coffees. I recommend you try green tea cappuccino, it would be the best 50baht spent of your life. Guaranteed!
3. Temple-hop (Wat-hopping). (“Wat” means temple) Actually, you can do numbers 1-2-3 in 1 day if you don’t have much time to burn in Chiang Mai. But if you are to visit like 6 temples a day, you might experience temple overload. What I usually do is visit 1-2 temples a day stopping on temples or stupas that pique my interest. I love Wat Lok Molee (just outside the moat) because its one of the oldest and it was started by Burmese monks which explains the Burmese style. Wat Phra Sing (just go straight from Thapae gate), Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep (about 30 minutes form the city), Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phan Tao.
4. People-watch at Thapae Gate. The best time to people-watch is sundown like 5pm onwards. You see Chinese tourists getting selfies at the brick gate. musicians play, trinket-artists lay their products to sell, prostitutes and lady boys on the right side if you are facing the gate, bikers and skaters and many interesting travelers. Buy iced chayen (Thai iced milk tea) and sit down on the square seats by the gate.
5. Classy Jazzy! Hang out at the North Gate Jazz Co-op Bar and cap the night off with some beer. Every night around 8:30pm the local jazz band performs live at the North Gate bar. I don’t usually listen to Jazz but this one I find myself going twice already and actually planning to go there as I’m typing this one. This can also be a perfect time to slow down and wait until its 12midnight before going to dance party (check number 6). Cocktails at 100-140baht, Beer is 60-100baht. I love Singha 🙂
6. Party like you are 20! Zoe in Yellow is the place or for rastafarians, Roots Rock Reggae is your best bet. This is like the Pub street (Temple Bar and Angkor What? in Siem Reap) but more jam-packed. A mix of Westerners and Thai on the dance floor. If you want less crowded Roots Rock Reggae which is just next door is great. They serve great cocktails too. These two bars close at 2am. If you still have the energy and wanted more, go to Spicy which is open til 4-5am. Beer at 90-120Baht, Cocktails 120-160.
7. Get a Thai Massage. So when you wake up with hang-over. Get a hotshower, eat late breakfast or brunch then get a massage. A bunch available from 160-250Baht per hour. People recommend the women ex-prisoners massage place but it’s always full even thought they have 3 massage clinics. You can also do Acupuncture session if you want. Munkala (500baht for 30 mins) and Sun Smile (390baht for 30 mins). You have to get an appointment at least a day in advance because they get fully-booked especially on high season. Give yourself a break, your body would thank you afterwards. Or maybe foot massage after all the biking and walking while shopping.
8. Adventurous enough? Street-food tripping. Thailand’s streetfood scene is one of the most vibrant, clean and aroi mai (delicious in Thai)! Thai-style takoyaki or Japanese sushi, squidballs and chicken bbq, iced tea and coffee jelly, sticky rice with mango and maybe some crickets too? Of course, they have like 5 kinds of padthais and the list goes one. Street food are much cheaper just prepare smaller bills and even coins.
9. Shop til you drop, night market and bazaars. There are atleast seven markets in Chiang Mai, meaning one market a day. It’s a shopaholic’s paradise here. But you have to experience Warorot Market and the mile long Walking Street during Sunday afternoon til like midnight from Thapae Gate all the way to Phra Sing temple.
10. Yoga or Meditate. Chiang Mai is not only for the body but also for the soul. Time here stops and it’s the perfect place to slow down and breathe. There are five yoga shalas in the Old City. I go to Yoga Tree, they have community yoga every Monday at 150Baht. They also have Meditation class which is by donation. You can also choose a less touristy temple and sit down and watch your breath. That’s free!
Sorry, no tiger cuddling or elephant riding. I would go to Africa for that because I want to see them in their natural habitat.
I’m sure there’s more to do in Chiang Mai like cooking class or Thai massage or Thai language lessons. The list is actually endless.
PS. If you have been to Chiang Mai or are living in Chiang Mai, please do add your fave thing to do. Khop-Khun-Khap!
I post more photos on my Instagram- @journeyingjames