Chiang Mai is Thailand’s charming jewel of culture and nature. Surrounded by mountains and rural landscapes, it is peppered with temples, night bazaars, historical landmarks and artsy spots that offers a very different kind of holiday in Northern Thailand. If you plan to spend 4 days at Chiang Mai (and Chiang Rai), then here’s how you can do so!
DAY 1: Chiang Mai
After arriving in the morning, start by climbing up 306 steps to the Doi Suthep Temple, a beautiful temple surrounded by views of Chiang Mai and graceful mountains. Influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism, the golden temple is sacred to the people of Thailand. If you plan on going in, be sure to dress appropriately.
Next, head to Art in Paradise, which boasts Chiang Mai’s very own 3D museum and the largest of its kind in the world. There are many hand-painted murals in this interactive gallery where you and your friends can snap the wackiest photos!
The traditional Lanna Khantoke dinner is a experience you must not miss in Thailand. You get to sit on bamboo mats and enjoy a spread of delicious Thai food, such as chicken curry, fried chicken, deep fried pork skin, vegetables and sticky rice. While having dinner, you can watch various traditional Thai performances.
Got extra time at night? Hit a night market in the city to experience the local colours of the community. You can buy all sorts of souvenirs and goodies such as handicrafts, clothing, shoes, home appliances and knick-knacks. There are massage parlours around if your feet needs some pampering. Some popular night markets are the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (open 6pm to 11pm daily) and the Sunday Walking Street (4pm to 10om on Sundays).
DAY 2: Mae Ram Valley, Exotic Heart of Chiang Mai
Explore the Mae Ram Valley and some of the exotic residents of Chiang Mai. Early in the morning, head to the Mae Sa Elephant Camp and spend time with these gentle giants during the feeding and bathing sessions. Close by, you can visit Mae Raem Orchid and Butterfly Farm to admire the colourful blooms and beautiful creatures. Further down, there is the Mae Rim Monkey School where you can watch a monkey show, or the Mae Sa Snake Farm, which runs human and snake fighting shows.
The hill tribes of Chiang Mai are some of the most unique in the world, and you can learn about them up close and personal at the Chiang Mai Hill Tribe Village. Within the settlement, the welcoming hill tribes of Lahu, Padong and Karen will showcase their skills and share their lifestyle. This is where you can meet women who wear brass rings around their necks from the age of 5 or 6, which gives the impression that they have elongated necks. The handicrafts at the village make nifty little gifts.
On the way back to the city centre, stop by The Hidden Village of Chiang Mai, a miniature theme park filled with dinosaur statues, pygmy horse zone, sheep, and a playground. There is a restaurant there if you would like to have a bite!
After a long and exciting day, give yourself some free and easy time in the city. Here are a few options of what you can do, depending on your travel preferences.
For creative souls: There are regular exhibitions and artistic meetups at the Sangdee Gallery and Cafe. There is an open mic night every Thursday from 8pm.
For live music: Hit the North Gate Jazz Co-op for international vibes and bold beats.
For martial arts: The Kawila Boxing Stadium is a classic venue for those who want to watch traditional Thai style boxing.
DAY 3: Chiang Rai
Take a ride to Chiang Rai, a peaceful and laidback town that is unlike Chiang Mai. On the way, make a pitstop at the Mae Kajan Hot Springs, a popular stopover for locals on their way from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The water here contains a high concentration of minerals. Visitors enjoy soaking their feet in the hot springs or boiling eggs in the water.
Continue your journey until you reach Chiang Rai. The most impressive temple in the area is Wat Rong Khun White Temple, built by a local artist as a centre of learning and meditation for Buddhist devotees.
Along the Mekong River, you can also see the Golden Triangle. Historically it was the centre of the opium trade. Now it is a local attraction where people can take a long tail boat ride along the shores of Burma, Laos and Thailand.
One of the towns you can stop at is Mae Sai, a border town between Burma and Thailand, full of local flair. Some places you can visit is the Tha Khi Lek market, the Tham Pum-Tham Pla caves and the Tham Pha Chon temple.
The journey back to Chiang Mai can take around 5 to 6 hours. Once there, you can get your last minute retail fix at the local night markets.
DAY 4: Chiang Mai & Home
Attend the alms-giving ceremony at the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man. If you would like to give alms to the monks, do as the locals do and kneel on the ground to present your offering. For something a little different, you might be interested to know that there are several temples in town (such as Wat Srisuphan and Wat Chedi Luang) that offer daily and weekly ‘monk chats’, and you can talk to a monk about anything.