What was supposed to be a trip for a couple of weeks in Northern Thailand, quickly turned into a six month stay, as I had fallen head over heels for the Chiang Mai vibe. In a blink, I started calling this city ‘my home away from home’, just like all the expats and digital nomads that got stuck here. The many faces of Chiang Mai kept it interesting. From the busy city center to the locals farmers markets next to the Ping river, the beautiful country side and the breathtaking mountains. Getting lost in the alleyways, and discovering new neighbourhoods, filled with small businesses, creative people and mostly a vibrant atmosphere.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Grand Canyon

Getting Around

Even though Chiang Mai is not a massive city, walking will hurt your feet badly. Luckily there’s lots of fun and cheap options to get around. I’d recommend to rent a bicycle (50bath/day), as the city is very flat and it’s simply the easiest way to work yourself trough the traffic jams. Riding a bike in Thailand sounds scary, but in general cars and scooters really look out for the cyclists and leave you lots of space. If you’d like to explore the outside of Chiang Mai a bit more, a scooter (150bath/day) can be a good option. Just note that the police does regular road controls so make sure you bring an international drivers license. If you’re not ready to handle the Thai traffic by yourself, you can always take a tuktuk (100-200bath) or a song taew/red taxi (20-40 bath/person) which is a shared taxi service.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Getting Around

Where to Stay

There’s many options when it comes to accomodation in Chiang Mai. From a bed in a hostel dorm, to guesthouses, design hotels and fancy resorts, there’s something for every budget. However when choosing accomodation, I’d recommend picking your neighbourhood first. The most central area is the Old Town. It’s busy and gets pretty touristy but it’s easy to reach. If you like it a bit quieter but still vibrant, I’d recommend the Nimmanhaemin area and if you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, there’s many resorts just out of town, next to the Ping river.

 

Things to Do

Explore the Old town and the Nimmanhaemin area

Ride your bicycle around and discover the city center. The old town is filled with markets, amazing temples and stunning timber houses. The sounds of the tuktuks and scooters will find its way to your ears but at the same time you’ll find your peace in the beautiful little streets and alleys covered in plants, and if the time is right, many colourful flowers. I personally prefer this place in the early morning, when the majority of tourists are still enjoying the comfort of their beds.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Old Town

Head West later in the day to stroll around the Nimmanhaemin area. This area is without any doubt the hippest place in town. This is where coffee lovers can fuel their caffeine addiction in some of the best coffee bars in town, where foodies can discover a wide variety of great restaurants and different cuisines, and where shopaholics can get some damage done to their wallets. At night you can enjoy a beer with the locals in one of the bars and beer gardens.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Nimmanhaemin

Cliff jumping at the grand canyon

As the temperatures can rise very high, you might want to look for a place to cool yourself down a bit. Unfortunately Chiang Mai is located hundreds of kilometres from the beach, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find the most amazing places to go for a swim. My favourite place is the grand canyon, which can be found about 20km from the Old Town and is easy to reach by scooter or song taew. It’s an old quarry filled with aqua blue water. Perfect for swimming, a relaxing afternoon, cliff jumping (if you dare) or just to take some photos.

Try Northern Thai food (and learn how to cook it)

One of the main reasons to come to Thailand is to try the amazing food, and there’s no better place to try it than in Chiang Mai. Either if you try it at a food market or at a restaurant, the smells and flavours of their colourful dishes will blow you away. Curries, noodles, stir fries, many deep fried snacks but also sweet treats like mango sticky rice and fried bananas, will quickly find their way to your stomach. Some restaurants also offer cooking classes so you can learn how to make your favourite dishes at home. My favourite? The Khao Soy, which is a creamy curry noodle soup.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Thaifood

Enjoy the Thai coffee culture

One of the best discoveries of Chiang Mai is the coffee culture. Instagram worthy coffee bars are popping up all around town. Great aromas and impressive latte art are served in the most stunning interiors. If you’re big on your morning coffee, this might be your place. Make sure to check our Ristr8tto Lab, Samanmitr, Graph Cafe, Café Arte, Artisan and Cottontree Cafe.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Coffee Culture

Hike up the Doi Suthep

One of the perks of visiting a city that is surrounded by mountains, is that it gives the great opportunities for a good hike. The one hour hike up Doi Suthep is pretty tough but worth it. The trail starts at the Chiang Mai University, and will take you through the jungle past temples and waterfalls. Once you arrive at the top, the longest set of stairs will lead you to a temple with the best view over Chiang Mai. Don’t forget to bring your camera!

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Doi Suthep

Baan Khang Wat artist village

Just a couple of kilometers out of the Old Town, you can find Baan Khang Wat. This little green oasis is the perfect escape from the busy city. The village is filled with cute little houses in which artist have found a work studio or a place to expose their work. Next to the galleries, there’s a restaurant, coffee bars, veggie patches, artist markets and an entertainment arena.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Baan Khang Wat

Elephant Nature Park

There’s many problems with the animal entertainment sector in Thailand. Animals are mistreated but businesses still make huge turnovers due to uninformed tourists. If you’d like to meet some animals without doing them any harm, I would recommend the Elephant Nature Park. In this park, rescued animals have found a new home. The elephants come from the entertainment sector or logging businesses and unfortunately some of them are in bad shape. Dozens of volunteers take care of these amazing creatures. In the one day tour, you’ll learn a lot about the elephants, you’ll feed them, wash them, and most important support this good cause.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Elephants

Where to Eat

If you’d like to try some amazing Thai food, I’d highly recommend to go to Anchan. This restaurant serves without any doubt, the best Thai food I’ve tried so far. The small, but weekly changing menu offers something for everyone, spicy curries, amazing stir fries, delicious salads and even Thai inspired pastas, all prepared with the freshest ingredients.

It might sound strange that I recommend a Mexican restaurant if you are in a Thai food heaven. However, the burritos at Olé Gourmet Mexican are to die for. I almost dare to say they are the best ones I’ve ever had, and believe me, I’ve had many. The restaurant is located in a little alley, with a magical vibe.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Anchan_Ole

If you were scared you might have to give up on pizza night while travelling through Thailand, you had it wrong. After eating at By Hand Cafe, your pizza night will never be the same again. The pizza’s are made in a stone oven in the middle of the restaurant. All pizzas are made from scratch, have an amazing crispy base and are finished off with the tastiest toppings.

Taste from Heaven has been one of my favourite dinner spots over the past months. The ever buzzing restaurant serves beautiful Thai dishes and Western food. Even though I’m always sceptical of restaurants with big menus, Taste from Heaven proves this can be a good thing. Make sure to try the black bean sandwich, the crispy morning glory and the penang or pumpkin curry. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Travelettes Chiang Mai_Taste Heaven

SS1254372 cafe has got your breakfast and lunch covered. The cafe looks like a little museum, with the most original interior, and the food as little artworks. A must when visiting the Nimmanhaemin area!

 

There’s no doubt about it, when in Thailand, you need to try street food. Street food stalls can be found in nearly every street, square or market around the city. The best trick to know if the food is going to be good, is to pick the stall where to locals are lining up. Works every time.

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The Travelettes Guide to Chiang Mai


This is a guest post by our Chiang Mai expert Tinne Cornelisson.

tinne_profileTinne is a travel blogger and illustrator from Belgium. With a camera in her hands, she’s been travelling around Europe, Asia and Australia for the past five years. After an awesome seven month adventure in Thailand, she’ll soon make Melbourne her new home base. You can follow her adventures on her blog Elsewhere and instagram @tinne.