When I first night we touched down in Bangkok, I was super overwhelmed. It’s a crazy city with tight sidewalks, heavy traffic in the streets, and aggressive vehicles. To be honest, even though I’ve lived in NYC all my life, I was uncomfortable. Thankfully, the very next morning, we flew to Chiang Mai because that was the scene I was ultimately looking for. Chiang Mai is a smaller city, north of Bangkok. When I was doing research, Chiang Mai was the most mentioned city besides Bangkok to visit so I knew I had to go. There are tons to do here – from cheap eats and massages to Temple hopping to seeing elephants to street markets to cooking classes. Chiang Mai to me was the chill, adventurous, spiritual sister of Bangkok.
Day 1 – Wednesday
- Arrival at Hotel at 1:00pm
- Walk around area
- Lunch at Its Good Kitchen (actually pretty good)
- 1-hour Thai Massage at Lila Thai Massage
- Wat Phra Singh Waramahavihan
- Walk down Rachadamnoen Road to Old Gate, window shopped
- Coffee break at The Coffee Club
- Dinner at Krua Dabb Lob (it’s ok)
Day 2 – Thursday
- Elephant Nature Park all day
- Dinner at Kanjana Restaurant (very good)
Day 3 – Friday
- Thai Akha Cookery School
- 2 hour massage at Lila Thai Massage
- Ploen Rudee Night Market
- Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
- Walk around night bazaar area
- Dinner at Ploen Rudee Night Market
Day 4 – Saturday
- Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
- Lunch at Its Good Kitchen
- Monk chat at Wat Chedi Luang Varavihara
- Dinner at Cafe de Thaan Aoan (it’s ok)
We took a flight from Bangkok and arrived in Chiang Mai around noon. We took Thai Smiles; 45 minute flight. And they still gave us a small meal and beverage!! Yoooo wtf American based airlines! Asian airlines FTW right here. The airport has a taxi stand right when you exit the baggage claim. I believe it was a 150-baht flat rate to “downtown” from the airport. The airport was like 10 minutes away from our hotel. You could also use the Grab app in Chiang Mai but they have a 30 baht booking fee on top. More details on the awesome things we did and ate after the jump.
While planning, I debated staying in the west end of Old City or 30-minute walk east, near the Gate and the night markets (mainly bc I would’ve stayed using SPG points at Le Meridien). I am so glad I decided to stay at the western end at BED Pharasingh. Everything at BED was fantastic. I rave about the quiet but prime, walkable location to many temples, including the popular Wat Phra Singh, and restaurants, shops and massage parlors. The night markets on the east were so tourist-heavy and EXPENSIVE. Khao Soi cost 60 baht ($2 USD) at It’s Good Kitchen on the West compared the 120 baht ($4 USD) at the night market. I should mention that the night markets were tourist driven, selling expensive western foods (I didn’t want a $7 USD burger in Thailand … sorry) and stalls were selling knick-knacks and clothes I didn’t really care for. Reminded me of canal street in NYC. But I guess it’s a sight to see, if you’re looking for elephant pants or other souvenirs. Other than location, BED’s staff hospitality and amazing included breakfast buffet and unlimited complimentary bottled water made it one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at. A girl named Umi made me mango sticky rice every morning! Winnnnnn.
What We Did
I’ll list all the stuff I researched about at the end but here’s what we did throughout the almost 4 full days in Chiang Mai. One thing to note was that, as it was our honeymoon, we took our time and didn’t fill days with non-stop action. It was perfect to do stuff during the day but chill and roam around at night.
1. Elephant Nature Park
This was one of my favorite activities in Thailand because I’ve always loved elephants (mainly because it started with an E.. heheh) but also because it’s a powerful peaceful animal. We only wanted to go to an ethical park and after doing some research, the only trustworthy one I found was Elephant Nature Park. Please do not support any parks that let you ride the elephants. ENP recently stopped letting visitors pet the elephants because they’ve learned the elephants do not like it. So yeah you won’t get cool pix of you riding or touching an elephant but you’ll be supporting a park that actually helps elephant conservation. With the Single Day package, you do get to feed the elephants and literally walk among them… which is pretty neat already. Round trip transport + lunch included. Book early as I hear the packages fill up.
2. Wat Phra Singh Waramahavihan
This gorgeous and free-to-enter temple had many mini temples within its surrounding grounds. Very nice sights. Make sure to cover up shoulders and legs and take off your shoes. When sitting, never point your toes toward the Buddha.
3. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
This popular and grand temple is in the mountains, about a 45 minute drive from Chiang Mai. There are tours or private tuk tuks/trucks you can hire to get there or car/moped rentals but we went the economical route with the red pick truck taxis (songtaews – tips/more info on these). Moped rentals are pretty cheap in Thailand but I would not recommend driving them in larger cities if you’re not comfortable – do it at the islands. The songtaews might require some waiting but the pricing is a lot better. There’s a few songtaew stops in the city, specifically heading to Doi Suthep. We waited at the stop right outside Wat Phrathat because it was walking distance from our hotel. The truck is pretty much a pick up truck with seating in the back. The truck will only leave when they have “enough” passengers that meet the full 600 baht quota. So if you’re in a large group of 6-8, this works out for you and you probably don’t have to wait. We were only 2 people so we ended up waiting 10 minutes for another 3 people to come… and we left for $60 baht per person round trip. You literally hop on the back of the truck and go. We agreed on a time (1.5 hour after arrival) to meet back at the truck to head back to Chiang Mai. Paid at the end. Pretty easy process. They have shops and little restaurants around the area. To get to the temple, we had to walk up 306 steps. No other way to make you feel more out of shape. There is a shuttle for 20 baht I believe. To enter the temple, it was $30 baht per person. They are very serious with the covering up rule so be prepared. They do have cover ups for rent outside.
4. Monk chat at Wat Chedi Luang Varavihara
Several temples hold “monk chats”, where you pretty much sit down with student monks and chat. They are essentially practicing their English and you can speak to them about Buddhism or everyday topics. We met a junior monk named Brandon who has been at the school for a few years now and was “president” of his Monk Chat club. He has never left Thailand but had a brother living in Wisconsin, where he wished to visit. We had such a good time talking about Buddhism, everyday life and world history (thank goodness my hubby was a social studies teacher to be able to answer all his questions) that we stayed there for about 1.5 hours. We also briefly walked around the rest of the temple too.
5. Thai Cooking Class at Thai Akha Cookery School
This was a great rainy day activity because it’s mainly indoors, but still super fun. There are a couple different schools with some slight differences in what you make but they’re all pretty similar. Appetizer + protein / carb dish + curry + dessert. Cost varies and how many dishes vary. This cooking class was highly reviewed on trip advisor and offered foods I liked such as pad Thai and parang curry. I chose Thai Akha because they “teach” you to make 10 dishes as opposed to the 4/5 base ones that everyone else has. The class we chose included a market tour in the morning where we got to sample some Thai delicacies such as durian and jackfruit. The cooking class itself was really fun, I mean if you like cooking. All prep is pretty much done so you just need to do basic things like cut or chop (so some basic culinary skills are required but there were teenagers there and they did fine.) Our instructor was nice, informative and bit funny. At the end, we all ate what we made. They also gifted us free aprons because it was our honeymoon so shout out to them!
6. Ratchadamnoen Road
- Street full of shops, restaurants, massage parlors, temples
- Great to just walk down… we pretty much did this every day.
There are many massage parlors around at varying different prices and service levels. The more nicer spas were normally more expensive – but you get a private, AC room, change of clothes, tea after.. the cheaper ones may be in a no frills room with others you don’t know. Our hotel suggested Lila Thai Massage which fitted the bill of a more luxurious spa but very inexpensive. You’ll get a massage from an female ex prisoner but don’t worry- they are legit and very kind. 1 hour Thai massage was 250 baht (less than $9!). More luxurious spas charged like 700 baht an hour. There are multiple Lila Thai Massage locations in the area with the same pricing.
8. Night Markets
- Ploen Rudee Night Market
- Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
This area had tons of shops and places to eat in the night markets…. but it is all really touristy. It honestly felt like Canal street to me, selling knick knacks that were not really personally Thai or luxury fakes. The night market food options were more diverse in the international sense (they had hamburgers and pasta lol) but it’s also more pricier for not-as-great-tasting food. I wasn’t into it but it was interesting to see if you’ve never been to a night market.
What/Where We Ate
(in order or most liked to least liked)
- Kanjana Restaurant – Probably the best restaurant we ate in Chiang Mai. I tried some pork knuckle dish – it was very good and unique. I would’ve loved to also try the khao soi.. heard that is really good here. Unfortunately they’re closed on Saturdays so we couldn’t eat here again.
- Its Good Kitchen – Yes I chuckled too when I first heard the name as the hotel staff’s recommendation for restaurants but it actually was pretty good and very inexpensive. Most basic rice/noodle dishes were like 60 baht ($2 USD). Comfortable seating, clean and friendly service. Plus they had khao soi (northern Thai curry noodle dish – delicious when made correctly) which was decent.
- Krua Dabb Lob – It was okay. Not as good as Its Good Kitchen. Inexpensive and decent service. Lots of ex-pats here.
- Cafe de Thaan Aoan – Good service, indoors, and very comfortable seating and pricing is decent. But food taste is average.
- Ploen Rudee Night Market – Night market filled with different international cuisines but at higher prices. I had really good khao soi here but it was cold. No bueno. I wouldn’t recommend coming here as it was too touristy.
- The Coffee Club – Coffee place chain with Starbucks US pricing. Good food and drinks though.
Next up (whenever I get to it… ha) – the first island we visited: Koh Phangan.