Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and has appeared on many lists of the best destinations in the world. Despite its size, Chiang Mai manages to maintain a relaxing and calm atmosphere. The city keeps its history and culture at its core, which allows Chiang Mai to thrive. Lush forests and scenic waterfalls surround the city and offer visitors a chance to observe the natural beauty of Thailand. Whether it’s taking a songthaew through the city markets or hiking through the beautiful countryside, Chiang Mai offers something for everyone.
Chiang Mai’s most famous temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, overlooks the city from a mountain perch. The founding of the temple is unknown, though legend holds that its original purpose was to enshrine a piece of bone from Gautama Buddha’s shoulder. According to legend, a monk carried the bone before it broke into two parts. The king of the area placed one piece on a white elephant. The elephant carried the bone into the forest until it climbed the mountain and died. The king immediately ordered the construction of a temple to enshrine the bone and honor the elephant. The monastery itself is a beautiful site containing breadfruit trees, religious shrines, monuments, and rock gardens. Within the temple is a meditation center that provides religious outreach and information for monastery visitors. It’s a common sight to see pilgrims leave lotus blossoms and offerings at the various shrines.
One of the best examples of Chiang Mai’s culture lies in its oldest public market, Talat Warorot. The market’s many vendors and stalls line the shores of the Ping River and many of the nearby streets. Market visitors can haggle for a variety of goods: woks, fishing nets, wigs, rice steamers, Thai sausages, catfish, pickled tea leaves, small statues, and much more. You’ll know you’ve reached the market when traffic pauses to allow merchants to weave between the cars and exhibit their goods for all to see. Tourists and locals alike walk along covered walkways, browsing, and haggling for goods. Even if you don’t wish to take part in the market itself, it’s easy to spend hours window shopping as you observe the spirit of the city.
At the center of many Thai legends and myths are elephants. Unfortunately, because of this, the beautiful creatures have experienced a long history of exploitative practices. The Elephant Nature Park Sanctuary rescues Thailand’s majestic creatures and provides an environment for them to thrive. Park visitors can take a tour of the park that allows them to get up close and personal with the elephants. On the tour, you can feed them, bathe them in a nearby river, and walk with them. The money that the sanctuary raises allows them to continue rescue efforts and ensure the magnificent creatures have a safe and happy home.
If you miss your chance to visit the Warorot market at its busiest or if you just want to have a full day of experiencing all that the Chiang Mai markets have to offer, you might visit the Sunday Walking Street Market. The Chiang Mai Sunday Market is the city’s most expansive and most popular market. It sits directly in the heart of the old city and spreads almost a mile out. From 4 p.m. to midnight every Sunday, visitors can find anything from food and paintings to clothing and jewelry. In general, this market is more of a craft market, and stalls have fixed prices. If you’re uncomfortable with haggling or just want authentic Thai crafts, this is the market for you.
One of the best parts of Chiang Mai is how easy it is to find a place to relax, particularly after a day at the energy-filled markets. Bhubing Palace is a royal residence that is open to the public when the royal family isn’t in residence. Though there is a fairly strict dress code, it’s worth it. The mountain gives the area a cool, relaxing climate that allows the royal gardeners to raise flowers that are normally quite exotic for Thailand. On the palace grounds is a large reservoir with a unique show to offer. The fountains dance and perform to the king’s own musical compositions, allowing visitors to relax, enjoy beautiful music, and take in the sights around them.
If you’re a fan of the beauty of nature, the Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm is a must-visit while you’re in Chiang Mai. Within the farm are enclosures containing thousands of orchids with hundreds of butterflies fluttering between each flower. The farm has a natural setting with a variety of orchid arrangements and a small waterfall, making it a prime spot for unique and gorgeous photos. If you’re a fan of the farm’s orchids, you can purchase them before you leave the nursery. Many tourists take the opportunity to stop in the nearby buffet for lunch before continuing with their daily plans.
Chiang Mai is a city that lies at the heart of Thai culture and history while embracing all of the advances of the modern world. There is no place in the city that represents this better than Think Park. The Think Park is a fusion between modern malls and the famous Chiang Mai markets. Its cobblestone pathways weave between many cafes, clothing stores, and a regular outdoor market. It offers the Cafe Vino, where people can try a large range of wines as they listen to live acoustic music. A nearby massage parlor allows visitors to relax and unwind. Evening markets open in the Think Park on Friday and Saturday nights that offer authentic Thai food, drinks, clothing, accessories, and handmade goods.
The tallest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, is home to a beautiful national park. The park is a favorite for locals and tourists alike, with many people visiting the peak of the mountain every New Year. One of the first things you’ll notice while in the national park are the dome-shaped stupas. These beautiful shrines provide gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Also within the park are the Wachirathan Waterfalls, Mae Ya Waterfall, Mae Klang Waterfall, and Mae Pan Waterfall. In the rainy season between May and November, the falls constantly flow and provide the best natural background audio for a visit to the park.
Once a year, the entire country of Thailand celebrates the Loi Krathong festival, though no city embraces it as much as Chiang Mai. A Krathong is a small, lotus-shaped basket with a candle in its center. Festival participants will place these in the water around Chiang Mai and allow them to float into the distance. The festival takes place on the evening of a full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar, this date usually falls somewhere in November. In Chiang Mai, the festival often stretches across three days and includes live music, dancing, beauty contests, and much more. The festival is exceptional and is a must-have on any bucket list.
Animal lovers who find themselves in Chiang Mai must take the time to visit the Savanna Night Safari, Predator Prowl Zone, and the Jaguar Trail Zone. The Jaguar Zone is similar to a traditional zoo and is the best during the day. However, at night, the Night Safari and Predator Prowl Zone provide truly unique experiences. The Safari mimics the grasslands of Africa and holds many zebras, rhinos, and giraffes. In the Predator Prowl Zone are the carnivorous creatures, such as lions, tigers, cheetahs, and bears. Night Safari staff allow visitors to purchase food to feed the giraffes, zebra, and deer by hand. Each evening also offers a variety of shows, including dancing, a predator show, and animal feeding.