Our highlights of Chiang Mai – Thailand
Chiang Mai in North Thailand is one of the places to be.
It attracts a travel savvy crowd, young expats, bloggers, but retaining its Thai authenticity. We certainly love Chiang Mai a great deal and came here several times during our travels in Thailand.
We visited recently as part of a press trip with Amazing Thailand Tourism Board following the first TBEX Asia in October 2015 in Bangkok and put together our highlights of Chiang Mai.
#1 Learn to cook Thai food
We took a cooking class with The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School who we highly recommend. Our teacher was the very beautiful and patient Garnet who took us to a local market first to get acquainted with the local flavours.
#2 Visit the Wat Phra Doi Suthep
You’ve not been to Chiang Mai until you’ve visited the famous temple perched on the Doi Suthep mountain. It’s a good 40 minutes drive from town and has the most incredible views of the city with 309 steps to reach it (or a tram).
The temple dates back to 1383 and is highly revered by Buddhists. Therefore, you need dress appropriately, like cover knees and avoid singlets.
#3 Meeting the monks
Thailand is a Buddhist country and monks play a prominent part of everyday society. One of the most beautiful things to witness is the morning almsgiving ceremony, which we also encountered from the monks in Mandalay, where the monks go from house to house receiving food from pilgrims.
Almsgiving is not begging or charity, but more about the respect given to a Buddhist monk (or nun) by everyday folk.
We were fortunate to see it done by boat at the Rati Lanna Riverside Resort, early in the morning:
#4 Insect snacks in Chiang Mai
One of the more memorable foods we tried in Chiang Mai were the fried insect snacks at a local market.
We tried fried grasshoppers, which were oily with a nice crispy flavour.
We also tried fried silkworm (rod duan), which we really didn’t like. You bite into them and suddenly a squirt of liquid surprises the back of your mouth…EURGH!
#5 Chatting with an elephant: just don’t ride them!
Chatting and feeding an elephant was a lot of fun in Chiang Mai.
These two greedy boys also met their match with Lady Di: elephants don’t stop munching and consume up to 300kg a day. And guess what? Despite their immense size, they are vegetarian.
Unfortunately, elephant treks are also popular with tourists, which supports a very brutal practice of elephant crushing.
Elephants are not made to carry humans, so they are tamed through extreme torture from a young age, a practice called “elephant crushing”. This ritual involves them being caged, starved, beaten, stabbed, cut and kept awake for days until they become submissive under the torture.
The torture does not stop until they are judged to be “broken” or completely submissive, or if they are too strong to be “broken”, then they just die under the torture!
The Elephant Nature Park was set up in the 1990s as a rescue centre and sanctuary for elephants where you can visit or volunteer knowing you are helping them instead of promoting any cruelty towards them.
We urge all visitors to reconsider doing any elephant trekking in Chiang Mai and ensure their elephant encounters are with ethical organisations like Elephant Nature Park.
#6 Visit the Botanical Gardens
Another way to experience the surrounding nature close up is to visit the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, set up in 1992 to strengthen botanical research and protect valuable plant resources.
The natural surroundings in this immense space of land are also quite spectacular, with a variety of waterfalls, jungle land and forests to immerse yourself and get lost in.
Theres also an abundance of beautiful plants and greenhouses to protect them. Our favourite were the orchids, so colourful and dramatic, rather like one of the Nomadic Boys…
#7 Try the sai ua spicy sausage!
Sai ua is one of the culinary highlights of Chiang Mai: the spicy sausage. It is a grilled pork sausage popular in North Thailand. Sai means intestine and ua means to stuff.
We tried and loved the sai ua during our many visits to the city and highly recommend you to try it too!
#8 Mountain Biking around Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is very popular for mountain biking with some great tracks for all levels whether beginner (Stefan) or advanced (Sebastien).
We did a tour with XBiking on a bike trail from Doi Pui to Huay Thung Thao Lake, just outside Chiang Mai.
Sebastien took to it like a pro…he’d done it before in his childhood days in France. But Stefan struggled a bit and found it hard to just ‘let go’ and race downhill.
If like Seb you do get into it, you will have an adrenaline packed day, enjoying some stunning views of the surrounding mountains of Chiang Mai.