I had always wanted to visit Chiang Mai to get a flavour of Northern Thailand. It is known for its breathtaking landscapes, hundred of temples and cafe culture. With our short two week Thailand itinerary, we really only had 2.5 days in this lovely city which was enough to see the highlights but not enough to appreciate all that it has to offer.
Chiang Mai’s Temples
We started with a sunset trip up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple, one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples. We arrived at 5:30am in the dark and climbed the 306-step staircase, adorned with seven headed serpent statues on the rails. When we arrived, there were only a handful of other people, mostly monks chanting and performing their morning prayers. We thought we were going up early to get there in time for sunrise, but really watching and listening to them was the magical experience. Eventually, the sun rose and the early morning light reflected off the golden temple dome. We had not imagined this would be the highlight of our visit to Chiang Mai but it’s truly a special place.
We also visited a number of the temples dotted through the old city. There are so many that it is difficult to navigate. So I picked the two I was most interested in, starting with Wat Chang Man, which is the oldest temple. This temple has an original chedi carved with 15 elephants and a golden top.
The other temple on my list was Wat Sri Suphan, the silver temple. Since it was located much further south, just outside of the old city walls, it was a perfect opportunity for us to wander around and do “drive bys” of several of the other temples. Along the way, we also stopped for some lunch at one of the many cafes and squeezed in a little shopping at some of the boutiques.
Chiang Mai’s nightlife
Nightlife in Chiang Mai is as diverse as the city. Our hotel was right next to the Night Bazaar, which is not only a night market but is walking distance to plenty of bars and restaurants. We wandered the market and bar scene and visited Kalare Food & Shopping Center for a Muay Thai boxing match one evening.
We also visited a couple of rooftop terraces, including sunset drinks at the Furama Hotel and late night drinks at THC rooftop.
Small massage shops lined with comfortable chairs with footstools are everywhere in Thailand. Many are open at all hours with people getting massages even at midnight. For 100-300 baht, you can get an hour long massage.
From the outside, you see people kneeling beside their feet getting foot massages. Further inside, there are mats where you can lie down for a full body massage. It certainly requires some level of research as not all are high quality, and many can come with special endings. We had stayed away but when we found out we had a major delay leaving Chiang Mai, I researched massage shops near the airport and found a reputable shop. We entered, went upstairs, changed into some special clothing and then laid down on some mats. Soon enough, pressure was applied to various parts of our body followed by several stretches.
An Elephant in the Room
Chiang Mai is also famous for elephants and has several elephant sanctuaries! We chose to visit Tawan Riverside near Me Wang National Park.
After getting picked up in the morning, we met three elephants, including a baby and would spend the day with them. We started with a morning feeding of corn and bananas. Elephants eat 150-200 kilos per day so it was no surprise they were happy to get some bananas from us! We then took them on a walk through the jungle which was fun to observe them. Next, it was time to bathe them. We went into the river to brush them with mud and pour water on them, but they squirted so much water on us so we were completely soaked.
After leaving the elephants, we took a bamboo raft down the Mae Wang River and finished our day with lunch at a nearby waterfall.
Because we were staying at the property, once back in our room, we were able to wander around and visit with the elephants some more. It was super fun and adrenaline filled, making it so we were exhausted and past out by 9pm.
We spent the night and were woken up by the best alarm clock there is, the elephants came over to have breakfast with us! Really this meant that we were handed a sack of bananas and a couple elephants were guided to our room. We opened the balcony door and sure enough, they stuck their trunk in sniffing around for food. They were happy to eat the bananas, as it was their first meal of the day!