Thailand’s Northern capital Chiang Mai has the best of both worlds; all the perks of a bustling, lively city with the laid-back charm of its neighbour Pai. Here are some of our favourite (and least favourite) things we discovered during our time there.
What to do in Chiang Mai
There’s so much to do in and around Chiang Mai, so make sure you plan enough time to fit it all in. The biggest bucket-list experience is a visit to one of the nearby elephant sanctuaries. There are lots of companies offering this, but make sure you do your research and choose one that’s cruelty free and doesn’t offer riding or anything else that’s painful and unpleasant for the elephants. We chose one called Paradise Park. They only had four elephants who had all been rescued from less humane elephant camps, and I was really happy to see the bond they had formed with the guides here.
Another excursion that’s really popular is jungle ziplining – you can literally soar through the trees dangling from a wire. Have you seen the episode where The Kardashians go to Thailand and Kim freaks out and refuses to get on the zipline? Yep, that was me. Unfortunately I was already half way round, which meant we had to trek back ages through the *actual* jungle with the guide. I was totally unprepared for how high and scary it was going to be. I felt awful spoiling it for Jordan but I was so terrified I’ve actually been having nightmares about it since!!
One of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is visit the Grand Canyon, a huge manmade lake (so no creepy crawlies) that you can go swimming in. The water is really deep (forty metres!) so it’s perfect for diving, or you can just float around in your rubber ring or life jacket. The only way of getting there is by moped or taxi, as it’s a little outside of the city. In my Pai blog I spoke about happily cruising round the peaceful roads there on a moped, but it’s a very different ball game in Chiang Mai. The roads are so busy and its every man for themselves – someone came off their moped right in front of us on the way there but luckily they were fine. The journey was dodgy AF but once we were there it felt totally worth it. Floating around in 30+ degree sunshine = pure bliss.
Chiang Mai Nightlife
Now it’s no Bangkok but there are plenty of places to party in Chiang Mai, with wild nightclubs, seedy bars and some low-key drinking streets too. There’s a square of bars and clubs around Rajvithi Road in the Old City which are always really busy with backpackers and Thai people. There are a few cool bars here – Babylon, 48 Garage and Roots Rock Reggae bar are nice and chilled.
The most well known bar/club is called Zoe in Yellow, it’s huge and pretty much takes over the whole square. It’s where most backpackers go, but just be cautious because I’ve since read horror stories about corruption and violence against tourists by the staff here. Obviously trouble can start anywhere when you’re travelling and I’m not saying don’t go, but maybe check their Trip Advisor reviews to get an idea of what this place is really like before you decide.
Where to eat in Chiang Mai
Northern Thai food is supposed to be the best, and it’s pretty hard to dispute this after spending time in Chiang Mai. We had the most incredible food here. Our favourite restaurant was Ugo in the Old City; we ended up eating here three times because the food was SO good. If you only do one thing in Chiang Mai, make it eating here… screw the elephants! Only joking… Jordan had the khao soi here which is a Chiang Mai staple, a coconut curry with heaps of crispy fried noodles on top. I loved the massaman curry with chicken and potatoes!
Another place we couldn’t stay away from was A Taste From Heaven, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant on Ratmakka Road. We initially went here as we were trying to get ourselves on a health kick, but you know it’s good as us two meat lovers kept going back for vegan stir fries and veggie breakfasts.
THE place for foodies to hit up though is the Ploen Ruedee Night Market, the food court to end all food courts. They cater to literally everything here, there’s no cuisine you won’t be able to find.
All in all I really liked Chiang Mai – it’s a bit like a smaller, more palatable Bangkok mixed with a slice of Pai!