10 Things to Do in Chiang Mai
Known as the “Rose of the North”, Chiang Mai is a wonderful small city with a history more than 700 years old. Visitors to Chiang Mai are sure to find themselves busy exploring old temples, bustling markets, enjoying traditional food and having some adventure fun.
Big thank you to Chan Brothers and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), I am honoured to be part of The Young Explorers project to Chiang Mai. The ‘Young Explorer Project’ is a joint collaboration by Chan Brothers Travel and the Tourism Authority of Thailand; it’s all about travelling in Thailand from a foreigner’s opinion.
This joint project aims to introduce Chiang Mai’s attractions and culture in a fun and engaging way through the eyes of 6 bloggers; to introduce free and easy travel in Thailand; to emphasize it isn’t THAT difficult to plan a free and easy trip to Thailand. (Perhaps if it’s still a hassle for you, you may wish to opt for Chan Brothers’ free and easy holiday packages to Thailand).
Shiberty and I, together with 4 other bloggers were sponsored air tickets and hotel accommodation to different parts of Thailand. I have never travelled to Chiang Mai prior to this trip. Bangkok yes, Phuket yes, but I have never read about Chiang Mai. I am so glad that I agreed to take up this challenge because there are just too many fun things to do in Chiang Mai! I am really glad to have met my friend/tour guide TOTO. He is a Taiwanese who has been living in Chiang Mai for more than a decade. He brought us to the places less discovered by tourists. So here I present to you, my TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG MAI!
While planning for this trip, one of the activities I really wanted to do is to learn Thai Cooking. By now, you should know my love for Thai food and I thought it will be great to learn cooking from a real Thai.
Chiang Mai is bursting at the seams with cooking schools these days. There are many operations conveniently run out of guesthouses and hotels in town, as well as outright cooking schools. Most are on an equal par with each other and will deliver a great half- or full- day of fun and food. I googled and picked Baan Thai Cooking School because their timing suits us best!
Baan Thai teaches how to cook real Thai food in a traditional Thai setting. I emailed them to make reservation and they reply very promptly! We picked the evening course (5pm – 8.30pm, 700baht / person) and the staff will pick us up from our hotel about 4pm. Then, we choose the different types of dishes we want to cook. Each person has to prepare a stir-fried, soup, appetizer and curry.
After choosing the dishes, we take a walk to Sompet Market (Moonmuang Road) which is just a few streets away. They have excellent quality fresh produce, fruits, very colorful flower stalls. Here, the instructor will explain to us some ingredients used for Thai cooking.
Look! They have pink eggs! It is just like our century eggs!
After the market tour, we are back to the school to start cooking!
Here are the dishes I prepared that night. I cooked stir fried prawns with curry powder, tom yam soup, green curry and papaya salad! ALL OF THEM TASTED VERY GOOD! Because I cooked them with heart and soul ok! I even have to pound the green curry powder and squeeze fresh coconut milk! Anyway, if you like to learn the make the simplest dish, I shared the recipe for Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) here.
WE HAD FUN! And we made new friends! It’s something completely different from the usual touring activities, and it’s nice to give yourself a break from aggressive touring. Be sure not to plan any makan following the cooking class because you’re sure to walk out feeling stuffed from eating all of your delicious food in class!
Oh, what I like about Baan Thai is, they take pictures of us in action and post them on their website free of charge, So we get to download and share with our friends!
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is Chiang Mai’s most famous shrine. The temple is often referred to as “Doi Suthep” because this is actually the name of the mountain it is located on.
Legend has it that, back in the 14th century, one of Buddha’s bones was brought to the area by a monk. Just before it was to be enshrined at nearby Wat Suan Dok, the bone split in two. King Nu Naone placed one piece on the back of a sacred white elephant, which was then allowed to roam. The elephant climbed Doi Suthep, trumpeted, and died on the spot. The King took this to be a sign from the heavens, and ordered the construction of the original chedi on Doi Suthep.
From the car park, we need to climb 309 steps to reach the pagodas (or you can pay 50 baht for a two-way tram). Once inside the temple grounds; visitors must take off their shoes and be appropriately dressed.
Here, we see about 50 mural paintings to illustrate the lives of Buddha before he reached the state of Nirvana. Although he lived many lives, it is the ten immediately preceding his birth that are most important to Thai Buddhists.
We also walked around the golden shrine 3 times, praying for our wishes to come through.
In Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, there is this famous golden elephant which is said to do fortune telling. Basically, you think of a wish in your head and raise the elephant up with your last finger. Then you think of the same wish again and raise the elephant for the second time. If you can raise the elephant for the second time, it means that your wish will come true. If you cannot raise the elephant for the second time, it means that your wish will not be granted. Amazing, isn’t it?
No trip to Chiang Mai should be without trying khao soi or khao soy. This delicious noodle soup is so iconic of the northern Thailand city that it is often simply called “Chiang Mai noodles.”
It is basically a coconut milk curry base soup with hearty egg noodles. You can choose chicken or beef. It is topped with crispy deep-fried noodles and always served with condiments such as lime wedges, pickled mustard, sliced shallots, chili paste etc.
Khao Soi Samer Jai (391 Charoenraj Road, Tambon Fahham) is one of the most famous Khao Soi in Chiang Mai. It broth is thick and flavourful, rich with spices and low on coconut milk. Closest I can think of is Curry Lor Mee! Each bowl is about 40 baht.
Tip: Don’t forget to also try the yummy grilled satay skewers with peanut sauce.
If you prefer a touristy and aircon environment, can try Just Khao Soi (108/2 Charoenphratet Road). It follows a standard recipe of a medium spiced turmeric based soup, thickened by additional coconut milk, flat noodles, with commercially farmed chicken as the main ingredient.
One interesting ingredient served is slices of BANANA which is said to soothe the tongue from spicness. Food is served on an artist’s palette, just like a piece of art. It costs 150baht. How does this taste? Most like laksa to me, the soup is more watery. If you ask me, I prefer Khao Soi Samer Jai.
Tip: You can also try their appetizer The Artist’s Paintbox which is a combination of four favourites: vegetarian spring rolls, sundried beef strips, crispy fried fish, spicy northern thai sausage.
Maesa Elephant Camp is a privately owned elephant camp less than one hour from Chiang Mai. We started our morning up on a 30 minutes elephant ride. It is my first time up on an elephant and I was all trembling and screeching on the top of my voice. But after a while, it is not as scary anymore.
The camp has about 70 plus elephants and 80 mahouts. Although technically owned by the camp, most of the elephants go home with the mahout to their villages each night.
Food is supplied twice a day for the elephants at the camp. There is a full-time vet who constantly checks on the elephants. The mahouts are also very aware that the elephants must not be abused and they check on each other to make sure the elephants are all treated well. Everything here is very clean and well managed.
Big thanks to Toto who offered to drive us around. He is a Taiwanese but has been living in Chiang Mai for many years. He runs a tourism company (click here) but offers to bring us around without any charges. He has brought us to so many fabulous places less known to tourists.
After the elephant ride at Maesa Elephant Camp, we drive up to the peak of the mountain and arrived at Mon Cham (also spelt Mon Jam) for lunch. This is definitely the most enjoyable lunch we had in Chiang Mai – beautiful scenery and delicious home cooked food!
Lunch was at the charming open air bamboo restaurant while enjoying to cool air and and drinking in glorious views. Not a bad way to spend a lazy day there. There was an old lady selling strawberries just outside the restaurant and we bought one to share while enjoying the breeze.
They cook very traditional Thai food such as tom yam, kang kong, omelette etc. But each dish is well executed and you feel like you are having home cooked meals (with scenery). And it is so cooling up here!
Tip: Walk around Mon Cham and you will be able to spot some lovely flowers and take photos! The most fantastic lunch I have in Chiang Mai! Thank you Toto for bringing us here!
Wat Chedi Luang is made up of three temples — Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin.
They have such lovely trees there that I can’t stop taking pictures of them!
The construction of the temple started in the 14th century, when King Saen Muang Ma planned to bury the ashes of his father there. After 10 years of building time it was left unfinished, it took until mid-15th century to be finished during the reign of King Tilokaraj.
It was then 82 m high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of all Lanna. In 1545, the upper 30 m of the structure collapsed after an earthquake, and some parts of the temple were chipped off.
Chiang Mai’s X-Centre is the one stop of all adrenaline junkies as it provides a wide range of activities such as paintball, bungy jumping, Xorb balls, indoor drift karts, ATV etc. Well I may look like someone very sporty and adventurous but in actual fact, I VERY TIMID ONE! I didn’t dare to do any of the heart pumping activities and poor shiberty has to join me for the least adventurous one — Indoor Drift Kart.
LOOKS PRO RIGHT? But actually I drive very slowly! And keep stepping on the brake until the staffs there buay tahan, have to stop me and ask me to just step the drive pedal and go! Then I got worried and keep thinking if the car will explode if I keep stepping drive-brake-drive-brake. #fail
I may not dare to do bungy jump but I good at gun shooting ok! DON’T PLAY PLAY! I always have a secret desire to handle or shoot a gun or rifle once in my life but because of the safety and legal aspect of firearm, it stops me from satisfying this hankering. I am so glad I had my dream fulfilled in Chiang Mai, when I visited The Shooting Club, which was one of shooting range licensed for budding shooters and marksmen to use live ammunition.
They have a wide range of guns to choose from – at least 15 different types and plenty to go around. Every shooter at The Shooting Club is provided with an individual instructor from the military base, free of charge. Safety equipment and professional instruction are provided. 30 bullets cost 1.700 baht.
It was MY FIRST TIME holding & shooting a real gun and I chose a Glock 19. The instructor carefully demonstrated the proper stance and grip, within 15 minutes, I am all ready. I took a deep breath, set my sights on the bull’s eyes, take another deep breath again and squeezed the trigger. I was pretty taken aback by the recoil but after a few shots, I was starting to enjoy it and surprisingly, my shots are pretty accurate for a first-timer (got potential ok)! SHIOK! Now I feel like learning gun shooting in Singapore!
One of the great things to rise out of efforts to preserve and showcase Northern Thai (Lanna) pride is the khantoke dinner. The traditional “khantoke” serving tray has many small dishes of various foods would be brought out to be sampled by diners seated on the floor at dinner time.
At Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre we can eat from the khantoke while watching an enchanting show. You can choose a traditional floor seating or being seated in western style in chairs at a table.
During the meal you’ll get a chance to sample several typical Northern Thai dishes. My favourite is pork curry. There are usually two chili dips served with the meal – one green, and one red. The green dip is made mainly of roasted green chilies and garlic, and is normally quite spicy. The second chili dip is made of ground pork, tomatoes, and red chilies and is sweet. Both of these dips are traditionally eaten using the hands to dip steamed vegetables, fried pork skins, or sticky rice in them. Our khantoke dinner also includes fried chicken. And we ate sticky rice, not the normal fluffy white rice. Last course is sliced tropical fruits.
As you dine, you will be treated to a show with many different classical dance routines. The dances will highlight things specific to the local Thais and hill tribes from the North.
Chiang Mai is not all about temples and adventure. If you want to do some shopping, be sure to visit the Walking Street Night Market which is only opened on weekends.
And surprise to find people selling vegetables too! Like a night time supermarket! There is an abundance of food, handicrafts, fashion items, games etc in the night market. You will spend your whole night there. They close about 11pm.
It has been an amazing 4 days in Chiang Mai. Before this trip, I knew nothing about this place and was so worried that it would be a boring holiday. But as I travelled to different parts of Chiang Mai, I discovered so much beauty in it. And of course, there are so much more yet to be discovered and this gives me a reason to revisit Chiang Mai soon.
Hope you enjoyed my Chiang Mai blog post (you can view the photos on our instagram under the hashtag #youngexplorerchiangmai). We have also done a video to show snippets of our trip. Be sure to vote for us HERE and you could walk away with $100 Chan Brothers Travel Vouchers! Voting ends on 2 June 2013.
Thank you Chan Brothers & TAT for this opportunity. For more information about The Young Explorer Project, please visit http://www.chanbrothers.com/.