Of all of the places we visited during our two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia, my absolute favorite was Chiang Mai.
We rented an incredible modern glass house through Airbnb and a delightful Brit named Charles. Every single thing about our Airbnb experience and interactions with Charles was five star. If you are ever in Chiang Mai you MUST rent a property from Charles; you won’t be sorry I promise!
Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand and has an artsy vibe to it. It is a city of over a million people but feels quaint and special like a jewel. It is an old city; the historical and the new modern exist happily together with color and texture and flavor abounding. Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (Wat’s) including the gorgeous Wat Phra Singh which was right around the corner from our house.
We stayed within the old city walls and each day, every street and alleyway held something new. Colorful shops, delicious food stalls and funky hole-in-the-wall restaurants held the best mango smoothies and Kao Soi Gai (our food obsession on the trip).
My favorite activity and the main reason we came to Chiang Mai over the weekend was shopping in the Sunday Night Market. As the name suggests, this market is only open and hopping on Sundays. This is one of the best known events in Chiang Mai and it did not disappoint. The streets began to fill with vendors and people around 4:00 PM; things really started to heat up around 6:00 with food stalls doing brisk business. This market is especially unique as most (if not all) of the items being sold at the hundreds of stalls are artisan and handmade items. Art is everywhere; unusual and unique clothing, bags, paintings, books, leather goods, carvings, jewelry: it is ALL amazing. Most of what you find at this market won’t be found anywhere else and it is eyeball candy everywhere you look. And SO many people! Add in the amazing and plentiful food stalls and it felt like Christmas morning. This market was packed and absolutely incredible.
We spent part of a day with the Elephant Nature Park sanctuary, located about an hour outside of Chiang Mai. I spent many hours before our trip researching the best programs to interact with elephants while in Thailand. I was especially pleased with the mission of ENP. According to their website, “Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Northern Thailand where you can volunteer and visit to help. We have been involved in dozens of rescues which have created our thriving elephant herd. The park provides a natural environment for elephants, dogs, cats, buffaloes and many other animals under our care”. There is no riding of elephants at ENP; as we learned, there really is no scenario where humans should be riding elephants and certainly not in a sanctuary setting.
We walked through the vast property of ENP with a guide who explained all we needed to know about these beautiful elephants. ENP is first and foremost a sanctuary; we had many opportunities to feed and touch the elephants and learn about their lives before coming to ENP. I highly recommend Elephant Nature Park for a humane and educational elephant experience.
We also spent some time at Wat Chedi Luang, a Buddhist temple that was begun in the 14th century and is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai.
In addition to all of the mango smoothies, massages (SO many massages), shopping, people watching and food exploration we also ventured to the top of a tall mountain to visit Wat Phra Doi Suthep. We hired a driver to spend the morning with us; it takes about 20 minutes to go from the old city to the top of the mountain.
Up at the top of Doi Suthep the air is cooler (OH so wonderful…) and misty. It feels like you are in an enchanted area so high above the city of Chiang Mai. The views out over the city are incredible but the temple itself is vast and beautiful. The glow of the gold temple spires against the overcast sky was spectacular. We spent quite a bit of time just walking around taking pictures and enjoying the cool air. There are 309 steps from the bottom car park up to the top of the temple. We elected to take the lift from the bottom to the top (avoiding the steps) and walked the 309 steps back down. SO many steps, such sore calf muscles!
I was sad when it came time to leave Chiang Mai. After almost five days I still felt like I had another week of exploring and shopping (and eating) to do. The city grabbed a hold of my heart; I think about going back every single day.
Thank you Chiang Mai for exceeding all of our greatest expectations! If you ever have the chance to visit northern Thailand and specifically Chiang Mai DO IT!