A city you can wrap your arms around
Please note the images below and the travel commentary were recorded in December 2017.
Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand with a metropolitan population of over 1 million people. Chiang Mai is known for it’s 300 temples and relaxed vibe. Think of it like a manageable Bangkok, with even more temples to visit and admire. We added a visit to this city onto our winter holiday trip which included a few days in Luang Prabang in Laos.
When visiting Chiang Mai, a decision needs to be made on whether to stay within the old city walls or outside. We chose outside and were happy we did, because we soon found out that the old city gets rather quiet in the evenings. Another issue is the traffic coming in and out of the old city walls which can sometimes get very very backed up, with even tuk-tuks having a tough time getting through.
Given that this was the tail end of our trip, we wanted to spend more time relaxing rather than exploring and focused our energy on seeing temples, visiting spas, and eating enormous amounts of great Thai food. Our favourite temple happens to be one that was recently restored. The Wat Sri Suphan was originally built in 1500’s and was restored starting in 2008. When we visited in late 2017, it appeared that the restoration had recently been completed as the temple looked pristine and stunning.
Like all of Thailand, it’s the energy and buzz from the people that really makes the city exciting. Chiang Mai is no different with massive food markets and small goods markets in a number of locations. We had some great Thai food at the Sunday night market, where we found things very clean, and wonderfully chaotic. During the day, a trip to the Warorot Market always resulted in great fun!
Another fantastic experience and a must see in Chiang Mai is the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, up high above the city. To get up to this beautiful golden temple, you first have to climb up a picturesque staircase.
We had heard that Thailand has a big coffee culture and Chiang Mai didn’t let us down. It took a while to find this 3rd wave coffee shop in a back alley, but the hunt was well worth it. If you have the chance, you should check out Graph Cafe, but be sure to leave yourself plenty of time as they definitely put a lot of care into their drinks and they won’t be rushed. Coffee and sparkling water seem like a strange combination, but it actually has the perfect balance between the two tastes.
With new years celebrated during our time there, we had the pleasure of participating in a lantern festival at our hotel. While sending a burning lantern into the air still seems a bit risky to me, the sheer number in the sky made it evident that this is a local custom, and my rule is, “do as the locals do, and don’t judge”. We had a wonderful time and had a ton of fun sending off our lanterns into space.
Chiang Mai is such a cool city, with a great vibe and lots to see and do. From street art to centuries old temples, to perfectly made food, to the energetic street markets, Chiang Mai has it all.
We will definitely be back one day in the near future and will be looking forward to visiting the wonderful people of Chiang Mai hopefully soon!