IN the northernmost part of Thailand is Chiang Mai, a city that caught my heart and became my instant favorite the first time I saw it from an airplane window.
Chiang Mai is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. It is small and laid-back but packed with everything—from mountains to verdant valleys to shopping malls, temples and rivers, food and nightlife, handicrafts and antiques—ask for it and you’ll find it here.
Things to do
There is so much to do in Chiang Mai you’ll never get bored but here are the tops in my list:
Old Chiang Mai City and temple tours. The old city attracts visitors with its remnants of the past—vestiges of moats and walls, moats and numerous beautiful temples. Check out four of the most popular temples— Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chiang Mun and Wat Suan Dok.
Elephant camp. Chiang Mai gives you a chance to interact with elephants for half days, one or even two days where you get to feed elephants, ride or hug them or go trekking. I only did the half day and got to see the elephants bathing in the river, and in a spectacular show of skills.
Tha Pae Gate. This is one of the most favorite spots of the city populated by hundreds of tame pigeons. Tha Pae Gate dates back to 1296 but was rebuilt in 1986 and is now a crumbling city wall that separates the new from the old city of Chiang Mai. It once acted as a fortress for the ‘Old City’. Around the gate area are numerous hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes, massage parlors and shops. I tried to shoot a few video clips of the birds with my phone but the birds just got curious and kept landing on top of my phone. This area is a favorite destination for photographers for pre-wedding shoot sessions. A couple in wedding clothes posing with the birds is so natural everyday.
Khantoke Dinner—a special dining experience complete with a cultural show. Guests get to sit on mats and served a huge variety of food you can never even know where to start. The Khantoke Dinner show is offered by a lot of tour agencies which includes picking you up from your hotel and dropping you off back to your hotel afterward. I I got busy taking photos of the show I barely touched my food, which was a mistake because that was a 750 Baht dinner.
Handicrafts Market. A few minutes away from the city is a shopper’s haven for locally made arts and handcrafted items. Shop for pottery, jewelry, wood carving, sculpture, silk products, colorfully designed umbrellas, and more. You also get to see how the handicrafts are made in the workrooms.
Night Safari. This is a unique experience where you get to see animals in their natural habitat from the safety of a tram. It feels kind of weird and scary but exciting to see the animals at night. The safari is also available during the daytime but the night tours are more thrilling because the animals are all awake and alert. However, if you are looking forward to shoot photos, take the day trip because the light is so low at night you won’t be able to get anything at all.
Street food. The street food in Chiang Mai is a must-never-ever-miss experience. I joined three other people in a street food tour and we were transported from one food stall to another in different locations sampling a wide variety of Thailand’s local cuisine. Our guide told us not to eat so much on the first or second stop because there was more to come. He was right. By the time we got to the Thai delicacies section we were all so stuffed. You can walk off all the food in the streets to enjoy the nightlife.
Last but not the least, pamper yourself and indulge in a buffet of body massages. They are so cheap and available almost everywhere that I had it every night until my body screamed for me to stop. After paying $25 an hour for Swedish massages for 8 years on Saipan, 500 Baht per hour of massage was just too unbelievable.
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