Chiang Mai is in the north of Thailand, and was just listed as one of the friendliest cities in the world. I found this to be absolutely true, the hospitality was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, especially at the glorious 137 Pillars where I stayed and took a cooking class.
It is a bustling city that also offers pockets of quiet and serenity if you seek it out.
So many people mentioned how enchanting Chiang Mai was before I visited, and I have to say I think it is worth a special journey–it is a place where you can experience the best of Thailand, from elephant sanctuaries, to custom tailored clothing, to temples in the hills and world class service. Below are my favorites from my time there.
And of course if you have any favorites, please share them in the comments!
|What to Do in Chiang Mai|
Best time of Year
There is a lot of discussion about the “high” season and “low” season in Thailand, and many prefer the season when it is less rainy, between October and April. Weather during this period is mostly cool and pleasant with light breeze, but the vegetation isn’t as lush and green. I went during the low season when it was more humid, hot, lush and green and had far fewer tourists. I preferred this because there were better deals to be had and because I didn’t have to navigate mobs of tourists.
Recommended Number of Days
4 days, 3 nights is plenty of time to tuk-tuk and walk in the old city at a leisurely pace while also fitting in a day or two of private touring and an elephant sanctuary experience.
Recommended Number of People
2 people is my opinion, it’s a romantic spot for couples adventuring or with a close friend.
Eat, Drink, Stay, See, Acquire
- 137 Pillars House is a special treat to stay in, and an incredible sanctuary from the bustle of the city. It has a storied history which I’ve written about separately, and everything from the food to the pool to the massages and the 5-room suites and private butler will knock your socks off.
Eat + Drink
- Woo Cafe is a fabulous cafe with giant iced coffees, beautiful cakes and flowers, and a whole section of home goods in its lifestyle shop. It also is an art gallery! It is a sight to behold and worth a visit.
- Jack Bain’s Bar inside 137 Pillars House may be my favorite bar that I’ve ever visited. Some nights you’ll be serenaded by a live piano player as you sip your incredible old fashioned. The hotel also has a restaurant that serves up world class food all times of day, including a high tea! Or you can eat in the bar area.
- Night markets have wonderful street food, just remember to make sure it has been boiled or fried and not to get too experimental if you want to keep your stomach in tact!
- Cotton Chic will make you the most beautiful women’s dress of your choosing from a variety of custom fabrics woven on site. The you can try on the various dress styles to ensure it works for you. They have a turn around time of less than 24 hours and will deliver right to your hotel. You won’t believe the price!
- Custom men’s clothing can be fitted and purchased from the tailor in Chinatown. You can pick out your fabrics and the turnaround time is amazing. Of course I don’t know his name but if you ask 137 Pillars they will tell you, he is well known and will deliver to your hotel when he is done.
- Chiang Mai is also known for silk, silver, cotton, gemstones and lacquer. There are beautiful museums and factories that you can visit and purchase some of these items. I recommend asking Kenny the tour guide to take you, a link to his information is below!
See + Do
- Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary is a small newer elephant sanctuary where it is easy to book a half day to learn about, feed and bathe the elephants. You’ll even get to make their special medicine with a mortar and pestle. It is less widely known than Elephant Nature Park listed below, which is why I chose it. I had heard it is important to support the smaller sanctuaries so that they can continue to raise money to buy elephants from abusive environments.
- Elephant Nature Park is the most widely known elephant sanctuary where you can spend the whole day with the elephants. I opted for the smaller sanctuary above in order to support it, as this one is where a majority of the tourists visit.
- Cooking Class at 137 Pillars was a wonderful private cooking class experience with the hotel chef. She took us by private car to the local market where we tried a huge variety of flavors and foods that were completely new to us. We brought a lot of ingredients back to the hotel and learned to make four different authentic Thai dishes, which we then got to eat! We were so full that they were even kind enough to store our dishes in the kitchen so we could eat them later as well.
- Patawan Cooking School is a place to take group cooking classes and also includes a market visit and meal.
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Temple) is a beautiful temple on a hill, and the drive there is perhaps even more fun with its winding roads and spectacular vistas. You’ll be amazed at the bikers and runners willing to try to make their way up this intrepid road. You can hire a private tour guide for the day who will take you to a number of sites. I used “Kenny” who was wonderful and recommended by several friends. We communicated through Facebook if you want to look him up and tell him I sent you! Go here: Panupong Jaimoon.
- Visit Wat Suan Dok (Pagoda)
- Walk the night market and take in all of the scents and smells and wares. There are several markets on the weekends that vary in location.