If you like the outdoors and hipster vibes Chiang Mai is the place for you. We checked into our hotel, the Cozytel Chiang Mai, and let the adventures begin. Here’s our five day guide, hopefully the experiences we had inspire you.
Day 1: Cooking Class and Night Bazaar
When I started my research for Chiang Mai taking a Thai cooking class was often recommended, both online and from people I had chatted with. So we booked through our hotel to do an evening course at Baan Thai Cooking School. We began in a market where our guide, Foo, showed us the local fare. Then we hoped in the car and were dropped off at Baan Thai. We were picked up in a truck that had converted the bed into 2 benches with a roof over, we quickly learned these red trucks were the main mode of transportation in Chiang Mai.
When we arrived at the cooking school we were kindly asked to leave our shoes at the door which is customary in Thailand, you’ll actually be asked to do the same at most temples. The staff invited us into a dining room with cookbooks in place as we introduced ourselves to the four others cooking that night. We each chose four dishes we wanted to make so when we stepped into the kitchen our stations were ready.
Henri and I both started with our favorite Thai dish: Pad Thai. We couldn’t believe how simple it was to make this dish we easily pay $15 for in California. We chopped, sliced, boiled, and fried our way through the four course meal. We were stuffed by the end of it, but I must say I made some good Khao Soi and fried fish cakes. Henri perfected the art of a spring roll and made a green curry my non-spicy taste buds couldn’t handle.
With our very full bellies we asked to be dropped off at the Night Bazaar to walk off our food and experience what Chiang Mai had to offer at night. This ended up being our favorite market, we went a total of 3 times in the 5 nights we stayed. The market is full of knock off goods, tourist souvenirs, street food, but the overall atmosphere is lively and fun.
Day 2: Elephant Sanctuary and Good Eats
We booked with the Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary, the famous Elephant Nature Park was full when I tried to book it online two months prior, but this smaller sanctuary was great. However, I wish I would have known we would be taking another one of those converted trucks because it was far and being in the back of a truck for any longer than 10 minutes was rough. The entire group was feeling a little ill by the time we made it to our first stop, so we were all quick to jump out and start the day with bamboo rafting.
Bamboo rafting is exactly what it sounds like: we rafted down a creek on a boat made of bamboo. It was literally multiple rods of bamboo fastened together, just a simple little raft. Four of us sat on ours and the skipper used another piece of bamboo to row us along. It was peaceful to flow down the river, but it was also a bit cold. We all thought this would be after we had our elephant encounter and I think we all would have preferred it that way. Regardless it was The Jungle Cruise IRL, we even saw elephants, exotic birds, and flowers as we went down the stream.
After about an hour of rafting we drove another 30 minutes, then trekked another 30 minutes to meet up with our friends: four female elephants. We knew we had reached the sanctuary when we saw an elephant leisurely enjoying long stalks of grass. Upon arriving to the sanctuary we met more of the staff, including Ramon. Ramon was hilarious! He kept making this funny sound that he would blurt out of nowhere. He alsorandomly shouted “Welcome to Jungle!” and “Hakuna Matata” and “Oh my Budda!”http://passportsandpapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/img_7114.mov
After putting on the traditional elephant feeding shirts we got up close to these gentle giants to feed them bananas. A lot of bananas, in the peel, and with stems. The staff taught us multiple ways to feed them, we could give them the bananas by their trunks and they would put it in their mouths or we could say “boa” and they would open their mouths wide for us to put it in for them. It was like a trick you teach your dog.
The beauty of going to this sanctuary was simply being in the elephants presence. One of my favorite moments was after eating lunch we sat to rest on straw mats on the raised hut where we ate, there was a certain peacefulness in the air as the elephants grazed and we enjoyed the view of the jungle. After feeding the elephants and ourselves it was time to bathe the elephants in mud and then in the river. We got drenched in mud, it was the oddest experience of my life, but it was amazing to play in the water with them. They seemed to enjoy us throwing water at them and them back at us.
Our guide showed us a waterfall on our hike back to the sanctuary. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and took a long bumpy road back to the city.
After a long shower to get all that mud off we enjoyed dinner in the Nimman area at Tong Tem Toh. This hipster spot was set in an old teak house. The sticky rice hit the spot and the bremese style beef was really good, but a little too spicy (I know, I have no spice tolerance). The appetizer plate we got was really good, but to be honest I’m not really sure what we were eating which made it all the more fun.
We wrapped up the night with a visit to I-Berry, an ice cream shop. I got the mango cheesecake and pineapple, Henri had pineapple and coconut, it was delightful and what even more delightful was the small yellow chairs and funky garden to sit outside and enjoy the warm night and cold ice cream.
Day 3: Exploring the Old City
My ideal morning begins by sleeping in, having brunch, and walking to get a good cup of coffee. So this is how we began day 3 before touring the city. We went to Akha Ama Coffee, where we each got iced cafe lattes. We sat outside and began chatting to some natives who realized we were tourist and sparked up a conversation by asking us how we found this place, the women swore it was the best coffee in Thailand and she seemed surprised to see tourist. She was from Chiang Mai and lived in the Krabi region, where we were going next. We parted ways and decided we too thought it was the best coffee in Thailand.
We did a walking tour of the city by starting at the temple Wat Phra Singh which is on the same street as Akha Ama Coffee. It’s the top “must-see” in the Lonely Planet Guides app and for good reason. The structures are adorned in gold and gems and the grounds are lush. What’s really impressive in Chiang Mai temples is the use of teak wood, the contrasting colors make it really striking. Temples in Chiang Mai are also cheaper than Bangkok, this on only costing 20 baht, less than one US dollar.
We then made our way over to Wat Chedi Luang in the hot Chiang Mai sun. Wat Chedi Luang is a large complex with teak shrines and a large ruin made of bricks. We spent about 30 minutes there then took a red truck to Si Phum, it was too hot to walk halfway across town. Si Phum is free and it was on our way to get Khao Soi at Khao Soi Lam Duan.
We walked our way back towards town to walk through the Talat Warorot market, Chiang Mai’s oldest public market. We people watched as locals purchased fresh fish, vegetables, and sautés off of street carts.
Tired, we retreated back to our hotel and visit the massage parlor next to our hotel. The catch was it was as the sign stated “Massages by Ex-Prisoners.” Apparently low offenders are taught the art of Thai massage so that they can be rehabilitated into society and have jobs. They’re even hired at hotels and spas in Thailand. It was a cheap $6.67, 1-hour Thai massage and it seemed to go to a good cause. The massage was a little rough for our liking so we did not get daily massages as I had planned.
We ended up back at the Night Bazaar, I’m telling you we really liked this area! We had a strong craving for American food and there just so happen to be a McDonald’s. And let me tell you, McDonald’s has never tasted so good.
Day 4: Hiking through the Jungle
Don’t miss a day to Doi Inthanon National Park, it’s spectacular. We visited the highest point in Thailand which is also the start of the Himalayan mountains, saw the King and Queen’s Pagoda which looks like a Thai fairytale land, hiked through the jungle to see amazing waterfalls, and ended by seeing the lifestyle of one of the hill tribes.
This tour was also in a van, instead of a converted truck, we made sure of that before booking since this was a long trip up into the mountains. I would advise the same for anyone looking into this trip.
The jungle was breathtaking, the foliage was vibrant green and the waterfalls we saw this day were truly breathtaking. We saw Wachirathan waterfalls first, which is easily accessed by car. It’s grand and the pounding sound of water is relaxing, but the real winner is Pha Dok Siew which you can only access by foot. Our 2 hours hike through the jungle took us along the path to find Pha Dok Siew, we climbed down shaky bamboo stairs to get there and tripped in some mud on the way out, the whole hike was enchanting.
As we came to the end of our hike we walked through a village in the hills that was home to about 300 people according to the guide. It had one school and farm animals roaming freely. There was also women, including a twelve-year-old girl weaving goods to sell to tourist like us.
That night we ate a great pizza spot called By Hand Artisan Pizza Lounge. There’s one big brick oven outside with fresh ingredients next to it as one cook makes pizzas on wood boards. Get the pineapple and ham.
Day 5: Walking on Water
We went chasing more waterfalls, again. On our last full day in Chiang Mai we hired a car and went to Bau Thong Waterfalls, known as the “Sticky Rice” waterfalls. This was one of our favorite places and we’re really glad this was the last thing we did in Chiang Mai. We hired a private car and drove up, with a picnic in hand. It’s free to enter this park and it’s so much fun. We got there early and recommend doing so, as it was getting really crowded around noon. The beauty of these waterfalls is you can literally climb up them, I did some research and it has to do with the type of rock. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen and it’s a great way to beat the heat.
We toured the Saturday Night Market and had some great street food, Pad Thai and delicious wontons. We did one last visit to the night bazaar to pick up some last minute goodies. We said goodnight to Chiang Mai and headed to the beaches early the next morning.