I’m sitting at Chiang Mai airport, waiting to board my flight to Surat Thani, and I’m really really sad to leave this place. Over the last month, I’ve spent most of my time in Chiang Mai, so though difficult, I’m going to try and condense some the things the city has to offer into this one tiny post, reliving the memories in my head as I do.
My original plan was to spend 2 weeks in Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pai, Golden Triangle, the lot), but I ended up spending 2 weeks totally in Chiang Mai itself. Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand, and a digital nomad hub. It’s easy to see why. It’s cheaper than Bangkok, and while it offers everything a major city like Bangkok does, it has a rustic, and more Thai feel to it. The city of Chiang Mai is huge, but the original city, dating back to the 13th century, is still demarcated and known as the city centre / old city. It used to be a big square city surrounded by walls to keep Burmese invaders out. Some pieces of the walls of the old city still stand, as do some gates / entry points.
Chiang Mai is what you want it to be. If you need peace and quiet, it’s easy to find here. If you need to let loose and party, there’s a bunch of bars and clubs that are full of both locals and tourists, every night of the week. I spent my days alternating between the two, and in terms of bars, Zoe in Yellow is my favourite – just like every other person who’s ever been to Chiang Mai. There’s a really nice live jazz bar near the north gate called the North Gate Jazz Co-op that my uber driver recommended the night I got here. Strangely, they played live rock the only time I visited, but I’ve heard some jazz playing the few times I’ve passed by the place, and that sounded nice. Besides that I really liked Garage 48, Reggae Bar and Spicy (nightclub). In my last few days I discovered Nimmanhaemin Road, which is Chiang Mai’s hip street, north west of the old city. It’s full of bars and restaurants, and it’s really really lively. I spent my last 2 nights there – loved it.
In terms of food and restaurants, there’s just so many places I liked, I couldn’t fit them all in here. Chiang Mai is known for its Khao Soi, a Northern Thailand dish of a noodle soup with your choice of meat (it’s Khao Suey minus all the veggies (yay)). I really liked the Khao Soi at Coconut Shell in the old city. They serve it in a bowl made out of a coconut shell – and I think it’s the only place I went to twice in Chiang Mai (besides McDonald’s… don’t judge me, it’s the best drunk food). There’s the famous Cowboy lady near the North Gate that serves pig intestines (actually delicious; recommend). And there’s a whole bunch of delicious street food near the North Gate, at the night market, on the weekend walking streets, and pretty much anywhere you go. There’s a fair bit of western food too if you need a change in flavour from Thai food, and there’s also a bunch of (gasp) Indian restaurants! I only ate Indian food once though, and it was alright. I wouldn’t go seeking Indian food here. There’s also a cafe where you can chill with fluffy pussy cats (see Catmosphere). And lots and lots and lots of coffee shops – my favourite being the Wawee coffee chain. I spent a lot of my days just sitting in a Wawee coffee shop reading.
For the touristy stuff, the city is also full of wats and monuments. It’s impossible to cover them all. As you walk through the old city, you’ll randomly come across a wats along the way. I had made a little list of the ones I wanted to see, and my favourites from those are the Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and the Three Kings Monument.
Within the grounds of the Wat Chedi Luang lies the city pillar of Chiang Mai. It’s an exclusive to men kinda place, but women, you’re not missing much.
There’s also Doi Suthep, which most travellers love, but you gotta rent a scooter and ride up there. I didn’t go because I just didn’t want to travel 30 min by bike in the hot sun.
For shopping, there’s a night market that runs every night near the Tha Phae Gate, where you can shop for clothes and souvenirs. It’s a little less lively on the weekends when there’s the Saturday walking street and the Sunday walking street running elsewhere in the city. All of these places are filled with locals vendors and lots and lots of yummy street food. They’re also really crowded.
A lot of cooking classes, massage classes, trekking tours, village visits, waterfall tours, and elephant sanctuary visits run out of Chiang Mai (see The Elephants) – so it’s very easy to find something to do / have a weekend (or weekday) getaway. And being the central hub of Northern Thailand, it’s so easy to hop on to a bus and make a trip to one of the nearby towns / cities. You can go literally anywhere from Chiang Mai. There’s also a bunch of gyms (they got Crossfit) that let you do a day drop-in, should you feel the need to workout during your travels – I did, all that food has gotten me fat.
They also got malls, multiplexes, a zoo, and many massage parlours, and you’ll always find something to do or see in Chiang Mai.
The point I think I’m trying to make is that this place truly is amazing. It’s a little early in my trip for this, but if I had to pick a place as my new home, Chiang Mai would be topping that list – for now anyway.
PS – As I’m proofing this post, it seems like I’m really trying to sell Chiang Mai. But really, it’s an awesome place.
PPS – If you’re reading this Thai tourism board – you owe me!