Chiang Mai is one of the most liveable cities that I have ever visited. It is little wonder so many travel bloggers have set up house there. It has lovely scenery (being located in the northern hills of Thailand), is a reasonable size, has good infrastructure, has a very favourable exchange rate for North Americans, and offers an unbelievable range of activities to keep you interested.
Chiang Mai has something for everyone. You would have to really go out of your way to be bored or to dislike this place. A sampling of ideas to keep you busy: cultural showcases, meditation retreats, hill trekking, Muay Thai boxing events, visiting elephant shelters, language classes, spa packages, boat trips to Laos, custom tailor shops, great secondhand bookstores (lots of English titles), and delicious restaurants (great Middle Eastern food too!).
The first thing to do in Chiang Mai is to visit Wat Doi Suthep. As my hostel’s owner coined it, “you haven’t been to Chiang Mai until you’ve been to Doi Suthep.” I didn’t even mind the 306 stairs to get to the temple that overlooks the city (they were easy-peasy after the Batu Caves and the Inca Stairs).
Wat Doi Suthep was more lively than I had imagined a Buddhist temple would be. Hosting a few hundred tourists every day will have that effect. The monks were very welcoming and people could wander in and out of different rooms, as long as they were quiet and respectful about it. There were Buddhas, dragons, prayer bells, and gold as far as the eye can see atop this hill.
Another can’t-miss highlight was the fantastic Sunday Night Walking Street Market. It is open from 4pm until midnight on Sundays, running along Ratchadamnoen Road through the heart of the Old City. The whole of the city showed up to peruse the handicrafts, watch the street entertainment, and eat their faces off.
Please note that not all the food will appeal to everyone…
The only kind of mackerel that I’m keen to eat is a fish. And while whirligig is fun to say, I don’t think it would be fun to eat.
Know what is fun to eat? Thai food that you cook for yourself! I eagerly signed up for an all-day cooking class the next day at the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. An enthusiastic, friendly man named Pot showed us around a town market to identify different ingredients and then taught about twelve of us back at his house how to make all sorts of tastiness like pad thai, spring rolls, green and red curry, cashew chicken, sweet and sour stirfry, papaya salad, spicy glass noodle salad, sticky rice with mango, and bananas in coconut milk.
Plus look at the adorable aprons you can get there!
What’s not to love about Chiang Mai?!
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