As I write this I’m currently sitting in the airport waiting to leave Chiang Mai and honestly, as far as travelling goes I’m pretty sure the time I’ve spent in Chiang Mai is going to be up there with the favourites. Keep in mind this was my first stop after getting off the plane from the UK, and not only that but my first destination I’ve ever travelled to solo and I’m going to admit, I was a little apprehensive.
I think I have been really lucky with the things I’ve been able to do this week as well as the people I have met who have made my time in Chiang Mai unforgettable. So for my first blog post whilst I’m actually travelling (I usually write in retrospect), I thought I’d share with you what you can do to have a perfect week in Chiang Mai.
Firstly my trip to Chiang Mai was only supposed to be a week but I ended up extending it as I had so much I wanted to do and also wanted to squeeze in a few nights in Pai which was so worth missing my flight to Bangkok for! If someone asked me to build them a week itinerary however, this is what I would recommend based on what I have seen and done. I’ve also managed to keep my week relatively cheap, without splashing out too much on unneccessary tours etc!
Ease yourself into a full week of things to do by taking it easy today and visiting some temples. Especially if you’re new to Asia, any temple will be something of amazement to you as there is so much to look at. If you get your hands on a map, the place is full of temples. Especially in the old town square in Chiang Mai you would easily be able to fit a few in with a leisurely stroll and then jump in a red cab, (they’re everywhere outside the temples) and head up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or what is known as Doi Suthep. The red cabs are called Songtaew and are known everywhere as they only charge 30 Baht per person to wherever you need to go. On the way up to Doi Suthep, however you will need to negotiate and perhaps convince a few other temple visitors to jump in your cab with you as they lower the price. Doi Suthep is the name of the mountain and the temple on top is beautiful. You can get amazing views over Thailand as you’re so high up the mountain so definitely try and head up there for a sunrise or sunset to make the most of it.
Rent a car for the day or if you’re travelling solo like I was, find some people who are renting a car and take a day trip where you can plan your own itinerary. For one day it is actually really cheap and it almost gives you a base for the day so you don’t have to worry too much and can leave your bag in the car and have a chance to cool down in the AC as you drive to the next location. This day trip wasn’t actually organised by me, but a girl who had posted on a backpackers facebook group about having a day to explore north of Chiang Mai. We set off quite early and there was four of us in the car making it super cheap to have our own driver for the day. Our first stop was the Sticky Waterfalls or the Bua Thong waterfalls. In a remote location with amazing views, you have to climb down some stairs to view the waterfalls. We were quite lucky in that we arrived at a time when there were no other people there but then a huge tour group seemed to arrive thirty minutes after us. The waterfall had three different levels and you could explore, and climb up and into the waterfall without any troubles of falling as the name suggests, the rocks were almost sticky so you could quite easily get your grip.
After the waterfalls we also visited the Chiang Dao caves which were really interesting. They’re actually huge and you can take a guided tour to see the different shrines and statues that are inside. There are points where you have to crawl on your hands and knees so you do have to be open to getting a bit mucky. Because the caves contain images of Buddha, you also have to be covered up out of respect. Also, do not go into the caves if you are scared of bats! They are completely harmless but there was a huge amount of them up in the top parts of the caves. After this day of exploring it was nice to get an early night.
A day for shopping! Catch a cab to Maya Shopping centre and eat and shop all day. There is an amazing canteen and loads of great places to eat but downstairs in the basement there’s a whole food market including everything from sushi to a bakery. Each stall had odd things I wanted to try but I did try to stay in control. The shopping centre had a load of really nice shops too and I loved looking at all the different brands of Asian skincare.
In the evening get a cab back to the Old City and explore the night market. The night market is on every evening and takes up one whole street all the way. There are actually several market streets that are quite close by and definitely an experience that you don’t want to miss. I would head down to Tha Phae Gate and walk around. The amount of stalls that just pop up are incredible and they sell everything from coconuts to clothes to handmade flutes.
Experience a cat cafe. Unlike any other cafe I’ve ever been too this space had a normal cafe downstairs. Cakes, WiFi and coffee etc, then we asked where the cats were as we went there specifically for the animals. We were taken upstairs to an area like a playpen for cats. I’m not going to lie, I think the one we went to was a little cruel but I’ve heard about people having really great experiences at them. I thought the idea was to home a lot of the street cats, feed them and take care of them but I’m worried now it’s becoming a little touristy. Like the cats we saw, they were all begging for attention and affection so I don’t know how well treated they are when the cafe is empty. I’m hoping that they had an area to roam free like cats like to do. Either way if it’s helping cats who are usually going hungry on the street, I like the idea of contributing towards finding them a safe space to live.
Get outside and experience a day out at Nong Buak Hard Public Park. This park is very different to most parks I’ve seen, it was filled with contemporary artwork, stunning architecture and exotic plants. I was with a friend and we’d decided to take the afternoon to relax and we watched a yoga class. There were a lot of different classes and activities taking place which was really interesting to watch. I would say go and have an afternoon of people watching and relaxing. It’s always more interesting in another country.
This one requires a little research but it’s one of the best experiences I have ever done and that was to spend a day at an elephant sanctuary. There are so many stories of horrible elephant parks where tourists pay to ride them and play with the elephants. I absolutely hate that people still ride elephants but I understand these parks are becoming less and less popular and a lot of the hostels or people I spoke to were saying how these companies are becoming blacklisted amongst Thai people. Elephant sanctuaries however are different in that they use whatever profit they have from charging guests to see the elephants, into putting back into the welfare of the elephants. Sanctuaries work to rescue elephants who might have been hunted or broken to carry adults for rides. These sanctuary’s cannot release the elephants back into the wild due to the fact that they wouldn’t survive but they can treat them properly, allow them as much freedom as possible and also make sure they are able to live a peaceful life as much as they can. The sanctuaries also help protect against poachers. There are many programs that differ in what is available but I would love to go again. I liked the idea of my money going towards rescuing an elephant who had been forced to work. I think seeing a wild animal, even from a distance is always an incredible thing to do but I would highly recommend doing research before you book anything so as to make sure you’re not contributing to the tourist industry of elephant rides. This would probably take a whole day out of your week but in my opinion it’s worth it.
Another day trip out, which means hiring a car again. Car hire was so cheap and with a driver for the day it really means you don’t have to worry so I was very lucky because I went with the group I had met on the other day trip. This was my favourite day in the North of Thailand by far. We had the idea of starting out on a trip to see another waterfall, (I like a waterfall, can you tell?), this time we wanted to visit the Mae Sa waterfall which is huge. The waterfall isn’t very well known and it felt like we were the only people there. You have to take a little hike to get there and there are actually ten different levels to the waterfall. I think we stopped around level 5 and sat and ate lunch. You can buy food from the stalls in the car park but it’s very traditional Thai food so make sure you ask for something quite mild if you’re used to a western spicy! We started walking up and made it to level 10 but it was quite a climb so I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in flip flops. At the top we went in the water which was really refreshing and there are rocks in the water so you can paddle in it without being fully soaked.
After a few hours at the waterfall we decided to drive on to our next stop which was the Huay Tung Tao Lake. Not known to many tourists, the lake was stunning at sunset and you have views of the mountains in the distance. There were huts all along the edge of the lake and we had a little swim. There were also places to get food and toilets and things that weren’t the worst I’ve seen in Thailand. Would recommend this lake to anyone stopping in Chiang Mai, it was so beautiful.
Relax in the Old Town and get a Thai massage. I went to a place where you get massaged by ex-inmates and it’s not as scary as it sounds. Basically there are a lot of Thai women who are taught the skills needed to be employed when they are released from prison. They get taught everything they need to know and are more likely to find a job when they are released meaning that they are also less likely to become repeat offenders. A Thai massage is also, unlike any massage you have ever experienced. They bend your body and pull it into positions that feel a little uncomfortable but they use pressure points to release tension and make you really feel like you are stretching. It’s not a terribly relaxing experience and people have been known to come out with bruises but it was an experience. I know a lot of people who love them as it feels like it releases a lot of stress. You can also tell your masseuse what feels good and if you’re not having a great time, they’ll ease off on the pressure.
Some days are more full then others but I loved my time in Chiang Mai so I wanted a good mixture between having full days and having more relaxed days! Different things to do but most of these days won’t end up costing you a lot, the waterfalls etc only require a small entrance fee and then you’re free to spend the whole day there.
If I was heading back to Chiang Mai, I’d probably end up doing a lot of these again purely because of how much fun I had.
Have you ever been to Chiang Mai? I’m trying to catch up on all my Asia content and also hoping to write a lot more. Follow me on Bloglovin for weekly posts, I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest too!
I post once a week covering topics such as solo travel, working and living abroad and also creating Gabriella’s Guides to places I have been. I cover topics under the following categories such as Planning and Packing, The Travel Diary, Travel Inspiration, Photo Diaries, Gabriella’s Guides and Working Abroad.