I was born in Poland but grew up in the UK. I studied psychology at university and I’m a big advocate of mental health. My passion for travel began when my parents first brought me to Thailand. I fell in love with the country and culture here. That is one of the reasons why I decided to move to Chiang Mai where I now work in a mental health retreat.
I always knew that I would move abroad one day. When I found a job within mental health in Chiang Mai, I just knew I had to go for it! I have been living in Thailand for about two months now and am loving every minute of my new life. When I’m not working I like to spend my days exploring the city, staying in a nice Airbnb or hotel and enjoying some coffee in the local area.
Why Chiang Mai is the Cultural Capital
When you think of Thailand, you automatically think of beautiful beaches, limestone karsts and swaying palm trees but Chiang Mai isn’t near any beaches. It’s a city surrounded by beautiful mountains in the north of Thailand. For me, Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of the country.
Think ethical elephant sanctuaries, jungle zip-lines, golden temples, bustling markets, great coffee, cooking classes and more! It’s a city where you never get bored and if you want to experience Thai culture at its absolute best and most authentic, then you should definitely visit here.
My favorite place in Chiang Mai is an elephant sanctuary called Elephant Rescue Park. I haven’t had the chance to visit this time around but when I first visited Thailand three years ago, I went there and loved the place! It was such a magical experience to be able to feed, walk and wash these gentle giants. It’s one of those must-do experiences in Chiang Mai.
The Land of Smiles and Delicious Food
Locals in Chiang Mai are so friendly. They definitely live up to the name The Land of Smiles. I often hear the phrase “Mai pen rai” from my fellow Thai colleagues which translates to “no worries”. This reflects their relaxed and easy-going nature. The culture in Chiang Mai is vibrant with a great art and culinary scene, and influences from neighbouring countries like Burma.
The food in northern Thailand is next level and when you come here you absolutely must try Khao Soi. You can’t come to Chiang Mai and not try it! It’s a coconut curry noodle soup served with a choice of meat and crispy noodles. Khao Soi is so yummy! Another great dish is called Rad Na. It’s a rice noodle dish served with stir-fried vegetables, meat and a thick sauce.
10 Best Things To Do in Chiang Mai
Although some of the best experiences in Chiang Mai can be done in other places around the world, I think the fact that you can do all of them in one place (and that they are all incredible) makes Chiang Mai super special! Activities like zip-lining really left a lasting impression on me because I’m scared of heights and I overcame my fear and loved it in the end.
The different experiences that I will talk about below give you a great taste of what the city has to offer. Some activities are relaxing, while others are adrenaline-pumping and they will take you out of your comfort zone for sure. Without further ado, here are the best things to do in Chiang Mai:
1. Visit an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in the Area
If there is one animal that represents the spirit of Thailand it’s the elephant. While it’s a great experience to see these animals up close, it’s so important to do this in an ethical way. There are many ethical elephant sanctuaries to choose from in the Chiang Mai area and some of the best include Elephant Rescue Park and Elephant Freedom Project.
2. Learn Thai Cooking Techniques with Asia Scenic
Thai food is the most colorful, flavorsome and delicious cuisine on the planet and Chiang Mai takes it to another level. Not only can you eat your way through the city at the many restaurants and street food stalls but you can also learn a few cooking techniques to take home with you. Book a class with Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School for a wonderful experience.
3. Go on a Ziplining Adventure with Jungle Flight
Ziplining from tree to tree and platform to platform is such a fun adventure! The team at Jungle Flight can set you up for a thrilling day in the forest. Choose from their three different ziplining packages: eco, extreme or ultimate. This company also works with local villagers to help preserve and protect the rainforests. Highly recommended!
4. Explore the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is named after two mountains: Doi Suthep and Doi Pui. Doi Suthep Temple (Wat Phra That Doi Suthep) is one of the main attractions inside the park as it offers stunning views over the city of Chiang Mai. You can also explore some of the other viewpoints, mountains and trails in the park and even jump on a bike and go cycling too.
5. Eat a Few Bowls of Khao Soi (Curry/Noodle Soup)
Khao Soi is one of the signature dishes in northern Thailand. This dish is a rich, creamy and spicy mix of yellow curry, tender braised meat, various vegetables and fried noodles. You will find this dish all over Chiang Mai – from the high-end restaurants to the basic local eateries. Local places like Khao Soy Maesai and Khao Soi Arak are great places to try this dish.
6. Check out a Couple of Tea Plantations
Northern Thailand is known for its tea plantations as the region is lush and perfect for growing tea. In Chiang Mai, you can visit a couple of little tea plantations surrounding the city such as Raming Tea Co. and 2000 Tea Plantation. Chiang Rai is also home to some amazing tea plantations if you are going that way. Just head out on your scooter and see what you find!
7. Get Lost in a Night Market or Walking Street
Getting lost in the night markets and walking streets of Chiang Mai is magical! There are so many amazing places to shop, eat and explore in this city including: Warorot Market, Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, The Pae Sunday Walking Street, Wua Lai Walking Street and Ton Lam Yai Market. The street food in Thailand is incredible and Chiang Mai has some of the best!
8. Spend the Day at Grand Canyon Water Park
The Grand Canyon Water Park in Chiang Mai offers visitors a unique experience in a waterpark that was built in an abandoned limestone quarry. Here you can enjoy various obstacle courses, waterslides, ziplines and wakeboarding. The perfect family-friendly activity on a warm day.
9. Book a Bamboo Rafting Tour or Go by Yourself
Floating down a river that winds through the jungle is a lovely way to spend the afternoon. Just picture sitting on a bamboo raft, sipping on cold beer, enjoying the sun and water. Head southwest to the Mae Wang River where you will find Phutawan Cafe. The folks here will organize your raft for you! Otherwise you can join a bamboo rafting tour.
10. Take Photos at the Instagram-Worthy Cafes
No trip to Chiang Mai is complete without trying the coffee at some of the most Instagrammable cafes in the city and surrounding areas. Cafes like No. 39 Cafe, Chom Cafe and Restaurant, Forest Bake, The Barn Eatery And Design and Fernpresso at Lake are definitely worth checking out for some coffee, cakes and Instagram-worthy shots!
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
- 248 Street Hostel (Hostel): A great location and it has this amazing rooftop pool and bar.
- Dala Ping River House (Airbnb): This is such a cute Airbnb that combines traditional Lanna style with a Bohemian style. The decor here is so unique.
- Akyra Manor (Luxury): A small independent luxury hotel in a lively area in Chiang Mai. The rooftop pool here is very cool and each room comes with an outdoor bath.
Tips for your Visit to Chiang Mai
Research and plan all of the activities you want to do. There is so much to see and do in the cultural capital of Thailand and if you are only visiting for a couple of days like I did the first time I was here, it will be difficult to see everything that you want at the last minute. Preparation is key.
Eat street food and visit the markets – you will find delicious street food everywhere in Chiang Mai, especially at the markets mentioned above. Whilst there are so many good restaurants in Chiang Mai, if you really want to try a lot of different food then street food is definitely the way to go.
Avoid visiting between January – April. This is known as ‘burning season” or “smoky season”. The air pollution can get high, so it won’t be as enjoyable to spend time outside. Whenever you can try to immerse yourself in the culture. There is so much to love about the way of life in northern Thailand.
As a final note, before you embark on your Chiang Mai adventure, make sure to take a few minutes to check out the 5 most frequently occurring tourist traps in Thailand. From accommodation scams to money draining tour packages to faux pas which can get you in trouble, this guide details it all. As the old saying goes, “It is better to be safe than sorry”.