Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
I don’t know what I was expecting, but Chiang Mai wasn’t it. I wasn’t expecting the coffee shops or the coworking spaces or the expat community or all the restaurants and bars and FOOD. Chiang Mai is a city that likes to eat. A lot. Everywhere, on every corner, there’s a guy and a barbecue and FOOD. In fact, I think that’s really one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai: EAT. There are locals at the stalls and expats and tourists and everyone seems to be getting along swimmingly. How the Thai people stay so slim, I do not understand.
So I kinda fell a little in love with Chiang Mai. It’s so fun! And so cheap! And so delicious! (Did I mention the food?) There are so many things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand I could happily stay here forever. I was sad I didn’t have more time here. In hindsight, I would have skipped Phuket (although it was nice to get some sunshine) and stayed up north. Ah well, next time. Here’s what I got up to while I was in town and my top recommendations for your trip.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
De Naga Hotel: Sometimes, I get lucky. I booked this hotel on the edge of the old town and whenever one of my tours picked me up or dropped me off, there were envious “oooohhhs” from the back of the car. De Naga is a gorgeous, gorgeous hotel. If they just upped their service, amenities and Internet speed, they could easily be five star. I really enjoyed my stay here. Great location, sweet staff, delicious food and drink. On the downside, the wifi was SUPER SLOW. Book the Da Naga Hotel.
U Chiang Mai: During my second visit to Chiang Mai, I stayed at U Chiang Mai and really liked it a lot. It has a small swimming pool which is great on those days where Chiang Mai gets too hot. It’s also very centrally located in the old town.
Take a Cooking Class in Chiang Mai
Zabb-E-Lee Cooking School: I spent an enjoyable evening at this centrally located Thai cooking school. Ann, our instructor, managed to make cooking fun (always hard for me). We made so many things…spring rolls, hot and sour creamy soup, green curry, red curry, massaman curry, Khao Soi (the dish of Chiang Mai), sticky rice with mango and I forget what else but it was all in abundance. Lots of Brits in attendance so I felt right at home. Highly recommended. Doing a cooking class is one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand so you definitely should book this. Visit their website.
Restaurants in Chiang Mai
Ugo: Foursquare directed me to the restaurant at this small guesthouse by Thapae Gate and I am so glad. The massaman curry was ACE. And beautiful to boot. I liked the food and the service so much, I went back the next day. Visit their website.
Dash Restaurant: On my last day in Chiang Mai, I decided to just randomly walk around and see where Foursquare sent me. Well, they sent me here, to Dash, and it was interesting. Firstly, it’s a lovely space and someone has obviously thought about the decor. Oddly, everyone there was Chinese but me. OK, maybe not so oddly. The Chinese are all over Thailand. China has a new middle class…have passport, will travel…and travel to Thailand they do. In droves! Where they all eat at Dash, apparently, and enjoy the tasty pad se eu. Visit their website.
Drink Craft Beer in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai does not have a great craft beer scene, mainly for competitive reasons. The big players have made it practically impossible to open a smaller brewery in Thailand. However, if you want to drink craft beer in Chiang Mai, there are still a few good places to do so, although you are more likely to find yourself drinking Vietnamese beers or beers from the UK. Keep an eye out for “My Beer Friend” which is a beer from a Thai brewer who makes his beer in Cambodia and then reimports it into Thailand.
Parallel Universe of Lunar 2 on The Hidden Moon: This small bar is located on the 5th floor of One Nimman. Find the southwest corner of the mall and you’ll find an elevator there to take you up to the top. It’s also a great spot to watch the sunset and/orthe planes take off from Chiang Mai airport as the bar has balconies on both the south and west sides of the building.
A Must Cafe & You: The guys at Parallel Universe sent me here when I said I was hungry. They said they had a ton of craft beers and great food. The food is mostly western but I did find a duck curry that was great. I also found a beer made in Chiang Mai, which was pretty amazing. (Now I am going to forget the name but it’s made my a local university professor and is something like “Naughty Nice”?) They also had live music the evening I was there which was quite fun. This is just a few blocks south of Parallel Universe so you can do exactly what I did — watch the sunset at Parallel Universe and then walk down here for dinner.
Visit a Chiang Mai Spa
Fah Lanna Spa: The spa treatments in Chiang Mai are deliciously cheap so I headed over to one of the bigger and bolder ventures, Fah Lanna, for a scrub, massage and facial and enjoyed my visit immensely. (It was a trifle chilly though.) The facilities are beautiful, modern but rustic at the same time. I loved the sarongs they used so much that I bought two. The ginger tea at the end of my treatment was particularly delicious. I made my appointment online via their website, and they sent a car and driver to pick me up! (They would have also driven me home but I decided to walk so I could check out the street art.) Highly recommended — spa treatments are seriously one of if not the best things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Book a treatment package at Fah Lanna.
Get a Manicure & Pedicure in Chiang Mai
Princess House Nails: Continuing my tradition of flying 8000 miles to get my nails done — you can take the girl out of Long Island but you can’t take the Long Island out of the girl — I dropped in here for a quick pedicure and it was perfect and inexpensive. It’s a big place but you should still call ahead. Visit their Facebook page.
Experience a Foot Massage in Chiang Mai
Mandara Massage: After a busy day of touring, my dogs were barking. I forget now if it was Foursquare or TripAdvisor that sent me here, but it took me a while to find it — it’s actually located within a shabby looking hotel complex, The Top North Hotel. Service was sweet and the almond cookies at the end of my treatment (along with more tea) were also very nice. A good value and it did the trick, but perhaps not work seeking out.
Take Some Chiang Mai Tours
Chiang Mai Mind & Soul Tour: The tour I just could not stop talking about. This was an absolute surprise. Super early morning pick-up — 6:15 am — and then we sped off into the mountains to bring gifts to the monks. This was followed by a STELLAR breakfast at a place by the airport and military base — all the movie star handsome Thai pilots in their jump suits — and then more monks and more gifts and more blessings and well, by the end, I felt very blessed. A real highlight of the tour was monk chat, where I spent an hour with a monk, chatting about how they live. (Yes, they do use Facebook. No, we couldn’t be Facebook friends.) Highly, highly recommended. Visit their website.
Chiang Mai Food Tour: While the food that we tried was great, our guide wasn’t the most interesting guy. I learned more from the other American on my tour that I did from the guide. I would give this a miss but then again, maybe you’ll get a different guide who will be totally awesome. Regardless, taking a food tour is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai. Book this tour.
Go Shopping in Chiang Mai
One Nimman: One of my favorite things to do in Chiang Mai is go shopping! There are so many great shops and boutiques. And one of my favorite places to go shopping is the new One Nimman shopping center. There are a ton of small fashion and accessory shops on the ground floor, along with a nice food court. Upstairs, there’s an upscale department store. There are also a few nice sit down restaurants in One Nimman. Definitely worth checking out.
Maya Mall: Maya is a more traditional shopping mall but what I like most about it is the food court in the basement along with the Western-style grocery store. If you get an Airbnb, this is a a great place to stock up on basics, assuming you need more than your local 7-11.
When can I get myself back to Chiang Mai? How? Anyone, anyone??
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