Chiang Mai's Best Points of Interest

by Guest

Chiang Mai sits towards the border of Laos and Myanmar and is often referred to as the capital of the North. It was founded in the early 12th century, as was in fact the capital of the Lanna kingdom. A moat and walls (some of which still remain) surround the old city, but this didn’t stop an invasion by the Burmese Kingdom who took over in the 15th century. After ruling for two centuries, they passed it back and it became part of the Siamese (now Thailand) kingdom. Over the years these different cultures have left their influence of the culture, architecture, and food. Today, backpackers and tourists flood into the small city to discover the delicious regional cuisine, hike in the forested mountains, and discover the city’s rich cultural heritage. For first timers, here is our rundown of Chiang Mai’s point of interest.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

For shoppers, there really isn’t a better place in Chiang Mai than the famous Night Bazaar. Everything from colourful souvenirs, knock off designer handbags, sunglasses and clothing is sold here. It’s a great place to try our your haggling skills, but try not to beat the vendors down to hard, remember they are just trying to make a living. Surrounding the market are several little bars selling cold beer should you need some time out. In the centre, there is also a rooftop blues bar which has live music every night and a good way to while away the evening. Markets in Thailand always mean food, and there are numerous little restaurants and street food dotted around the bazaar where you can pick up some of the best food in the city. We recommend staying away from the seafood as it’s expensive and never particularly good, but the papaya salads, Northern Thai curries, and stir fries are excellent. Once you’ve finished shopping and eating, there is a Muay Thai boxing ring inside the bazaar with nightly bouts pitting international and Thai fighters with each other. Get there early to get to bag yourself a seat and they sell out fast with both locals and tourists. Tickets usually cost around $7 and each fight always starts with traditional Thai music and dance.

chiang mai monks

Wat Suan Dok

The Wat Suan Dok temple is located just outside the city walls and was built on the site of an ancient royal flower garden. Tourists and pilgrims visit the temple to see the beautiful white pagodas and the oldest bronze Buddha in Thailand which dates back hundreds of years. Some of the ashes of the Lanna royal family are buried in one of the temple’s chedis. The Buddhist university Mahachulanlongkorn is located on the site and offers English talks with monks where guests can learn about Chiang Mai, the history of Buddhism in Thailand, and the temple itself. It’s a wonderful cultural experience that shouldn’t be missed. Always remember to be respectful in temples. Take off your shoes, wear modest clothes, and be respectful at all times. Temple tours with local guides are possible and help guests to learn about the temple’s architecture, Northern Thai culture and history, as well as Buddhism.

Thanin Market

If you like food, don’t miss Thanin Market. This local produce market is for locals and many tourists and backpackers are unware that it exists. Located outside the old city, it can be walked to in around 20 minutes, but is well worth the effort. Selling everything from fresh vegetables and fruit, to meat, seafood, and cooked meals, it’s a great introduction to Thai cuisine and ingredients. Be sure look out for the fried insects (which are crispy and delicious), the chili nam prik dips, sai oua sausage, and the famed Northern Thai pork crackling. Though it’s possible to visit on your own, the best way to make the most of your trip is to go on a guided Chiang Mai food tour , which visits the market as well as other points around the city. The tour leaves at 5 p.m. every night of the week.

chiang mai

Chiang Mai Night Safari

A popular point of interest in city is the Chiang Mai Night Safari . The park is one of the world’s largest nocturnal zoos and is twice the size of the Singapore Night Safari. Arriving in the evening, guests are taken on an open sided tram around a 5 kilometre trail from which it’s possible to see over 400 different species of wildlife. Of course, it’s too many to list here, but highlights including white lions, white tigers, primates, koalas, deer, iguanas, porcupines, macaws, and much more. Though most people visit in the evening, it’s possible to walk around the trails in the day when other species can be seen including rhino, tigers, tapirs, and giraffes. It’s a magical experience for children. There is a free shuttle service which leaves in the evening from outside the Night Bazaar. When you arrive, take some time to take photos with the wildlife at Photo Corner and watch the impressive Magic Fountain water and music show.

Wat Phra Singh

The temple of Wat Phra Singh, which means the Temple of the Lion Buddha, was built in the early 14th century and is one of the most fascinating in Chiang Mai. It houses a library which used to hold many of the important books and documents from the 15th century to save them during floods. It’s also one of the most lavish temples at out of the 200 or so in and around Chiang Mai, with beautiful manicured gardens and colourful intricate artwork and carvings. Many travellers and Buddhist pilgrims come to this temple to see the lion image which adorns the small structure towards the back of the gardens.

Sunday Walking Market Street

If you are travelling to Chiang Mai during the weekend, be sure to head to the Sunday Walking Market. Lining the old town Rachademnoen Road are hundreds of stalls selling everything from handmade crafts, clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, and cards. It does get really busy, so it’s best to visit in the early evening or late at night. Of course, there are many street food stalls which are surprisingly international. Though there are plenty of vendors selling Thai classics like pad Thai, you can also get sushi, dim sum, and more. It is possible to get trapped in the hordes of locals and tourists that descend upon the street every Sunday evening. For something a little quieter, Wualai Road has its own Saturday Walking Market near to Chiang Mai Gate. There are plenty of things to shop for here and much food on offer. An excellent alternative.

Mae Ping River

The Mae Ping River meanders through the city centre and further out into Chiang Mai province. This waterway is a great way to see both the city and rural Northern Thailand. There are several boat companies offering tours along the river where you can admire the traditional houseboats, and learn about the history and countryside around the city. It’s cooler on the water and a calm way to spend an afternoon. Just make sure you hire a guide which makes all the difference.

Elephant Nature Camp

There are several elephant camps on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, however some have a reputation for treating the animals badly, using them to make money from tourists. It is worth checking before you pick which one to visit. The Elephant Nature Camp  only has rescue creatures which have been used in the past for shows. They can now spend the rest of the days in comfort at the park. A day with the elephants costs around US $60 (less for children). During the excursion, guests have the opportunity to volunteer with these gentle giants including feeding them, and washing them in the river. All the profits from guests go back into maintenance of these beautiful creatures including buying food and going towards the land. The cost of the tickets includes transfers to and from Chiang Mai as well as a delicious Thai lunch. It gets booked up fast, so grab your tickets early to avoid disappointment.

Female inmate massage

There is no shortage of massage parlors in Chiang Mai, but for something a little different, be sure to visit the Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution . Here female inmates are being trained as masseuses to help rehabilitate them when they are released back into society, as well as other programs. Though they are trainees, the massages are very good and it’s a great opportunity to offer these prisoners another chance. The prices are much the same as a massage at a more traditional parlor starting from around US $7 an hour and these proceeds go back into the program.

chiang mai wat

Wat Sri Suphan

Wat Sri Suphran is little visited by tourists, but this is surprising as it is one of the most spectacular temples in Chiang Mai. It differs from the others due to it being made entirely from silver and metal alloys. The intricate designs on the metal work are incredible. Three times a week, the temple also hosts chats with monks in English. Here guests have the opportunity to ask the monks questions about the temple, Thai culture, history, and Buddhism in peaceful surroundings.

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

Thailand has plenty of hot springs to discover, but none are as good as the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs located just outside of Chiang Mai. The springs are open every day between 7 a.m. and 18 p.m. for guests to come and bath in the mineral waters which apparently have great health benefits. There are two different springs here which shoots the water 20 metres into the air where is gets cooled before running into the pools. At the hotter end, you can buy eggs to boil in the water, but the other is cool enough for guests to soak while looking out over the beautiful Chiang Mai forested countryside and the gardens around the spring.

World Museum of Insects and Natural Wonders

One of the most interesting museums in Chiang Mai is the World Museum of Insects and Natural Wonders which houses a fascinating display of catalogued insects from Northern Thailand. The private museum is owned and curated by Dr. Rampa Rattanarithkul who published over 40 academic papers on the subject as well as discovering many new species. A lifelong passion has led to this museum which houses over 5,000 species of insects. The quirky museum is open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day and the entrance ticket costs US $8.

Doi Inthanon

Located around an hour or so from Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand. It’s foothills are filled with fantastic hiking trails passing forests, waterfalls, a traditional little villages. At it’s peak, there are two beautiful pagodas and magnificent views down over the Chiang Mai countryside. The best way to get to the park is to hire a driver or taxi. Alternatively, if you have a motorbike license, you can hire a bike and drive, a great way to see the surrounding lush forests. When you arrive, you can take a private guided walk and the entrance fee into the park is around US $6. There are plenty more hiking opportunities available in the province.

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