Discovering Chiang Mai, the Northern Alternative to Bangkok
Chiang Mai, the biggest city in Thailand’s mountainous north, is a relaxed and laid-back town. Locals and tourists visit the city to bask in its authentic Thai atmosphere, and so did I! From the ancient temples in old Chiang Mai to the bustling modern city surrounding it, and to the forested hills and countryside further afield — the growing town intertwines the past, the present… and nature.
Must-See Chiang Mai Attractions
Most people visit Chiang Mai to see their temples and the elephant camp. I, however, am not a fan of animal-based attractions, and on my recent trip to Chiang Mai, decided to discover an alternative site in the city. Of course, a temple is a must-visit in Chiang Mai, so my first stop there was its most famous temple, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of Thailand’s most sacred temples. Located about 15 km from the city of Chiang Mai, the temple was founded in 1383 and built on the top of the Doi Suthep mountain.
The view of Chiang Mai from atop the temple.
The journey up to the temple involves a 306-step staircase climb — but what took my breath away was the stunning bird’s eye view of Chiang Mai from the top. The temple terrace is filled with small shrines, monuments, and rock gardens. Walking into the inner yard, I was greeted by the beautiful golden chedi glistening under the sun. It is home to a sacred relic — one part of the bone shards from Buddha’s shoulder. It was brought to this very site by a white elephant, which died in the same spot where the relic now stays.
The Elephant Parade Land is about an hour’s drive north of the city. I have to say this has to be one of my favourite ‘things-to-do’ in Chiang Mai! There are no real elephants in this place, only colourful elephant statues (or dolls, or figurines).
The little miniature elephants on sale at the Elephant Parade Land.
During my visit, I was given a complete tour of the ‘land’, from walking around a garden surrounded by life-size baby elephant statues of different hues and drawings to observing the talented artists at work. I also managed to visit the ‘elephant statue’ museum and watched a video about the project. Not to forget, I dropped by the museum shop filled with small elephant dolls in bright colours and motives (like fruits, flowers, cartoons, and even country maps) for sale.
The best part of all, though, was the workshop where I got the chance to design my very own elephant figurine. I loved the fun experience, but of course, it is the mission behind the Elephant Parade Land that is most important — to organise conservation projects and support efforts that help protect the endangered Asian elephant.
Chiang Mai Night Markets
Now, you can’t say you are in Chiang Mai without taking part in the city’s most popular night activity: Chiang Mai Night Bazaar! The night market was just outside my hotel (the DusitD2 Hotel), in the east of the outer city walls. Because I was in the city on a Saturday, I also went to join the crowds at the ridiculously long Saturday Night Market along Wualai Street. Its sheer length was pretty amazing!
Walking the Chiang Mai street markets at night.
There’s also a Sunday Night Market (of this scale) along Rachadamneon Road on Sundays. The weekend markets offer a more local experience (with more handicraft items on sale in small makeshift stalls) than the permanent Night Bazaar. But no matter which ones you go to, night markets are simply the best way to end the night, or a trip to Chiang Mai — I went crazy on the souvenir shopping!
Chiang Mai Restaurants
Ohkajhu Organic Farm Restaurant
I had lunch at this pretty fantastic restaurant called the Ohkajhu Organic Farm Restaurant. I was impressed at how big the organic farm at the back of the restaurant is, and to know that the restaurant glorifies the concept of farm-to-table. Can’t get any fresher than that!
The cute statues at the entrance of the Ohkajhu Organic Farm Restaurant.
Ohkajhu serves a selection of meat and seafood options, pasta, burgers, and well, lots and lots of salad (dishes and as sides). My group decided to order a few things to share: two kinds of pork ribs dishes, a huge burger, the grilled sea bass, and the most delicious fruit salad served in a melon (highly recommended) for starters. And of course, a big glass coconut shake to quench my thirst! Lunch was wonderful, and I absolutely recommend this restaurant.
My Thai food spread while dining at the Goodview Village Restaurant.
Goodview Village Restaurant
For dinner, I visited one of the city’s most popular restaurants for locals, visitors and tour groups alike, the Goodview Restaurant — and it was packed to the brim! I doubt I could have gotten a seat if I didn’t make a reservation beforehand. The restaurant’s huge outdoor seating area is divided into several sections and is surrounded by twinkling lights, water features and fountains.
They also had a live band playing that night. The huge spread of Thai food was delicious — I particularly enjoyed the deep-fried fish and that massive bowl of tom yum goong.
Chiang Mai city at night
I had a great time in Chiang Mai visiting the temple, painting tiny elephant sculptures for a good cause, and of course, shopping and eating! The city is lovely, its old walls are beautiful, and the people are friendly — so Chiang Mai, I am sure I will be back again!