After spending a year in Chiang Mai spread out over multiple visits I can honestly say this is my favorite place in the world.
The range of fun things to do along with the friendly locals and low cost of living make for an irresistible city.
Toss in some of the best food on earth and you have a winning destination to add to your travel list.
Warning; Chiang Mai is best savoured over a few weeks versus a quick trip through the city. On first impression, you may look at some parts of Old City and compare it to other heavily touristed areas in SE Asia like Siem Reap, Bangkok or Patong in Phuket.
If you want to truly appreciate Chiang Mai spend some time in town but visit areas outside of the Old City walls.
My wife Kelli and I only venture into the Old City to get a banana shake and perhaps to spend some time in the countless wats within its borders. The surrounding neighborhoods of Hang Dong and Pong Noi are growing on us as nice change of pace to the hustle and bustle of the more busy parts of the city.
If you want to have fun in and around Chiang Mai consider these 6 enjoyable activities.
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1: Go Wat Watching
Going wat watching in the Old City is a culturally enriching experience.
From the stunning architecture of these temples to the omnipresence of Thai monks wandering around in their signature orange robes, spending time by the wats is fascinating and peaceful.
If you forget to wear clothing that covers your shoulder somes of the more frequently visited wats offer long robes for men or shawls for women to adorn yourself properly for your visit.
2: Visit a Buddhist Vegetarian Restaurant
The Buddhist vegetarian haunts, or Jay restaurants, are neat little foodie havens which can be found around the city.
Even if you are a full on carnivore it’s definitely worth the trip to enjoy delicious fare served by friendly, kind-hearted, warm folks.
Oh yeah; you can’t beat the price either. My wife and I eat lunch for only 70 Baht, or $2 USD. We get 3 vegetable dishes, a big helping of rice and free water for a wholesome, nutritious, satiating delight.
Our favorite Buddhist vegetarian restaurant is located on Ragang Road which is Southeast of the Old City.
This is a small place located in a Thai neighborhood. No Western name and the owners speak only a few words of English so you’ll be pointing and using basic Thai to place orders. But after sampling Thai veggie fare for many months it has the best Thai vegetarian food in the city in my opinion.
You can find the restaurant on Google Maps here. (Yes I left the single review)
3: Cycle the Outskirts
I noted an increase in the number of cyclists pedaling through the city outskirts during a recent 2 month house sit outside of Chiang Mai.
Cyclists took to the highways around the urban center to enjoy breathtaking scenery and flat, relatively traffic-free highways tailor made for cycling.
Note; if you’ve never cycled before workout during early morning or early evening hours. The heat and humidity in the area can feel overwhelming during the high season.
Rent a bike in the center of town and make your way toward the western outskirts of the city. I suggest cycling on highway 121 for some of the most breathtaking views of the mountains around Chiang Mai.
4: Get a Massage
Kelli enjoys the 150 Baht massages in town which converts to only $5 USD.
If you wander into sleepy villages on the city’s outskirts you can get massages for 120 Baht.
When the heat builds to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the dry season or when the rains flood the area during the wet season there is no better way to relax and destress than by getting a massage.
You will find no shortage of massage parlors around the city.
5: Spend a Day in a Surrounding Village
A few months ago we visited the Pong Noi village by Doi Suthep National Park.
We spent more than one day in this quiet little spot, completing a 2 month house sit in a home bordering the national park.
Pong Noi is a sleep Thai village located between Chiang Mai proper and the surrounding hills.
We’d watch vendors set up their stalls nightly when the afternoon heat subsided, selling soups, curries and deliciously sweet treats.
Spending any amount of time in these smaller outposts reminds you of how life used to be in and around Chiang Mai. Roosters crow as they strut in the streets. Soi dogs lazily doze the afternoon away as old women prepare dinner while pounding spices into a pulp with a worn out mortar and pestle.
Pull back from city life. Just for one day. Visit a village surrounding Chiang Mai for a blast from the past.
6: Motorbike through the Mountains
Kelli and I traveled through the mountainous regions around Chiang Mai via bus during our visa runs – before the land run crackdown after the coup of 2015 – but motorbiking through this region would be a fun, thrilling time too.
You can rent a motorbike in town for $8 to $10 USD a day but if you are spending a month or longer in Chiang Mai expect to pay about $100 USD.
Head out of town. Get lost in the hills for an afternoon. Cruising the region on motorbike is one of the best ways to enjoy the area without tiring yourself out.
Note; only professional cyclists or inspired cycling enthusiasts should attempt to cycle through these mountains as they are incredibly steep!
About the Author:
Ryan Biddulph is a blogger, author and world traveler who’s been featured on Richard Branson’s Virgin Blog, Forbes, Fox News, Entrepreneur, Positively Positive, Life Hack, John Chow Dot Com and Neil Patel Dot Com. He has written and self-published 126 bite-sized eBooks on Amazon. Ryan can help you build a successful blog at Blogging From Paradise.