THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG MAI / 3 DAY ITINERARY
Situated in Northern Thailand and only an overnight train journey from Bangkok or a short 1 hour 20 minute flight, Chiang Mai is the perfect spot to spend a view days taking in the culture and nature. The people are super friendly and surprisingly spoke better English than people in Bangkok. March is known for being the smoky season due to harvests but the government has recently cut down on the burning and we actually only noticed it once so do not let this put you off. The temperatures crept up to 36 degrees but it didn’t actually feel that hot thankfully.
Chiang Mai definitely had more of a country town feel than bustling Bangkok. Within the old city there is not much traffic apart from tuk tuks and is perfect for wandering around on foot. Within the old city walls there are a number of beautiful temples where orange robed monks wander and pray.
DAY ONE – THINGS TO IN CHIANG MAI
The Old City
We spent our first day exploring the Old City and used the walking tour map from Lonely Planet to assist us. We started at Wat Phra Singh which is the home to the city’s most revered Buddha image where entrance is only 50 baht.
We then walked down Th Ratchadamnoen and turned right on to ThPhra Pokklao where we passed Wat Phan Tao and the looming mass of Wat Chedi Luang, the largest and grandest Lanna chedi in the city. Walk around the chedi where you will see Lak Meuang – you can easily spend a couple of hours around these two temples which are larger than the others. Below are the 108 monk bowls which is an ancient tradition in Thailand. 108 is the number of virtues of goodness of the triple gems in Buddhism and is the lucky number in Thailand.
We then followed Th Phra Pokklao north to the junction with Th Inthawarorot where you see the beautiful Wat Inthankhin Saduemuang which enshrined the city pillar in medieval times.
Lastly head down a block north to see the Anusawari Sam Kasat – the three kings monument to pay respect to the three Lanna Kings who built Chiang Mai!
Allow yourself around 3-4 hours to complete this walk – longer if you want to take everything in slowly. We totally forgot to visit The Terracotta Gardens which were gutted about!
Sunday Night Market / Walking Street
Running from 4pm to midnight is the Sunday Walking Street starting at the Tha Phae Gate at one end extending for roughly 1km down the full length of Ratchadamnoen Road. Expect tons of stalls selling similar items with it being busy with locals and tourists alike. When you reach the crossroads half way down you will not know which way to turn as there are four separate rows of stalls (heavenly if you ask me!)
You could easily spend 2-3 hours wandering up and down the streets taking in all of the stalls and buying lots of goodies. We found these adorable mini ice cream cones (25 baht) and delicious fruit lollies (5 baht) along the way and there are many different more substantial food stalls.
DAY TWO – THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG MAI
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary half day through Blu Gecko Tours
We booked a half day at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary starting at 6.30am and finishing up around 1pm with Blu Gecko Tours.
We were picked up at our hotel The Empress in an open air 4 by 4 Jeep at 6:30 which is early but totally worth it to spend time with the wonderful elephants in an open environment. There was a stop off at the beginning of the journey to get some drinks and snacks for around 30-40 minutes which seemed quite unnecessary. We arrived at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary at 8.30am.
Ethical considerations concerning the well being of elephants are becoming more and more voiced now in Thailand and are especially well publicised to tourists. We were told by the guides at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary that the elephants were previously used for transporting goods and people throughout the country. This was banned in 1989 but individuals would then use the animals for elephant riding (which can hurt and strain the elephant). In an effort to protect the elephants from abuse, some of the elephants are now looked after by a number of sanctuaries within the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
We were given a safety briefing about what to do with the elephants – one thing to take into consideration is not to stand behind their backs as it is important that the elephants can see you at all times. We were given bright coloured shirts to wear so the elephants knew that we were part of the sanctuary.
The first activity was feeding the elephants! We were told that we had to give a feeding call to the elephants and put the banana in the trunk for them to eat. Others ate a whole bunch which was funny! One of the elephants was 74 years old and blind in one eye so was my favourite to feed! After feeding the two old elephants we had a group of three cantering down and making elephant noises which was just so absolutely adorable – they were obviously pleased to know it was feeding time and then bathing time. There was one baby elephant who was only 8 months old and weighed 450 kg already . She was just amazing and had to have her bananas peeled for her!
After the feeding came bathing time where we walked down towards a little stream (take your swimsuit) and bathed the elephants by throwing buckets of water over their bodies.
After the bathing came the mud bath which looks after the elephant’s skin. We just threw mud at the elephants (and then at each other!) and had some amazing photos.
It was an absolutely wonderful day and I thoroughly recommend booking this half day trip through Blu Gecko – at 1700 baht it is more expensive than other trips but totally worth it for the unique experience.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
We visited the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar which is a selection of night markets serving food and local produce and plenty of souvenirs. We came across a cool market called Ploen Ruedee Night Market , which is open all day every day apart from Sundays, and had quite an East London feel to it! There were plenty of street food stalls selling local Thai dishes and international dishes and in the middle there were was a show with some Thai dancers and a band played later on.
We also loved Kalare which had a wide selection of street food – we had some gorgeous pork gyoza for 50 baht which was an absolute bargain and they were so delicious!
You can haggle at these markets for the souvenirs (especially if you see a calculator) although sometimes they’re a fixed price. Just use a bit of discretion because an extra 10 baht is not a lot to you but is a big deal to the local sellers. I do love a bargain but sometimes you just have to take a step back and realise that it really is a win win situation!
DAY 3 – THINGS TO IN CHIANG MAI
Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park with Blu Gecko Tours
We were picked up from The Empress at 8.30am. and the journey took one hour to the first stop which was to a Karen village (not a long neck Village). We were able to observe the locals from Burma making scarfs and try some of the coffee grown in the village. The way of life there is simple but everyone seemed quite happy and content in such a small village playing games with a football and enjoying a peaceful life but clearly the more tourists can purchase there, the better.
The next stop was about half an hour further up in the National park where we visited Wachiritharn Waterfall which was absolutely stunning. There were some really nice photo opportunities here both at the front of the waterfall with the sign and also you could climb up round the back or down towards the bottom of the waterfall – you have around 45 minutes to explore.
We stopped for an early lunch at a local restaurant sitting outside on the benches where they brought us unlimited food of rice and chicken, omelette and Thai curry which was delicious!
After lunch we made our way to the top of Doi Inthanon National Park, which is the highest peak in Thailand! The temperature at the top actually drops around 10-15 degrees so make sure that you take a cardigan. There is not much to see here but it is cool having a picture of the highest point of Thailand.
We were then taken to a lovely view point which is just a few metres down from the highest viewpoint which is the home of two beautiful purple temples where the people have honoured the late king and queen . It is surrounded by beautiful flower gardens and you can get an escalator to the top of the temples for some lovely views. Sadly it was cloudy when we were there but it was still pretty special.
After stopping there for about 45 minutes, we were taken to our last stop which was the Royal Project led by the King of Thailand. It was surrounded by beautiful flowers and lakes and the aim of the project was to encourage locals to have a better lifestyle and live in better conditions (as opposed to relying on the previous Opium trade). It was considered a really worthwhile initiative and part of the reason why everyone loved the King.
Our guide was just absolutely lovely and really informative and I thoroughly recommend booking this day trip with Blue Gecko It cost 1150 baht for the day inclusive of all transfers and lunch which is really good value!
THINGS WE MISSED –
We missed out the main temple in Chiang Mai – Wat phra that doi suthep – which is the most sacred temple in North Thailand and you can climb to the top (306 stairs). I had been told that it was as busy as the Grand Palace in Bangkok and we decided to give it a miss due to timing. It is only 30 baht entrance fee but getting there is more difficult. Look out for rot daang (red trucks) which are shared taxis which will take you to the bottom of the steps for 50 baht per person, however they will only leave when they have enough passengers. To take a taxi or tuk tuk will be around 300 baht or 500 return.
East London Girl: Things to do in Chiang Mai