Southern Thailand has that tropical island vibe, and Bangkok has its own historical and chaotic atmosphere. But Chiang Mai is a completely different story.
You will encounter a beautiful temple on every corner. You’ll eat the best Khao Soi served in Thailand in the backyard of a Buddhist school, and you’ll definitely love this city and its amazing people.
Old Town at a Glance
Chiang Mai was established in 1296 by King Mengrai, as the capital of Lanna Kingdom. Almost all historical attractions in the city are located within the square-shaped old town of Chiang Mai.
The four gates of the city are Chang Phuak (North), Tha Phae (East), Suan Dok (West), and Tai Vieng Chiang Mai (South).
Where to Stay
We stayed at Hostel by Bed. It’s a 5-minute walk from the Chiang Mai night market, and it’s just a few hundred meters from Chang Phuak Gate.
Across the street, there’s a 7-Eleven, which had been a lifesaver for us as the opening hours are generally between 11 am – 6 pm in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Temples
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is a 15th-century Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai Old Town. The half of its pagoda (the tower-like structure) was destroyed by a massive earthquake in the 16th century.
Wat Lok Molee
Wat Lok Molee is lightly decorated and not popular among visitors, however it’s historically important and dates back to the 14th century. It’s 500 meters far from the Chang Phueak Gate on the north of Chiang Mai Old Town.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep Temple or Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is considered as one of the most sacred sites in Thailand. People come to northern Thailand from all over the country to visit the temple during religious holidays.
The temple was established in the 14th century. According to the legend, Buddha’s collarbone had been brought to northern Thailand by a Buddhist monk. Then, the bone was fastened to the back of a white elephant, and the animal was released to the nature. It climbed a mountain, and died on the top of it. It’s believed that the spot, where the white elephant carrying Buddha’s collarbone had died, is where Doi Suthep Temple was built, and that’s why it’s such a holy place for Thai Buddhism.
After taking the Doi Suthep mini-bus from Chiang Mai Old Town and arriving at the temple complex, visitors climb more than 300 stairs to get to the main temple.
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man, built in the 13th century, is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. The temple was established when Chiang Mai became a city in 1296.
The chedi, also the oldest structure in the complex, has 16 elephant figures around its base.
The complex is located 500 meters to the southeast of Chang Phuak Gate in the old town.
Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao is a wooden temple located in the old city. It is overshadowed by Wat Chedi Luang next to it, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh is a 14th-century Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai old town. It’s considered as one of the best examples of classical Lanna architecture.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
We joined a one-day tour to spend time with rescued and liberated elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. It is the closest thing to meditation that I’ve done while traveling.
There are a few ethical elephant camps across Thailand, and EJS is one of them. They don’t torture animals to make them perform unnatural tricks. More importantly, they don’t allow elephant riding, which is probably the most harmful of all.
It takes approximately one hour to drive to the sanctuary from Chiang Mai Old Town. It is literally in the jungle. There are more than 10 elephants at the camp, with 2 newborns.
The one-day tour includes pick-up and return service, lunch, elephant feeding, mud bath and swimming with elephants. You can find more information and make reservations for both Chiang Mai and Phuket locations on their website.
In Chiang Mai, you can find countless places that offer Thai massage and foot massage – from spa centers to 100-seat massage factories.
Sense Massage and Spa is one of the places that I can recommend. They have a long “menu” of massage packages.
No, the tigers aren’t sedated. But you will be accompanied by their private caretakers if you want to take photos with them.
This giant baby in the below photo is Oliver.
Ploen Ruedee Night Market
Ploen Ruedee Night Market is on Chang Klan Road to the east of the old town. There are more than 30 food stalls, cocktail bars, and ice cream shops at the market.
It’s open 7 days a week, and best for having dinner after walking around Chiang Mai Night Market.
Chiang Mai Night Market
Best for souvenirs.
There is a night market in Chiang Mai every night. But the only one you shouldn’t miss is Sunday Night Market.