Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of Thailand making it home to some of the country’s most beautiful temples, landscapes and incredible restaurants and cafes. Due to its beauty, many refer to Chiang Mai as the “Rose of the North”.
If you plan to visit Thailand, I highly recommend visiting Chiang Mai. In this post, I am going to share with you my 4 day itinerary including places to stay, things to see and where to eat.
WHERE TO STAY
Chiang Mai offers a broad range of places to stay – from budget friendly, to the highest standard of luxury. As far as an exact location, people typically stay inside or near the Old City. Transportation in Chiang Mai is quick, easy and cheap, and it’s also a great city for walking, so you will be fine regardless of where you stay. Here are a few of my recommendations:
Akyra Manor is an urban style, luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Chiang Mai –Nimmanhaemin Soi 9, known locally as “coffee street”. Surrounded by restaurants and bars, this hotel is 2 blocks from shopping and dining along Nimmanhaemin Road, and 15 minutes from Chiang Mai International Airport. Don’t forget to visit the top floor, where you will find a rooftop terrace with a chic cocktail bar and an outdoor infinity pool.
Bed Nimman is located in the vibrant Nimman Haemin district in Chiang Mai and features a garden with an outdoor swimming pool and a large sundeck. The hotel is located 15 minutes from the airport and surrounded by restaurants, bars and shopping. You can easily take a taxi or a tuk tuk to the Old City in less than 10 minutes.
During my visit to Chiang Mai, I stayed at Bed Nimman and was not disappointed. I loved everything about this hotel! The hotel was renovated in 2016 and features a modern sleek black and white concept. The room was spotless, spacious and included a private balcony. The staff were extremely friendly and very helpful when booking excursions or requesting directions. My favorite part is that the hotel includes complimentary water, tea, espresso, snacks, seasonal fruits and breakfast daily! As you may already know, drinking the water in Thailand is not recommended, therefore you must drink bottled water. The hotel provides unlimited water bottles that are available throughout the hotel. This was definitely a nice perk when going on excursions since we were able to bring our own water bottles in our bag.
There are several ways to get around Chiang Mai and all are relatively inexpensive:
- Walking: walking is a great way to explore the city.
- Renting a scooter: If you’re comfortable on a scooter, you can rent a scooter. Scooters are everywhere!
- Tuk-tuk: You haven’t experienced Thailand until you’ve taken a ride in a Tuk Tuk! Negotiate pricing and always agree on a price before getting into the vehicle.
- Songthaew: These are red trucks, which are shared taxis. Hail one down, tell the driver where you’re heading, and if they’re going in the same direction, they’ll bring you along.
Chiang Mai hosts many Thai festivals throughout the year, including:
- Loi Krathong and Yi Peng, held in November of every year. During these festivals, thousands of people assemble floating banana-leaf containers (krathong) decorated with flowers and candles and deposit them on the waterways of the city in worship of the Goddess of Water. Sky Lanterns, which are made of paper, are launched into the air. These sky lanterns are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also used to decorate houses and streets.
- Songkran is held in mid-April to celebrate the traditional Thai New Year. Chiang Mai has become one of the most popular locations to visit during this festival.
- Chiang Mai Flower Festival is a three-day festival held during the first weekend in February each year; this event occurs when Chiang Mai’s temperate and tropical flowers are in full bloom.
- Tam Bun Khan Dok, the Inthakhin (City Pillar) Festival, starts on the day of the waning moon of the sixth lunar month and lasts 6–8 days.
I personally planned my visit to Chiang Mai to coincide with Yi Peng festival. I watched the sky light up with hundreds of paper lanterns. As one of the most unique festivals in the world, being in Chiang Mai for Yi Peng & Loy Krathong Festivals is definitely worth planning around. If this is on your bucket list, then read here for more information on how to attend.
Explore Chiang Mai’s night markets. This is the perfect place to purchase souvenirs, people-watch, and grab a casual, cheap dinner of local specialties. You can chose to attend:
The Night Bazaar, which begins every night at 6pm, and takes place just east of the old walled city, on Chang Khlan road. Remember to bargain for your purchases. Even though the prices appear cheap you should always bargain. You can even bargain for a foot massage at the market!
The Sunday Market, begins at 4 pm and is a large market located right in the centre of the old walled city area of Chiang Mai. Starting at the Tha Phae Gate at one end the Sunday Market extends down Ratchadamnoen Road. This allows shoppers to browse the goods on display, bargain with vendors for a good price and wander freely all around without watching over their shoulder for a motor bike zipping past. Many of the stall vendors make and sell their own products.. There are also a number of restaurants and bars where you can sit and enjoy a meal or a drink and people watch.
Day Trip to The White Temple
I decided to take a day trip from Chiang Mai to the city of Chiang Rai to see The White Temple. I had been dying to visit this extraordinary temple for years. I had seen photographs and knew if I only visited one temple during my entire trip to Thailand this was going to be it! Many people stay in Chiang Rai to see The White Temple, however I did not have the time so a day trip worked perfectly.
After some research, I booked a tour that not only included a day trip to the White Temple, but explored the ancient royal city of Chiang Saen, The Golden Triangle and a long-tail boat ride on the Khong River. Read here to learn more about my specific trip to Chiang Rai.
Spend the Day with Gentle Giants
Northern Thailand is known for endless options when it comes to elephant parks, however that doesn’t mean they are all ethical. The unfortunate reality is that there is a very dark side to the tourism industry and it’s extremely important that you do your research prior to your visit. If a “sanctuary” allows you to ride the elephants, it is not ethical by any means! Sanctuaries should not allow ANY form of riding, painting or tricks!
If there is one sanctuary that is committed to providing protection, shelter and love to these beautiful creatures it’s Elephant Nature Park. You can either visit the elephants in their natural environment or volunteer at Elephant Nature Park to help out around the sanctuary. I participated in the Sunshine for Elephants Program and spent the entire day with these beauties. You can read all about my experience here.
If you decide to visit Elephant Nature Park, believe me when I say that, it will definitely be one of the highlights of your trip! This is truly an unforgettable experience that you will treasure forever!
Explore the Temples
Chiang Mai is full of amazing Buddhist temples, known as ‘Wats’. While Wat Doi Suthep is probably the most beautiful, the ones in the old city should not be missed either.
I suggest visiting Wat Phra Singh, Wat Bupharam, Wat Pan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Umong. One of the real unique things to do in Chiang Mai is to attend a monk chat, where you can visit a temple and talk to the monks about Buddhism or life in the temples.
TIP: Dress appropriately when visiting temples. No tank tops, shorts or skirts above the knee. Shoes must be removed before entering all temples.
Indulge in one of Chiang Mai’s many day spas! You can find spas literally everywhere. Spend an hour getting pampered and enjoy a foot massage after all that walking! The best part about spa treatments are the price! You can get an hour foot massage for less than 10 USD!
Food for Thought
Farm-to-table produce is front and center at this neighborhood joint, where all the food is made from fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.
We stumbled upon this place as we walked out of our hotel. It’s located right across the street from BED Nimman. Immediately feel in love with this cute little cafe. Such a unique and quaint spot for breakfast, brunch or to grab a coffee.
If you are looking for an exquisite dining experience of French cuisine in Chiang Mai then you must visit Le Bistrot! The menu consists of quality ingredients and the owners are so welcoming. The wine selection is limited but each bottle has been carefully selected for quality.
If you’re craving BBQ, you’ll definitely love this place. The ambiance is trendy and casual. Traditional BBQ dishes to choose from with a Thai fusion. The ribs fall off the bone and are offered in a variety of different styles.
There you have it! My four-day itinerary to visiting Chiang Mai and exploring a taste of what this city has to offer. The combination of history, culture, outdoor activities, delicious food, and great views will surely make you want to return to Chiang Mai! I hope that you found my itinerary helpful for your next trip to Thailand.
What do you think of my 4 day itinerary? Would you add anything?
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