After spending six magical days in Chiang Mai, all thanks to the wonderful people at Ice Lolly, I am ready to show you what I got up to and how I fell head over heels for the Rose of the North. As we won the holiday we were able to be slightly more flexible when it came to spending money on activities. But I’m sure you’d be able to find even cheaper alternatives.
Chiang Mai is without a doubt my favourite place I’ve visited by far. I’d totally be happy to settle down there for a while, I’m not even kidding. I loved the people, the food, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the weather, everything. So without further ado, here is my ultimate six-day guide to Chiang Mai, from night markets and temples to ziplining and caring for elephants.
DAY ONE: EXPLORING CHIANG MAI
Price: Free, unless you spend money on a tuk-tuk or songthaew to travel around the city (these range anywhere from 20 baht to 200 baht – 43p to £4.30)
Location: Anywhere (but head to the Old City in particular!)
On your first day in Chiang Mai, you just want to relax and get to grips with where everything is. It’s quite easy to do this as the city is pretty small in comparison to say Bangkok. We arrived at our hotel Eastin Tan, at 10 in the morning after 14 hours in transit, grabbed some food, checked into our room at 12, unpacked, showered and then napped until half 3. Jet lag is real, folks.
In the evening we decided to explore the city, from the area surrounding our hotel on Nimmanhaemin Road, the so-called hipster street, to the Old City. Jump in a tuk-tuk or a red songthaew, and whizz through the streets taking in all the sights and smells of the city. There are many temples in the Old City. I’m talking 300+ temples. The most well-known ones are Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Suan Dok, Wat U-Mong and Wat Chedi Luang. But even I didn’t visit all of these – to be honest it’s not necessary. And believe me, you’ll stumble across hundreds just by walking around anyway!
DAY TWO: DOI INTHANON NATIONAL PARK
Price:1,150 baht (£25) per person, including transport, tour and a buffet lunch. It was well worth the price! Booked through Travel Hub (but many other companies offer similar day tours).
Location: Doi Inthanon National Park, Ban Luang, Chom Thong
On the second day, we embarked on a tour of Doi Inthanon National Park, otherwise known as “the roof of Thailand”. We were picked up from our hotel at about quarter to 9 and joined a small group of only four other people. First we were taken to Sirithan Waterfall, followed by a visit to a small hill tribe village (Karen village), and then to an even more impressive waterfall, Vachiratharn Waterfall, which was so refreshing in the intense Thai heat.
We then stopped for everyone’s favourite part of the day: lunch! This consisted of local Thai dishes, and was super delicious and filling. Next on our tour was the Ang Ka nature trail where we walked amongst the unique flora and forest and reached the highest point in Thailand at 2565 metres. Here the temperature dropped to 18 degrees which was very lovely – it felt like we had been transported back to good ol’ England.
A 45-minute drive then took us up to the King & Queen pagodas. The attraction was honestly breathtaking; it was so serene and not ridden by tourists like I assumed it would be. If you type Chiang Mai into Google Images all of the photos will be of here and for good reason too. You just HAVE to visit! Not only are the chedis (places of worship containing relics (typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns)) stunning, but the area offered the best views across the national park.
One word of advice for my girls out there: bring toilet roll or tissues (and a lot of it) in your bag with you. There are no toilets throughout the tour, just basins on the floor which are covered in wee, flies and all sorts of other things that I don’t need to name. Be prepared to squat like its hot (spoiler alert: it’s not hot).
Our final stop on the tour was to the Royal Project Research Station and its surrounding flower gardens which were beautiful. We were feeling very lazy from lack of sleep/jetlag and all of the walking, so were happy to take it slow and chill by the pond.
DAY THREE: ELEPHANT NATURE PARK
Price: 2,500 baht (£53.50) per person, including transport, a tour and a buffet lunch.
Location: Elephant Nature Park, Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai
On our third day, we volunteered with elephants at Elephant Nature Park, possibly the most tourist-y thing on our Thailand bucket list. Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre where you can volunteer and visit to help. The centre does not use hooks or chains or offer rides or shows.
We were picked up from our hotel at around 8:30 in the morning and after what felt like a ten-minute drive, but what was really an hour and a half, we made it to the park. On our journey, we watched a film in the van about the awful tourism trades which abuse elephants, including the circus, street begging, forced breeding, tree logging, and trekking. These abused elephants can roam free at Elephant Nature Park in their natural environment. The park is also home to lots of other rescue animals including hundreds of cats and dogs, birds and water buffalo.
On arrival, we met two of the oldest elephants in the park that were 60 years old and we fed them watermelons and learnt about their past. Next, we roamed around the park getting to know all of the elephants and their dark histories in their respective trades, including one baby elephant who was beyond cute.
By 12 we sat down for a gorgeous Thai buffet, with lots of refreshing salad and fruit. We were given an hour and a half for lunch so we enjoyed chilling in the shade and getting to know the other people on our tour. Joining tours whilst travelling is a great way to make friends and speak to people you otherwise wouldn’t. We were the youngest in all of our tour groups!
The last activity of the day was bathing the elephants in the river! The specific elephants that you bathe do not have the ability to lie down so cannot clean themselves.
Entrance fees are around £53.50 and you should book in advance on their website. The price is well worth it and you should consider it a charity donation, instead of paying to partake in specific activities. Plus the buffet lunch was insanely good and the best we had on the trip by far.
After being burnt to a crisp in the sweltering hot sun we met up with some friends from back home who also happened to be in Chiang Mai. We found a cool hostel called Deejai Backpackers to hang out at, which had a bar, swimming pool and tree house. Soon we felt a bit peckish so we headed towards a small Thai restaurant on the side of the street called Henry Restaurant for some cheap, decent food. If we had read the Trip Advisor reviews for this place we wouldn’t have visited, but hey ho. Afterwards, we went back to the hostel to drink some more.
DAY FOUR: WAT PHRA THAT DOI SUTHEP
Price: 550 baht (£11.80) per person. Booked again through Travelhub, but this can also be done independently (and at a cheaper price) using the red songthaews.
Location: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Mueang Chiang Mai District
The next day Gaz and I treated ourselves to a lie in, which really didn’t count as a lie in because we had a stupidly late night (or morning) before. In the afternoon we embarked on a tour to Doi Suthep Temple, one of the best temples in Thailand. You can easily visit the temple by catching a taxi, but we decided we wanted everything pre-planned for us; as our trip was so short we wanted to ensure that we wouldn’t miss out on anything we wanted to do.
The tour costs £11.80 and sets off both in the morning at half 8 and the afternoon at half 1 depending on your preference. The tour first took us to the Hmong hill tribe village, where it rained. Like a lot. This was our first experience with Thailand‘s monsoon season. We didn’t let this crap weather get the better of us and continued to explore the village and its many stalls selling authentic treasures.
After this, we headed towards the main attraction: Doi Suthep! The thunderstorms prevented us from climbing the famous 300 steps to the top of the mountain. Naturally, we wimped out and ascended the mountain using the free cable car. At the top of Doi Suthep is not only the stunning temple, with many religious shrines but also some insanely gorgeous views over the city of Chiang Mai.
To enter the temple you have to take off your shoes and go in barefoot. Similarly, you need to dress appropriately *surprise surprise*. This means shoulders and legs need to be covered, so don’t wear a tank top. I wore a pair of shorts (because it’s blahdy hot) but then wrapped a long sarong around my waist. Also, avoid low-cut tops.
DAY FIVE: FLIGHT OF THE GIBBON
Price: 3,999 baht (£85) per person – yep, it is extremely expensive. You can also hire a GoPro for 1,500 baht (£32). Photographers can be found at a couple of stops along the course to take photos of you (you can pay 1,000 baht (£22) to get these photos in bulk on an SD card afterwards).
Location: Flight of the Gibbon, Huai Kaeo, Mae On District, Chiang Mai
Our penultimate day took us to Flight of the Gibbon, voted Best Attraction in Asia, and boy were we excited. Flight of the Gibbon is a treetop adventure where you zip line and abseil through the rainforest. I won’t lie it is extremely expensive coming in at a staggering £85, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. I don’t know whether this justifies the extortionate price, but what can you do. In the ticket price, you are paying for transport, a visit to a waterfall, a local Thai lunch and of course the ziplining course.
Along the course, there is 5km worth of zip lines, two of which are tandem (you fly with another person) and one is a superman jump. Flight of the Gibbon is also home to Asia’s longest single zip wire at 800 metres long, which was insane. Some of the 30 stations are suspended up to 50 metres above the valley floor. You also cross lots of cool bridges and spiral staircases, hike for a bit and there are two abseiling stations along the way. Oh, and you’ll hopefully see a few gibbons too.
The instructors are fantastic and made us all feel at ease. Whilst safety was obviously top priority, the sky rangers also have a lot of fun with their roles, for example by shaking the ziplines so you fly from side to side. There were a few other surprises along the way too, but I’ll be sure to keep those a secret.
DAY SIX: SUNDAY WALKING STREET NIGHT MARKET
Price: Free (or pricey depending on how much you choose to spend at the markets!) You may also have to spend money on travel within the city if you’re staying far away from the markets. Again, grab a tuk-tuk or songthaew (these range anywhere from 20 baht to 200 baht – 43p to £4.30).
Time: 4pm until midnight
Location: The market runs from the Tha Phae Gate roughly 1km down the full length of Ratchadamnoen Road.
Ah, my sixth day in Chiang Mai. I never ever ever want to leave. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a city quite like this. The final day on any holiday is all about the dreaded packing – if you actually manage to do tons of sightseeing and activities on your last day I salute you. Sunday was actually one of my favourite days in the city as we visited the famous Sunday Walking Street Night Market.
While there are many markets in Chiang Mai, this particular one spans an impressive kilometre and is filled with so many unique treasures and delicious food. If you fancy immersing yourself more into the culture, why not look beyond street food and take a cooking class in Chiang Mai to wrap up your trip?
So, have you ever visited Chiang Mai? What was your favourite thing about the city? Let me know in the comments below and we can reminisce together! If you haven’t visited before and need any more advice, ask away in the comments – I’m happy to help.
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