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9 reasons to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand now

Chiang Mai, oh my! Before visiting Chiang Mai for myself, I’d met many travelers who had been. From their description, a picture of Chaing Mai had formed as a sort of Disney World for backpackers in my head. I had high expectations, and can you believe that the reality was even better?! I loved it so much that I actually cut my time in the islands short to fly back to Chiang Mai for the last week of my trip. What’s so awesome about this 720 year old city in the north of Thailand?

1. Price

One U.S. dollar is equal (at the moment) to 36 Thai Baht… which meant that I could buy a whole lot with very little money spent. A typical meal was between $2-6, including a drink. My daily Thai tea was less than 70 cents. An hour long massage was around $5.50.

the best Thai tea Chiang Mai

2. Massages

Unlike any massage I’ve received in the past, Thai massages are incredible. You are fully clothed throughout (usually with loose clothing provided by the massage parlor), no oils are used, and the massage therapist uses a combination of pushing, pulling, and stretching your muscles instead of rubbing them. It’s painful… but in the words of the great John Mellencamp, it hurts so good!

3. Food

The food was incredible (and as I mentioned above… super cheap!) At the Sunday Night Walking Market, I bought a pad thai for 10 cents.
pad thai from the Sunday night market Chiang Mai Thailand

I was warned that the food would be spicy, but that was not my experience at all… maybe I had an ‘I can’t handle the heat’ look about me. Use the phrase ‘mai phet’ if you’d like to ensure that your food won’t be spicy.

Or… you could learn how to make it yourself, like I did at the Thai Farm Cooking School! A fun day, and with the take-away cookbook, these recipes will last a lifetime!

Thai Farm cooking school Chiang Mai Thailand

Thai Farm cooking school Chiang Mai Thailand

Thai Farm cooking school mango sticky rice Chiang Mai Thailand

Durian, crickets and silkworms are all readily available… and I tried it all. Check out the video proof here.

4. People

Thailand is known as the land of smiles, and nowhere is that more true than in Chiang Mai. I loved seeing a mix of cultures, hearing a multitude of languages and interacting with people who were (seemingly) always in a great mood– traveler and local alike. The locals are friendly, hospitable, and helpful. Always be vigilant… but I felt safe everywhere I went– day or night– within this city.

5. Animals

I have a weakness for cute animals. (Have you met my dog, Cooper?)Cooper maltipoo IMG_1511Ok.. Focusing on Chiang Mai again because this is not a blog about how much I miss my dog.

I did the research and found a place that seemed to treat their elephants well– no bull hooks, no wooden chairs, and when my elephant, Moo Yo (her name means steamed pork) wanted to eat… we chilled in the trees and snacked as Mae Poi, the 20-month-pregnant elephant, passed us.

Blue Elephant Tours

Blue Elephant Tours

I loved learning commands from the mahouts.

Pai (sounds like bye): go

How: stop

Toy: back

Bon: lift trunk (because I was putting a banana into it)

Bon- elephant command to lift trunk

Dee dee: good good

And I loved how the baby elephant, Pum Noi did his own thing (which was mostly charging his trunk directly into any basket full of bananas he could find).

Blue Elephant Tours baby Chiang Mai Thailand He also gave the best vacuum-cleaner style kisses… which are only acceptable when they’re coming from an elephant.

The Sweet Wanderlust- elepant

2019 update: My views on elephant riding have changed drastically in four years. After a visit to Samui Elephant Haven in Koh Samui, I’m now convinced that elephant encounters are 100% more meaningful when there’s no riding involved. If you want to experience an ethical elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, check out Elephant Nature Park

6. Festivals

I chose to be in Thailand in November for two very specific reasons: Yi Peng and Loi Krathong.

Loi Krathong is celebrated on the night of the full moon in the 12th lunar month of the Thai calendar by floating a basket (made of a section of banana tree, leaves, flowers, incense, and a candle) down a river and symbolically letting go of all hatred or anger.

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai Thailand

Chiang Mai Loi Krathong

I’m sure you’ve see the photos of thousands of lanterns being released simultaneously… that would be Yi Peng. As the lantern is released, you release your worries. Some people wrote wishes or prayers on the lanterns.

Yi Peng Chiang Mai Thailand

Yi Peng Chiang Mai Thailand

The city was abuzz during the day with hot air balloon contests, decorations and dancing and came alive that night with fireworks, lanterns, lights, concerts and so much food. It was a beautiful festival.

Yi Peng Chiang Mai Thailand

7. Temples

Like I mentioned in my A Buddhist retreat and the Prince of Peace article, I loved learning about the Buddhist culture. I visited every temple I came across and was surprised at how ornate and unique each one was.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is incredible. The sheer amount of gold in this temple is amazing.
Doi Suthep Buddhist temple Thailand

In preparing for my trip, the name Wat Ban Den never came up, and yet this temple 45km north of Chiang Mai city is important and well worth the trip. Each of the 12 chedis is dedicated to one of the 12 animals of the Thai zodiac, and Buddhists from all over Thailand make the pilgrimage to this special temple.

Wat Ban Den Chiang Mai Thailand Wat Ban Den Chiang Mai Thailand Wat Ban Den Chiang Mai Thailand

Wat Chedi Luang is a special piece of history– the temple’s construction began in the 14th century, and the Emerald Buddha was housed there from 1468 until 1551 when an earthquake destroyed the temple and the Buddha was moved. Wat Chedi Luang Chiang Mai

8. Adrenaline

While the general feel of Chiang Mai is one of relaxation, the adrenaline-filled activities can’t be overlooked. Muay Thai boxing is a combat sport known as the “art of eight limbs” because the boxers use elbows, knees, and shins in addition to their fists.

muay thai boxing ThaPae Stadium

I wasn’t keen on trying boxing, but I got my adrenaline rush at Flight of the Gibbon, a zip line adventure through the tree tops with a short walk in between zips to see a tree full of gibbons.

9. Artistry

I met Nuutniit Kiattirut, owner and artisan at Noiseka at the Saturday night market… and by the Sunday market, I had made plans to purchase one of his creations. He hand carves each instrument from exotic woods– mango, olive and avocado– which in Thailand are sustainable and local. I love my ukulele!

Noi Guitars Chiang Mai

As you pass hundreds of stands selling the same tank tops at the Night Bazaar, sometimes you stumble across someone special. This metal worker was incredible to watch. Chiang Mai Thailand

I’m sure this isn’t the last you’ll hear of Chiang Mai, nor was this trip the last I’ll see of the city. So kòp kun ka (thank you), Chiang Mai! See you again soon!

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9 reasons to visit Chiang Mai now

9 reasons to visit Chiang Mai


Monday 11th of February 2019

What was the name of the place where you met the elephants.? We will be heading there in March, but want to make sure it is not somewhere where they abuse the elephants.


Monday 11th of February 2019

It's been a few years, but I think it was Blue Tao Elephant Village. We visited on tour with Blue Elephant Thailand Tours. I hope that helps!

Joanna Szreder

Monday 1st of August 2016

I would also add the easiness with which you can drive a scooter there, comparing to other places in Asia.


Monday 1st of August 2016

You're braver than me!!


Friday 5th of February 2016

Chiang Mai has something for everyone. Not many people don't like it!


Friday 5th of February 2016

Agreed! It really is a special place!

Marijana |

Friday 5th of February 2016

Ohh I really want to go to Thailand for my honeymoon at the end of this year or the beginning of 2017 and this post is SO useful for it! Thank you, I fell in love with Thailand already! :)


Friday 5th of February 2016

Marijana, so awesome!! Chiang Mai was my favorite, but I loved all of Thailand! If you get a chance to visit Khao Sok, it's one of the most gorgeous places I've ever been! And if y'all dive, be sure to check out the Similan Explorer... we had a honeymooning couple on our trip!


Friday 5th of February 2016

great post and amazing layout for your blog! I liked everything but the crickets lol.


Friday 5th of February 2016

:) Thank you, Jelisa! I would agree.... although I'd add durian and worms to the list of not-so-awesome, too! Everything else was amazing!