Mist-covered mountains looming over the city. Wet air that sinks into your lungs during the rainy season. Tuk tuks and red “cabs” always ready to carry travellers to their next stop. The smell of spices and street food. These are Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The city, which is the second biggest in the country (next to Bangkok), isn’t really big at all. But, it is full of charming places to unwind, wats to explore, inexpensive massages to be had and a real moat that separates the old city from the rest of Chiang Mai. If the opportunity comes up to score cheap flights a visit to Chiang Mai is definitely worth it. Here are favourites to try while there:
The Rachamankha Hotel: This gorgeous boutique hotel is located in the old city and is nearby Wat Phra Singh, a quick walk to the Sunday Walking Street Market and more. But, aside from its location the hotel itself is stunning. The rooms tie in the history of the country, featuring decorations from the Lanna period. Housed inside the complex is a library, restaurant (which offers a delicious 450 baht, three-course breakfast with the price of the room), and a beautiful pool. The award-winning hotel is small, with a mere 25 rooms, making it a quiet oasis in the city.
Sabai Massage: Its location is ideal – less than a block from the moat and Thapae Gat; the masseurs friendly and professional. Although there are literally thousands of massage parlors in the city, all of them waiting to provide you with traditional Thai massages: oil massages, facials, foot massages, pedis, manis, and more. They’re inexpensive (about $5) for an hour and leave you feeling completely relaxed. Thai massage is different from other massages; not just a passive activity, expect to participate as they pull and stretch you for a loose feeling afterwards.
The markets: There are two major markets for shopping in Chiang Mai: the Sunday Walking Street Market and the Night Market. No matter which you choose expect crowds. Slow-moving crowds. The Sunday Market is packed to the brim with people. Expect to go from Point A to Point B at a snail’s pace. But, the items you can buy are what make it worth the elbow-to-elbow walking. There is everything from really inexpensive street food to gorgeous clothing to paintings and handmade crafts. The Night Market is more commercial and tourist, offering a large number of stalls with knock-off purses and flip flops. But, still worth a quick jaunt.
Mo Rooms: This combo hotel and restaurant/bar is filled with artsy charm. It’s a great place to nosh on traditional Thai food, as well as sip some seriously amazing cocktail concoctions. Downstairs, there are board games to play and a café to sit and check e-mail. Upstairs, tables sunk into the floor offer a great place to start the night (they have two-for-one cocktails). Plus, the hotel features individually designed rooms with one-of-a-kind art and a pool that needs to be seen.
Elephant Nature Park: There are plenty of tour offices in the city offering elephant treks, rafting trips, zip lining and more. If elephants are what you are after, Elephant Nature Park is the only way to go. The park houses 37 former working elephants from trekking camps, circuses and more, all of which are being rehabilitated. Riding is not offered because of the harm it can cause the elephants (as well as the training practices which introduce the animals to riders), but there are plenty of opportunities to get up-close and personal with these gentle giants at the park.
Guests are picked up at their hotels for an hour journey to the park where they can feed and bathe the elephants, walk the park and meet the inhabitants, as well as learn about what really happens to elephants who are working at tourist attractions in the country. It is eye-opening , moving and a great way to interact with the elephants in a safe environment.
Want more? Other musts … Thai Freedom House – this nonprofit community language and arts centre is dedicated to helping refugees from Burma and indiginious people from Thailand. It doubles as a darling little café with food and delicious drinks, plus serves as a location for classes and more.
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