Adventures in Chiang Mai
Length of stay: Four days.
Getting there: Short flight on Thai Airways from Bangkok.
Getting around: Uber is so cheap it’s basically free. Tuk tuks provide transportation AND a fun thrill ride.
Where to stay: I stayed in two different hotels to save travel time when exploring the city (and because I love hotels). The first was the Veranda High Resort near the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, the other was the Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai- closer to the center of town.
1. Elephants!: Book a day at Patara Elephant Farm to spend some truly magical time with the Elephants. Allow the guides to pair you with an elephant to match your personality and begin your journey together. Learn basic commands, feed your elephant, ride them (the right way) and give them a bath. Check out this Huffington Post video that sums up the day in 10 minutes and also shows why I chose Patara Elephant Farm over many, many others.
2. Hang with lions and tigers (no bears, sorry): While there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not these animals are drugged, I read this blog from a former intern who shared her experience working at Tiger Kingdom. From my personal experience, some of them were asleep but the majority of the cats were very much awake and capable of eating my face off (should they have chosen to do so). While in the cage with one of the large tigers, another was jumping around in the water playing like a giant kitten trying to catch a bird. I cannot imagine that that tiger had been drugged. Another promising sign, a baby lion was napping when I arrived and they wouldn’t wake him up until he woke on his own. Throughout my entire experience, an on-site veterinarian stayed close to ensure the wellbeing of the cat.
3. Catch a Muay Thai fight: Thaphae Stadium is a bit of a tourist trap but definitely does the job. Stay until the final match which features blindfolded fighters trying to knock eachother out. That bit is clearly staged for your viewing pleasure - I felt it to be pretty cheesy. Beers are cheap, enjoy the music and place a bet if you feel bold.
4. Day trip to Chiang Rai: Your hotel will tell you that your only option is take a full day tour. I disagree. Have them arrange a cab to scoop you as early as you can (I left before 6am) and head straight to the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) to check out the architecture and the pop-culture references within. Don’t forget to make a wish while you’re there and grab a little sausage on a stick from the street vendors. It’s a far drive (3hrs) but if you head directly back to the hotel you can be back in Chiang Mai by lunch and it’s definitely worth the trek.
5. Explore the night markets. Great place to buy souvenirs if you’re into that kind of thing. I found it to be mostly crap but the energy and smells of it all made it a worthwhile experience. Honestly, my best souvenirs came from the pharmacy - did you know you can get pretty much anything (anything) in a Thai pharmacy without a prescription? My mom was really pumped about the $6 Retin-A tubes I brought her back as a souvenir.
6. Head to Warorot Market and make your way to Dam Rong (one of the most famous stalls) for Sai Ua - a Northern Thai Sausage. One big one is enough to feed a small family so no need to go overboard (like I did, buying three just in case).
7. Whatever you do - make sure to find this place for truly authentic Khao Soi. This was maybe my single favorite thing I ate in Thailand - a dark brown curry with pork, boiled egg noodles and crispy noodles on top. I can not overstate this - must, must try.
7. Ride in a tuk-tuk whenever possible. Make sure to negotiate the price- they’ll quote you roughly double what you should really end up paying. Show them the map on your phone to ensure you make it to the right spot.
8. Visit the Wat Phra That Doi Kham: located within Doi Suthep-Pui National Park - walk the tunnels in Wat Umong. Get some exercise by walking up 400 steps to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or go off the beaten path and walk up even more steps to see the unfinished Temple located right near the Veranda High Resort. Ask a friendly monk for help finding the steps. The stairs are challenging but the view from the top makes it all worth it.