We based ourselves in Chiang Mai the largest city in northern Thailand for a week which included spending 2 days in the far north of Thailand on a trekking trip. The Old Town of Chiang Mai dates back to the 12th century and is surrounded by the old city walls and a moat.
According to the Visit Chiang Mai website there are over 200 Buddhist temples in and around the city. We spent the first day walking round some of them as we familiarised ourselves with Chiang Mai. The above temples are found in the very centre of the Old Town. Wat Chedi Luang is the oldest temple but was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1545.
Chiang Mai has a huge night market every Sunday which is packed full of locals, tourists and ex-pats. Due to the slow moving crowd we had no option but to edge our way through the market with everyone else. There seemed to be more items to buy such as handicrafts, paintings and costume jewellery and less food stalls than the night market of Hua Hin we recently visited.
Throughout our week (and with the exception of the Hill Tribe trek) we spent quite a bit of our time in Chiang Mai ‘soaking up the atmosphere’, exploring the Old Town at a leisurely pace, popping into coffee shops and cafes and wandering through the markets. As we were visiting during early April daily temperatures climbed to around 40 degrees by around 4 pm each afternoon.
There was a large number of vegetarian and vegan cafes serving up delicious healthy and locally sourced food and drinks. In fact we were feeling super-healthy after a week in Chiang Mai especially with a tropical fresh fruit platter each for breakfast and smoothies, coconuts and fresh fruit juices during the day.
Additional Chiang Mai attractions
There are a lot of activities in and around Chiang Mai. Many people take a short trip out of town to visit the Doi Suthep temple which is located on a hill in the Doi Suthep national park. Visibility was poor throughout our week in Chiang Mai due to the annual pollution at this time of the year as a result of fire being used to clear fields and prepare them for planting crops for the rainy season. On clear days you are able to see good views of Chiang Mai. However as we could barely see the mountains from the balcony of our guest house and having seen many temples in the last few weeks in Thailand we decided not to visit this one.
A Thai cooking experience is another popular activity which is something we may try in another country as we move around South East Asia. (We did have an intro to Thai cooking with Mr Goo). Massage, meditation, painting and yoga courses can also be found varying in length from an hour or two to several days or months.
Other activities on offer in Chiang Mai were elephant trekking, the Tiger Kingdom, the Chiang Mai zoo and various monkey attractions.
We didn’t want to participate in activities which involve the use or exploitation of animals. There is a lot of publicity to show that elephants can suffer a great deal in the Thai tourism trade. Many are taken from their mothers when they are far too young, are beaten into submission with sticks and are expected to lug entire families around on their backs. Elephants spines are not strong enough and as a result they suffer from pain and back problems.
Having said that there are a handful of elephant retirement and orphanage homes which allow you to interact with elephants in a non-evasive manner and which don’t involve riding them. They care for animals who have been mis-treated and use the money paid for the experience to fund the elephant care. We would therefore suggest it’s important to do your research carefully.
The tigers in the Tiger Kingdom are apparently sedated which allows them to be docile enough for tourists to have tiger selfies.