Last summer, my husband and I spent 3 weeks touring around Thailand and trying to see as much as we could within the country. We highlighted Chiang Mai as the mid-point of our trip between Bangkok and the islands (Phuket, Koh Samui + Phi Phi). A friend of ours here in Honolulu, who owns his own Thai restaurant and hails from Thailand, told us that Chiang Mai is considered the “bread basket” of the country and we could anticipate the best food during our time there.
On board our flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket, my husband and I talked about all the activities, sights, people and food we had encountered during our (too short) stay in the region. In the process of discovering the city and all that it has to offer, we realized we had fallen in love.
We spent three full days in Chiang Mai, but could have easily spent a week or more exploring the city and countryside. We stayed in the Le Meridien Chiang Mai which proved to be a great location in the heart of the city. It offered a great fitness center, bar and pool that overlooked the street below. It also offered free wifi, which was great for being able to catch up in our room after full days out and about.
Because we had been told Chiang Mai is known for its food, farms and agriculture, we knew we wanted to book a culinary school. We chose Thai Farm Cooking School, which was excellent and incredibly affordable. For a full day (8:30AM – 4:30PM) of cooking, farm and market tours it was 1500 Thai Baht, which is the equivalent to around $44 USD.
It included all transportation to and from your hotel, an individual cooking station, instruction in English, six courses of customized dishes you get to choose and a recipe booklet to take home. Start to finish, it was one of our absolute best days on the trip. Reservations can be made easily on their website in advance.
On our second full day in Chiang Mai, we knew we wanted to experience a traditional Thai massage. Everyone who knew we were headed to Thailand said it was a must! We asked our concierge to book us in at the nicest spa in town (though there are plenty of spas on every street you walk down), so we could get the best experience possible. He booked us at the Fah Lanna Spa and it was one of the most tranquil and intimate experiences I’ve ever had! From the moment we walked in, we were treated like royalty. We chose the Fah Lanna Pure Bliss package which included a skin polish body scrub, traditional Thai massage and aromatherapy. My husband and I chose to have our spa experience as a couple, but separate rooms are available.
On our third and final day, we used our time to explore the city and see what Chiang Mai had to offer in terms of temples, shopping and eating. Let’s just say I could have spent a week or more perusing the city, not to mention the nightly market that got set up in the street right outside our hotel.
We began our morning at Ristr8to, the home of world-renowned latte art champion for many years in a row. The coffee was delicious, the vibe was trendy and they offered free wifi. I highly recommend the cake batter waffles with maple and fruit dipping sauces! This is also a great hangout spot for backpackers.
Up next we headed for Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which required procuring a private car. The drive up the winding mountain was quite the experience, but the golden temple was magical and the views from the top cannot be beaten. Dubbed one of the most popular spots in all of Chiang Mai, it gets crowded so I would recommend going as early as you are able.
We spent a good deal of time at Doi Suthep (it’s a National Park that goes well beyond “just a temple”), so the rest of our day consisted of heading back toward our hotel. We hadn’t gotten a chance to explore the night market yet, so we headed there for dinner and shopping. Trust me when I say you can buy anything from Nike sneakers to home decor and beyond at Thai markets. They are a dream come true to color-loving shopaholics like myself. Be sure to have Baht on you because they rarely take credit cards.
We boarded a plane the next morning and headed south to the islands, but before the wheels of the aircraft had even gone up, we knew another trip to Chiang Mai had to happen. Full of history, color and kind-hearted people – it’s a must for any world traveler with a passion for exploration.
Have you ever been to Chiang Mai, Thailand? Please share your experience with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > Luxury Escape To Four Seasons Chiang Mai