Cost: £ – super cheap when you’re there
Rating: 6/10 (although if you’re going to Elephant Nature Park, 100/10)
If you’re flying to Chiang Mai from London, you have to go via Bangkok. You can find return flights (with Bangkok stop) for around £500. Always check SkyScanner for best fares.
Whilst there’s lots to see in Chiang Mai, I’d suggest visiting as part of a bigger trip (you could go to Siem Reap / Bangkok / Hong Kong etc.)
We stayed at 99 The Gallery which I would definitely recommend. It cost £37 per night including breakfast. The rooms are quite basic (no air-con) but do the job. They also have a nice pool with sunbeds for you to enjoy.
If you want something snazzier, 99 the Heritage is next door.
OR search booking.com / AirBnb to find a place to suit your budget.
Currency is the Thai baht… £1 = 42.19 baht! Roughly worked out as 1 GBP to 40 THB.
Taxis are very reasonable and you can normally agree a price before you hop in. It’s 150 baht from the airport to the centre. If you want to get somewhere fast, jump in a Tuk Tuk. These are also cheap, but make sure you agree a price before you get in and hold on tight!!!
1 – Temples
There are many temples you’ll stumble upon as you walk the streets of Chiang Mai.
I unfortunately didn’t note down the names of each temple, but the ones pictured here are all within the Old Town. If you want to learn more about the history of the top 10 temples to visit, you can click here.
I would say Wat Phra Singh is the most impressive we saw in Chiang Mai and was quite similar in style to some of the temples in The Grand Palace, Bangkok.
Most of the temples have boxes outside with scarves you can use to cover your shoulders, but best to go prepared and have one yourself. Remember to take your shoes off too.
2 – Elephants
If you want to spend a day / two with the elephants, please read this section to make sure you have a genuinely ethical experience. I urge you to choose an Elephant Nature Park (ENP) project and here’s why…
The Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is about an hour away from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. They rescue weak/sick captive elephants and provide rehabilitation in a natural environment. They also liberate trekking/riding camps by educating/supporting villagers, and providing them with another source of income.
A lot of elephant ‘sanctuaries’ downright lie. They tell you they are doing good but they still mistreat the elephants. The more I learn, the more I realise how on their own ENP are in terms of the work they do.
ENP recognise that they cannot rescue all the elephants in Asia and give them a home at their park. They also realise elephant tourism is unfortunately the livelihood of many villagers. Therefore, they help local independent elephant owners to improve the life and treatment of their elephants. They help with vet care, education & the general management of these camps. They take the ‘saddle off’ and now the elephants are pampered by adoring visitors who can experience the incredible animals up close by feeding, walking and bathing them, instead of sitting in heavy saddle cages on their backs.
There are plenty of single day projects to choose from all over Thailand which you can check out here! I’ve been twice now to the single day ‘Elephant Trails‘ project an hour from Chiang Mai which cost just Baht 2,500 / £58 for the entire day, including lunch and transport to and from Chiang Mai.
If you have longer in Chiang Mai, you might want to consider an overnight stay at ENP / the 1 week volunteering programme. You live at ENP amongst the elephant herd, 200 cats, 400 dogs, water-buffalo, cow, and many other rescued animals. You learn so much about elephant care by getting totally stuck in. Although it’s a volunteering programme, you only really ‘work’ for 4 hours a day, so there is plenty of free time where you can enjoy the stunning surroundings as well as different evening events and walks.
It costs just 12,000 Baht (£280) for 6 nights accommodation, 3 amazing meals per day (buffet style with loads of choice), transport to and from Chiang Mai, internet connection and the most fulfilling, positive week ever! CLICK HERE to see a video I made of the trip. CLICK HERE to read a blog I wrote on my time at Elephant Nature Park.
On my first trip to Chiang Mai, I naively and in good faith went to single day project run by another company claiming to be doing good for the elephants, but I now know how badly those elephants were being treated. If you have been/have booked with another company and still want to go, keep your eyes open and notice the warning signs. Elephants should not:
- kiss you with their trunk
- lift their trunk to allow you to pose for photos
- sway side to side (sign of distress)
- squirt water on command
- raise their leg to help you mount them
- be ridden
Challenge your guide/mahout if you notice any of these things, and look out for hooks/nails or any physical action between the mahout and the elephant. They are still broken and forced to behave unnaturally through fear.
The first taxi I hopped in from the airport was advertising many elephant / tiger days which would look amazing to an innocent tourist who didn’t know any better. Please tell your friends / anyone who will listen not to visit these types of places.
3- Sunday Night Market
Every Sunday there’s a night market (from about 4pm) on the ‘Walking Street’ in Chiang Mai. It’s roughly 1km long with smaller markets off little side streets.
There are also many restaurants / bars for you to enjoy on this street. Mango and sticky rice is the best and you must try it!
There are many handcrafted products to choose from as well as the usual touristy souvenirs. You will find some absolute bargains… definitely suggest you buy all your gifts for friends and family at home from here. The markets even engulf temples nearby which become food courts!
4 – Old City Walls
The old city wall and Tha Phae Gate is at the entrance to the Walking Street. There isn’t a massive amount to see other than the wall and tourists posing for photos covered in pigeons. Each to their own…
5 – Food
There are many great places to eat in Chiang Mai. We never went too far from the main walking street (Ratchadamnoen Rd) which has plenty of inviting places. Our favourite for a casual dinner was Ratchadamnoen Kitchen! 2 large beers, 3 dishes and 2 portions of rice cost the equivalent of £13… SO cheap.
We also enjoyed dinner at Terrace & Parasol Inn. It was more expensive than other places in the same area, but the food was very good, the portions were large, and it came quickly.
*TOP TIP* eat mango and sticky rice where ever you go.
There are plenty more restaurants you’ll discover as you walk around, all incredibly cheap. You can always check out the TripAdvisor top 10 places to eat 🙂
If you have longer in Chiang Mai, I am also told the following are worth doing:
- Cooking class – learn how to cook like a local.
- Doi Suthep – mountain 15km west of Chiang Mai with a beautiful hilltop temple. It also has a national park which looks pretty.
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – stunning temple in the hills.
- Relax by the pool