Sunset over Doi Inthanon National Park.
The lush green mountainous north is just as alluring as the southern iconic Thai islands and their white sandy beaches. The ancient city of Chiang Mai with its many charms is a gateway to Northern Thailand and offers an ideal base for discovering this enchanting region.
Here you can hike the verdant jungles, indulge in the famous Thai hospitality, wolf down copious amounts of delectable Thai food, play with rescued elephants at a jungle sanctuary or visit countless shining gold Buddhist temples.
Where to stay:
Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai
89/8 Chang Klan Rd, Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand
This elegant urban sanctuary surrounded by lush tropical gardens and panoramic views of sprawling Chiang Mai offers world famous Thai hospitality. You will feel like home in their spacious, bright rooms tastefully appointed in contemporary Northern Thai style, paired with modern amenities.
Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai – elegant urban sanctuary.
The luxurious bedroom feels cozy with plenty of throw pillows and mood lighting, including a daybed, ideal for relaxation. Exclusive touches such as local Celadon tea sets, Thai silk pillows, bed runners and artwork fills the space with a distinctive Chiang Mai charm.
Facilities include outdoor pool, tennis court, fully equipped gym, Chi Spa and modern wellness areas. Stylish Shangri-La is located near enough to the culturally charged old city center, with great sightseeing, shopping, and fine dining, yet conveniently close to the airport. The luxurious hotel also houses two fashionable restaurants – Kad Kafe serving a selection of international fusion dishes and China Kitchen – offering Szechuan delights with a modern twist. Well-known for high quality, professional service and warm Thai hospitality, sophisticated Shangri-La Chiang Mai offers a perfect tranquil oasis within a bustling city.
What to do:
OLD TOWN CHIANG MAI
The center of Chiang Mai is like a chocolate box to choose different flavors from. Wander around the grand Old City surrounded by the remnants of an ancient moat. There are quiet alleys and tree shaded streets leading to impressive Buddhist temples, swanky boutiques, fancy restaurants, street eateries and buzzing markets. Hop on and off the riksha, rent a push-bike or just walk.
Wat Chiang Man – the oldest Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai.
Don’t miss out on a visit of the oldest opulent Temple Wat Chiang Man, built in 13th century and dressed in glistening gold. The “Elephant Chedi” stands tall as the most ancient structure within the complex. Its square base supports a second level adorned with front half of fifteen life-sized elephants carved into stone and emerging from it. They are represented to carry the upper levels on their back. The gilded upper part of the Chedi comprises of a bell-shaped relic chamber right underneath the pinnacle. There are two main Wihans – temple structures on the property, the larger one housing the oldest Buddha statue of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. If you happen to be a Buddhist temple enthusiast, you can knock yourself out, as Chiang Mai houses over 300 of them.
Another highlight of the “Rose of the North” as the city is often dubbed, is a Saturday Walking Street market. Located at the Southern entrance to the Old City. This is where you can haggle over everything from Thai musical instruments, Buddha Paintings, to Thai herbs and spices and more.
Another good place to shop till you drop is the buzzing Night Bazaar. The place gets busy every night with a lot of vendors and the street food here is a steal too! Chiang Mai is a shopping mecca of Thailand, especially if you’re after quality Thai silk and unique handicrafts.
ELEPHANT JUNGLE SANCTUARY
Royal Twin Pagodas – Doi Inthanon National Park.
Ethical alternative ecotourism project, EJS is a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals who were concerned about the welfare of elephants in Thailand. Located approximately two hours outside of Chiang Mai in the forested hills, here you can feed, give a mud bath and bathe with the rescued or orphaned elephants without riding them or causing them any other distress. The gentle giants are not there for your entertainment, you are there for them. You will learn about each elephants’ story and their behaviors and enjoy a fun day in the jungle sanctuary getting to know your new giant friends.
Doi Inthanon National Park
The most spectacular of the bunch spread around Chiang Mai – Doi Inthanon is a crown jewel of the many National Parks in the North. There, amidst fifty shades of green, you’ll get to climb up on serpentine roads all the way to its namesake highest peak of Thailand. The Doi Inthanon Mountain is relatively small at little less than 2600meters, but is actually a part of the mighty Himalayas stretching from Nepal all the way to Northern Thailand.
It is impossible to see all the majestic sights within the park on a single day visit, so either reserve more time or you’ll have to cherry pick your favorites. You shouldn’t miss out on one of the highlights – Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail. The path twists its way through the tall towering rain forest blanketed in a wide variety of moss and vine with a bushy fern undergrowth. Everything is lush, bright green and humid. Then the trail opens up to a phenomenal view of rolling emerald hills stretching all the way to the horizon.
Another majestic sight with its two tall gold-plated stupas are Royal Twin Pagodas located below the nature trail. Enjoy sweeping views across the Thai highlands below you covered in fluffy big white clouds.
The area around the summit supports the only red rhododendron in Thailand and if you visit December through February, you’ll get to marvel at its magnificence in full bloom. On the way back down, don’t forget to stop at Watchirathan Falls tumbling majestically over a massive granite bluff.
Doi Suthep National Park & Wat Temple
Within a shouting distance from downtown Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep is a home of the iconic Wat Phrathat Temple, sacred site to many Thai people. Visible from the city on a clear day, it dates back to 13th century and sits atop one of the hills within the National Park. There is an impressive staircase leading up towards the temple ornamented with statues of two headed dragons on each side. Once you reach the top, you’ll be wowed by the extravagant glam of the inner courtyard. Located within sits its main temple adorned with multicolored glass pieces, surrounded by many shrines and statues of Buddha. The tall gold-plated stupa glistens in the sun and steals the show! Plus you’ll get panoramic views of the city from the very top.
Gold Plated Wat Phrathat Temple.
Further up the hill you’ll find Bhubing Royal Palace – summer residence of the royal family of Thailand. The main building sits on stilts and the whole complex is open to the public except for when the royal family is in residence, usually between January and March. It has famous rose gardens very much worth a visit, with other temperate plants here not commonly found in Thailand.
There is an easy, rewarding 4km roundtrip hike to the top of the Doi Suthep offering spectacular views across the rest of the mountain range.
Where to eat:
This minimalist hip café wouldn’t feel out of place in San Francisco or NYC! Here you can find third wave coffee like no other in Chiang Mai and at its bigger sister resto “Graph Table” just around the corner, you can also pair it with delectable brunches and lunches. Graph Café couldn’t possibly be any smaller, it almost looks like a coffee-dollhouse, but there lies part of its charm. Try their specialty coffee drink “Holiday” that looks like a zebra in a cup. It contains a strong espresso shot, activated charcoal, milk and panacotta. Heaven in your mouth guaranteed.
”Holiday” Specialty Coffee at Graph Cafe.
Breakfast at Graph Table Cafe.
Thai food is not only great food, it is also synonymous with spicy. In Chiang Mai you can find a great number of eateries, where you’ll be in a great company of authentic Pad Thai, curries, rice noodles and other treats. The good rule of thumb is, the less tourists you see, the better it tastes. Many of the best small restaurants don’t advertise themselves to westerners and the staff will speak none or limited English, so for the real Thai street experience pick up few basic Thai phrases. Don’t miss out on the dessert sweet specialty made out of fluffy dough filled with sliced bananas and drizzled with condensed milk.
Thai street food is so delicious.
This is a cute little café with an award for best Chiang Mai breakfast under its belt for two years running. It serves as an ideal base to kick your morning off from.
Parmesan Eggs, Breakfast Sandwich or giant Breakfast Pizza will fuel all of your Chiang Mai adventures. Located conveniently within the Southern Gate, they also offer solid espresso based coffees and have a range of locally brewed all organic fermented Kombucha Tea. Super refreshing in the city’s relentless heat.
Best breakfast in Chiang Mai at Overstand Cafe.
ICONIC THAI SPAS:
Fah Lanna Spa
Wiang Kaew Rd, Chiang Mai, Thailand | www.fahlanna.com
Their motto is easy to find, hard to forget, which proves true to the dot.
Situated in the heart of the old city, Fah Lanna is more than just a spa, it offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the hectic city. It features over twenty-five private rooms equipped with en-suite facilities. Each decorated in different style inspired by the northern districts. Do not leave Chiang Mai without trying their Fah Lanna Exotic Award-Winning Package. It includes exfoliating Tamarind and Sea Salt Scrub, Royal Bath and a signature Fah-Lanna massage which is a unique combination of Tok Sen, Aromatherapy Oil and traditional Thai massage. The treatment is completed with relaxing 5-step facial procedure leaving your skin glowing and rejuvenated.
Tropical courtyard at Fah Lanna Spa.
The Fah Lanna experience is spiced up by small details which ultimately make a big difference. You’ll sip on a complimentary refreshing herbal drink before your massage, while enjoying the sweet, intoxicating scent of over a hundred different spices coming out of the steam clay pots dispersed throughout the exotic property. After your treatment is finished, you’ll get to enjoy in-house made lemongrass tee and a traditional rice cookie in a soothing environment of their adjacent café.
31/8 Soi Ratchamanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand | www.makkhahealhandspa.com
Located within a newly renovated ancient wooden building, Makkha represents a haven of ultimate relaxation. It offers full service health spa with professional and highly qualified therapists, each with more than ten years of experience. Makkha’s mission is to make sure every customer receives a top quality treatment, and leaving the facility completely rejuvenated. All products they use contain 100% natural ingredients with pure essential oils. You’ll receive pre-treatment traditional local juice and post-treatment delightful sticky rice and mango dessert while listening to calming music. Makkha is surrounded by tranquil tropical gardens offering a healing environment, where you can relish your luxurious treatment in complete privacy.
Relaxing Flower Bath at Makhha Spa.
Experience the bliss of the signature Makkha Thai massage, it is a must-try, recommended especially for foreign travelers. This bodywork style combines acupressure, classic kneading and yoga to create a holistic massage experience.