There are so many places to visit in southeast Asia…more places than we have time to visit! Christmas Break, ridiculously cheap flights, the promise of cheap tasty eats, and wanting a change of scenery all added up to us making our way to Thailand! In December, we had the pleasure of visiting Chiang Mai, a lovely city located in northern Thailand. December, by the way, is a great time to visit Chiang Mai. The humidity is low, temperatures are mild, and the sun is shining…you can’t get more perfect than that in December, of all months!
As I always do with my A Day Out travel posts, here is a Google map, showing where Chiang Mai is located in Thailand and relative to Hong Kong and the rest of southeast Asia:
A very doable 3.5 hour flight away from Hong Kong, Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and is nowhere short of culture and history for you to explore when you visit.
First of all, where did we stay? Chiang Mai has many options for accommodations. We chose to stay at The Hive, a hotel that took the whole hive and bee theme quite seriously! Hexagonal patterns in the decor, images of bees in paintings and embroidered on the bed cushions…at least they were consistent!
Breakfast was included in our stay, but this was no western breakfast buffet with eggs and sausages. They served traditional Thai dishes for breakfast that we had to choose every night for the next day.
Dishes ranged from rice porridge congee, pork skewers and sticky rice, rice soup with fish, sticky rice in banana leaves, and poached chicken over rice. Some of the dishes came with a sweet coconut milk “soup” with coconut jellies and sweet corn. I know — not your typical breakfast, right?? But it was quite fun to get into the spirit of being in Thailand and trying these different breakfast options. That being said, there was a “western breakfast” option that included two fried eggs, toast, and sausages…just in case! A very nice touch was the fresh cut watermelon and fresh orange juice that was served with breakfast. It was a great way for us to start our days before we went exploring!
Getting Around Chiang Mai
Speaking of exploring Chiang Mai, there are a few ways to get around. You can walk. You can call Uber, which is incredibly popular there and we used them quite a bit because it was so cheap!
And then there are the infamous tuk tuks, as pictured below…
…and you can’t visit Chiang Mai without riding in a tuk tuk at least once. These seat 3 people comfortably, and if you’re a party of 4 (like us), you’ll be mighty tight and cozy, but it works! Approach a driver, tell him where you want to go, negotiate a price, and off you go!
The other popular way of getting around are the red trucks, otherwise known as “songthaews”. These trucks pick up several people and will drop off at multiple destinations based on where they are all heading. That means that you could end up going on a bit of tour while the driver drops off other passengers before getting to your end point! That being said, if you’re not in a hurry and are into soaking up the atmosphere, it’s worth trying at least once so you can have the experience!
The Old Walled City
One of the main attractions in Chiang Mai is the old walled city. The square-like area of the old city still has most of its protective wall intact, as well as a moat around the perimter.
Complete with a gate on each side, you can access the old city and wander the maze of streets and lanes, finding temples, shops, and no shortage of restaurants.
While you can enter the old city from any of the gates, the main gate and the place where many walking tours start is the Tha Phae Gate, or the East Gate. When we first went to the area, we actually entered through the Saun Dok Gate, or the West Gate.
We visited the old city quite often, mostly to eat at some of the great restaurants within the walls. Wonderfully delicious Thai food for ridiculously cheap prices were plentiful, as well as a nice selection of coffee shops to sit and chill and people watch in the afternoons. You can read about some of these restaurants in my accompanying post, Where To Eat In Chiang Mai, Thailand!
Sunday Night Market
Another reason to visit the old city? The Sunday Night Market!
Also referred to as Sunday Walking Street, the main strip from the East Gate is transformed into a pedestrian-only shopping extravaganza that extends for blocks upon blocks. Stalls and tables are set up along either side of the street, and in many sections, right down the middle, with locals selling more than you can possibly imagine. This market is incredibly popular as you can judge by these photos. The crowds just went on…
…and on! I think you get the idea! It was packed!! We literally just shuffled along and moved with the herd!
And here’s a very small snippit of some of the things you can see for sale at the Sunday Night Market…
Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s worth going just to see how crazy busy it is and get caught up in the energy of it all!
And if your feet get tired from all the walking, you can just sit yourself down and get a foot massage for cheap!
Saturday Night Market
Chiang Mai has another night market that is also very popular, but it is not within the walls of the old city.
The Saturday Night Market is set up on Wua Lai Road, just south of the old city.
This market is also very popular, full of stalls selling all sorts of items.
I found the Saturday market had many more food options than the Sunday market. So if you’re hungry and looking to nibble on a selection of street food while wandering and perusing, I think the Saturday market is a better option. There was no shortage of different street foods available, much of which is cooked up right on the spot.
Anyone interested in meatballs?? I loved how this was literally a portable cooking stall on wheels.
This was so much fun, watching the lady masterfully whip up a huge batch of Pad Thai. It was mesmerizing just to watch her combine all the ingredients so quickly and easily! And of course, it tasted great!
The Golden Temple
If you’re wanting something out of the main city, head to the hills and visit the Golden Temple or Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Yeah…I’ll just stick with calling it the Golden Temple. 😉
We called upon Uber to get us to the temple from the city, although there are red trucks that will also take you up there. It is too far for tuk tuks to go from the city.
From the main entrance, you climb a long set of steps to reach the temple grounds (supposedly it is 309 steps, although we forgot to count as we walked up!).
The steps are flanked by handrails that are in the form of a serpent’s body, beautifully detailed.
Upon reaching the top of the steps, you can wander and get an aerial view of Chiang Mai. We, unfortunately, got a bit of a smog-filled view of the city, but nonetheless, it was still nice to see Chiang Mai from our viewpoint.
Wander the grounds and there’s much to see, like these beautiful bells just outside the main temple walls.
To see the Golden Temple itself, you have to pay a small fee to enter the main temple area. No shoes are allowed in the temple area, but there are several racks provided for you to leave them. Once inside the main temple walls, you are immediately blown away by what you see.
The Golden Temple is just that…it is GOLDEN. With the blue sky as its background and the sunlight reflecting off it, the temple is quite a spectacular sight.
You can walk around the entire perimeter of the temple to get a full view of it. I noticed that there were many people walking around it on an path closer to the temple itself. They were holding cards and seemed to be reciting something from it as they walked. What they were saying wasn’t audible, but I imagined that it was some sort of prayer.
Then there was a prayer area where many people lit incense sticks and knelt and prayed. Again, I am not familiar with Thai religion or beliefs, but I likened it to the Chinese culture where people pray in a similar fashion to Buddha.
Once done exploring the temple grounds, and after you walk back down the long flight of steps, there are several shops selling food and refreshments and souvenirs. Once out the main gates, there are several red trucks queued up, waiting to take you back down to the city. Just tell the driver where you want to go, he’ll tell you the price, and you hop in the back!
As with visiting many of these southeast Asian countries, I’m all about getting into the culture of how they cook. What better way to do that than to do a cooking class??
I’m not sure whether this falls more under Where To Eat in Chiang Mai than simply what you can do on A Day Out in Chiang Mai. However, I figured it’s more of an activity that you can do, as opposed to just plopping yourself at a restaurant and having someone serve you Thai food!
Chiang Mai has several cooking schools to pick from, and I chose to go with Mama Noi Cooking School, mainly because the dishes they offered were the kind we were looking for, and they were also one of the more affordable ones.
The class, as most cooking classes do, started with a tour of the local wet market where all the ingredients are purchased.
Then it’s off to the school itself to get cooking!
This was our menu where we got to choose what items we wanted to cook. Since we did a half-day evening class, we got to choose a stir-fried item, a soup, and a curry paste which we then used to make a curry dish.
Ingredients for Massaman Curry (minus the curry paste we made)…
…and ingredients for Pad Thai.
We each had our own cooking station, complete with a very big wok and an area to keep our ingredients until we were ready to cook them. There was a whole lot of sizzling cooking going on!
This was my Tom Yum Kung soup (hot and sour prawn soup)…
…my Pad Thai…
…and my Massaman Chicken Curry.
It was all incredibly delicious and yummy and it was so much fun learning to cook it ourselves! The instructor and staff were also great in making the whole cooking class really enjoyable.
I found Chiang Mai to be a very chill sort of place, a city with much to see but with a very laid-back feel. Much of our time was simply spent walking around, exploring, eating, hanging out at coffee shops and people watching. There are temples for visiting, markets for perusing, and tours and classes you can take. If you’re planning on visiting southeast Asia, you should definitely consider Chiang Mai as one of your destinations!
And if you do plan on visiting Chiang Mai, be sure to read my post on Where to Eat In Chiang Mai, Thailand!