Excited, but a bit nervous to be visiting Chiang Mai, I arrived in the city with high expectations. When you visit a place that so many people have raved about, how can you not have your hopes up? Was I going to be disappointed? See, when I arrived in Bangkok I was pleasantly surprised. Quite frankly, I had heard many horror stories about the vast and sprawling capital of Thailand that there was no way I couldn’t be impressed. But Chiang Mai? In my experience whenever Thailand gets brought up in conversation, the first thing someone says is “Are you planning on visiting Chiang Mai?” And then they proceed to rave about how awesome the city is. Would I be just as enthusiastic about Chiang Mai as the people I encounter are? There was only one question tumbling around in my head… how do I experience Chiang Mai as the people who loved it did?
Fast forward to my arrival in Chiang Mai, I had just stepped off the night bus to a city raining cats and dogs. Immediately I felt welcomed by the pitter-patter sound of the rain on the rooftop, and the smell of exhaust coming from the cars driving by. Add the rush of taxi drivers who came to greet me and I immediately felt enveloped in the warmth of the city.
3 Ways to Fall in Love With Chiang Mai
What resulted in my five days spent in Chiang Mai was that of such unique beauty I don’t know that words can do it justice. Everything I had hoped for and heard of the city ended up being true. Here I was in Northern Thailand, in an ancient city filled with ornate, beautiful, temples and a bustling city center. Restaurants, bars, and massage parlors lining the streets. The consistent friendly smile and a wave; locals letting you know that they are happy you’re in their city. Venture further outside the city walls and you reach the most incredible nature. Lush, green, rolling hills, blue skies as far as the eye can see, and tall trees surrounding you. In Chiang Mai, you get the best of both worlds.
So how do you visit Chiang Mai and get the most out of your stay? Follow these three steps to ensure that you too have the ultimate Chiang Mai experience.
1. Immerse Yourself in the Culture
Get to know what makes Chiang Mai so… Chiang Mai. Have you ever met someone who has visited Chiang Mai and didn’t like it? Doubtful. The best way to get to know a place is to immerse yourself in the culture! Don’t do things the way that you’re used to or the way that makes you feel “comfortable”. Instead, push the boundaries and step outside of your comfort zone. Instead of that car with the seatbelt that you feel safe riding in. Hop in the back of that ultra-cheap red taxicab that can be found all over the streets of Chiang Mai! Or try your hand at scootering! Be smart, but test your limits. Opt for something new that you haven’t tried before.
When in Chiang Mai, immerse yourself in the culture by adapting the way of the locals. Get out and eat the street food. That five-star restaurant that takes Visa, with the plush chairs, silverware, and AC? Skip it. Opt for the local street food instead. Head to the Night Bazaar or Warorot Market. Or, if you see a restaurant that seems to be packed with locals, pop in and see what it’s all about!
2. Get Out and Meet the Locals
The best way to meet locals and to support the community is to book local experiences. Book through your hotel, or better yet ask around! If you stop in a restaurant or grocery store – just ask what and whom they would recommend.
When I was researching things to do in Thailand, I came across the Bua Tong Waterfall, which is more commonly known as the “Sticky Waterfall”. I looked a bit further and found a woman by the name of PD who happened to do tours to and from the waterfall. I booked online and had the most authentic experience with a local tour guide. The best part was that I happened to be the only person on the tour that day and therefore had my personal tour guide! And when that happens, make sure to take advantage of their knowledge! I learned so much by asking questions and engaging in conversation. For instance, did you know that in Thailand they have both private and public hospitals? If you have health insurance you get taken to the private hospital and seen right away. If you don’t have health insurance you get taken to the public hospital and it can be hours to days before you’re seen.
Whenever I travel I make sure to book travel insurance with World Nomads. It puts my mind at ease to know that if anything were to happen health or travel-wise, I’d be covered.
3. Get Out of the City and Explore the Surrounding Nature
Thailand has some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. And Chiang Mai is no exception. Do some research before visiting. What can you get out and see? Are there tours through the jungle? Are there hikes you can take by yourself? What about visiting elephants?
One of my favorite days in Chiang Mai was when I rented a scooter to go up to Wat Doi Suthep. I enjoyed it because not only did I get out of the city and into nature, but I also had no plans! So when I saw a sign that said “waterfall”, I just followed the arrows. I ended up in the most serene setting. Montha Than Waterfall was smack in front of me, and lush green trees surrounded me. I was the only person present completely absorbed in the beauty of Chiang Mai.
Once I left Chiang Mai, I realized what everyone else had been talking about from the beginning. That Chang Mai is a unique and special place far from where I started in Bangkok. It was as if I had found my own piece of paradise the further north in Thailand I went. Chiang Mai is a city that can offer something to everyone, be it city or nature. An active experience of climbing waterfalls and renting scooters, or a relaxed experience of getting massages and laying out at the pool. I promise you… if you visit Chiang Mai, you won’t be disappointed.
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For more information and recommendations on visiting Chiang Mai, head to my Instagram highlights and search “Chiang Mai”.