A trip in Northern Thailand isn’t complete without a trip to the ancient city of Chiang Mai, the largest city in Northern Thailand. We opted for a 3-hour bus from Chiang Rai, heading up over the mountainous pass with breath taking views and a superb backdrop.
Arriving in Chiang Mai old city, there were lots of hostels and hotels around the area to chose from. Having already pre-booked our hotel through booking.com, we checked in to the quaint Log Home Boutique with no problems. The cabins were set back off the road surrounded by trees, with a decent sized pool in the middle and numerous deck chairs. The Log homes themselves were basic, but the beautiful surroundings made up for that. They were reasonably priced so we hadn’t expected too much as it was. After checking in at reception, we had to find the cabin ourselves. The staff were nice and helpful if you had a query but other than that we didn’t see much of them. Breakfast wasn’t included in the price so we headed out in the mornings and pick it up along the road for cheap enough.
Exploring and Discovering
You will defiantly not be short of things to do in Chiang Mai, we were here for 3 nights and both said we could have stayed longer.
The Night Safari was a 20 minute tuk-tuk from the old city (costing 400 TBH return), past the airport and heading to the outskirts of the city (I actually fell fast asleep in the tuk tuk as I was so tired! That was an experience). As we arrived we were met by numerous deer walking around the entrance. After a cheeky photo with them, we headed on in. First off we had a photo opportunity holding a cub tiger before our tour started; my goodness these little things were heavy, you could just feel how much power they had.
Once on the small train, we headed into the savannah. As we passed the zebra, elephants, kangaroos, rhinos and various types of buck, some of the animals would wander up to you so you could feed them.
Following this we headed off on to the predator tour, this time we weren’t allowed to feed the animals, for obvious reasons… There were lions, tigers, bears and more but as it was getting dark it was a little bit harder to see. Once back at the main park we headed straight to the tiger show. It was a bit of a rush to get there as it had already started to absolutely pour down with rain and we didn’t get the best seats (well I didn’t being sat behind a pole…). Behind a glass screen we watched a few handlers feeding and playing with the tigers.
If you have the time and love Zoo’s then you might want to check this one out but this wasn’t one of the highlights of our trip as it was nothing special, so we wouldn’t return or recommend it for the price unless it’s something you know you’ll love.
Being in Chiang Mai we could not miss out on going to explore the old city and what better way to do this than by walking. Along the way we discovered temples, the 3 men monument, the city gates and the old city itself. It’s a good job massages are plentiful in Thailand as we definitely needed to indulge in a foot massage after this day.
Elephant Sanctuary and trekking tour:
Whilst exploring the city the previous day we booked an all-day elephant sanctuary and trekking tour costing 1,300 THB per person including pick up at our hotel at 08.30am.
Our first stop was The butterfly park. There wasn’t much to see here other than to wander around looking at the butterflies and flowers (it was very hot and humid in here too).
Our next stop of the day was to be more interesting, a traditional Thai Village, where we shown how the villagers live and told about their day to day life. Afterwards we walked up to a view point over looking the village before returning to the van.
Driving through the rainforest, we arrived at the elephant sanctuary be greeted by these magnificant towering creatures. Whilst here we were told about all about the Asian elephants as we fed them bananas and washed them in the river (which was a bit grim and dirty but all part of the experience no less).
Following this, we then headed further off the beaten track. Trekking through the rainforest with our guide until we stumbled across a hidden waterfall. The view was breath taking and after a long, sweaty hike, a refreshing jump in the pool was exactly what we needed. This was followed by the final activity of the day, bamboo rafting down the river. A jam packed day which was well worth the money and we would recommend it to anyone. To read about the day’s tour in more detail on our next blog click here.
Flight of the Gibbons:
This was my personal favourite activity and if you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie like me then it will be right up your street. High in the mountains a tree top zip line course will take you over valleys and rivers, zipping past trees and bush. All the way through keep your eyes peeled for some gibbons, as the focus of the attraction is to raise money for the conservation of the Gibbons natural home.
Now it does come with a high price tag of about £80 GBP per person, but if you are at all afraid of heights then this is not for you as Vicky found out on the first and smallest zip line. It wasn’t for her and she ended up heading back up to the main reception and sitting this one out, so make sure you are prepared as there was no refund. All in all, it was a great day (for me) the tour guides are all extremely well trained and have excellent English, stopping and telling us about the surrounding area along the way.
Thaphae Loft Café:
One of the first places we stumbled across to eat was just up the road from the hotel as we had been travelling all day and where starving. We ate in Thaphae Loft Café, which served a range of Thai and western dishes, was reasonably priced, clean and the food was nice.
Dukes Bar and Grill:
This place was located at the night market and was an excellent find, a bit of a pricey restaurant serving western food but well worth it. We indulged in a tuna steak, beef burrito, chips and 2 drinks which came to a grand total of 1,275 THB, (or at the time about £25 GBP).
We had been walking past this Italian a couple of times as it was just up from the hotel and on one evening stopped in on the way back. We ordered pizza and pasta and a few drinks. We could not fault the food it was lovely along with the service, location and small price tag.
These were just a few of the places we ate in whilst in Chiang Mai. We also experienced a traditional Thai meal one night at one of the many restaurants along Nimmanhaemin Road, where we ordered a mixed platter to start and two Thai curry’s. All the food we experienced in this city was beautiful and prices ranged from very cheap, to reasonable, to expensive depending on where you ate. There is something for everyone whether you want Thai, Western, Chinese or European.
Saturday Night Market:
We attended 2 markets in Chiang Mai, the Saturday night walking market which was bustling with people and mosquitoes. We were bitten alive so much so that one of the police men walked up and helped pick a few of them off my back. It must have been because I just taste so sweet and nothing to do with the amount I was sweating due to the humidity! Here there were various food stalls and the usual nick knacks that you could pick up. We also stumbled across a lovely temple just off from the main street, which we went in to explore but sadly Vicky could not enter the silver temple as it was men only. The architecture was amazing to see.
Walking street market:
Another evening we went to the walking street market and this was the one where we literally shopped until we dropped. There was bargain after bargain, stall after stall and we picked up some greats buys that are still with us today. I got a north face backpack for a few quid, still doing the job. Vicky got a Michael Kors bag on the other hand which is no longer with us. If you’re looking for clothes, to electronics, to lamps and paintings the walking street market has them all and is defiantly worth a trip if your there on the right day.
The only bad thing about this wonderful city is that we regrettably couldn’t stay longer but we are planning a trip back here for next year so we can do some more exploring. If you have any comments or recommendations for us, please leave them below.
These were just some of our recommendations, for more places to discover and explore around Northern Thailand check out Lonely Planets special offers and deals here.