If there is any place I can live for a long time in the whole of South East Asia it is Chiang Mai.
The first time I’ve ever been to Chiang Mai was a few days after my birthday, August of last year. At first I didn’t know what’s so special about this city. But when I started and walking around the old city and seeing the city at night, I knew I can live in this city. It is cheap, beautiful, smaller and less chaotic than Bangkok, a lot of cultural experiences, adventures, mountainous, cool climates at night and most of all, it is vegetarian friendly.
I came back to Chiang Mai again this year and lived here for another two months. This was the only city I stayed at for months. During my stay here, I launched this blog (9th month of my trip) and for the first time, was visited by family. My cousin came to visit me last April and since I have become a local, I took her to the amazing places that one has to see, taste and experience in Chiang Mai. I love being a tour guide especially when I love the place. I used to do it for family and friends who were visiting me in New York City when I was still there.
So if you are a first timer in Chiang Mai and have no idea where to start, go or do, follow along and I’ll show you a few of my picks.
1) Accommodation- Tog Garden Guesthouse
I stayed at Top Garden guesthouse. I learned about this guesthouse based on Tripadvisor recommendation. This place is owned by a Canadian man and a Thai woman. This couple is probably the nicest owners I have ever met in my travels. They welcomed me on the night I arrived from Chiang Rai. It cost me B300 for the standard room. It is above the typical rate in Chiang Mai, where you can find B150 rooms but I knew I would be arriving late at night so I booked my first night in advance. Since location, the guesthouse owner were fantastic, I ended up staying 10 nights here. I highly highly recommend this guest house. You can read my review here.
Another one I can recommend is La Mer hostel. The standard room costs B450 but is with aircon and good for 2 people. The interiors of the hostel is much like a hotel. It’s located just on the Soi 6. It’s great value for money.
2) Restaurant- Nice Kitchen
If there was a restaurant in Chiang Mai that I’ll eat at every single day, it is Nice Kitchen.
Chiang Mai is a city known for it’s vegetarian friendly restaurants. It’s also one of the top reasons why I love Chiang Mai. Nice Kitchen hands down is the BEST restaurant here. It is located in Moon Muang Road Soi 7. The foods are simply delicious, clean, nicely prepared and very affordable. The restaurant owner is a very lovely Thai lady as well.
A sample of the meals I tried and highly recommend:
Vegetarian Tom Yum Soup
Fried Rice with Veggies and Cashew Nuts
My Favorite: Spicy Thai Salad with Cashew Nuts
Nice Kitchen has a very wide range of selections with really large servings. Also, don’t forget to try Khao Soi, a specialty dish only in Chiang Mai and the Fruit Shakes. With a cousin with a same appetite as I have, we were in for some treats! We really ate our way around Chiang Mai.
3. Thapae Gate
During my cousin’s visit
Thapae gate is the major landmark in Chiang Mai. The old city gates surrounds the moat and makes you imagine how Chiang Mai was years before it was developed to what it is now.
4. Temples, Temples and more Temples
After eating in Nice Kitchen, burn the calories with walking. I recommend walking towards Thapae gate and heading to Ratchadamoen road. This street is where most of the temples are. Make sure you also check the ruins at Wat Chedi Luang.
Wat Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai is filled with beautiful temples. The best temple of them all is Wat Doi Suthep. It is the temple on top of the mountain. No visit to Chiang Mai is complete without visiting this temple. To get here take the red car (sangthaew) and ask to be dropped at the bottom of Doi Suthep. This would cost B30- B40 from the old city depending on the number of passengers. If you go on a group, you could ask for B20 per person. Then you’ll have to take another sangthaew to get to the top. This would cost B30 or if it’s not yet full or B50 if you want to leave soon. Once you get there you have to climb 300+ steps to get to the temple. The temple and view on top makes it so worth it. Also, some consider the climb to give good luck.
Time to burn the calories from Nice Kitchen
Another temple that I think you should not miss is Wat Srisuphan. I stumbled upon this temple because I got lost walking in the Saturday night market. I went and asked the monks where I was and then I realized I came in just in time for the monk chat. The monks and I ended up chatting for more than an hour. They are now really good friends of mine.
I personally choose Wat Srisuphan not only because of my good monk friends here and the monk chats but because it is also where the only Silver temple in Thailand can be found. Come here during the Saturday night market as it is more beautiful to see at night. Just take note that ladies cannot enter this silver temple.
5. Walking Street and Night Markets
Among the night markets in South East Asia, Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market is the best and my most favorite. Trust me, I’ve been to almost all of them. It is colorful, vibrant, exciting and most of all filled with delicious street foods!
Sunday Walking Street
There are two major night markets. One is Saturday night market close to Chiang Mai gate in the south. But I personally prefer the Sunday walking street. I was in this street every Sunday I was living here, eating the best street foods in Chiang Mai.
Colorful Thai Desserts at Sunday Night Market
Ratchadamoen Road is closed every Sunday and is filled with vendors, locals and tourists. Sunday market opens at 5 pm and gets really busy around 7pm onwards. If you want to avoid the large crowds, come in around 5 or 6pm. Just don’t get shocked when everybody stops for the National Anthem is played at 5pm.
There’s a lot of selections to choose from Northern Thailand crafts, clothing, souvenirs, trinkets to authentic Thai street foods. The prices are always negotiable so don’t forget to haggle with a smile. You’re in Thailand!
6. Chiang Mai at Night
Night life in Chiang Mai is not as big as it is in Bangkok (think sort of New York). The city is small enough to choose nightlife spots. There’s a lot of really cool bars with live music and bands. But there’s a place that most of the travelers/ expats go to in Chiang Mai, the area where Reggae Bar is in Moon Muang Road Soi 6.
Fire Dancing on a Thursday night
With my lovely ladies at Babylon Bar
I’m not a beer drinker but I do love cocktails once in a while. Babylon bar has the best flavored mojitos in Chiang Mai.My friends and I spent a really fun night here before hopping over to reggae bar which is just close by. You simply can’t go wrong with a reggae bar.
Living in Chiang Mai is the best and highlight of my year of travels so far. Here I met the best group of travelers while teaching English and had such an amazing time teaching. I also met travel bloggers residing in Chiang Mai through Jodi. I also thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked for three days during the Songkran festival with Chiang Mai couchsurfers. I could go on and on how fun my time was in Chiang Mai and I know it was also largely because of the wonderful people that made my journey extra special.
Of course there a lot more delightful finds and experiences to be had here. But it’s up to you to find out so you should really give Chiang Mai some time. Chiang Mai rarely disappoints.
Coming up: a feature of my home in Chiang Mai.