If you’re looking for a chilled out and cultural experience, don’t miss Chiang Mai, Thailand. While I am a big fan of Bangkok, a lot of travelers seem to prefer Chiang Mai. This town is blissfully laid back, compact and easy to navigate. It’s the type of place that sucks travelers in. I’m serious, though. If you’re a digital nomad or seeking a great spot for slow travel, Chiang Mai is it.
I spent nearly three weeks in Chiang Mai and never once felt bored. Do you want to know why? There’s a bounty of culture and activities to enjoy. To make things easier for you, I’ve compiled a list of things to do in Chiang Mai. Don’t forget to pin the image below to your favorite Pinterest board!
1. Explore Chiang Mai’s temples
There’s no doubt that Bangkok is home to some of the best temples Thailand has to offer. However, Chiang Mai hosts over 300 temples. If you’d like to do a walking tour, GPSmyCity offers an excellent walking tour of Chiang Mai.
2. Eat Khao Soi
If you follow me on social media, there’s a chance you’re aware of my obsession with this dish. If you’re a fan of massaman curry, you’ll definitely love this local delicacy. To me, Khao soi is perfect. It’s a blend of boiled egg noodles, ground chillies and meat in a curry-like sauce. Fried noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots and lime come on top. It’s absolutely magical.
Fear not, vegetarians! Thailand is a Buddhist nation so all meals include a vegetarian option. The word for vegetarian is “jay,” and everyone will know this and accommodate you. The vendors replace the chicken with either potato or tofu. I love Khao soi so much I actually learned to make it myself. Which leads me to…
3. Take a local cooking course
Cooking classes are one of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai. I chose Mai Kaidee’s Vegetarian Restaurant and Cooking School. The school offers two classes per day – one in the morning and another in the afternoon. While this class is obvious catered to vegetarians, it is great for meat eaters, too. I’m so glad I learned how to make curry pastes which I can use in meat-based dishes I cook for James in the future.
This course was super informative and a lot of fun! We learned how to make three different types of curries – red, green and massaman. Also, we made Tom Kha Gai (coconut milk soup), spicy papaya salad, spring rolls and mango sticky rice. If you’re interested in learning a bit about Thai culture pop into a course at Mai Kaidee’s!
The classes cost 1,500 Baht (~$43 USD) each and include all the meals mentioned above and a cookbook.
Location: Chang Moi Kao Rd, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
4. Soar above the trees on an incredible zipline adventure
Of all the things to do in Chiang Mai, booking a tour through Flight of the Gibbon has to be one of my top suggestions. The course includes 5 kilometers of zipline. One of the lines boasts 800 meters, which is Asia’s longest one to date! There are two sky rangers assigned to groups. Each group has a maximum of eight people to ensure safety. The rangers spotted wildlife and showed us where any elusive gibbon apes were hiding.
It’s the safest zipline option in the country, and the views are spectacular. Our guide was hilarious and made us all feel safe and comfortable. The treetop adventure course took about two hours to complete.
All employees of Flight of the Gibbon are locals from the Mae Kampong village. The company has strong ties to helping the community and has had a positive impact over the years. The course costs 3999 baht each (~$114). Although it’s a bit steep for Southeast Asia, the money is going to excellent causes. Read more about Flight of the Gibbon’s conservation efforts throughout Asia and click here.
The fee includes a ziplining tour, home-cooked meal and a local performance in an eco-village. The company also offers free transportation to and from your hostel.
5. Treat your body well and support a good cause
When I fell ill due to a stomach parasite, The Salad Concept was my saving grace. The idea behind this restaurant is inspiring.
Two Thai sisters drew their inspiration for The Salad Concept from The Gerson Therapy. Their father used to combat cancer, and they wanted others to have access to fresh food. Customers can create their own meals using a variety of toppings, dressings and proteins. The shop also serves delicious soups, fresh pressed juices and nourishing smoothies.
Location: Nimmarnhemin Road Soi 13,, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
6. Exercise humility and gratitude
With the information regarding elephant riding known and easily accessible, many travelers prefer to take care of rehabilitated elephants. There are many places to choose from, but the best is Elephant Nature Park. Unfortunately, the sanctuary was completely booked while I was in Chiang Mai. I visited Ran-Tong Elephant Save and Rescue Center which was awesome.
We cut loads of sugar cane and formed sticky rice balls with fruit and nuts for snack time. We played in the mud with them and later bathed them in a coconut oil and turmeric mixture. It was an incredible and humbling experience to interact with the elephants.
So, be kind. There is literally no sound argument to make in favor of elephant riding. No, I’m not a zealot. No, I’m not an internet bully. I’m a compassionate human being with a good head on my shoulders. There’s nothing dishonorable about trying to encourage others to make good choices. Don’t ever be afraid to speak your mind against unethical tourism.
7. Take a trip to heaven. Literally.
Within moments of walking around the property of Panviman Chiang Mai Spa Resort, I knew it was a special kind of paradise. While it’s a bit of a hike outside of Chiang Mai city center, this 5-star award-winning resort is absolutely worth it. This incredible resort is located within the lush forests and separated from the hustle and bustle of Thailand. The food was delicious, the service was incredible and the views were unlike anything I’d seen before.
Panviman Chiang Mai Spa Resort may be a bit out of budget for backpackers. However, if you’re okay with spending a little extra, it’s a great place to chill out for a few days. There are a variety of rooms and rates to choose from, though I recommend the Vinman Pool Villa. It has a PRIVATE POOL, YOU GUYS. If I haven’t convinced you yet, you should probably read more about my experience at Panviman Chiang Mai Spa Resort. I was so impressed and enchanted with the resort that I almost asked the property manager Charles if I could move in.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful and maybe got a bit inspired to see Chiang Mai for yourself if you haven’t been already! If you’d like more tips on what to do in Chiang Mai, check out this post by Bobo and Chichi. I went during the beginning of March and although I had an incredible time, I don’t recommend traveling to the region during that time. There was lots of smoke in the air due to the burning of crops. If that’s the only time you can go, no problem! Definitely don’t let that hold you back!
Disclaimer: While I [most likely] couldn’t move in to Panviman Chiang Mai Spa Resort, I am grateful to Charles and his team for kindly hosting me during my stay. Also, it’s worth mentioning that all of the excursions and activities mentioned above were issued gratis in exchange for this blog post. As always, you’re reading my honest thoughts and you can always contact me if you’d like to know more.