With a population of roughly 130,000, this largest city in northern Thailand is a little over an hour by air from Bangkok. Our flight was just $45 round-trip per person on Thai Airways, a customer-friendly and comfortable experience. Chiang Mai's old town is walkable and filled with great restaurants, beautiful temples, and shopping, including a lovely night market where you can sharpen your bargaining skills. Chiang Mai is affordable and the people are welcoming in every respect. Northern Thai cuisine is perfection so plan on eating and consider taking a cooking class. Don't miss the signature dish, "Khao Soi," a coconut curry noodle soup. Outside of Chiang Mai, hike the beautiful mountains, learning about the remote mountain tribes, and consider meeting rescued elephants. The wide-variety of unforgettable experiences that Chiang Mai has to offer makes the trip up from Bangkok well worth it.
Wat Phra Singh (Gold Temple): One of our favorite temples in Thailand, Wat Phra Singh is especially captivating. Temple monks sit in quiet prayer or meditation, seemingly immune to the stream of visitors.
Wat Phan Tao; Wat Inthakhin Saduemuang; Wat Chian Man; Lanna Folklife Museum: Take a self-guided walking tour of old town Chiang-Mai, visiting each of these beautiful temples. We particularly enjoyed the Lanna Folklife Museum. Chiang Mai is part of the former kingdom of Lan Na. The Thai ethnic group, Tai Yuan, live primarily in Northern Thailand.
Trekking - Mae Wang Mountain Area: Hike the breathtaking Northern Thailand mountains with a private guide. Cost: $54/person for our family of four. Yewen, our knowledgeable private guide, taught us about local plants, culture, and tribes, as we trekked through rice fields, forest, creeks, and waterfalls. Price includes a stop at a local market, lunch, all-day hike, and private driver to/from Chiang Mai.
Elephant Rescue: Elephant tourism is rightfully controversial. Elephant Legend and others in the area (we heard) house rescued Elephants and from what we could tell, they were well-cared for and well-loved animals. We absolutely loved our time with these beautiful animals. We started the day with preparing their food and then fed them (by hand!). We also spent time with them in a mud bath and then rinsed off in the river. It's hard to truly appreciate how amazing kind animals are without a close encounter such as this. $60/person, small group (not private). Lunch and transportation included.
Thai Cooking Class: We enjoyed our farm-to-table cooking class with Thai Secret Cooking school. This all-day class includes a trip to the market, gardening, and cooking authentic Thai cuisine. Remarkably, this class permits each person to choose their own menus and still cook all at the same time. It was well-organized and super tasty. $38/person, includes custom recipe book/souvenir, and four-course meal. Small groups, non-private; transportation included.
Where We Stayed
Air BnB Listing: Located within walking distance of Old Town, this spacious home was perfect for our needs. 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. We walked to the local supermarket just around the corner to pick up breakfast and night-time snacks and drinks. If you like to run, the road is a little busy so instead, I took a Grab Taxi, the Thai version of Uber, to the local Crossfit box. $239 for 3 nights, family of 4. Airport transportation included. As this AirBnB does not have a washer and dryer, we used this laundry service and they were great.
Where We Ate
Lemongrass Thai Restaurant: Located in Old Town this place is not fancy but what it lacks in style it makes up for in taste and value. The whole dinner just $17 for the four of us, including two beers. We recommend the area's signature dish, Khao Soi.
Dash!: The teens took a break Thai food and ordered American-style hamburgers which they both reported as tasty. I couldn't get enough of the Khao Soi, so I ordered it again. Different take on it here but just as good.