Chiang Mai, situated about 700 kilometers away from Bangkok, is often acknowledged as the northern capital of Thailand. It exudes an unmatched welcoming feel, punctuated by a delightfully tranquil ambiance. Boasting a wide array of attractions by way of age-old temples, limestone caves, snake farms, national parks, night markets, and most of all, tempting dining options, this ancient walled city certainly invites explorers, adventurers, backpackers, sightseers, and culture enthusiasts from all over the world. And the best thing is that you can do it even on a shoestring budget.
On my first trip to Chiang Mai, I did what most visitors would typically engage in: took night safari, visited Doi Suthep Temple and sticky waterfalls, traveled around the underground city of Wiang Kum Kam, zipped through one of the country’ oldest rainforests, did some Wat (temple) hopping, spent a day in Elephants Nature Park, and went on a shopping spree at Night Market. But during my second visit, I decided to do unique things by hitting the country roads, exploring lesser-known sights, shopping at unusual places, and of course figuring out the authentic northern Thai flavors.
Here I share details of some of them, giving you a unique view of Chiang Mai.
Hangout at Huay Tung Tao Lake
For those who wish to stray away from the usual touristic trails, this cool, refreshing place should be top on the list. Huay Tung Tao is a serene reservoir, approximately 15 kilometers out of the city. Located at the foot of Doi Suthep Mountains, the lake is easily accessible; simply ride down the Huay Kaew Road and look out for a blue sign as you drive past the Canal Road and the 700 Year Old Stadium Sports Complex. We hired a scooter to get here.
Blanketed with greenery all around, this breathtakingly tranquil spot is a haven for bikers, hikers, and swimming enthusiasts. Plus, with several restaurants serving reasonably-priced food and drinks, this is a great place to plan a perfect picnic. There are also small huts where you can relax and enjoy incredible sunset views. All you need to shell out to gain an entry to the lake is 20 Baht.
Experience the Thai food culture in a cooking class
Bring a slice of scrumptious Thai food and fascinating Chiang Mai culture back home with an authentic cooking class. It was quite an experience to learn new healthy recipes at Thai Cooking School, less than 20 kilometers from Chiang Mai city center. Fresh herbs and vegetables sourced directly from the organic garden are used to experiment with the dishes.
All classes are conducted by exceptionally trained and English speaking Thai chefs. You’ll have your own cooking station and probably the most rewarding aspect is that you get to taste your own creations at the end. Moreover, the incomparable scenic setting of the farm filled with rows of trees and a fish pond makes for a refreshing escape out of the bustling city scene.
Check http://www.thaifarmcooking.net/ for more details.
Visit the World Museum of Insects and Natural Wonders
Although not pre-planned, a visit to this quirky museum ended up to be an incredible experience. It is located off the Huay Kaew Road, roughly 10-minute drive from the city center. Open from 9:00 hrs to 17:00 hrs, the museum lives up to the name, providing an incredible look into the spellbinding insect world. Equally worth mentioning is a rare collection of fossils, stones, and minerals, along with intriguing quotes and information on exhibits displayed here.
The museum is the result of several years of research. The main people behind this one-of-a-kind attraction are Manop Rattanarithikul and his wife, Dr. Rampa Rattanarithikul. Both of them are entomologists and have conducted extensive research on mosquitos, besides publishing numerous papers on insects.
Hunt for quirky art finds on the Nimmanhemin Road
Nimmanhemin Road is one of Chiang Mai’s hip spots, where you’ll also come across some unusual graffiti collections as well as local artworks. Crammed with graceful coffee shops, boutiques, and vibrant art houses showcasing unique paintings, sculptures, and photographs, this vibrant neighborhood is sure to impress visitors who are passionate about art and culture. Some of the best places to visit here are Chiang Mai University Art Centre, Minimal Art Gallery, Ji Qoo Art Gallery, and 9th Street Café.
Stop at Baan Din Dee
Elegant coffee shops thrive in seemingly incredible styles on the Nimmanhemin Road. And this little mud house café inside the Chiang Mai University Art Center became our favorite not just for its healthy vegetarian dishes and organic tea and coffee selections, but mainly for its rustic charm and atmospheric ambiance. It is certainly one of the coolest places in the city to get a refreshing sip of coffee.
Discover unique artifacts at Daraphirom Palace Museum
Get a glimpse of how royals lived in the past with a visit to this surprisingly elegant yet less visited museum. Once the royal residence of Princess Dara Rasmi – the daughter of Chiang Mai’s last ruler and the wife of King Rama V, it is nestled within the military base of Mae Rim district, in the city’s northern part.
It has many fascinating exhibits from musical instruments, beautiful outfits, and photographs that shed light on the different phases of the princess’ life to antique furniture and conventional farming tools. Most of these exhibits are the princess’ personal collections and depict her contributions in art and agriculture. The museum is exceptionally maintained and definitely a must-visit if you’re intrigued about the Thai history and culture. It is open from 09:00 to 16:00 hrs and a nominal fee of 50 Baht is required to enter.
Check out one of the country’s oldest markets
For an authentic Chiang Mai experience, be sure to visit Kad Luang, also known as Wororos Market. It is one of the Thailand’s largest and oldest markets, filled with an array of shops selling clothes, handicraft items, souvenirs, and flowers. It is not just lively and enthralling but also wallet-pleasing.
Foodies would love to stroll along its ground floor, where a combination of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices, dried fruits, and local specialties including fish noodles, pork sausages, and even fried insects, vie for your attention. Best of all, vendors here are very welcoming and friendly; not to mention, we had a wonderful time exploring the stores and of course, savoring some fresh juicy fruits.
Get a mesmerizing view of Chiang Mai with a hike up to Wat Pha Lat
When we decided to hike up to this spot, we weren’t sure what to expect from this place, but astonishingly it turned out to be one of Chiang Mai’s most serene and peaceful attractions. Situated en route to the popular Doi Suthep Temple, this forest temple is one of the region’s best kept secrets, which would astound you with its breathtaking natural beauty, relaxed atmosphere, and exceptional city views. Tucked away beneath the canopy of trees and sitting adjacent to a waterfall, the Buddhist temple complex enshrines a fascinating collection of images.
How to get here? Follow the monk’s trail, the sign which you can see as you reach the end of Suthep Road and then walk past the rear entrance of Chiang Mai Zoo. A 40 to 45-minute hike along the monk’s path will eventually lead you to the shrine whose setting is incomparably beautiful, quiet, and surreal.
Get ready to venture Chiang Mai off the beaten path! Book an all-inclusive Thailand package or seek the help of a reputable travel specialist like Raynatours who will help you to tailor an exclusive trip that focuses on the region’s under-the-radar delights.
Author Bio: Sagar is a foodie by heart who loves to explore places on his own. He wants to convert his hobbies into professions and even aspires to have his own travel website as well as a Chinese restaurant.