The top things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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When most people think of Thailand, they imagine the bustling city of Bangkok or the picturesque beaches of Southern Thailand. We didn’t really know what to expect while traveling to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, and we were pleasantly surprised. 

This was another stop on our tour of Thailand with Chang Beer, a trip of a lifetime to immerse ourselves in Thai cuisine and culture. Check out our blog post on Krabi to hear how Karen won this contest to become the Chang Ambassador!

What to Eat in Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Khao Soi – This is a popular dish in Northern Thailand due to its Burmese origin. This soup features deep fried egg noodles in a delectable broth. This is a must-eat dish while in Chiang Mai as it is hard to find done well outside of Northern Thailand.

Kanom Kai Nok Krata – These are also known as Thai Sweet Potato Balls. This was one of our favorite bites in Thailand. They are a sweet and savory fried snack similar to a donut hole. We found them at a night market, be on the lookout for these!

Mango Sticky Rice – One of the most well-known desserts in Thai cuisine, this dish celebrates the juicy, flavorful local mango. It is a simple dessert of sticky rice topped with a sweet sauce of coconut milk and sugar. If you find a purple version, it was steeped with butterfly peas (a flower).

Kanom Krok – These Coconut Ball things are almost as fun to eat as they were fun to watch being cooked! They are one of the oldest Thai desserts made out of a coconut custard in a special pan. Watch out, they come out piping hot!

Roti –  This wheat flour bread is pan fried and can be found across Asia. What makes it special in Thailand is their method of rolling it up and topping it with sweetened condensed milk, sugar, fruit or chocolate. You can find roti stands in many street markets and food stalls. Gavin basically ate 3 of these at a time each night!

Green papaya salad – Think of a spicy, refreshing coleslaw made of green papaya and you have one of Thailand’s most famous dishes. It is made with chilis, fish sauce, peanuts, and dried shrimp among other ingredients. You can find it all across Thailand.

Read more about Thai cuisine in our Guides of Bangkok and Krabi!

What to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Bathe an Elephant at a Sanctuary –  While traveling through Chiang Mai, you’ll notice a ton of travel packages to ride elephants. Not all elephant experiences are created equal! Some of the elephant destinations are harmful to the elephants as a result of abuse or mistreatment. We ensured the elephant experience we chose was something that respects the animal, which led us to a sanctuary for mistreated elephants. Prior to being rescued one elephant was being used for teak logging in the jungle and the other was previously used for basket rides for tourists, which ended up breaking her back. We had to chance to feed the two elephants at the camp and take them to the water to bathe them. It was so surreal to get to make a connection with such a magnificent animal. We booked the full day elephant and white water adventure through Siam Rivers, but also recommend this Elephant Farm

Learn Thai Cooking – Thai food is iconic for their balance of all flavors: salty, sweet, spicy, and sour. Chiang Mai is a great place to learn about Thai cuisine. We had the opportunity to join the Thai Farm Cooking School where we visited a local market and then headed to an organic farm to get cooking. Learn about our adventures and check out a recipe for a scrumptious Thai soup here.

Hike Thailand’s tallest mountain: Doi Inthanon – This was unexpectedly one of the top adventures we experienced while in Thailand! (Maybe it was because we were hiking downhill vs uphill!) We took a van up towards the top of the mountain for our walk down. What made this experience unique was all the different sights during one hike. You’ll see lush flower fields and greenhouses, walk through a strawberry farm to buy some of the freshest berries you’ll ever taste, overlook coffee plantations, and see gorgeous waterfalls. Our day ended by shopping for some handmade textiles in the mountains and grinding our own coffee beans for a “farm-to-table” cup of joe. Note: to hike this mountain you must travel with a park ranger. If you don’t speak Thai, you will also need a tour guide to help translate for you. If you want help setting up this tour (our any Thailand experience) you the can contact our guide Tippy:

Visit the King & Queen Twin Chedis – A great addition after your hike on Doi Inthanon is to visit Chiang Mai’s Twin Pagodas. The pagodas include shrines with Buddha and stories of his birth to enlightenment. The gardens were both breathtakingly peaceful and the view from the top was spectacular.

Experience the Thrill of White Water Rafting – When planning our adventures, we were given the choice of white water rafting or ziplining. Since we already have been ziplining in Honduras, we opted for the rafting. We didn’t think much of it until we were seated for a safety breifing, and realize white water rafting might be more intimidating than we initially thought. Three armatures hopped into a raft with a Thai guide, promising a big tip if no one fell off of the raft. We panicked as we went over our first few (mini) whitecaps. 3 kilometers later, we were in the midst of some intense rapids and waterfalls – it was thrilling! The scenery was incredibly stunning, plus we even saw a number of elephants as we made our way down the river, seeing parts of Thailand that can only be viewed from the water. We were so happy that we signed up for this adventure (even though we did have someone fall off the raft near the end!). We booked the full day elephant and white water adventure with Siam Rivers. 

Eat and Shop at the Night Market – There is no shortage of souvenir shopping and street food in Chiang Mai! If you are there on a Sunday night head around Thapae Gate and along the length of Rachadamnoen Road. It is quite crowded, but is a sight to see. Hear live music as you haggle with vendors on Thai goodies. Don’t fret if you miss the Sunday market. The Night Bazaar along Chang Klan Road also has a smaller version of a night market, every single evening! It is open daily, from 18:00-midnight.

Get a Custom-Made Tailored Suit – Thailand is filled with custom tailors. In a matter of a few days, you can get custom pieces of clothing made specifically for your body at a steal of a deal. Start by picking out your fabrics and discussing your design with the tailor. They will take your measurements and usually invite you back in for 2-3 appointments to customize the fit. For the cost of one high-quality suit in the US, Gavin got 8 button-down shirts, 2 three-piece suits, and an additional two-piece suit. Karen even got 2 pencil skirts made for cheaper than a clearance skirt at Express! Gavin has had custom suits made from all over Asia, but this was his fist time getting a suit made in Chiang Mai. We went to New Moda where they accommodated our requests and always had a cold Chang beer waiting for us. New Moda 150/1 Chang Kland Road, Chiang Mai, 50100. 


Where to Eat in Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Ruamchok Market – We always make it a point to explore the local markets wherever we are in the world, and when you’re in Thailand it’s a must!  This visit was extra special because we were with a guide who was picking up some items for our cooking class, but we were also able to explore and try a few delicacies that were being cooked up for market goers.  One of the items, Kanom Krok (noted above), were one of our favorite bites, and Gavin was on the hunt for them our entire trip. 

The Dining Room at 137 Pillars – For an amazing gourmet dining experience, we looked no further than our hotel’s restaurant. The ambiance was elegant, yet inviting, and the food was scrumptious.  Whether you go for happy hour or dinner we highly recommend stopping in for a cocktail and their elevated, high-end versions of street food.  Our favorite bites were foie gras fried rice (insanely delicious), khao soi, papaya salad, and their giant prawns.

Root Coffee – If you decide to hike down Doi Inthanon, you must stop to try the traditional Thai root coffee.  This is an interactive coffee experience as you can grind the beans yourself, and then use the hot water boiling in kettles over the fire to strain your cup of joe over a mug.  Side note, if you’re friendly they may also offer you a shot of their Thai “moonshine” to add to your coffee. Take that, Starbucks!

Cowboy Hat Lady – When in Chiang Mai you must visit the Cowboy Hat Lady and her famous Khao Kha Moo (stewed pork leg).  Her stall is named Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak and is an institution in Chiang Mai. It mainly became extremely popular when she was visited by Anthony Bourdain during his Parts Unknown show.  When you get there you can see why it’s an amazing spot because she is smiling while chopping up a GIANT vat of beautiful pig parts that have been stewing in their own juices.  The pork is laid on top of a bed of rice with a perfectly cooked hardboiled egg on the side.  It is amazing that with all the increased demand she remains authentic and her prices are so cheap!  You can enjoy a big plate for about $1 USD.

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand:

137 Pillars – We can’t believe how lucky we were to get the chance to stay at this resort as a result of Karen winning the Chang Ambassador contest! This was by far, the most incredible hotel we have ever stayed in. The rooms were massive and included a private balcony with outdoor chaise bed, clawfoot tub, a rain shower indoors and a private outdoor shower on an additional balcony. 137 Pillars provided us with a private butler named Toto who would leave adorable bedtime stories on our pillows each night. The resort has old world charm and architecture with a modern design. The grounds were lush with greenery, daybeds in the gardens, and a stunning infinity pool. The restaurant was also very impressive with upscale Thai cuisine, inventive cocktails, and live piano music. 137 Pillars House, 2 Soi 1, Nawatgate Road, Tambon Watgate, Muang Chiang Mai 50000

AirBNB – If you’re looking for discounted lodging, we always recommend searching Airbnb to find some unique accommodations. We had a friend that went back to Chiang Mai after our trip and she was able to book private lodging for two weeks and she said it was perfect and extremely cheap.  If you have never used Airbnb, press this link to get a discount on your first booking:

Thinking of adding Thailand to your travel bucket list? Be sure to pin this post and check out the other guides on travel to Asia!

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