Ultimate Guide to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, I need more of you in my life.
Tucked in northern Thailand, this city offers adventure, relaxation, culture, and the most delicious food. There is so much to do here. Within Chiang Mai’s Old City, you’ll find ancient temples, hotels, restaurants, spas, and the famous night market.
There are amazing day trips such as visiting an elephant sanctuary, zip-lining, or hiking up to a sacred temple. My fiancé and I spent three amazing days in Chiang Mai. We wish we had more time.
Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park
We spent a day we will never forget at Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for sick, injured, and old elephants. We observed the elephants in their natural habitat while learning about their stories and the problems of the elephant tourism industry.
While we did get to feed the elephants fruit (lots of it!) and bathe one elephant in the river, the most enjoyable part was watching them interact with each other. They splashed around in the water, coated themselves in bright orange mud, and munched on mounds of greens. They were so playful -- especially the baby! It was breathtaking to witness these animals up close.
The sad part is, many of these elephants are blind or have broken bones from abuse they experienced in tourism camps. We also saw two elephants with severely injured feet from stepping on land mines. It was an eye-opening experience, and made me really appreciate the good work Elephant Nature Park is doing to rehabilitate these majestic animals.
Check out the bug-repelling bracelets and anklets seen in the photo above. I was nervous about Zika during the trip, so I bought these mosquito repellent bracelets online. These seemed to help, so I wore them throughout the entire trip and will buy them again if mosquitos are expected to be an issue on future trips.
The Rachamankha Experience
During our time in Chiang Mai, we stayed at Rachamankha, a luxury boutique hotel in the Old City. I fell in love with this hotel. Three words to describe this paradise: tranquil, sophisticated, and inspiring.
The hotel was designed by one of Thailand’s most renowned architects, Ong-ard Satrabhandhu, and celebrates Thai Lana culture. A sequence of courtyards string together the 25 rooms on the property. We found surprising spaces carefully designed throughout the grounds. There is a charming library housing 2,000 books about Thai culture, lush outdoor spaces, an open-air massage pavilion, and a serene outdoor pool. This place was magical.
The Rachamankha breakfast buffet is an event in itself. In addition to the beautiful spread of fresh pastries, tropical fruit and fine cheeses, you can order three a la carte items. We ate our faces off every morning! At night, we were treated to a five course, vegetarian dinner where we dined al fresco on an intimate patio to the sounds of two traditional Thai musicians.
Located within the ancient walls of Chiang Mai, Rachamankha has a prime spot next to the city’s most famous temple: Wat Phra Signh.
Ancient Temple: Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh was bustling as tourists and buddhist monks weaved throughout the monastery grounds. There are several structures, each lavishly decorated. We slipped off our shoes before entering each place of worship and said a few prayers alongside people from all over the world.
The Perfect Dress for Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai in February is hot, so light and airy fabric is key. I packed a couple of Mara Hoffman dresses for this trip. I absolutely adore her use of vibrant colors and prints. This shirtdress (pictured below) worked wonderfully in Chiang Mai. It was long and conservative enough to wear into temples, and I appreciated the light fabric in the hot sun. I am a Rent the Runway Unlimited subscriber, so I ordered this dress from there. (You can use my link: for $30 off). Below, I noted some fantastic Mara Hoffman dresses that are great for travel.
Spa Day and Chiang Mai Night Market
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a popular temple and a quick trip outside Chiang Mai, however, with our limited time, we opted to stay in the city and relax. And let me tell you, Thai massages are the real deal! We went all out at the Cheeva Spa and have zero regrets about it. I spent a total of 2.5 hours at the spa for a facial, body scrub, and massage. It was my favorite spa experience to date!
Sunday evening, we hit up the legendary Chiang Mai night market. It is massive. After an hour or so of sorting through clothes, jewelry and art, we picked up a few pieces and were ready to head to dinner. However, we couldn’t easily find our way out! The market stretches for several blocks in every direction!
Eventually, we made our way out of the market. We hopped into a tuk-tuk for an exhilarating ride to dinner at River Market, a romantic Thai restaurant on the Ping River. The food was insanely good and affordable. In fact, that was our experience all over Chiang Mai. We were over-tipping all the time because everything was fantastic and much cheaper than we are accustomed to in Chicago.
Chiang Mai Cooking Class
As I mentioned, the food in Chiang Mai is incredible. My fiancé and I decided to take a cooking class so we could recreate the dishes at home. We signed up with Pantawan Cooking for a full evening course. The lesson began around 4pm where they took us to an authentic Thai market. Among the usual suspects you'd find at markets in the United States, we also saw chicken heads and feet, live frogs, and ant eggs -- which our guide told us are tasty in omelets. I sampled some Thai sausage (which our guide said was a must!). It was good, and no, I didn't get sick on this trip, thankfully!
Then we headed to the luxury cooking stations set on an acre of lush, organic gardens. We made pad thai, curry, spring rolls, and stir-fry -- all tailored for our gluten-free (me) and vegetarian (my fiancé) diets. Finally, around 8pm, we had a feast!
Above: wearing another gorgeous Mara Hoffman dress.
Chiang Mai has so much to offer. The food, the people, the culture were absolutely amazing. I am so grateful for having an opportunity to visit. A special thanks to Kelly with Gypsetter Travel who helped arrange our trip, and to Rachamanhka for our complimentary dinner. If you get a chance to experience Chiang Mai, here are some things to note.
Best time to visit:
Visit between December and February to avoid the rainy or super-hot seasons.
Things to do:
- Elephant Nature Park
- Wat Phra Singh
- Cheeva Spa
- Night Market
- Wat Doi Suthep
- Tuk-Tuk – Common three-wheeled taxis with no windows.
- Songthaew – These are usually red pickup trucks transformed into a shared taxi or short bus. This is a common and inexpensive way to get around.
- Scooter – Rent one for less than $10 a day to zip up a mountain to see Doi Suthep (a sacred temple).
- Walk – You can explore much of the city by foot
Where to stay:
- Anantara Chiang Mai
- Ping Nakara
Where to Eat:
- River Market
- David’s Kitchen at 909
- SP Chicken
- Baan Suan
How to get There:
- Air Asia
- Thai Airways
What to Wear:
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