If you’re in Chiang Mai and have time, it is highly recommended to go to Chiang Rai, another town North East of Chiang Mai. It’s a smaller town, and things are generally cheaper and more cultured here. You can get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai via taxi or bus, although taking a bus will only cost you around RM8 whereas a taxi will cost ten times as much. Here are seven things you should not miss when in Chiang Rai.
1. Visit The White Temple
The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) isn’t exactly ancient, built by a renowned Thai architect. It was built entirely in white, and the exterior was made with a mix of glass so that the temple glistens in the sunlight. There are strange carvings of hands, skeletons and Batman (I have no idea how this relates to the temple). The little garden around it is lush and green, and overall it’s a nice little spot to visit
2. Visit the Myanmar-Laos-Thailand border
There’s that scene in the film ‘A Walk to Remember’ where Jamie, the girl, had dreams to be in two places at the same time. Landon, the guy who was in love with her, brought her to a border between two states – and ta-dah, she was in two places at once. Unfortunately, Landon doesn't exist in real life. So if you're looking for something close enough, this will be a great opportunity to do sort of the same thing, but even better because this spot is a three-country border. (Tip: There is also an opium museum around here which I heard is especially fun if you're sentimental about your pot-smoking days in college. And no, you can't sample any)
3. Buy tea
You will not believe how cheap good tea is in this region. There are massive amounts of locally produced tea being sold by the streets and night market. A 100-gram bag of good Oolong tea, for example, can cost as low as RM3.50. If you’ve always had a fantasy of being a fancy shmancy tea connoisseur, here’s a good place to start.
4. See the Long Neck Tribe
You’ve probably been fascinated by the long-neck hill tribe in National Geographic. I knew I was. You can take a forty-minute tuk tuk ride from the main city to visit the Long Neck Karen village, where you can stay all day long and observe the daily lifestyle of these fascinating people, their long necks wrapped by heavy, metal rod necklaces. This practice starts as early as young childhood, and you’ll have a great time mingling with them as they proudly exhibit their beauty culture. The trip towards the village itself is a sight, passing by local villages and paddy fields.
5. Walk around the Night Bazaar
Like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai also has a night bazaar. Some reviews have said that things are a lot cheaper here than they are in Chiang Mai, although the selections may not be as extensive. In any case, it is nice to walk around and take in the atmosphere, and perhaps do some retail therapy.
6. Try some Rotee
If you hail from Malaysia, then perhaps Rotee isn’t really anything new. But there is something quite wonderful about buying a freshly made Banana Rotee in the night market, and wander around with that greasy plate on your hand, convincing yourself that you’re burning those calories and fast as you’re eating them.
7. Walk around the town
My favourite habit whenever I arrive someplace new has always been; dump the bags at the hotel, freshen up, pack my passport and money, and take a nice long walk around the area. It helps to get a feel of the place you’re in and build an anticipation of what you might explore. Walking is also much more flexible than taking a transport, as you can stop and peer at the shops, talk to locals and drop by interesting buildings.
If you’re like me, there are times when you just need to go for a little adventure but have limited time and resources (read: budget). At times like these, one might consider Chiang Mai, a little bustling town in Northern Thailand. It’s a perfect place to go to if you need a short getaway and yes, it isn't harsh on your bank account. Here’s a short recommended itinerary for a 2-3 day visit to Chiang Mai.
Start with food. It’s always great to begin exploration with a full stomach. I would recommend Pad Thai or ‘khao soi’, as everything else might be a little too spicy that early in the day. Then take the small blue tuk tuk around the city for as low as RM5 (RM4 if you're pretty) for you to get the feel of the city. If you’re friendly enough with the driver, you might even snag yourself a pretty great deal of him taking you around for half a day to the further parts of town. It is worth your time to walk aimlessly within the Old Quarter of the town, where the ancient brick walls still stand and quirky shops and cafes are abundant.
Khao Soi - a lighter version of curry noodles, topped with strands of crispy fried eggs and served with pickled veg.
Consider a foot massage. Seriously. Consider it. For as low as RM20 a pop for a spa-standard treatment on a sunny day, you wouldn’t get that kind of deal back in KL. Massage parlours (legit, STD-free ones) are everywhere in the city. Afterwards, hang out at one of the local cafes for a quick lunch and don’t forget to try the local iced Thai tea with milk. A bright day is perfect to sightsee some Wats (temples) around town, and one that deserves a mention would be Wat Chedi Luang, a magnificent 14th century monument. You'll sweat your undies off, but you'll get nice pictures too.
Wat Chedi Luang, with these boys that strangely, reminds me of my kid brother.
Now this is when Chiang Mai really comes alive. On weekends especially, night markets pop up like mushrooms after the rain everywhere on the streets of the city. You can find everything from exotic local food, clothing, fabric, souvenirs, woodwork, ivory and elephant leather goods (do not buy these. Elephants are an endangered species!) to cultural performances. If you enjoy Muay Thai boxing, you can catch a live match near the markets. If nothing else excites you, go and watch the cabaret shows by the local ‘ladyboys’ (who will look ten times better than you do, but don’t feel bad.) A one-hour show will cost around RM20.
Yep, the girl they're taking pictures with used to be a man. Feel ugly yet?
After breakfast, take the tuk tuk and head outwards from the city to visit some local manufacturers of a variety of products – Thai silk, leather, fancy colourful umbrellas, honey, gemstones and tea. All these products have some things in common. They are much cheaper than anywhere else and you will be helping local labours by purchasing (or so I tell myself as I start distributing my Bahts). Be smart and don’t buy items that are products from endangered animals.
One of my travel buddies and the umbrellas that she really wanted to see.
Thai cooking classes are the rage when you’re in Thailand. Although you might convince yourself that you can just learn Thai cooking via Youtube (you cheapo!), physically attending a class in Chiang Mai is fun, delicious and a great way to make new friends. I would recommend CookingAtHome for their first grade kitchen, fun class with a scenic view and ah-mazing food! A plus point would be that they cater to all sorts of dietary needs, be it Halal, Vegan, Gluten-free (diva) or Carnivore Royale.
I can't recommend this class enough!
Sticky rice with mangoes - I could eat 5 plates of these in one sitting
Learning is hard. Time to reward yourself with a full-blown spa experience around town. A two-hour massage until you turn into a human pizza dough? Why not? The great thing about Chiang Mai is because the massage industry is so competitive, you are sure to get at least a decent service. Afterwards, end the night by a nice walk around town just to soak it all, and head back to your room for a much needed snooze.