Every place we visit, I take photos that capture the everyday magic of life there. Chiang Mai was our favorite place in Thailand because we got to blend in with locals a bit more than the other places we went, which were completely catered to Western tourists. Enjoy!
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of street art in Chiang Mai. I don’t know if this is because of the universities here, and thus younger people? But generally, the scene is more artsy in Chiang Mai. I wanted to share some of the cool ones that we saw. Also, saw BNE everywhere which was fun since he’s all over the US and from New York—his sticker may look familiar to you.
Our last day in Chiang Mai, we decided to go up in the mountains to visit Doi Suthep and Bhubing Palace. It’s a bit out of the city, so you have to first get to the zoo west of the city, then transfer to get up the mountain (although many tourists take a private car for 2-3x the price). I think we were pretty much the only tourists who took the public transport system.
Doi Suthep is a temple on top of a mountain, and it’s about a 20 minute ride up steep winding roads to get there. You sit in the back of a pick up truck, so I was feeling pretty car sick by the time we got to the top. It was nice and cool up in the mountains, so that was a nice relief from the heat down below. We never once got hot up there!
The temple is beautiful (despite obnoxious tourists in inappropriate temple clothing) and Mike even got blessed by a monk. He was sitting in a temple when all of a sudden a monk comes up to him to sprinkles him with blessed water.
Afterwards, we took another pick up truck up to Bhubing Palace, which is the King and Queen’s winter palace. They’re known for the their roses, which are considered “exotic” in Thailand since it’s usually too hot on valley floors to grow them. The gardens were immaculately organized and beautiful. We got caught in a torrential downpour for a moment, but it stopped after only 15 minutes. We only saw 3 other people while we were there, guess it’s not a popular destination. Very pretty though, and a good change of scenery from temples.
A nice cool day in the mountains of Chiang Mai! Well worth it, and a good place to get away from the touristy old city.
Wat U Mong deserves a special mention out of the temples we visited since it was pretty unique. We took a tuk tuk to go visit it since it’s southwest of the old city. It’s a forest wat, so it’s set in more of a natural setting versus the other temples. There’s a large chedi on top of some old tunnels and to the right of the chedi, there is a peculiar Buddha image. It’s unlike any Buddha image we’ve ever seen; this one is carved out of black marble and so emaciated it looks near-death. A little bit disturbing and very powerful.
On the other side of the complex, there’s a small lake where you can buy fish food and feed the catfish. There are a TON of pigeons here that stalk you because I’m guessing visitors usually feed the birds also.
These pigeons were fiercer than NYC pigeons! They will fly and land on you if you don’t keep shooing them away. Which is what happened to this girl:
When you drop the pellets into the lake, all the catfish come chomping and fight over the fish food.
Gleeful and silly fun for a couple cents! We didn’t see any other Western tourists while we were here, just Thais. Great off the beaten track temple.
I decided to check out yoga in Chiang Mai since there seemed to be a few studios there. I went to yoga at NAMO, who also offers massage courses. I went in the evening and the teacher was a British guy named Neil who has been living in Chiang Mai for a year and before that, Japan for 13 years. Interesting guy. And just came back from a month in Sri Lanka. Who are these people?!
Anyway, he asked where I usually practiced yoga, and I mentioned I had been to Jivamukti in NY a few times. Turns out he got trained in NY as well and was familiar with the studio but explained he had a slightly different style. Class was actually me, 1 woman from China, and 4 old white men! First time I’ve been in yoga where the man outnumbered the women. Pretty impressive. The old guy next to me was all sorts of flexible.
Class was good, it was a mix of vinyasa but with more stretching poses that were pretty tough. Not as hard as Elements in Bangkok or Jivamukti in NY, but still a great class. I was definitely sore the next day. What was fun was the Chinese woman asked me where I was from after class and we got into a conversation in Chinese (she doesn’t really speak English). Her husband’s from Taiwan and they were just vacationing in Chiang Mai. It was interesting talking to her about yoga, because she only knew the Chinese names for the different styles (like vinyasa or iyengar) and I had no idea what they were called in Chinese. It was amazing to me that she had learned yoga all in Chinese and that it’s widespread enough that she didn’t know the English names for poses or styles. She was also pretty amazing in class as well.
Overall, a great time and recommended!
Elephant Nature Park! This has got to rate as one of our best experiences on the trip so far. Thanks Stace and Dez for the reco! There are lots of elephant camps in Chiang Mai, but Elephant Nature Park is a little bit different. All the elephants there are rescued working elephants that were treated poorly elsewhere. Wild Asian elephants are endangered, but there’s this weird thing where “working” elephants aren’t considered endangered and thus aren’t protected. We watched a horrible documentary of how badly working elephants are treated and how they’re “broken in.” So sad.
A Thai woman named Lek started Elephant Nature Park to create a sanctuary for elephants and started rescuing these poor animals. A lot of the elephants in the park were either orphans, disabled, or blinded from mistreatment. There are 34 elephants and instead of riding elephants like the typical tourist attraction, you get to feed and help wash the elephants. She wants to promote responsible tourism and not riding elephants.
This definitely was our most expensive attraction but it was worth it. The van picks you up and you drive an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai into the countryside. We arrive at the park and the elephants are free-roaming around. Mike and I have seen elephants in the wild in Tanzania when we went on safari, but being able to get up close and personal in Chiang Mai is what made this different.
There are some concrete pillars around the park and the elephants like to scratch their bug bites by rubbing back and forth on them. Too funny! I guess everyone hates an itchy bug bite.
In the morning we get the feed the elephants. They’ll eat 300-600 pounds of food a day, so the park will let tourists feed them fruits and vegetables and the rest of the day, they’ll graze while they free-roam. There are tons of baskets of fruits and vegetables! Bananas are definitely their favorite, but we also give them watermelon and pumpkin squash. The squash they don’t like as much. It’s funny how some elephants are pickier eaters than others.
Feeding the elephants was so much fun! You can feel how strong their trunks are when they grab the food out of your hands. It was really amazing to feed the blind elephant—you have to put the food directly in her trunk so she can feel it before she puts it in her mouth.
After lunch, we go down to the river to help wash the elephants. All day they’ve caked on dirt and in the afternoons we wash them and help cool them off in the river. Everyone is given a bucket and then we splash away. The elephants also use their trunks to throw water onto their backs.
One side note: beware of huge elephant turds floating by in the river! Haha. I don’t know why we wash them since afterwards they just cake themselves in mud again. The rolling around in the mud looked like so much fun. It was really cute watching the baby elephant.
There’s an elephant who likes to give people “kisses,” so we took our turn and each got a huge smack from her trunk. Mike’s expression is hilarious!
Before we leave for the day, we do another feeding. What a magical experience—not something we will ever forget. I’ll leave you with a short clip so you can see the feeding elephants in action!
The luckiest thing that happened to us in Chiang Mai was that we happened to be there during the city’s annual Intakin Festival. It takes place over a week and celebrates the city’s guardian pillar at Wat Chedi Luang. It was going on May 17-23 this year, so every night we were there! At night, all these stall vendors lined Phrapokkloa Rd selling delicious treats. One vendor that we wouldn’t eat off of was the sushi vendor – not off the street in the hot weather!
What we did eat for dinner was delicious khao soi! Yay! We’ve also come to the conclusion that khao soi is definitely not as widespread as we thought. Only a few places have them (well, local places—not counting tourist restaurants). But we came across a street vendor selling khao soi at the festival. So good! Much better than the last one we had. Not as sweet and more curry flavor. Just $1 for the bowl, success!
At another one of the street stalls, Mike tried the fried larvae, ick! He saw Thais eating it, so he figured it was okay. I tried a couple too, tastes like fried crunchy things. Not bad, but I couldn’t eat more than two. Mike polished off the whole bag. Me? I got myself some Lanna Thai sausage of course.
Next door to the temple there was a small carnival set up. Everyone loves carnivals! It was really cute watching all these Thai families there playing carnival games and winning huge stuffed animals for the little kids.
Inside the Wat Chedi Luang temple complex, it was completely packed with people. You walk clockwise around a shrine and drop flowers and light candles along the way. The air was buzzing with energy and it was such a happy celebration.
There was one giant banyan tree that everyone was stacking with flowers. It’s said that the banyan tree acts as a solid foundation and if it were to ever fall over, Chiang Mai would surely fall after it. People were lighting candles (you get one for the day of the week you were born) and placing lotus buds at the chedi as well.
On the stage, there were lots of young girls performing: dancing, singing, and sword dances. Yes, sword dancing! They were so young and I’m sure the swords weren’t sharp, but still fascinating all the same. I could’ve watched the dancing for hours but I think Mike was getting bored. =)
This was probably most fun we had walking around Chiang Mai. It was nice to walk around surrounded by Thais instead of tourists and watch their celebrations.
At the recommendation of our friends Stace and Alex who came earlier in the year, we went to check out Nimmanhaemin St., which is west of old city. It’s got a really cute vibe and frequented by students from the nearby Chiang Mai University. Tons of nice coffee shops and restaurants. We stopped for some mango and kiwi shakes at a London-themed one called Marble Arch.
Then Stace recommended that we get some custard at Mont so we hunted it down. We got steamed bread with egg custard and it was delicious! Super rich and sweet, we ate it all up for an afternoon snack. Yes, that is condensed milk on top of the warm egg custard. We were definitely in sugar coma afterwards. Thanks for the reco!
There are a lot of temples/wats within old city in Chiang Mai. The main two temples are Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. We had walked to some of the temples the first day but we forgot to bring appropriate temple clothing, so we couldn’t go inside. No shorts allowed and shoulders need to be covered (although I saw many tourists in violation!).
Wat Phra Singh is known for their stone Lion Buddha image and Buddhist relics. It’s very beautiful inside and filled with Thais who make the pilgrimage here for blessings.
In a smaller side building, we got a peak into another ceremony that was going on. Three young novice monks were getting initiated and their families were there while they read prayers in front of the older monks.
In this temple, there were 6 really old monks on either side of the shrine, motionless in their meditation. Mike tried to see if they ever blinked, and we couldn’t catch a single blink! We swear! I was almost convinced they were wax replicas (which there are sitting in other temples).
I can’t even imagine sitting that still for so long. We were wondering if perhaps they were experiencing nirvana right there in their meditation while all these people were around them. Mike and I are curious now if we could do a long-term mediation practice. We keep thinking of fellow traveler Magnus from Nepal, who says you have to commit to a week of silent meditation for it to really break you down. What do you think? Could you do it?
Wat Chedi Luang is the biggest temple complex within Chiang Mai. There’s one main building and a lot of smaller temples surrounding the square. There was a ceremony going on in the big temple where a lot of people dressed in all white were sitting around the shrine and the monks were chanting. A long table with a series of small bowls was set up near the entrance and people went clockwise around the temple, dropping coins into each of the small bowls.
Within the square, there’s a ruined chedi that’s partially restored (not well, you can really tell which parts are the restored sections).
All over Thai temples are nagas, or water serpents. Mike was convinced they were dragons, but I knew they were nagas. =) They are usually seen behind Buddha images or on stairways and rooftops since they are seen to be protect the images and buildings.
It was a hot day of temple viewing, but well worth it! There are still a lot of Thais in the temples, so you don’t feel like you’re at a “Western” tourist attraction.
Mike and I pretty much eat street food every day in Thailand. It’s cheap, it’s where the locals eat, and we haven’t gotten sick from it at all (knock on wood). Meals usually cost around $1 a piece. The main course you’ll see everywhere is noodle soup, most similar to pho. Compared to Chinese noodle soups, there’s less broth and less noodles, but somehow these portions fill us up just fine. We also notice we’re not as hungry when it’s so hot and humid outside.
Best noodle soup goes to Blue Shop on Ratpakinai Rd just south of Ratchadamnoen Rd where I got it with pork spare ribs. Tasted just like my mom’s spare ribs!