If Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, then Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of Thailand. I was pretty amazed to find a lot of foreigner tourists and expats living in the city but it is also true most of them preferred Chiang Mai over Bangkok. Why? Because Chiang Mai is less modernized as compared to Bangkok or you can say that when a traveller comes to Thailand to experience the true Thai culture, Chiang Mai is always their preferred choice.
Also, the city has all the best flea markets and is cheaper compared to Bangkok. This is one of the main reasons I decided to head over to the city for my weekend.
I left San Patong (where my school is) on Thursday evening and after 1 hour and 20 BHT later I was in the second largest city of Thailand – Chiang Mai. Thanks to the great Buddha Holiday on Monday, I had an extended weekend and got to spend three full days in the city. Below is my comprehensive list of what you can do on your first weekend in the city of Chiang Mai:
Eat local food – This is a must no matter when you go to Chiang Mai. It has some of the best local food in the entire Thailand. And you can’t leave the city without trying Pad Thai, Mango Sticky Rice and some of the best snacks (sausages, fish balls, seafood BBQs). The options are endless and they don’t put a hole through your pocket. I spend less than USD2 for each of my meals in the city. And, if you want to drink while you are here, Chang and Singha, two local beers of Thailand should definitely be in your list. One costs 39BHT and another around 45BHT, though they cost a little more if you buy them at a club. The city is full of 7/11s and you find one outlet every few steps. You can buy your water (7BHT), your beer, wine, cigarettes, and even a lot of food from here. You can also recharge your phone, buy magazines, and other groceries if you plan to stay in the city for long,
Stay at a hostel – Staying at a hostel is so much better when you are in Chiang Mai. There are endless options and the prices, again, are so low. You can book a private twin room in the city for as low as 300BHT and some have amazing showers, though they are shared. Well! That’s how it is with hostels as you know. I stayed at a hostel just a few metres from Thapae Gate, one of the most happening areas in the city, and it was brand new hostel with clean and nice rooms, comfortable beds, own lockers in the room, and the shower! (I miss the shower the most). Most hostels also have a small café but even if they don’t, there are so many food joints scattered all around the city that it will never be a problem.
Get a fish spa – I don’t know if there are many fish spas here as I only saw and went to one but I am sure there are other spas too. Also, you can go to one of the many massage and spa parlours and get yourself a proper traditional Thai massage. A lot of the massage parlours also offer courses if you wanted to learn the art of Thai massage. The fish spa doesn’t cost much (49BHT for 20 minutes) and is really nice. It has a lot of benefits – cure for eczema and better blood circulation are some of them. Though it may strange for the first few seconds (hundreds of fish stuck to your feet!) but wait a few seconds before it gets better. And the softness of your feet is noticeable right after the spa ends. You can combine the fish spa with a pedicure or a foot spa and massage.
Go to the flea markets – Chiang Mai has some of the best flea markets in the whole country. Its popular Saturday Night market and Sunday Walking Street market are an experience that you should have, even if you don’t plan to shop. Although, I should warn you that once you are in the market it is absolutely impossible leaving the market without having bought something. Everything looks so good and is so cheap. This is also the opportunity to witness some impromptu Thai cultural activities such as Thai Dancing or Thai music. There are many performers around the market who would entertain you with their performances. The markets are also your chance to eat cheap and tasty local food. You can taste the best Pad Thai, Mango Sticky Rice, various kinds of soup, seafood, and desserts. And, if you get tired of walking around, there are many foot massage stalls throughout the market which offer you massages starting at 80BHT for half hour.
Party like there is no tomorrow – Chiang Mai is home to some of the best night clubs in the country (we are not talking about the beach parties in the South of Thailand yet). Some of my personal favourites are Zoe in Yellow and Spicy. These two are where you would find the maximum number of tourists partying along with a lot of locals. If you are travelling alone, don’t worry. Just go to one of these clubs and there are really great chances you will find others like you to talk to or party with. Spicy is a little more expensive than Zoe but it stays open till late. Spicy is also where the crowd from Zoe goes after Zoe shuts down at 1:30 A.M. You often see the same faces in Spicy that you see at Zoe. I call Spicy the after party of Zoe. It goes without saying that no matter how nice the people are around you, you always have to be careful in a night club, Watch your drink and don’t drink anything that is offered by someone you don’t know unless you haven’t seen the bartender make it in front of you.
Visit the Wats – Chiang Mai is home to some of the most beautiful and mesmerizing temples in the whole country (or maybe the whole world). You have to see it to believe it. I strongly recommend Wat Chedi Lung and Doi Suthep. Besides, these two are anyways the most visited temples in the city. The decoration and craftwork put behind these temples are unbelievable. Make sure you wear proper clothes if you plan to visit the temples (no exposing shoulders and legs). Also, it is a good idea to visit the temples during the day to be able to witness their true beauty. It is also a good time to click as many photos as you want because no matter how many you click, it will never be enough.
So, this is my small guide of how to spend the weekend in Chiang Mai. There is a lot more to the city than just these few things and I will keep updating them as and when I experience them.
WeekendsNAeasyThere are local buses, yellow and red mini vans that travel between the main city and the nearby towns.You can rent a scooter/bike or you can travel cheaply by the minivans and tuk tuks. Remember to bargain with the tuk tuk drivers if you are not sharing one with other passengers. Most places in the city can be covered by foot, though.Eat at local food stalls and flea markets. You can also try food joints such as Johns Place, Little Buddha Cafe, and Good Morning Chiang Mai which provide nice and affordable options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.There are hundreds of hostels and budget accommodations scattered around the city. Sunny Hostel near the Thapae Gate is a personally tested choice.You can take day treks to nearby mountains, Pai, Chiang Rai, and indulge into adventure sports such as trekking, ziplining, elephant safaris, and a visit to the famous Tiger Kingdom.
Updated: June 1, 2015