Chiang Mai: Pearl of the North
Chiang Mai qualifies as one of the most popular destinations in Thailand and it really deserves it. Located at the North of the country close to the borders with Myanmar it is surrounded by beautiful forests. Chiang Mai is known for its peaceful atmosphere, serene Buddhistic temples and deicious food! This place has a great balance of local life and tourism. You can find a decent Irish pubs next to the local huge street market of fruits and vegetables or young monks passing by souvenir shops. The expat community is quite developed: we met quite a lot of Westerners that moved to Chiang Mai and started their own restaurants and bars. It pretty much al sums up to this: Chiang Mai is the most fine city in Thailand, but it doesn’t have a beach..
Where to go
The old town of Chiang Mai lies within a perfectly square wall with entrance at the Tha Phae gate: The most central spot of the city. Every festival starts here, there is market every night (with food) and it is pretty much always busy. Around this are in and out of the walls there is a great deal of restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs, often quite touristic. Further in the center of the square there are some of the most beautiful Buddhistic sites, temples and monk’s schools. You simple just have to wander and you will be surely blown by the sites.
Chiang Mai has also lots of big, wonderful markets between the Ping river and the Tha Phae Gate. Chang Klan road and the nearby alleys are packed with colorful night markets, street food, beer and live music bars. Closer to the river and around Lamphun road you can find great food and great views to the water.
The University of Chiang Mai is located at the West of the city and next to it the hip, intellectual part of the city. Nimmanahaeminda road and all the alleys around offer a long selection of modern cafes and bars espacially popular among the students of the city. Between them, many foreigners, exchange students or just people moved to Chiang Mai are transforming the city to an international place, similar to the campus areas of the Western world.
Chiang Mai is also well-known for the massage shops. There are literally everywhere! Getting a foot massage after a long day walking around the city, or a full body massage at the end of the day is the perfect treat. Be warned and make sure that you now what is the ‘tradifional Thai massage’ before you ask it. You can find each session for 150-250 Baht/hour, and a bit higher in more shiny spas. I preferred the small traditional ones, and was 100% happy.
How to move
The center of Chiang Mai is small and picturesque. Walking is the best way to go there, while there are numerous tuk-tuks in case you need some help. These very warm and friendly drivers are very willing to help you find any street you need to go, and they are open to bargaining. While the city is not expensive at all, you can definitely go anywhere paying around from 40 to 100 Baht. Being nice and friendly is really appretiated by the locals, so don’t be surprised if politeness buys some of the best tips from the tuk-tuk guys. Even though the city is quite busy, it rarely has serious traffic, and tuk-tuks seem to always move faster than everyone. In case you want to discover the natural beauty of the nearby forests, then renting a good motorcycle is necessary, but very easy to find: At Kotchasan Road there are 2-3 motor rentals. A scooter can be between 150-250 Baht per day, but make sure that you choose a big one in case you plan to ride through the mountains. Also do not forget to bargain – the people are always smiley and ready to come up with a new price.
Cooking love map
These people really love cooking. With an open kitchen and simple seats, this restaurant has served some of the best Thai dishes I have eaten. Great variety, all cooked on the spot, and simply delicious. Try the menu of the local recipes, make sure you choose the right spiciness.
The hideout map
The best breakfast/lunch place of the city, owned by expats. Fresh vegetables, juices, coffee. Top for energy loading.
Paak Dang map
Great Thai in this great looking romantic restaurant by the river.
Amazing selection of coffees in this chillout place with a big garden. Popular to the students and great for relaxing.