When the offer came up to experience Chiang Mai, Thailand as part of my travels I jumped at the experience without hesitation. I had previously spent several weeks exploring the south of Thailand and island hopping with endless sunshine and ocean. However, a part of me felt deprived after departure back home without having explored the cultural mecca of Thailand. Known for its beautiful temples and rich history Chiang Mai always called and I finally received the chance to answer.
Here is a list of some of the amazing experiences I had in Chiang Mai that I would highly recommend. They are in no particular order and can be easily achieved with a shuttle tour bus. I stayed in the center of town on the banks of the Ping River at X2 Riverside Resort. Chiang Mai is a city that captured my heart and that I would easily return.
Chiang Mai is known for its elaborate beautiful Thai temples. When visiting the temples make sure to wear something that covers your knees and your shoulders. It is respectful to local monks who live within the temple grounds. When you are at the temple you are able to explore quietly appreciating the history and the culture on offer. You can purchase lotus flowers or incense and offer this to the Lord Buddha. If there is a local monk giving blessings then you can approach the monk and receive a blessing.
The first temple I visited was the magnificent gold gleaming Wat Phra That Doi Suthep found on Doi Suthep the 8th highest mountain in Thailand coming in at 1685 meters, bigger than table mountain. Considered a national park driving up to the temple is simply beautiful! The thick lush greenery engulfs you and then the temple stands tall covered in the most magical gold, overlooking the city with the most amazing view. It is considered one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Thailand. This awe-inspiring temple is crowned by an elaborate Chedi (Monument), 24 meters tall and gold plated from top to bottom. It is quite something to behold. Allow enough time for exploring the temple ground and to see the elaborate murals that adorn the walls as well as learn about the history. Make sure you have cash with you for the entrance and the offerings. If you have questions regarding the temple or in general about Buddhism then visit the Buddism Center. The Thai are friendly and helpful and would love to answer any questions you may have. This spiritual place offers retreats, meditations and lighting the candle at the offering was an immensely special moment for me.
If you are feeling for more of an active experience that involves you literally getting into the ring then why not step up and visit the Buakaw Village. Set up as a sustainable village and training Gym by Buakaw, the K-1 Muay Thai World Champion of the World and Thailand title holder for over a decade. This establishment offers training camps whereby you can come and stay and train in Muay Thai. The accommodation is simple and the training fierce. With a relaxing area overlooking rice paddies, there are moments to relax and take in the beautiful grounds. We only did a day visit and minimal training however, judging by the number of muscles on site - this training camp means business. You can find them on facebook here.
Further up in the lush green forest of Chiang Mai you will find the Hill Tribe Villages. Showcasing a simpler and more rural life. These tiny little villages are so small that many are unmarked on maps. Some villages are as small as up to 20 households. We explored a little village taking in all the beautiful hand woven items created by the local tradesmen in order to make a living off the tourists that pass. The fabrics are beautiful and purchasing an item was a must. The site we visited had manicured gardens and a gaggle of small children playing outside. A very peaceful way of living. With some of the original huts and information about the tribes inside you can explore this foreign world. Just make sure to be respectful and ask if you may take photos. It is not an animal zoo but rather a place where you have the opportunity to step into someone's world, so vastly different from yours and see how they exist.
Chiang Mai has a variety of bustling markets filled with a selection of common and unique fresh foods and more. We visited the busy Warorot market place on the banks of the ping river. This market place is where the locals do their shopping and is an authentic experience that submerged me in the Thai culture. Surrounded by street food stalls and busy vendors the sights, smells, and sounds are an assault on the senses in a wonderful way. Getting there by tuk-tuk or going on foot is best. The market opens early in the morning and closes after dark. You can buy almost anything at the market from clothes, condiments, fresh fruits, meat and more! Visiting the flower and fruit market was my favourite and yes, of course, a coconut was had. The fruit section was my favourite with the display of so many unknown bright coloured fruits. You are going to want to get out and explore all areas so make sure you have the time and don't forget that cash is king. Don't forget the side streets where you can find hemp textiles and fabric woven by the hill tribe people.
Once the home of the Emerald Buddha (Thailand's most sacred and ancient relic), the Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai is one of the most iconic parts of Chiang Mia's skyline. This magnificent structure was built somewhere between 1385-1402. This beautiful chedi at its peak measured 60 meters across and 80meters tall. After a devastating earthquake, the Chedi remains but the staircase and elephants had some restorations done and one can only begin to imagine seeing such a magnificent structure in all its glory! With several culturally significant pieces on the temple premises, I would highly recommend taking a walk and exploring.
Dine at X-2 Riverside resort with Alex Dermard. This was one of my favourite experiences. To see this master at his craft was a true delight. His food is beautifully plated and each plate a complete work of art. The only thing to stand tall against the beauty of each plate is the flavours of the dish. Well thought out and elegantly executed whether you are staying at the resort or passing by making a reservation is a must!
Stay at 137 Pillars, Chiang Mai. This establishment quite literally took my breath away. It was just beautiful from the moment we arrived. Each and every detail has been thought of in this colonial historic boutique hotel. The original teak house that has been restored to glory dates back to the 1800s. The details that have gone into the grounds makes it a dream destination for travelers. With different room options, you can choose to stay with a room that has a built-in lounge, bedroom, walk-in wardrobe, and private pool.
The interior is colonial and elegant with warm finishes that will make you feel at home. With giant trees towering over the walkways you feel tucked away from the world. I stayed for lunch and it was a very good decision. The authentic Thai menu was utterly delicious and I enjoyed every bite full! I could very easily have moved in and never left! Especially with the look of the private pool.
For those of you that are down for the spa treatments and being swaddled in a happy fuzzy bubble then I have the place for you. Oasis Oriental Secret Spa offers traditional treatments such as the Thai Hot Compress massage. Of course, I dived into experiencing this amazing offer and it was fantastic. With scents of lemongrass, ginger kafir lime, salt, and camphor oil, a hot compress is an aromatic escape from reality. You will be in a relaxation coma post-treatment with an offering of herbals teas and fresh fruit. They believe in being so much more than just a massage spa and that is exactly what they have achieved. Owners Pakin and Toby Ployphicha and thought of all attention to detail and have had a hand right down to the interior. I couldn't help but recognize traditional hand-woven textiles that had been included in the design of the hotel. With amazing products and an array of treatments, this is my must visit Spa of Chiang Mai. With mountains as a backdrop, Oasis Baan Sean Doi Spa Resort has spacious rooms that are elegantly decorated. Situated on a quiet street this hotel will make you want to sleep, spa, eat and repeat! Did I mention the heavenly pool? They have several branches so if you find yourself in Thailand look them up and treat yourself.
Lunch at Organic Cafe Ohkajhu. A local and sustainable organic farm that is being run by three friends that have a fierce love of food and farming. Situated on the outskirts on town this was one of our first stops after we landed in Chiang Mai. This restaurant has it going on with one of the biggest salad menus I have seen to date. Each and every bite was scrumptious and just so fresh. But how could it not be? It is grown on site and made into beautiful meals that are healthy. It is so amazing to be able to travel and eat healthy fresh whole food. It is a top priority for me and I loved experiencing a place away from home that allowed me to eat healthy and fresh organic food! Look them up if you are in the area or if you are in Bangkok or downtown Chiang Mai as they have branches there too.
Feast on Thai colonial cuisine at The House by Ginger. Possibly my favourite lunch whilst I was visiting Chiang Mai. The food is perfectly made and the flavours are out of this world. With a menu filled with traditional items I highly recommended the Pad Thai. The food was so moreish that I couldn't help myself. Each dish was just better than the last. To top it off? They have a gorgeous store.
I am sure you will find your way there - just be prepared to swipe the credit card because the clothing is so beautiful you will find yourself defenseless.
Chiang Mai has so much on offer that I only touched the surface in my short stay there. I love offering up guides but I am a firm believer in going and getting lost. Let the music find you, meet new people and explore new paths. Each experience is unique and taking in the sights and sounds of Chiang Mai is something I will never forget.
Did you know that there is a Thailand Tourism office located in Johannesburg? Don’t think only beaches (Phuket), as there is so much more to Thailand. So if you need info or digital brochures etc, be sure to contact them or better still follow them on Facebook and Instagram.