When many people envision Thailand, they day dream of white sand beaches, longboats, and limestone cliffs. But Northern Thailand hosts a completely different experience; one that will make you fall in love with the natural environment, people, and cuisine of the country.
Chiang Mai is a walkable city located in Northern Thailand, a quick hour and change plane ride from Bangkok. The city is surrounded by hill tribes, temples, and a vast wild life unlike anywhere else in the country. But within the city walls is also a charm unique to itself. So what make’s this city so special? Time to take a stroll through Chiang Mai’s lovely streets with your Charming Shark guide!
It would be wrong to start a Chiang Mai list without first discussing its people. The locals of Chiang Mai truly embody the country’s nickname, “Land of Smiles”. On any given morning, you can walk down the street, and receive smiles and pleasant greetings from strangers. The energy in this city is intoxicating, inviting, and like nowhere else in the country. You are immediately overcome with a sense of comfort and hospitality. We really can’t stress this enough. There is truly something special about Chiang Mai and its people.
Although Chiang Mai is popular with tourists, it holds onto all of its cultural charm and retains authentic Thai life. You’ll find a westernized bed and breakfast right down the street from local shops, an operating temple, and daily Thai life. You also won’t go far without seeing an outdoor market filled with local people doing their weekly grocery shopping. Integrating yourself into Thai life has never been easier.
Although Chiang Mai is technically a city, it doesn’t necessarily feel or act like one. It is not the chaotic metropolis of Bangkok equipped with skyscrapers and bustling streets. Chiang Mai, in contrast, can be quite quant at times, and offers a more boutique, slow paced experience for its visitors. The architecture is quintessential Thai, and the slow pace of the locals makes for easy day dreaming amongst the different neighborhoods. There are also so many beautiful ancient temples within the city and around the neighboring hillsides. Order a car and learn about the cultural and religious traditions of this beautiful land.
Chiang Mai is a culinary capital! In general, Northern Thailand is where you will find the best Thai food, period! (Although Koh Lanta is a close second for us.) There are many stand out spots that are worth a visit, but you can’t go wrong just wandering into one of the myriad outdoor markets and grabbing some authentic Thai dishes. Take a culinary class or just taste your way through the many street dishes offered all around the city. Your tastebuds will thank you!
Take a trip through the hills of Northern Thailand to experience a bit of the outdoors. There are many reputable and humane elephant sanctuaries in the outer areas of Chiang Mai. Spend a night or two in a jungle or hillside bungalow, and feed the elephants their morning breakfast. Take a trek to a hidden waterfall and go swimming for an afternoon. Or visit one of the many local villages and shop for some authentic textiles.
Like we said earlier, Chiang Mai is not the bustling metropolis of Bangkok, but it does offer some fantastic nightlife. There is a large expat community here, and the bars and hangouts within the city walls offer great international conversation. A different crowd from the island hopping gap year group tends to congregate in Chiang Mai, and this can be a really great thing.
Besides bars and restaurants, Chiang Mai hosts the famous Sunday Night Market, a stretch of vendors within the old city walls offering cuisine of all types and authentic textiles and souvenirs alike! Walking through the night market is a spectacle all in itself, as musicians play, chefs cook over open fires, and groups of people converse and enjoy themselves. The Sunday Night Market is a must on your visit to Chiang Mai.
In our opinion, a visit to Thailand is incomplete without a stop in Chiang Mai. This wonderful, vibrant, and authentic city with its own distinct energy is bound to make you fall in love with it. Make sure to bring along your favorite Charming Shark bracelet as you experience the wonders that await you in Northern Thailand. Walk the markets, visit the ancient temples, feed the elephants, but whatever you do, don’t skip out on Chiang Mai.
Written by: AJ Letterel
Photography: AJ Letterel