14 Experiences You Need to Have in Chiang Mai
“You wahhnnn tuk tuk?”
Even though I’m home (Australia home) from my trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I can’t stop thinking about how much fun I had! I really felt like I took advantage of everything the city has to offer. Of course, I had my share of misfortune (fined by Thai police, stolen phone), but it really wouldn’t be traveling without those *misadventures. So I want to share all of the experiences I had that made it so great!
Put these on your bucket list for when you visit the Rose of the North.
1. Sticky Waterfalls (aka Bua Thong Waterfalls)
I read about the sticky waterfalls on a few blogs before I arriving in Chiang Mai. None of them really talked it up or explained why they’re called “sticky”. Well, let me tell ya—this is my favorite waterfall I’ve encountered in my 24 years of existence. It’s not an impressive waterfall to really look at, like “Wow it’s so beautiful!” Nah, it’s impressive because you can climb it!
It’s called “sticky” because the surface of the rocks that the water cascades down feels like sandpaper. It’s grippy and a little bit prickly, but this allows you to easily walk up the waterfall against the current. It’s actually limestone deposits on the rocks that give it this non-slip grip if ya wanna get technical about it. It really is a one-of-a-kind experience that will make you feel like Spiderman (or SpiderPig).
2. Grand Canyon
Ah, the Grand Canyon. It’s nothing like the one in America (according to pictures because I’ve never actually been), but it’s like a random adventure park in the middle of nowhere. (Side note, I feel like most theme parks are in the middle of nowhere *thinking emoji).
Anyways, it used to be a quarry, so it’s like this huge lake surrounded by cliffs that you can jump off of. They have one 7 meter jump that’s pretty epic, and no, I did not whip out my diving skills and do anything crazy. Not coming out of retirement anytime soon. The only thing that is kind of annoying is that you have to wear a life jacket in the lake. It’s not that big of a deal, just more of a nuisance. The Grand Canyon is a great place to spend a day in the sun, go zip lining, grab lunch, and just swim around like the lazy turtle you are.
3. Sunday Night Market
You gotta try to plan your trip to Chiang Mai so that you’re there on a Sunday. The night market that they put on is the largest one I have ever come across. And it has good stuff too! I got there at 7:30 pm and was there until it started packing up around 10:30…and I still didn’t make it through the whole market!
What I liked the most about it is that it’s not repetitive. Like you know how you start to see the same items in some of those markets? This wasn’t like that! It has a lot of different knick knacks including clothes, food, sunnys, art, and music. You can find a lot of great souvenirs—I even met a couple who were doing their Christmas shopping there!
4. Muay Thai Boxing
I didn’t know what to expect when I went to my first Thai Boxing match, but I didn’t think it would be so fun! I’m shocked that the athletes are so young and small—the weight category for one of the matches is 102 pounds!
This was a really unique experience for me and totally entertaining. I wasn’t really sure about the rules, but you start to figure it out as the match goes on. If you go, splurge on ringside seats and get close to the action. It’s worth it.
5. Yoga at Freedom Yoga
I always like the idea of doing an exercise class when I travel (emphasis on like the idea). So this time I decided to get my Namaste on with some yoga. There’s a studio called Freedom Yoga in Chiang Mai that I highly recommend. It’s about $6 USD for an hour and a half (such a good deal). It’s a little difficult to understand the instructor, but I find that Yoga is a universal language and you’ll get the gist of what pose she wants you to do next. It’s a great way to start the day!
6. Lunch at Huay Tong Tao
If you’re going to do anything on this list—do this. Rent a moped and drive out to Huay Tong Tao. It’s a big lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. There are little huts on the water where you can relax and have some food. This will always be one of my favorite lunch spots, not so much for the food, but for the setting.
7. Overnight Jungle Trek
I dare you to rough it for a night in Chiang Mai. There are tons of tourist boards that will help you pick out a jungle trek, but the one I chose is called Chiang Mai’s Amazing Eco Trek. I just sent an email to the company and a dude replied back right away, then picked us up the next morning.
A guide takes you through a national park that I cannot remember the name of, and you do a five-hour hike through rice paddies, up mountains, and through waterfalls. Don’t take much with you besides a day back because you have to carry it. And don’t wear converse…they’re not good hiking shoes. If you bring anything, bring mosquito repellant.
You’ll stay with a tribe or a local family in the middle of the jungle. There’s no electricity, wifi or western toilet (despite the advertisement on the brochure), but the guide will cook food and you’ll sleep on bamboo mats. I’ve never really been one for hiking or camping, but again, I like the idea of it so doing this was definitely a challenge for me that I’m really glad I experienced.
8. Play with Elephants
But don’t ride them! Thai elephants have a sad history of being mistreated at a young age for the purpose of being ridden. So I don’t encourage you to ride an elephant, but instead, play with them! This was included in the jungle trek adventure that I did, but I do know that Elephant Nature Park is another place where you can spend the day with elephants and other wild animals. We got to bathe and feed the elephants and it was such a happy experience for me. They are such gentle creatures.
9. Temple at Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai is filled with Buddhist temples—over 300 to be exact. I think that when you travel through Asia for a long period of time you start to get “templed out” which definitely happened to me. Someone told me that if I were to see one temple in Chiang Mai, make it this one—Wat Phra.
It’s situated at the top of a mountain and has stunning views of the city. Of course, I was dressed inappropriately (aka tank top and shorts), so I couldn’t go inside the actual temple. But walking around, I was definitely impressed. Just be prepared to climb some steps to get to it!
10. Eat at Coconut Shell
My friend recommended this place to me when I got to Chiang Mai. So one rainy night, I went and grabbed some Tom Yum soup from Coconut Shell. This place is a small local spot and it will totally give you a taste of Thailand. Most restaurants in Thailand will hold back on the spice if they see you’re a Westerner, but this place didn’t hold back and I appreciate that. I walked out of there with a red face and a full tummy.
11. Party at Zoe in Yellow
Zoe in Yellow is a backpacker haven and if you want to let loose one night, this place won’t let you down. It’s an open-air bar with a dance floor and a DJ. Pretty typical. But if you’re looking for a place to go out in Chiang Mai, this is it.
12. Eat Pad Thai or Fried Rice Once a Day
Okay, I was actually trying to do this at the beginning of my trip because I love Pad Thai that much. I envisioned myself writing a post with the headline “I Ate Pad Thai For 16 Days Straight In Thailand And Now I’m Fat And Happy”, but then I missed a few days when I went in the jungle. Oh well. I extend the challenge to you. And tell me where you find the best Pad Thai!
13. Check Out Live Music at Bus Bar
Bus Bar is a cool open aired restaurant on the Ping River. It’s cool because there’s an old bus that sets as the backdrop for the stage where live music is played. The food and drinks are a little overpriced for Thailand, but it’s a good scene. If you like live music and getting bitten by mosquitos, star this on your map.
14. Get on a Bus and go to Pai
Woo, you did Chiang Mai! Now check out its hipster city to the north—Pai! I’m warning you now: do not have a big night out before the journey to Pai. It’s a winding road that consists of 762 turns. You’ll get car sick, annoyed, and lose your sanity. But once you get there, chill out on a hammock and you’ll come back to life. Pai isn’t as adventurous as Chiang Mai, but it’s got some damn good food.