July 20, 2015 | talktraveltome | Leave a comment After spending four great days in the busy city of Bangkok, we wanted to experience more of the local Thai culture but still have the benefits of city living… enter Chiang Mai. Being more than 700 years old, Chiang Mai is a modern city with an ancient feel. It is also one of the most cultural cities in Thailand, demonstrating northern Thai culture, also known as Lanna (Lanna is Thai for one million rice fields… The more you know!) It’s a city filled with both history and exciting adventures. From visiting the many ancient temples, or “Wats”, (Thai for any place of worship… you could say we’re fluent in Thai these days) to ziplining through the rainforest, there is no shortage of things to do in Chiang Mai. After spending a week in “The Rose of the North” (that’s the nickname for Chiang Mai, not a Game of Thrones reference) we fell in love with northern Thailand, and can definitely see why many expats end up settling down in this great cultural center. So without any further ado, here is our guide to Chiang Mai! Our Guide to Chiang Mai Getting There Being located in the very north of Thailand, getting to Chiang Mai can be a bit confusing for those flying into Bangkok. We did our research and found there are two main ways that tourists and locals commute to Chiang Mai: either by overnight train or airplane. Depending on your budget, both ways are fairly easy. Flying is obviously quicker and will save you about a day, but taking the overnight train in Thailand is more affordable and another way to experience the culture. We opted to take the train and were happy that we did. It’s very easy to book the train tickets. You can just go down to the central railway station, which in Bangkok is the Hua Lamphong Railway Station, and purchase your tickets. You can also book them online but end up paying about an extra 200 Bhat per ticket. Also, a great website to consult when booking train tickets in Thailand, and just about everywhere else in the world, is Seat61.com. Quick Tip: When booking your ticket, opt for an air-conditioned sleeper. Nothing is worse than trying to go to bed sweaty, and we’ve heard some of the sleepers can get pretty toasty without AC. Getting Around Once you arrive in Chiang Mai there are a few ways to see the city: tuk tuk, shared Redcar taxi, or renting a motorbike. For us, renting a motorbike was easiest. We had been riding around Bali on one for the past three months, so we feel pretty comfortable scooting around these days. If you’re the type of person that has a hard time riding a regular bicycle (cough.. Justine.. cough) than you might want to opt for tuk tuk or shared taxi. We talked about the tuk tuk’s in our Bangkok Post and they’re a great way to get around. In Chiang Mai, it costs about 100 Bhat to get just about everywhere, but make sure to negotiate your price before getting in. Another way of getting around, which can be even more budget friendly, is shared taxi’s. These are also a lot of fun and a great way to see the city. You can’t miss them as you’re exploring… they’re big, red and everywhere. Not be confused with Clifford the Big Red Dog. For a few Bhat they’ll take you anywhere you want to go but will also pick up and drop off fellow travelers along the way (hence the name SHARED taxis). If you’re in a rush this might not be your best option, but if you have some time it’s a great way to meet some locals and tourists alike. Top Attractions: Our Must See and Do 1. Flight of the Gibbon: We’re sure you’ve already read our post about this, (because we can only assume our readers have yet to miss a blog post since we left in January 🙂 thanks for being so supportive!) on July 4th we booked an incredible day ziplining through the Thai Rainforest. It was an awesome experience to say the least and something we would recommend to anyone visiting Chiang Mai. To read more about our experience with Flight of the Gibbon check out our blog post! 2. Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School: Another awesome experience we had in Chiang Mai was with Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School. We spent the day whipping up 7 classic Thai dishes and got a great ab workout as our fearless leader, Indy, was hilarious. We also learned a lot about the local cuisine that is an integral part of the Thai culture. This is another activity we would recommend to anyone visiting Chiang Mai. To read more about our experience with Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School check out our blog post! 3. Elephant Sanctuary: This is an experience that we have mixed reviews about. On one hand, we spent the day with elephants which was fucking awesome! There is no other way to put it. Being so close to these huge animals is absolutely amazing; being able to touch them, feed them, bathe them and ride them is just something else all together. So why do we have mixed reviews? Well these elephants are rescued from hard lives (carnivals, logging companies, abusive tourism companies, etc.) so they do have better lives than they had before, but the organization we went with still chain up the elephants at night and use bullhooks. They claim it is for safety and fully disclose that they do this on their website and again in their confirmation email, but it’s still sad to see. All-in-all, it was an unforgettable experience with Baan Chang Elephant Park, but we would recommend using a different company such as Elephant Nature Park that treats the elephants better. The only reason we didn’t go with Elephant Nature Park is that they were fully booked while we were visiting. More on this is to come, so stay tuned and keep an eye out for our Elephant Sanctuary Post with more pictures and info! 4. Baan Kang Wat: To get away from the busy streets of Chiang Mai, we took a little trip to Baan Kang Wat. It’s a hybrid of a shopping center and creative space for some of Northern Thailand’s best artisans. The village is made up ten shops and cafes that focus on the importance of sharing, craftsmanship and a sense of community. It is a unique spot to spend the afternoon, grab an organic lunch and do a little shopping to support the locals. 5. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep: To get a birds-eye view of Chiang Mai we made our way to one of the city’s holiest temples. Per usual, we’d suggest renting a motorbike, as the drive to Doi Suthep is an adventure in itself. The temple is 3,520 feet above sea level and once you get there you will be greeted with 309 steps, so get ready for a leg workout! After climbing up the stairs you can walk around the temple grounds and take in the views. Side note: when we were searching for the Temple we actually drove right past it (it’s pretty hard to miss, but we were just having a brain fart at the time). This ended up being one of the better mistakes we’ve made on our trip so far. We ended up driving through the mountains for about 20 minutes and then arrived at the Doi Suthep lookout. It’s definitely worth visiting since you’re already in the area, especially if you’re on a motorbike. 6. Saturday/Sunday Walking Street Market: Thailand definitely loves it’s markets and Chiang Mai is no exception. If you happen to be in the area during the weekend, head over to either the Saturday or Sunday market (If you’re feeling adventurous, check out both!). Things get started once the sun goes down, with plenty of street food vendors and little nicknacks. 7. Night Bazaar: Unlike the Saturday and Sunday market in Chiang Mai, the Night Bazaar occurs every night and is worth checking out. It’s located on the east side of Chiang Mai, and part of the bazaar (Auusaru Market) is covered making it a good spot to go if it is raining. While walking around you will have the opportunity to get some good street food and do a little bit of shopping! 8. North Gate Jazz Co-op: Jazz in Thailand… say what?! North Gate is a must if you’re in the mood to listen to some solid jazz music while rubbing elbows with both tourists and locals. Most nights this place is packed with chairs spilling onto the street. If you can’t get a seat it is perfectly acceptable to stand, drink your beer and listen to some great music. 9. Temple Hop Around Old City: Tired of temples? We hope not, because within Chiang Mai’s old city you can spend the day walking from temple to temple! Our favorites were, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and What Phan Tao. Also if you’re up for doing a walking tour visit some of Chiang Mai’s coffee shops! Our advice: visit a temple, drink an iced latte, visit a temple, have a shot of espresso, visit a temple, have a cappuccino. There’s no such thing as too much coffee! Quick Tip: While visiting the temples you will have to dress appropriately. No tank tops, short shorts or skirts, and shoes must be taken off before entering any temple. Last thing, while in the temple make sure you don’t point your feet towards a Buddha, it’s considered very rude. 10. Get a Thai Massage: Getting a Thai massage is definitely an experience not to be missed. First off, you will learn that your body can be forced into a pretzel if a tiny Thai woman has the determination, and second, after all the pulling and stretching you’ll feel great! We lost our Thai massage virginity at Green Bamboo and we’d suggest you do the same! Places to Eat 1. Beast Burger: If you like burgers go to Beast Burger! We’d go as far to say that it was hands down the best burger we’ve had while traveling the world! They are truly making food trucks look good. Beast Burger opens at 6pm and closes once they are sold out. We are actually drooling while writing this post because the burgers are that good… Get in our belly! 2. Glass House: We stumbled upon Glass House after completing our temple walking tour around Old City, and we were extremely happy we grabbed lunch there. The name of this restaurant makes it easy to find as it’s walls are literally all glass, giving it a very modern feel in a city rich with Thai history. The menu is a mix of international and Thai, and it has AC which is a bonus after we had been walking around all day! 3. China Kitchen: Need a break from Thai food? Then we’d suggest heading over to the China Kitchen located in the Shangri-La hotel. China Kitchen specializes in Szechuan cuisine, a style of Chinese cuisine that originated from the Szechuan Province of Southern China. The food is flavorful and if you’re looking to add some extra flavor to your dining experience, then we’d suggest getting up close and personal with the chefs at the chef’s table! 4. Kanjana Restaurant: A mother and daughter run restaurant, Kanjana is doing a good job keeping it in the family and cooking up some delicious family recipes. Located down a small side street, we enjoyed some awesome Thai dishes. Plus when we walked in there was some dude wearing a shirt that said, “Thai Expert”… so they must be doing something right. 5. Tony Dimsum: If you want to eat with the locals head over to Tony Dimsum! This no frills road side restaurant is serving up some of the best dim sum. How do you know it’s good? Well for starters, the majority of the people who work there do not speak english, therefore they aren’t catering to tourists. We also didn’t receive a menu, it was more or less just point to what looks good, and in our case hope there was no fish since one of us is pretty allergic. We ordered a ton and were pretty impressed with the food. 6. Tong Tem Toh: Since you’re in Chiang Mai we’d suggest broadening your palate and trying northern Thailand cuisine known as Lanna cuisine. Located on the trendy Nimmanahaeminda Road, Tong Tem Toh offers some great Lanna style dishes at an affordable price. The places is typically packed with expats, tourists and locals, so we’d suggest ordering a bunch of dishes and chatting with your neighbors! Accommodation As we mentioned earlier, Chiang Mai is a great combination of both ancient and modern culture, but for our accommodation we typically prefer sticking with modern hotels. What can we say, we like to pamper ourselves at the end of the day! So to make sure we stayed in a modern hotel we opted to book three nights at Shangri-La Chiang Mai, and it was exactly what you would expect from a luxury hotel; clean, quiet and luxurious… not to mention they have an awesome pool! We used to love pools before we started traveling, but now we’ve taken it to a whole new level… When we’re working on the blog there is nothing better than sitting poolside sipping on a coconut to get those creative juices flowing. We ended up staying in their Deluxe room which boasts an incredible view of the Shangri-La grounds as well as the famous Northern Thailand mountain ranges. Also, all guests are welcomed to the hotel with a bottle of wine on their first night! Like we said, we like to get pampered. In addition to an awesome pool and grounds, Shangri-La Chiang Mai also has a great spa and two delicious restaurants on their property. We enjoyed lunch at their China Kitchen, and in typical TalkTravelToMe fashion devoured more food than we should have. We were fortunate enough to sit at their Chef Table where we got to watch the chefs cook right in front of us… It was like watching a personal showing of Top Chef live! The hotel itself is located about a 5 minute tuk tuk ride outside of old city and just a few blocks from the Night Bazaar, making it a great location to get away from the city noise but close enough that it’s an easy commute or walk to see the attractions. Thank you Shangri-La Chiang Mai for hosting us during our visit to Chiang mai. As always, our opinions are our own as we Talk Travel.