There is a place in northern Thailand which many of us love: Chiang Mai. It is no coincidence that this city is one of the favorite destinations for many travelers and even chosen by hundreds of digital nomads who decide to settle there. Chiang Mai has something that makes you instantly fall in love with.
It is said “things happen when you least expect them”. Well, Chiang Mai caught me by surprise. Honestly I wasn’t enthusiastic about visiting Chiang Mai in my first trip to Southeast Asia. I wouldn’t have included it in the itinerary if it wasn’t because Juan (my boyfriend) wanted to go to Chiang Mai to see elephants. I wasn’t even interested in that. I thought going to see elephants was to contribute to their torture. Despite the existence of sanctuaries, I had read opinions of bad experiences in them and the fact that they costed around $70 USD made me wonder if they really were sanctuaries. After reading several blogs on Chiang Mai, I finally decided to give it a try and include this destination in our route.
Chiang Mai is a city in Northern Thailand immersed in history and culture. It is located in a mountainous landscape, and that instantly captivated me, because if I have to choose between beach or mountain, I always choose the mountain. This city is considered the capital of Northern Thailand, but it looks nothing like the capital city of the country: Bangkok. A different air is breathed in Chiang Mai: mountain air (duh) and peaceful. Oh and also fresh air, which is inexistent in Bangkok.
The city is mainly composed of the old city (surrounded by a wall) and its surroundings. Inside and outside the old city you can find many temples to explore. There are more than 300 of them scattered throughout the city and some are really ancient. Some of them such as Doi Suthep and Doi Inthanon (the highest point of Thailand) are located on mountains and offer stunning views.
You might think that after visiting the temples in Bangkok you will not want to see more temples, but Chiang Mai temples are very different to those of the capital of Thailand. And the best thing? Much less tourism.
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The majority of the people arrive to Bangkok and then goes to the paradisiacal islands of southern Thailand. Not everyone goes up north and many tours do not include Chiang Mai in their itinerary. If you try to avoid the hordes of tourists like me, you will love Chiang Mai. Of course there are tourists but they are much fewer than on beaches or Bangkok and you can enjoy walking around the city and temples without getting stuck in between group tours.
What made me fall in love with Chiang Mai was the magical atmosphere of this place. Youth, music, festivals, and a chillax vibe. One of the places in Chiang Mai that I liked most was the Night Market. In addition to the thousands of shops, this area is full of restaurants and bars where people gather at night. Chang in hand (beer Tai) + live music = this is the life.
Chiang Mai is cheap
Another thing I noticed is that Chiang Mai is much cheaper than the rest of Thailand. Food, activities, lodging and even the tuk tuks: everything is a bit cheaper and this attracts many travelers, especially young ones. Cheap does not mean bad quality! There are luxury hotels and first class restaurants at very low prices compared to other destinations in Thailand. Chiang Mai is good, nice and cheap. You can book a hotel that meets all your needs and your budget. We stayed in a 3-star hotel for 4 nights for only 70 USD.
Wherever you go in Chiang Mai, the food is delicious. The city is littered with cafes, international food restaurants and of course Thai food! A really popular activity in Chiang Mai is to take a Thai cooking class.
The fact that there is no beach or it is not a big city doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do. On the contrary, Chiang Mai is one of the places with more activities available for travelers. Temples, mountain trekking, day tours to Chiang Rai, etc.
After reading a lot and responsibly informing myself, I decided to visit an elephant sanctuary and I can tell you it was one of the best experiences in Thailand. I went to a sanctuary for rescued elephants where and I didn’t see any signs of abuse. I learned a lot about these beautiful creatures. I think that if you are responsible, and you read different opinions and experiences you can find several sanctuaries where elephants are loved and taken care. The important thing is that there are no signs of abuse (ex: chains) and that you do not ride them in any way. You can read more about this unforgettable experience here: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai.
Culture, nature, relaxed vibes and friendly people make Chiang Mai a unique Thailand destination. Before visiting, I wasn’t much interested in Chiang Mai but I ended up loving it. This city has captivated me.
Sometimes we have a destination so idealized that then if it does not meet our expectations we feel disappointed. I didn’t expect anything from Chiang Mai and it surprised me in a positive way. Now I can’t wait to go back there and stay at least for a month.
Have you ever visited a place without many expectations and ended up falling in love with it? Let me know in the comments!