Top Things to Do and Experience for a Thailand Chiang Mai Tour

Posted on 29/08/2017 10:18:11

“Sawatdee, sabai dee mai?” is a common phrase to hear in Thailand. Loosely translated, it means “Hello, how are you?” and is a way to give a warm greeting to visitors. Northern Thailand is a beautiful area full of lush green forests and rugged mountains. In the heart of this ancient land lies the city of Chiang Mai, a tourist destination that is fast becoming popular with western visitors to Asia.

After traveling to the stunning metropolis that is Bangkok, and the buzzing beach resorts of Chanthaburi and Ko Samui island, A trip up north to Chiang Mai, the “capital” of northern Thailand, you can get to see a side of Thailand that most visitors miss. The city of Chiang Mai is infused with ancient Thai culture, which is best explored at a strolling pace around the maze-like lanes of Old Chiang Mai, with its many temples and pagodas.

About Chiang Mai

Set in the mountainous region of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai was founded in 1296, and was the capital of the old Lanna Kingdom until 1558. The Old City still retains remnants of the ancient walls and moats from its historical past as a center for culture and religion. It also plays home to hundreds of ancient, elaborate Buddhist temples. Wat Phra Singh, Wiang Kum Kam, and Wat Chedi Luang are three of the most visited Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai, and date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. And looming over the city in the northwest, the mountaintop Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is the crown jewel of Chiang Mai’s spiritual heritage.

Chiang Mai is also a center for exquisite Thai food and traditional khantoke cooking. Many of the more popular dishes known around the world originate in the northern regions of Thailand, although the original dishes are often much simpler than those in the popular Thai restaurants around the world.

A popular base camp for trekkers in the north of the country, including treks to hill tribe villages of Karen, Lisu, and Hmong, there are lots of opportunities for white water rafting, zipline adventures, bike tours, and jungle treks in the surrounding areas. National parks lie just a short drive from the city, and further north, Chiang Rai is the gateway to the “Golden Triangle”, the meeting point of the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.

Outside the City

While Chiang Mai is a city full of interesting temples and culture, there are many trips that can be made to a huge number of interesting places in the areas surrounding the city. As a great jumping-off point for hundreds of amazing trips through northern Thailand, there are some that come out on top as the best trips in the region.

While you can always join group tours to many of the interesting places in northern Thailand, if you want to go it alone, then taxis are the way to go. Taxi fares from Chiang Mai are extremely cheap, and since many of the side trips are less than an hour from the city, you could even hire the taxi for a round trip, spending the whole day at your chosen destination, and still pay less than a group tour.

Elephant Camps

For one of the most amazing adventures in Thailand, you need to take a day trip to one of the many elephant camps that in the region. A full day trip to spend time with the elephants is as educational as it is exciting, and at the best places, you can spend the whole day in a one-on-one with an elephant, aided by its mahout handler.

The mahout is the man who has dedicated his life to the care of just one individual elephant, and spends upwards of 18 hours a day with it. Expect to have plenty of time in the river, washing and swimming with the elephant, and then enjoy a leisurely ride through the jungle on the back of these giant behemoths.

Tiger Kingdom

If your idea of a fun afternoon is playing with baby tiger cubs, then this is the ideal trip for you. Visitors can interact with real tigers, up to 3-years-old, and there is sometimes the opportunity to bottle feed the baby tigers. Tiger Kingdom holds your safety as their prime responsibility, and all visitors who interact are kept in small groups with staff to keep an eye on things. They will even provide a photographer to take your photos, leaving you to focus on the tigers.

Wat Doi Suthep Temple

It is said that you have not truly visited Chiang Mai until you visit the temple on Doi Suthep Mountain. Built in 1883, this temple was ordered by the Thai King, Ku Na after a relic of the Buddha was broken during its placement on a temple. The king declared that a new temple be built, and placed the relic piece on his White Elephant, and sent it off into the jungle. After days of walking through the forest, the elephant climbed to the top of Doi Suthep, and refused to go any further.

Today, a carved snake staircase takes you to the top of the hill, where you can see the famous Emerald Buddha statue, the giant, golden pagoda, and the International Buddhism Center.

The White Temple

The white Temple, around 2 hours from Chiang Mai, gives a modern twist to the classic Thai architecture. It is one of the most memorable temples in Thailand, and has to be seen to be believed. Since it is 2 hours north of Chiang Mai, the temple is best seen as a stop on a Golden Triangle day trip.

The Golden Triangle

Around 3 ½ hours north of Chiang Mai lies the border point of the Golden Triangle. The trip here is awesome, with may things to stop and see on the way. At the Golden Triangle, you can check out the huge Floating Buddha Boat, search out the traditional dancers, or take a long-tail boat to the Laos side of the river. The border cities of Mae Salong, whose bridge market stretches into Myanmar, and Doi Tung with its famous flower gardens are well worth a look as well.

Doi Inthanon National Park

Sitting at an elevation of 8,415 feet, this park is the highest point in Thailand, and the highlight of the visit is the beautiful scenery and the Royal Chedis. Built by the Thai Royal Air Force. The Chedis celebrate the 60th birthdays of the King and Queen of Thailand. The King’s chedi, called Phra Mahathat Chedi Nophamethanidol, is darker with a brown tint, while the Queen’s is called Phra Mahathat Chedi Noppholbhumsiri and is light blue and lilac. Rainy season is not the best time to visit the park.

Flight of the Gibbon Zip Line

This amazing course consists of over 5km of ziplines woven through the jungle, with 33 platforms, 2 suspended sky bridges, 2 abseiling descents, a tree house, and a double zipline for racing friends. The list price is quite high at around 3,300 baht, but if you book a tour through a travel agent in Chiang Mai, the cost is only around 1,800 baht.

Chiang Dao Cave

45 miles north of Chiang Mai is one of Asia’s largest caves. The cave extends around 12km into the mountain, and includes a large number of huge caverns, with both stalagmite and stalactite rock formations. In one of the first caverns you come across is an ancient Buddhist temple, complete with huge statues of the Buddha. For cave enthusiasts, it is a wonder of underground caverns and tunnels, and you have the freedom to explore without guides, though maps are recommended.

There are many other side trips you can take from Chiang Mai that take you further afield, and can take more than four hours to get to. If you have the time, trips to places like Pai Mountain, Chiang Rai, and Lamphun, are also well worth the drive.