Chiang Mai: Seven More of Our Best Travel Tips!
Like I mentioned in the previous post about Chiang Mai, we have much more to share! If you haven't read the first six tips, then take a sec and look them over. It's worth it and I'll grab a drink while I wait ;)
Back now? OK, now check out seven more of our best tips and recommendations for visiting this intricate, vibrant, chaotic city. And maybe grab a glass of wine before you begin, I hate to drink alone.
7. Peruse the Sunday market…and try local wine!
The best market we have ever been to. Ever. It begins around 4 pm and it’s packed by 5 pm. This gigantic market blocks off multiple downtown streets and truly has it all: street food, music, tons of stalls selling everything from clothes, to jewelry, to furniture, to waffles with chocolate to glass 'tobacco' pipes. And it offers some of the best people watching to boot!
*Tip 1: While the market area is supposed to be pedestrian - only, it is not. Keep an eye out for motorbikes weaving their way through the crowds.
*Tip 2: Do not leave without checking out these two booths:
- Chaing Mai University Wine Program Booth - They sell glasses of locally produced wine…literally wine from Thailand! They’re just beginning the program and the wines were actually pretty tasty. Just know that most wines are a blend of local fruit like Longan Berry and even Ginseng with traditional wine varietals.
- Ice cream Lady - She (wo)mans a small cart in the middle of a random side street and sells the absolute best, rectangular-shaped , homemade ice cream ever. You’ll see lots of people walking around with it inside an upside down paper cone, so the best way to find some for yourself is to just ask and then keep your eyes peeled.
8. Buy ‘elephant pants’ and Tiger Balm
There is no lack of shopping in Chiang Mai, so get ready to bust out your Baht many times per day. But make sure that one of those times its to buy these two things:
‘Elephant pants’ - MC Hammer-like pants made from light-as-air fabric, with a generous elastic waistband. There are tons of colors and designs to choose from, but many are covered with, you guessed it, sacred Thai Elephants. Time to say ‘G’bye’ to those threadbare yoga pants!
Tiger Balm - This stuff will change your life and Thai people put it on everything. From cuts and scrapes, to mosquito bites, to sore joints, to your whole body during a massage, it is as close to a cure-all as I’ve ever seen. The only thing I don’t think they do is eat it, but I wouldn't be surprised. The smell varies from brand to brand, so take a whiff first, but in general, it’s a green, potent, herbal paste that comes in jars of multiple sizes… and it puts Bengay to shame! We brought four jars home and mysteriously two have disappeared after having visitors try it out.
*Tip: Both of the above are very inexpensive and are fantastic gift ideas. They pack up easily and your friends and family will absolutely love them!
9. Check out the Night Bazaar
Another awesome market. It goes off every night and features all the usual trinkets and wares: elephant pants, Buddha images, paintings, jewelry, etc. Also it’s just outside the Thaphae Gate, which in itself is a great sight, so you can experience a bit of the modern and ancient in one trip.
*Tip: You’ll start to notice everyone sells the same stuff, only the prices vary, so shop around and don’t be afraid to haggle. If one stall doesn’t match your price, another probably will.
*Tip 2: It is illegal to purchase or bring home any image or part of the Buddha. That means anything: head, hands, whole figure. Even though vendors still sell them and try to convince you it’s OK, it is NOT. Your ‘souvenir’ can be confiscated at the airport and you could be fined or even imprisoned! We don’t know how strictly this is enforced but there are large signs in the airport and in official buildings, so out of respect, we played it safe and refrained.
10. Jam out to an amazing Rock ‘n’ Roll cover band
Seriously! Such a fun surprise and yet another quirk of Chiang Mai. Rock cover bands super popular and the ones we saw were really talented. After *three* too many Singhas we passed this tourist-trap of a bar called Loco Elvis and heard a band just killing some Guns ‘n’ Roses. Not normally into touristy bars, we popped in anyway and were so glad we did! We rocked out to amazing Metallica, Bon Jovi, Beatles and Lead Zeppelin covers with a table full of punk-rock Brits and woke up with a solid hangover. Mission accomplished.
*Tip: While the American music was spot on, the food not so much. I’m pretty sure all the ingredients came from the 7/11 down the street, so you’re much better off with street food and ordering drinks only.
11. For the Men: Get fitted for a custom tailored suit
If you need a custom tailored suit then Chiang Mai is the place. The city is known for offering high quality duds for a sliver of what you’d pay in the States or Europe. Jeff was super excited and ordered two impeccably tailored suits (jacket and pants with choice of tie) for about $400 USD total. We found CM Custom Tailors on Trip Advisor, and while pricier than other places in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, they were top notch in both materials and service. The staff not only explained, in great English, all the fabric choices and price-value differences, but also the specific cuts, styles and color options. They offered Jeff two fittings to make sure his suits fit perfectly and then made sure the finished pieces were ready and packed in time for our departure.
*Tip 1: This level of craftsmanship takes time, so make this one of the first things you do upon arrival in Chiang Mai and give yourself at least 3 - 4 days for turnaround. This give you enough time to have a final fitting and ensure your suit fits exactly how you like it.
12. Lake Huay Tung Tao: Run it out, then chill at your own lake-side cabana
Hands-down one of the best days we spent and a great way to ‘escape’ the noise and smog of the city. A 20-minute Songthaew ride (Chiang Mai taxi: a red truck with benches in the back) takes you to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and a flat, paved running path. Aside from breaking a sweat, the best part about this place is that the lake’s edge is also ringed with thatched, over-water huts where you can post up and order beer, traditional Thai food, water, dessert, etc. and laze away the day in a quiet, happy peace. For us it was a necessary departure from the chaos of the city center.
*Tip 1: I tried to tell multiple people where we wanted to go: "Lake Huay (Way) Tung Tao please." and NO ONE understood what I meant at all. So to make your life easier, just find it on a map and point to it, then they’ll go “Ohhh you mean Lake Huay (Way) Tung Tao.” Yes, that’s what I said right? Apparently not.
*Tip 2: No one really swims in the lake (I heard there were giant fish in it) so no need for a bathing suit, but do bring a blanket or towel to sit on.
13. Explore Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Wat Doi Suthep)
It's crowded, it’s touristy, it’s breathtakingly gorgeous and totally worth it. The gilded temple sits high above the city center about a 45-minute drive up the mountains and, on a clear day, visitors are rewarded for their epic stair-climb with magnificent views. You will need transport, and if you don’t want to bother with a tour, there are lots of songthaews who take groups up, so just ask any driver for specifics. FYI: most drivers leave in the morning and return in the early afternoon to beat traffic.
*Tip 1: Many of these songthaew drivers stand on the main roads and hawk the trip to anyone who walks by in hopes of creating full load and making the most out of the drive. It sounds sketchy but it’s totally legit and is exactly what we did. Because there’s a bunch of people (you'll be packed like sardines) and everyone is sharing the expense, you get a way better price.
*Tip 2: Bring your GoPro and camera - you'll want photos. And don't forget money to buy food, water and special jewelry blessed by the resident monks!
I'm sure I missed a few things here...Do you have any other tips to share? Any hidden gems we should know about? Let us know! FYI: we didn't mention visiting an elephant park because that deserves its own post, so keep an eye out ;)