After a quick stop in Bangkok, we headed north to a smaller city in Thailand called Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is full of authentic Thai culture with cooking classes, massages, temples, nightlife and more. Once we got out of big city Bangkok, we were able to really experience Thailand. The pace automatically slows as you get to Chiang Mai. We stayed at the beautiful 137 Pillars House, located in the perfect spot for touring around the old city. Two or three days is the perfect amount of time to explore this city. Here are the highlights!
The best way to head to the market is by tuk tuk, the Asian version of a taxi! Chiang Mai’s food markets are bustling with sights and smells. Anthony Bourdain brought popularity to the Chiang Mai food scene with his episode on the city’s cuisine. He featured the “Cowboy Hat Lady”, who specially cooks up Khao Kha moo, or stewed pork leg. The food was truly amazing. For dessert, the popular dish is rotee, which is similar to a crepe or pancake. Rotee Mataba is run by Auntie Day, an Afghan-Thai woman who has been serving rotee for 35 years in the same spot. Rotee are filled with anything you’d like – cheese, banana, chocolate, egg, curry and more. Other Chiang Mai food staples that you can find in the night markets include Khao Soi, deep fried egg noodles in broth, and Mango Sticky Rice. This specific delicacy was not my favorite. It is very sweet rice, paired with mango and topped with coconut milk.
The Old City of Chiang Mai is clearly defined by historic monuments and walls that still stand today. Hop in a tuk tuk and get to exploring! You will come across many temples, of course. But you will also see the Three Kings Monument, designed to showcase the “Three Kings” of Chiang Mai who built their palaces and worked together to build Chiang Mai. Next, visit the Tha Pai World War II Memorial Bridge. During the war, the Japanese army wanted to have a route from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Song to attack Burma. So, they built a bridge over the Pai River using elephants for labor. In fact, elephants were used a lot for carrying wood and heavy materials back in the day. Now, many places in Chiang Mai are dedicated to the care and restoration of the elephant population. This is why you should vist an…..
You must be careful in Southeast Asia when visiting elephant sanctuaries. Yes, yes, I know you want to ride an elephant. But, most places that allow you to ride an elephant are actually mistreating their elephants. It’s important, as a tourist, to contribute to the good things, not the bad tourist traps. We visited Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, a place that is dedicated to allowing visitors to care for elephants in their natural habitat and during their daily routine. You are given a beautiful outfit upon arrival because elephants are dirty and you don’t want that on your day clothes. You will spend your day learning how to feed, bathe and care for the elephants. They eat a LOT. We started with sugar cane, then moved to bamboo and a medicine ball made of peanut butter and some other nasty fix-ins. Once the ele’s are finally done eating, you move to the river to bathe them. I was quite worried the entire time that they would step on my feet! Be careful at the end, you might just get sprayed with water.
Perhaps my favorite temple in Thailand is Wat Pra That Doi Suthep. The temple sits up in the mountain and one must climb a long set of stairs to reach the throne. Doi Suthep was founded in 1383 and is said to contain a relic of Buddha. The entire temple is covered in gold and features hundreds of different buddhas that have been donated over the years. My favorite part of the temple is the etchings of Buddha’s life depicted on the walls. Our guide was able to tell a beautiful story of Buddha and his life with the art. When you make your way outside of the courtyard, you will find the most beautiful, sweeping views of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is a must-see in Thailand. It is the perfect stop after Bangkok and before you make your way to the southern beaches or neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia.
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