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This is Why I Love Chiang Mai | Thailand Travel Story

Why I Love Chiang Mai Thailand
Written by Duke Stewart

Why I Love Chiang Mai

A short layover in Bangkok preceded our anxious arrival in Chiang Mai, where we’re about to meet the world’s finest city. As I’m scanning around for a taxi or way to Old City, a relaxing calm settles in after our long day of travel that started in Singapore. I don’t know this yet but we’re about to embark on a wonderful stay in what’s soon to become my favorite place. For a wide variety of reasons, I’m going fall for this place and will soon realize that I love Chiang Mai. This is why.

Parts of Town

Inside Chiang Mai Temple

We first spent a few nights in Chiang Mai’s Old City, which I recommend if you want to get a good start near the action. Nimman Hyemin is well known as more university-friendly and not too far from everything. The Riverside seemed like the most romantic part of town and where the pricier hotels could be found as well. Either way, it’s well known that Chiang Mai hotels subsidize lower prices in the name of booking commission-rich tours for guests. The highlight of our tour experience involves a fabulous day of playing with elephants (not riding).

Relaxing Atmosphere

Chiang Mai Wat Chedi Luang

I truly love Chiang Mai’s more relaxed atmosphere compared to the in-your-face nature of Bangkok. I loved relaxing by the river or stretching out my arms before eating some delicious food but the temples are hard to avoid in Chiang Mai. The capital city has nice temples everywhere but Chiang Mai’s really stand out to me. Thai Buddhist monks walk around just spots and some temples offer monk chats to spread their message to visitors from all over. My only experience was with a young man who was considering leaving the faith, due to all the rules he had to follow. Hopefully, he made the best decision and is doing well these days!

Convenience

Overlooking Chiang Mai Thailand

Bicycle and motorbike rentals loom everywhere but are caution-worthy. If one trusts their hotelier, ask them for help in this area. I mistakenly overpaid for the same crummy bike at an expat-run place with all the fancy signs. It’s not just the foreigners who’ll rip you off but my experience is to go for the place with rickety signs. Aside from that one time getting burned, we’re able to experience more of Chiang Mai via bicycle through the streets and a motorbike ride through up to Doi Suthep and beyond, as I’ll mention in a minute.

Coffee Shops and Co-Working Spaces

Chiang Mai Libarista Cafe

As delightful and exciting it is to play with elephants and going for motorbike rides, I’m a writer and have deadlines to meet while traveling. Coffee shops are easy to find and most have Wi-Fi available, as long as you’re buying a coffee or some mango sticky rice. Chiang Mai’s abundance of co-working spaces are worth noting because why wouldn’t you want a place that offers good Wi-Fi, free food and snacks in exchange for a couple of dollars per day? The co-working spaces and cheap cost of living convinced me why so many digital nomads have chosen this city as a base.

The Food

Chiang Mai Khao Soi

No matter where you’ve just come from, Northern Thai cuisine puts every previous meal you’ve had to shame. Referring to pineapple fried rice as standard Thai fare does it a bit of disservice, but that’s what happens in this part of the country. Northern Thai food’s distinction comes thanks to geography, as one can find different varieties of vegetables and fruits here. Its proximity to neighboring Myanmar and Laos also help, as I’ll never get over those hearty and delicious bowls of Burmese-influenced Khao Soi that were pretty much a daily requirement.

North Gate Food

Chiang Mai Cowboy Lady Pork

After cycling or riding the many Chiang Mai hotspots, our bellies always grumbled for a visit just outside the famed North Gate for food. Following Anthony Bourdain’s lead, we searched out the “Cowgirl” who allowed a photograph after we bought some of her absolutely delicious marinated pork leg with rice and other sides. Thankfully it came in portions that leave enough room in one’s belly for a sampling of the other awesome stalls in the area. I could handle two plates before tapping out but am sure others could withstand a more brutal assault. Come hungry or you’ll be sorry.

Proximity to Other Stuff

Chiang Mai Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Love Chiang Mai for the comfortable Northern Thai bubble that one could easily get stuck inside. I could spend years exploring all the wonderful places that surround the city. We rode the 760+ curves away to Pai and completely chilled out in that backpacker’s paradise for a while, and probably could’ve just given up on life while there. Having a motorbike opens up a bevy of possibilities when in Chiang Mai. The aforementioned Doi Suthep is a more manageable set of curves up and down a couple of mountains and leads to a beautiful temple and much more if you have enough gas to make it.

Around Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai White Temple Wat Rong Khun

Our hotel urged us to book a car to reach Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls but after a nerve-wracking ride along highways and country roads, we made it back in one piece and hardly a scratch on the rented scooter. My one regret is the 14-hour Golden Triangle Tour that pushed my exhaustion levels through the roof. Chiang Rai’s White Temple was the one positive takeaway from that day but it’s possible to do that alone. Very few tours are going to be as uplifting as our day at the Elephant Retirement Park, and I’m not the only person to vouch for that type of experience.

The Solace

Chiang Mai Thailand Temple

Honestly, I have to say that our arrival at Chiang Mai came halfway through an 8-week journey before our return home from living abroad. Had we been anywhere but this place, that flight home might’ve been bumped up a few weeks. Thankfully, this city’s mix of convenience, atmosphere, and that wonderful food saved us from travel exhaustion and was the perfect boost for a couple of travelers who needed one. It’s easy to praise any place that one visits but I’ll probably be on my deathbed raving about this wonderful Northern Thai city. I’ve seen some truly wonderful places in my own country and many others but have to say that I love Chiang Mai more than anywhere else.

Chiang Mai Mango Sticky Rice

Have you ever visited this wonderful city? Do you also love Chiang Mai? What did you think of it? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Chiang Mai Wat Chedi Luang Message

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About the author

Duke Stewart

As a recovering Expat, I write about Life through Travel and want you there with me through captivating stories followed by guides on how to do the same. My work has been featured in various magazines throughout Korea and in online publications including the awesome Hipmunk.com. I am also a nerd and love to point out a situation's similarities to any of my favorite movies, books, or tv shows. You've been warned:) Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily updates.

12 Comments

  • My husband and i are going back to Chiang Mai in May. We love this place, the people are relaxed and friendly, there is so much to see and do.
    My favourite place to go is to see the Karen tribes with their traditional rings around their necks or long ears. The food is spectacular and shopping is cheap. Cant wait to get back. Shame we are only staying 4 nights as part of ohr 3 week tour of Thailand.

    • I did get the touristy vibe when we were staying there but it was different from the other places we’ve been. Mostly Chinese tourists were there, which was a change from being around lots of westerners. I do miss the food though! Oh man, what I would do for some really good Khao Soi right now:(
      Duke Stewart recently posted…The Best San Jose Airport and Downtown HotelsMy Profile

  • I can’t wait to get there!
    And I have a question: 1 month in Chiang Mai with trips around the area or 2 weeks there and another 2 weeks in Pai?
    What do you think?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Simona, thanks for stopping by! Shew, I wish I had a month in Chiang Mai right now! So I’m a bit jealous of you:)

      As for your question, I feel like 2 weeks in Pai might make you restless but it’s up to you. If you’re a person who needs to be on the move, then I say 1 week in Pai will be good for you. It was almost too much for me and there are so many things to say in and around Chiang Mai. I’ve heard wonderful things about Sukhothai as a good stop between CM and Bangkok.

      As you can see, there are so many options, huh? I hope that answers it for you. Thanks for commenting and good luck on your trip!
      Duke Stewart recently posted…Want to Travel With Your Dog? Follow These Tips!My Profile

    • Thanks for providing the awesome stuff to work with, Tess! I loved the coworking spaces in Chiang Mai and must say they really helped me stay caught up while on the road. Libarista was my favorite and looks like it was yours as well:)

      Take care and I hope to stay in touch!
      Duke Stewart recently posted…Why I Love Chiang MaiMy Profile

  • Have not been there yet, but would love to visit some day. These pics are awesome, just one thing I don’t eat pork. You must enjoy your stay and I love reading your posts. I always post them to Facebook for my friends to see in the hope they will also enjoy your readings and decide to visit .

    • Thank you so much, Gaironesha! I truly appreciate your kind words and don’t worry, I’ve got a couple of postcards in the mail to you after your response to my emails. Hopefully you’ll get to Chiang Mai and see my favorite city someday. Until then, stay in touch and take care.
      Duke Stewart recently posted…Why I Love Chiang MaiMy Profile